Wes Hoffman Made His New Album With a Little Help from His Friends

Hoffman's eponymous band is bringing St. Louis pop-punk to vinyl -- and the nation

Feb 23, 2024 at 6:00 am
Wes Hoffman, second from right, with a few of his friends.
Wes Hoffman, second from right, with a few of his friends. COURTESY PHOTO

Wes Hoffman's band may be called Wes Hoffman & Friends, but when he meets a reporter for a beer at Babe's Tavern on an unseasonably warm Tuesday in February, he is alone. It's not that the friends don't exist — the band has in fact swelled to include four of them, officially speaking, along with a few other additions who pop in and out. But as the group's primary songwriter and frontman, Hoffman's new album is very much his labor of love, one that took years to bring into the world.

Hoffman cuts an impressive figure, a taller fellow of at least six-foot-two, clad this evening in a black hoodie and a pair of Vans, with a black Cardinals hat resting upon his close-cut, copper-red hair. Meeting at Babe's was his idea — it's long been one of his favorite watering holes.

"I have a studio at Encapsulated Studios in Maplewood," he explains between sips of his Yuengling, "and I used to live over on Oleatha, and on the way home I would stop here and have a drink or two when I would be writing music and stuff like that. So it's just chill."

And yet, this is no time to chill. The guitarist and lead singer is currently gearing up for the release of his band's debut full-length, which is set to drop on February 23 with a listening party at the Record Space and a live appearance at noon on the Point (105.7 FM). It's the culmination of a lot of forethought and even more hard work, and Hoffman can barely contain his excitement.

"I've been looking so much forward to this album coming out that I haven't thought that much farther ahead than that," he admits.

That's not to imply that Hoffman isn't a careful planner — in fact, he says he's very deliberate about sitting down just before the start of each year and writing out a list of specific goals for the next twelve months. He says he often doesn't even go back to review the list, but the simple act of writing it all down seems to have a way of speaking things into existence, as it were.

"I am really big on having intention," Hoffman explains. "In the past when I was in bands, and just in life in general, there's been periods in my life where I wasn't being intentional — you're kind of just on autopilot. And I feel like when I really started to sit down and write goals and write songs, being thoughtful with the songs about the lyrics and the melodies and all that kind of stuff like that, that makes a ton of difference."

click to enlarge Wes Hoffman & Friends celebrate their debut album at the Record Space on February 23. - ALBUM ART
Wes Hoffman & Friends celebrate their debut album at the Record Space on February 23.

Hoffman's upcoming record, How It Should Be, is a 10-song pop-punk affair whose tracks frequently fail to crack the three-minute mark, heavy on emo influences and overflowing with hooky melodies and brisk tempos. It was recorded by Gabe Usery at the aforementioned Encapsulated Studios and released through Jump Start Records, a Philadelphia label that's worked in the past with like-minded acts including MxPx and the Wilhelm Scream, both of which Hoffman cites as early influences on his work.

Hoffman got his start in St. Louis' music scene in the early 2000s, making him one of the local musicians who still remembers the proto-social-media days of stlpunk.com rather fondly. He performed in a band called the Livingston Project from 2001 to 2002 before moving to Texas for a while, and then came back and played with a group called the Citation from 2004 to 2006. There were a few other short-lived projects outside of those, too.

But then, in a tale as old as the guitar, life started to get in the way. Hoffman met a gal and got a job and bought a house and settled down. By then in his mid-20s, he sort of assumed that his days playing in bands were behind him, that he just didn't have time for music anymore.

"There was almost 10 years there that I didn't even pick up a guitar," he explains.

Hoffman started his own networking company and married his girlfriend, and figured that was that as far as playing music is concerned. But then he gravitated back toward performing in 2015, putting in time with a band called Why Not, an experience that reignited a spark he'd thought long extinguished. When a drummer friend named Justin Unterseh (but nicknamed Hes Retnu, or just Hes) suggested the two get a practice space in 2017 just as Why Not was fizzling out, Hoffman leapt at the opportunity — and Wes Hoffman & Friends was born.

The band recorded a few songs in Unterseh's home studio and played as a three-piece with bassist Jacob Boyd for a couple years. It wasn't until just before the pandemic that Hoffman decided to go all-in with the band, spurred on by the sudden dissolution of his marriage, and with it his company.

"I shut down my business that I was running and moved out of my house, and all that stuff that comes with those transitions," he explains. "And I was at my studio at Encapsulated, and I just kind of had this thought of like, 'What if I try to write the best songs that I could and get as many people to listen to them as I could and see where it goes from there?'

"I'm 40 years old now, but that was almost four years ago," he adds. "So I was like, 'If I'm not gonna do this now I'm probably never gonna do this again."

It seems to have worked out swimmingly. Hoffman now has a record on the way through a label he admires, in addition to a new girlfriend and a new career. (He's a bit cagey as to the specifics of the latter, not wanting to have his place of employment unwittingly associated with his after-hours shenanigans, but he does offer with a laugh that it's "a very large dog food company based here in St. Louis.") His band has swelled to a five-piece with the addition of Johnny Wehner and Stephen Fee, each playing guitar and contributing backing vocals, along with some players that sub in and rotate in and out for different live shows as scheduling allows. Additionally, the group has a regular touring schedule that's taken it all throughout the Midwest, up and down the East Coast and as far west as Colorado, with plans to hit the West Coast when circumstances permit.

In short, he's living his dream. And though it may have all been the result of deliberate planning, even Hoffman isn't sure exactly how far this ride will take him.

"The big thing for me was always like, 'I want to be on a label and I want to put an album out on vinyl' and like, now I'm there," he muses. "It's like you're walking down the street and you're like, 'A mile seems so far away,' and then you get to a mile and you're like, 'Well now where do I go? So it's kind of like that. But it becomes clear to you when you get there." 

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