The Wrens’ Kevin Whelan & Charles Bissell Trade Blows In New Interview About Breakup

The Wrens’ Kevin Whelan & Charles Bissell Trade Blows In New Interview About Breakup

Kevin Whelan, formerly of the Wrens, is releasing Observatory, his debut album as Aeon Station, next month on Sub Pop. Notoriously, half of the album was originally recorded for inclusion on the next Wrens album, the long-awaited follow-up to 2003’s widely beloved The Meadowlands, which was also supposed to be released by Sub Pop. But due to a falling out with Wrens bandmate Charles Bissell — who has been tinkering with the new Wrens music for more than a decade, and who was seeking more robust credit for his leadership over the recordings — Whelan decided to take his half of the album release an album of his own with assists from the other two Wrens, his brother Greg Whelan and Jerry MacDonald. Bissell is now planning to release his own songs as a solo album, a situation he has described as “incredibly weird and sad.”

A new feature today in The Guardian includes further commentary on the situation from Whelan and Bissell. For instance, Whelan says he chose the band name Aeon Station to reflect the aeons-long wait to release his music, and the cover image of a half-constructed office block communicates that “projects sometimes just don’t get finished.” Whelan also traces some of the tensions between himself and Bissell to 2014, when the Wrens announced that they’d signed a record deal and Bissell posted, “My best years and work are clearly behind me. Which is sad, because I’ve pretty much burned every available moment of the last four years at least doing this.” The album, which was supposedly completed by this point, returned to a state of flux. Whelan, meanwhile, was upset about Bissell publicly sharing misgivings about the music: “You’re gonna bring people on the journey like you’re Kim Kardashian?” he told The Guardian. “It’s repulsive to me. We can throw it in the garbage and start again, but we don’t need to tell the Joneses.”

The subject of Bissell’s desire for more credit is explored at length in the story. Whelan says Bissell, who produced the music and slavishly worked on it on and off for more than a decade, wanted a larger financial stake in the album. Bissell denies that his concerns were about money; he says he contributed arrangements and guitar parts to the Aeon Station music that have been left intact or re-recorded without credit. Reporter Jazz Monroe listened to an alternate version of the Aeon Station song “Queens” that, with Bissell’s contributions, sounded like the Wrens through and through. “[Whelan’s] story is that I worked on the album for too long, but that simultaneously somehow I also had nothing to do with [the Aeon Station] songs,” Bissell says. “I suddenly found myself being portrayed as often as not as the baddie, as if I had somehow held him back, intentionally or at least thoughtlessly and selfishly even, which I’ve gotta say, was really confusing and weird.”

The story wraps up with quite a few biting quotes from Whelan. On the February 2021 deadline he gave Bissell: “Ultimatum is sometimes seen as a bad word, but if you waited from 2007 until 2021, I think you were pretty generous.” On the notion that Bissell deserves an increased financial stake in the recordings: “If you hire someone to paint your walls and it takes 10 years, how should you pay him?” And then there’s the kicker: “I let my dreams sit on the bottom shelf for a long time. It’s a betrayal that I let a decade of my life go by and did nothing.”

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