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The double life of Wesley Stace, author/musician



Wesley Stace is that rare bird who has found success in more than one creative discipline.

Under the pseudonym John Wesley Harding, taken from the Bob Dylan album of the same name, Stace has recorded more than a dozen albums and found a fan in Bruce Springsteen. But under his own name, Stace, 45, has published three novels. His first two have garnered serious praise internationally, and his third, “Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer,” is expected to do just as well after its publication this month.

We spoke with Stace about his double life.

Are your song- and fiction-writing processes separate? Being a musician is a very sociable thing to do, and it makes it a very good balance with being a writer, which is a very solitary thing to do — so on that level alone I think they complement each other very well. As processes go, they’re completely different: You can write a [song] on a plane or a train or the back of a napkin in a bar. But a novel … I need to sit around and have seas of days on either side of me to cushion myself in and relax.

Have you had a song inspired by a novel, or vice versa? I couldn’t tell you that one has totally come out of the other … There’s this folk song called “Little Musgrave” that turns out to be the central plot of the main opera in [“Charles Jessold”], and that’s a song I’ve been playing for ages and ages. … If I could write operas, I would write one with “Little Musgrave” being the central theme of it. But it’s difficult to think of too many times when I’ve gone: “Ooo, this isn’t working as a song, but I could turn it into a novel.”

Why did you choose to record under a pseudonym? When I first started making music, I decided that I’d go with a pseudonym mainly because I assumed it would go very wrong very soon, and I didn’t want anybody to know what I was doing with my spare time.
But you use your own name for writing? When I spent seven years writing the first novel, there was no question in my mind that it was not an artistic creation of “John Wesley Harding.” … So it was very natural to just put the book under “Wesley Stace.”

Are there drawbacks to having two different public identities? One slightly annoying thing about it is that everybody always wants you to get your guitar out at a reading. It’s like, “Come on, you don’t ask so-and-so to cook because he can also cook.”


Wesley Stace has several events coming up:

• Concert: Feb. 6, PS 122

• Cabinet of Wonders Variety Show: Feb. 11, City Winery

• Reading/Discussion: Feb. 23, Hunter College

• Reading/Concert: Feb. 24, NYU

• For more info, visit:

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