The first time I met Justin Wells, I wasn’t quite sure how to take him. He’s well over 6 feet tall with a booming voice, a self-described “full o’ shit” jokester mentality, and a rather intimidating albeit charismatic stage presence. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to dine with him, see some more Fifth on the Floor shows, as well as talk with him, and ssshhhh, you guys, he’s kind of really awesome – about as awesome as his music, I’d say.
Here’s one of those conversations.
So, you’re quite the sarcastic one. It took me a few times before I figured you out. [laughs]
[laughs] People ask me all the time, “When are you serious?” and the thing is, I’m not. Ever. Maybe when I’m on stage, but even then, not even half the time.
You’re very serious-looking on stage, though. Very serious.
I am. I am! I think that part of my personality has evolved, because I’m a big dude, and people are instantly fucking defensive when they meet me.
Sure. I can see that.
Yeah, see, and it’s like, man, there will be no ass-kickings. I just wanna talk. I have to clown around, you know, to make people feel comfortable, and I do. I try to. I smile a lot, and I clown around a lot.
I see big dudes, and I think, “Ooo! Fluffy teddy bear! Cuddly!”
[laughs] I’m more along those lines, to be honest. [laughs]
Well, now that we’ve got that cleared up [laughs]… I wanted to ask about your voice.
Yeah, I noticed there are certain songs y’all don’t do anymore or don’t do as often, and since I’m big on voices, I’ve noticed the way you use yours has changed – or is that all in my head?
Well, I don’t know if there’s Fifth on the Floor stuff I can’t do anymore, but our song “The Fall,” off our second record… I don’t know if I can’t, because I haven’t tried in about a year, but I’ve actually learned how to sing over, you know, 10 years of fucking doing this, and I’ve learned it’s not worth hitting one or two notes at the expense of the whole rest of the night and the whole rest of the tour. Voices aren’t like guitars, where you just find the note. We’re given a range, and you can find a few more in either direction, but it’s gonna hurt ya. I try to play to my strengths when I sing.
Yeah. And Parsons sings in the band too, and he’s just a fucking incredible vocal talent, and, you know, should, by all means, be heading up his own band, and, you know, I don’t have to hit those notes anymore. If we need someone else to hit them, then someone else will.
You’re coming off a solo tour with Unknown Hinson, though, right? How’s that been?
It has been awesome. Unknown and the guys have been very kind to me. They’ve been great, but what’s been even better, is their fans. Their fans have been really kind to me. It was hard to know going in, how people were going to react, and everyone’s been really kind. We’ve had a lot of fun, had a lot of un-recallable nights [laughs], a lot of good rooms.
What’s your solo stuff like?
[laughs] It’s a lot more talking. [laughs] It’s a lot more talking than Fifth of the Floor shows [laughs] But it is! I want people to have a good time, so I talk a lot, trying to get the stage warm, and I’ve just been trying to make sure people have a good time. There are a lot of Fifth on the Floor songs, of course, but I change them so they work for me solo.
So Fifth on the Floor has had many incarnations, as fas as band members go. How many of you are original?
Just me. We started out as a 6-piece. We’ve had a shit-ton of change-overs, and, you know, we never wanted to be “that band,” but that’s just what happened. Parsons has been with us going on three years, and, you know, Aaron quit earlier in the year. The road just wasn’t working for him anymore, and we obviously wish him all the best. He had some things going on at home. Kevin Hogle replaced him and just came on board a few months ago. He’s in a band called 500 Miles to Memphis, who are friends of ours out of Cincinnati. We’ve toured with those guys and played with those guys quite a bit, and Kevin was definitely on my short list. He’s toured the world in various bands and, when he was in college, doing marching band shit. I didn’t know how much time he’d have available, but he definitely made the time available to play with Fifth on the Floor, so it worked out. Both on stage and off, he’s a fantastic member, a fantastic drummer, and one of the most positive people I’ve ever met, and he’s bald [laughs] The rest of us have the hair thing pretty well covered, so we needed the bald guy. And he has, like, sparse, chiseled facial hair that he manages, somehow, to change every night, like a video game avatar [laughs].
OH. Sexy. [laughs] Seriously, though, from what I’ve seen so far, Kevin does seem like a good fit.
Yeah, man. It’s fun. It’s really fun. It’s like we’re starting over. It’s fucking energetic.
We parted ways with Matt too. We played with Matt for seven years, and Matt’s a brother. He was one of the original Fifth on the Floor members. Matt and I started the band back in ’06, and our lives, on a personal level, just went different ways. Things just weren’t in sync as much as they used to be, so we got this fellow named Ryan Clackner out of Tennessee, who played with Bob Wayne for years. He’s a fantastic talent, and he’s the other side of facial hair [laughs]. We have to pay him, and then we have to pay his beard, and it has to have its own seat belt [laughs]. No, Ryan’s a bad-ass. It should be fun.
I would think when you bring in new people, you get new energy and new ideas. Is there any particular reason why y’all go through so many members? Is it the heavy touring schedule?
Yeah, man, everybody fucking ever has been in Fifth on the Floor [laughs] But to answer your question, I don’t know. You know, I don’t know. I’ve always loved bands that did that, and we actually had someone else who was the lead singer, who sang more songs than I did, and, really, we should’ve just changed the fucking band name. We aren’t the same band, and you can hear hints of that on the first record. You can hear where we’re at now and how that’s different from then. We wanted to be a rock and roll band, and now that’s what we are. Our goals changed, we’ve gotten a little older, and we take this a lot more seriously and really try to focus on Fifth on the Floor as a career, and not just something that allows us to drink for free in different cities [laughs]. Bands change, like any relationship, and I don’t think anything ill is meant on either side.
And, you know, we do tour heavily, and it takes a special breed of fucking people to be able to do that. I’m not speaking of us in a good way [laughs], because, you know, we’re drunken messes [laughs], and it’s just not for everyone.
Shit, dude, if I could sing or play an instrument even remotely well – I can’t do either – I would totally be one of those people. But I can’t, so I write about it and travel to shows and look into ways I can work with the musicians I love, maybe touring with them, or whatever.
You sound like me. It used to drive me out of my mind to be home.
Yes! But you have a wife and two twin daughters now. How has that changed things?
It’s great having someone at home. It really is. It makes me wanna be home, but when I was just by myself, I could just fucking tour 365, I wouldn’t care. Now, there’s this huge part of my life I leave behind when I go, but I love both, and to give either one up would, you know, create a void. We found our rhythm. My wife’s very supportive. I mean, it’s not easy, but I don’t worry about it. She’s a fucking bad-ass. I’m always happy. I just get restless. I don’t like being in the same city very long, and touring allows me to keep moving.
I just really feel like I got it made, man.
Fifth on the Floor plays tomorrow, Saturday, December 14th at Buster’s Billiard’s and Backroom in their hometown of Lexington, KY. They are touring through January and also start touring with George Thorogood and The Destroyers on March 10th at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, TN.