The impressive musicianship on Eckerd alumni Will Vennes’ newly released album, along with its sage, contemplative lyrics, speaks of someone who’s done a lot of living, but this 23-year-old 2018 graduate is just getting started. “I Think” marks his first full-length release, and it’s an achievement that’s been in the making for the past six years.
Vennes’ love affair with music began before he was born. His parents were dedicated Deadheads — his father’s tapes of the hundreds of shows he’s been to fill up his closet, and his mother loves to tell the story of the last time she saw Jerry Garcia alive, at a Dead show when she was pregnant with Vennes.
“I grew up listening to lullabies voiced by Jerry Garcia,” Vennes’ SoundCloud profile says, and he continues to cite the Grateful Dead as his greatest influence.
It was the Dead’s music that helped him learn to play guitar in the first place. Before high school, Vennes never would have dreamed he’d one day be a serious guitarist. That role belonged to his younger brother, Brent, while Vennes was the drummer of the family. Even after he first picked up his brother’s Gibson SG, he didn’t put much thought into learning and just played along with his parents’ records, trying to emulate the bands he loved.
That jamming became Vennes’ primary way to explore music over the next few years, but he didn’t think to put words to the chords he was strumming until he was 17. That was when he wrote the penultimate track on the album: “Tide Rising.”
“I've always been a builder, a drawer, a writer and a creator – but to realize that I could take those ideas and put them to music... it changed my life,” Vennes said.
From there, he honed his skills by doing open mic nights and jamming with his brother for hours. His next step as a musician came during his senior year at Eckerd, when he joined Professor Brian Jones’ experimental Rock Lab class and became the lead guitarist in the band Tropical Depression.
“[Tropical Depression] truly defines the way I carry myself when playing live, and when I record, in ways I never imagined it would,” Vennes said. “It really taught me to let loose and just jam.”
That experience gave him the confidence and drive to approach his longtime friend Brett Butzer, also known as Gulches, with the idea to master and release the songs that had until then been resting in Logic and Garageband files on his computer. After a lot of work over the summer in Vennes’ home state of Kentucky – including mixing, mastering and rock climbing in the Red River Gorge – “I Think” was ready to go.
Vennes released the album under the name “The Humgrumbler,” a name he says comes from his mother talking about his father’s sleep-talking habit. “‘He just humgrumbles all the time!’” he said, quoting his mother. “I liked that, so I made it my musical persona.”
But even after the release of the album, Vennes isn’t quite done with it.
“I am the most self-critical person you’ve ever met,” he said. “I listened to the album over and over after it went live… finding parts where I played not quite how I wanted it to sound to get the feeling across. It's surreal knowing that this is all anyone will hear. Not the process, not the time and care that went into the craft, just the final version.”
Vennes has a degree in marine geophysics and a burgeoning teaching career to focus on. Still, music is never far from his mind. He finds that his ukulele is a powerful teaching tool for the younger kids he works with, and his experience as a scientist has influenced his songwriting.
“I Think” is available for streaming on Spotify and Soundcloud, and for purchase and download on iTunes and CD Baby.