I’ve been following Australian-born, and now Los Angeles-based, singer/songwriter Wons Phreely (aka Justin Wonsley) since first learning about him in 2016. He’s an interesting, funny, thoughtful, hard-working and highly creative guy, and I love his music and off-beat vocal style. He grew up and began his music career in Perth, but relocated to Los Angeles in 2015 in search of a more dynamic and varied artistic environment where he could grow as a musician and artist.
In 2016, with his backup band The Horses he released an autobiographical single “Stars” that addressed his experiences overcoming self-doubt and fear of change, and enabling him to make the life-altering move from Australia to Los Angeles. In November 2017, he followed up with another great single “The Night Has An Alibi,” accompanied by a strange but brilliant video he directed in which he’s portrayed as only a head. I reviewed both singles, each of which ended up placing on my Top 100 Songs lists for 2016 and 2018, respectively. (You can check out those reviews under “Related” at the end of this post.)
Now he returns with a brand new single “Restless To Run“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. As with all his songs, Wons was inspired by his own life experiences: “I wrote the song about your (my) famous first romantic tryst and how it got all messed up.”
But he elaborates on a larger, more philosophical level: ‘Restless To Run’ is about all the many paths we can choose in life, and how sometimes we have to run down the wrong ones, fall down, get back up and then choose a new road to head down. We all mess up, fail and have false starts, I signed a with a big management and publishing label, but I had this feeling like it wasn’t right, like I had to get away, start again, and run in my own direction. Then I got to LA, where I felt more like myself. Even if I’m struggling daily, I’m doing things on my own terms, like directing music videos, or writing songs for people. Its not easy, but it’s the right road for me. And sometimes the failures can be what make us feel alive.
I’d like to dedicate this song to the spirit of embracing failure. That’s what I connect to in rock and roll. I wrote it after the passing of David Bowie. I actually found myself crying a little, which is something I’ve never done over the passing of a famous person. It felt almost like the end of an era when artists could experiment, and still be accepted by pop culture, with no consideration for commercial results. Just self expression on who they are and how they felt. Bowie’s first few albums completely flopped, and yet an industry and the public still supported him until he had formed his musical identity and began to connect through a very personal expression of who he was. Same goes for artists like Springsteen, Prince and Elton, who were failures for their first couple of records, but carried on anyway. And these artists arrived at some truly unique styles and self-expression that still resonates today. Time is a tricky one. It’s about learning who you are as you grow into yourself. Bowie made me want to make music that’s fun, camp, glamorous and sexy.”
Like all his songs, Wons starts with a catchy melody and bouncy, head-bopping beat, then layers jangly guitars, snappy drumbeats, and exuberant, swirling synths that evoke a sun-kissed and carefree Southern California afternoon. But the real highlight are his delightfully quirky but pleasing vocals that start off with a plaintive croon, then veer off into a joyous, breathy falsetto that’s so endearing. And I love how his Australian accent shines through.
He’s also released another clever video to accompany the single, about which he explains: “I wanted the video to feel like simpler times. It was deliberately shot with a lo-fi approach using a handheld iPhone with no lenses or smooth, stabilized shots. The aim was to convey innocence and romanticism—a longing you can only really capture and express through music.”
Wons also made a lyric video for the song that opens with an aerial shot of Hollywood that zeroes in on a billboard on Hollywood Boulevard that shows the video playing.