"See Nobody" hitmaker, Wes Nelson, graces Notion’s April digital cover as we unearth his story, how he found his sound and the secrets behind creating a debut hit.
Wes Nelson has taken the music scene by storm and it’s been a long time coming. Music has been the nucleus of his story from the very beginning. Back in hometown Lancashire, 3-year-old Wes would summon his family into the living room to watch him sing along to Top of the Pops on a red plastic karaoke machine… 20 years on and he’s closing the show live on BBC with debut single “See Nobody”. It sounds like a dream come true and it certainly is for Wes as he says himself, “you know when people ask that super open question of what you want to be when you’re older of what’s your life goal, mine was always to get a record deal”.
A music career was his lifelong ambition and having signed an extended record deal with EMI/Universal on his birthday, Wes is just getting his story started. In fact, he’s “buzzing, it’s a check off the list… it’s a big check”. The long wait owes itself to confidence, which for Wes has been the sole limiting factor over the years. His musical talents were kept under wraps in his teenage years as he focused on sport and academia to enjoy a stint as a semi-professional footballer for Newcastle Town FC and an undefeated Muay Thai kickboxer, while also beginning his career as a Nuclear System Design Engineer. Wes opens up about holding his voice back throughout his younger years, “it’s sad because I would have loved to have done music through school and actually got it out there in front of my friends and family. Not even my family heard me sing properly… I’d sing bits and pieces around the house and my mum would overhear me and ask me to sing to her but I just couldn’t, really and truly it was down to confidence”.
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The focus, drive and discipline required throughout his previous commitments have undeniably oozed straight into Wes’ dedication to artistry; the enigmatic articulation of his passion, love and pledge to music radiated through the Zoom screen. He mentioned a historic tweet from Kanye West that he quoted on his Instagram story that morning, where the iconic rapper wrote, “If you’re not doing something you love, stop what you’re doing right now and just start it”. For Wes, music is his purpose: “This is what I love to do and if I can make it a career then it’s a bonus. This is not work for me, it’s pure enjoyment”.
Whether it’s down to the environment he’s inspirited around himself or spending the last few years in front of the camera, Wes’ confidence has surged. “See Nobody” underwrites a very personal narrative of plunging out of his comfort zone to fully commit to music, “I turned down the TV deals not knowing I was going to write “See Nobody” or be offered a record deal, my manager thought I was an absolute mad man”, he reveals. “I just realised I’m not money-driven. I genuinely thought I was for a long time, but during the first lockdown, normal work wasn’t coming in and I had time to think about what it is that I actually enjoy doing more than anything — and its music”.
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Wes goes on to share just how much he learnt during his time on Celebrity X Factor, saying, “I used to sit behind the engineers like a hawk and watch what they were doing, then go home and practice it myself”. The experience not only gave him financial stability but firmly whetted his appetite for production, spurring the decision to dedicate his career to music. He passed up record deal talks to prioritise developing his songwriting and production skills independently. At West London’s Sarm Studios, Wes caught the ears of British rap star Dave who inspired his musical ambitions. This was pivotal. “I thought, let’s just take a leap of faith, screw TV, it’s not what drives me. I think it was when I found music and started making my first couple of songs and showing people, I was getting a good response and I realised, you know what, ‘this is me’ and I’d be completely wrong not to pursue it. And it happened!” he says gleefully.
Even Covid failed to interrupt Wes’ ambition and drive. With the announcement of lockdown, he built a makeshift studio in his bedroom where he would spend hours getting to grips with Pro-Tools and Logic to embark on his catalogue of music, which has bloomed into a formidable collection of over 60 tracks. It took writing 15 songs to sonically cultivate “See Nobody”; Wes wanted to paint himself a lane that others weren’t pursuing. The irresistible hit is a seamlessly polished sonic fusion of R&B, Afrobeat and Rap. The dynamic track brings a visceral experience for the listener, and that was exactly Wes’ aim. “That’s going to be my niche — using different parts of my voice, different tones and peaks of pitch. I love adding chops and different techniques that people aren’t going to expect, I just want to keep the listener on the edge of their seat, I love that they don’t know what’s to come. I’m trying to create peaks at all parts of the song and keep everyone engaged”, he tells me.
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No wonder the whole song sounds like a hook, it is no easy feat to craft such a ravishingly catchy track and clearly, Wes’ musical and technical prowess is the heartbeat to his success.
He teamed up with the producer Ayo Beatz (Fredo, Dutchavelli, Young M.A) and reeled in “Best Life” rap star Hardy Caprio for a feature on the track after Wes played it to him over FaceTime. “I didn’t plan to put anyone on the track, but I was my own little PR agent, I was just trying to get my music out to as many artists as possible and getting their expert opinion”, Wes explains. “I called Hardy and showed him the track, he jumped out of his chair! It was wild, we were both so gassed and then he asked to be on the track”. When they first started producing the song, Wes worked remotely with Ayo due to the UK lockdown but despite being on separate sides of the world, the creative process was by no means hampered. Ayo sent through a beat pack along with a few ideas and the pair jumped on Zoom straight away, within three or four hours the track was complete. Although Wes didn’t plan for a collaboration he left 16 bars blank for a feature, and lucky he did!
The trio conjured a kindred sonic mastery to catapult “See Nobody” straight to the top three of the charts. With over 70 million streams and more than 13 million views on the video (featuring a 4 tonne Batmobile!), the debut is an extraordinary triumph, seeing support from Anthony Joshua, Idris Elba and Krept & Konan to name a few. When asked what owes to the success of the track, Wes comments, “as simple as it is, the song is just so catchy. It’s a fun track, especially at this time when everyone is feeling a little bit down and drained, all we’re seeing on social media is a lot of seriousness and negativity. This track is a solid 3 minutes and 30 seconds of transporting people to a place where they don’t have to worry about things, I think what people need right now is feel-good music and I’m here for it!”.
R&B sound tracked Wes’ early years, “I knew every word to every Ne-Yo song, I even went to prom dressed as him with the little hat”. Mario and J. Holiday were also central to his musical influence along with Michael Jackson. Over the last 10 years, however, he’s been drawn into the Hip-Hop and Rap scene, but R&B has taken precedent to anchor his sound, “I think that’s where I got my foundation, so when I was introduced to Afrobeat and the sounds of the UK it felt natural to put that R&B on it”. Wes plans to guide us through a genre-bending sonic journey with his line up of incoming releases, including the inevitably catchy “Nice To Meet Ya”, which is set to be another hit, having already surged to the number one sound on TikTok a week before release day. The track, featuring Yxng Bane, channels that perfect genre fusion once again before Wes delves into a more R&B-centric sound through his incoming pipeline of records.
When asked for the story behind the zesty lyrics in “Nice To Meet Ya”, Wes chuckles and being a true gentleman, he won’t kiss and tell. “Without spilling too much on the table it’s a playful track relative to me… It’s just such a fun track and can be for anyone. It’s not just for the girls or for the guys, it has both sides of the story. I wanted to get those cheeky lyrics in there”. He talks of drawing inspiration from the lyrical genius of Eminem, slipping in those quick prankish lyrics to encourage the listener to crack a giggle.
This is set to be a huge year for Wes. Following his new single with Yxng Bane, there’s more in the works. But who’s on his bucket list of dream collabs? “I’ve got so many”, he begins. “The one I’ve been thinking about for a while is Burna Boy. I love his tone, the way he drags out notes and uses his voice. I’ve got some weird ones like Hans Zimmer; I would love him to play the piano for me and let me sing over it. American-wise I think SAINt JHN is incredible, I love the way he switches up his pitch. In terms of the UK, it has got to be Dave, he’s just unbelievable.”
Taking into consideration Wes’ impressive unreleased catalogue, a debut album is well within reach even at this early stage of his music career. “A big body of work is something that I want to do for sure. I want to take people on a journey sonically through an album, or even numerous albums. It’s just patience for me, I’m a perfectionist. I want to make sure everything that I put out is up to single standard even under the title of an album, I don’t want filler tracks. I just want to put everything out that’s to the best of my ability. It’s about the music for me.”
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Breaking the UK is the focus right now, “I want to pay homage to the UK, it’s where I’m from and the birthplace of the sounds I love right now. I think it’s only right to get as much of that UK sound out as I possibly can”, he says. But his ambition surpasses our little island, and Wes’ sights are set on the US. When asked what it takes to percolate the American music scene he responds nonchalantly, “if it happens, it happens. I’m focused on music and my sound in the present”. His R&B influences are calling him across the pond but Wes aims to refine and solidify his sound first. “I want to create a sound that the UK can still bop to without it being too alien, I’m just trying to get to that middle ground of UK, American R&B and International sound and pack it into one little nutshell which is difficult. Easier said than done but I’ve managed it in the past 15 songs now so I think I’ve found my formula”. Despite his mounting accolades, for Wes, his musical journey is not about the fame. “Like with any business, if you focus on the product, the results are going to follow and if you focus on those sales first then your music is going to sacrifice your character. It’s important to remember your music and what you stand for as opposed to just selling yourself out”, he says sagely.
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There is no ambiguity around Wes’ undeniable raw talent as a vocalist and songwriter – skills he has carefully nurtured through sheer drive and determination. Judgements are quick off the mark for any star born out of reality TV and more often than not, intentions or stories are misconstrued. Wes certainly doesn’t hide behind the music or auto-tune for that matter, on the release day of “See Nobody” he tweeted, “seen a few people saying there’s too much auto-tune on See Nobody so thought I’d drop a quick acoustic”. The acoustic version is undoubtedly flawless, showcasing Wes’ smooth vocals and impressive range. For more dreamy acoustics check out Wes’ cover of “You’re Too Close” by rising Jakarta singer-songwriter Francis Karel. Accompanied by Platinum songwriter Daecolm, Wes presents himself as a bona fide R&B vocalist as he effortlessly tumbles from falsettos into deeper pitches. The 23-year-old outdoes any public presumption through his devotion to artistry, self-cultivating a sound so incontestably current and magnetic. Wes has organically planted his own legacy, and this is only the beginning.
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“I just wanna be the guy who no one thought could do it, or who everyone had their misconceptions about and then absolutely smashes it out the park, so people almost forget what’s happened. But I don’t even want people to forget, I want people to swallow the pill and say, ‘well there you go, he’s actually gone and done it’. It’s not me wanting to get the haters, I just want to prove it to myself and inspire people. You can’t limit yourself based on what other people say. Who is everyone else to say what your limit is when they don’t even know you? I just want to inspire people with my journey, and I’ll be happy with that.” Wes pinches his vibrant orange patterned jumper with both thumbs and concludes, “I’m wearing my true colours”.