In the Spring of 1998 Jason Webley quit his day job, picked up his accordion, and hopped onto a Greyhound bus with the intention of playing in the streets until his money ran out. Nearly ten years, five albums and over a dozen countries later, Webley is still rambling across state lines and howling at the tomato moon. Along the way, Webley has garnered devoted fans everywhere from Moscow to Mexico City
Webley appears like a back alley prophet in layers of baggy clothes, a trench coat and an old porkpie hat; he leaps onto stages, window ledges and bartops, feverishly pumping the bellows and stomping out the beat while roaring and whispering in his passionate, gravelly baritone. His music – a mix of gypsy, folk and punk – traverses age and social background, drawing grandparents, children, punks, drunks, and lovers into the fold. As a Seattle Weekly critic observed, “sixteen-year-old Goths, parents with little kids, aging hippies and fellow musicians – all can be seen at his concerts.”
Webley’s shows are often much more than musical events. Stories, puppet shows and sing-alongs fill the spaces between songs. In one moment, spellbound by Webley’s lyrical verse and mysterious air, the audience will be so quiet you can hear a feather fall; in the next, the entire room will erupt into a giant tickle fight. Playful abandon and childlike frivolity are contagious. Everyone laughs. Some people cry. And, almost every show ends with the entire audience, swaying arm-in-arm, singing at the top of their lungs.
Beyond the accordion, Webley plays a variety of instruments – guitar, piano, and his trademark percussion instrument – a plastic vodka bottle full of coins gathered around the world. With degrees in sound engineering and theater, he produces all of his own albums and builds most of the elaborate props for his shows himself. The lino-cut prints that adorn several of his album covers and t-shirts are also carved by his own hand.
Well known for being a bit of a prankster, Webley once surprised the crew and passengers on a local commuter ferry by leading aboard a group of hundreds of fans dressed as pirates. That same year at Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival, Webley was arrested after a zealous crowd pushed him to the top of the International Fountain. More recently, he staged a series of guerilla “musicals” in local supermarkets.
For the five years, around Halloween, Jason Webley “died,” symbolically shedding his stage persona for the winter. At the first death his fans were led into the woods where Webley was stripped, shaved, placed in a coffin and driven away, not to be heard from for six months. In subsequent years he was carried away by a siren on a boat, left overnight tied to a tree, and swallowed in a maelstrom of balloons. Each spring, after half a year of silence, Webley was “reborn.” First emerging from a coffin with a new look and a completely different repertoire, subsequent births found him swimming through near-freezing water to a show on a moored cruise ship and emerging from a cocoon like a butterfly. Between the spring and Halloween concerts, Webley kept an unrelenting tour schedule.
In 2004 however, fans saw a shift in this pattern. During his annual Halloween concert, Webley reenacted all four of the previous deaths, indicating that a cycle had been completed.
Since then, Webley has kept a busy schedule touring most of the year. In addition to venues across the US and Canada, he travels frequently to Europe and Russia (he has become something of a minor celebrity in Moscow).
He has also began his own record label, Eleven Records, and started a series of eleven collaborative records with his many musician friends around the the world. These have included recordings with The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, as well as his single “Eleven Saints” whose animated video has been a small internet senation, winning the attention of cult radio hero Dr. Demento and fantasy author Neil Gaiman
In 2008, Webley released his fifth full length album The Cost of Living. The new album features the members of his touring group, Michael McQuilken, Jherek Bischoff and Alex Guy.
Jason Webley has shared the stage with The Dresden Dolls, Devothcka, Regina Spektor, Architcture in Helsinki, The Avett Brothers, The Faint, Damien Jurado, Against Me, Laura Veirs, and Deerhoof. He has toured Australia, Russia, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, the Ukraine and many other countries, and has performed in hundreds of venues including The Great American Music Hall, CBGBs, the Gilman Street Project, Burning Man and the Glastonbury Festival.