Aaron Rosell, a college student who goes by the musical alias of He Who Never, sits confidently in front of a piano. His fingers run across the keys expertly, producing enchanting euphonic chords and whimsical, heartfelt melodies with practically a flick of the wrist. Through his captivating musical scores combined with his poetic lyrics, the independent singer and songwriter He Who Never’s songs can easily leave one mesmerized.
He Who Never’s completely original acoustic piano music encourages personal reflection. The drums in the background, whose beats and rhythms are also composed by Rosell himself, provide a ground line to reality as their solemn sounds induce contemplation. His lyrics are hauntingly beautiful, and his soft, rich baritone expresses the honest emotion behind each and every one of his songs.
I had the distinct privilege of having a conversation with Aaron Rosell, the musical mastermind behind He Who Never, about his music and his inspiration last week.
Melissa: He Who Never is such an interesting musical alias. How did you come up that?
Aaron: The poem “You Who Never Arrived” by my favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, inspired the name, actually. I changed the “you” to “he,” and came up with He Who Never. The poem’s first line is “You who never arrived in my arms, Beloved, who were lost from the start, I don’t even know what songs would please you.” This really moved me, especially because I originally started writing music for girls.
Melissa: What inspires you when you’re composing your music and writing your lyrics as He Who Never?
Aaron: Well, my music is generally sad. To me, sadness is the most inspiring emotion. I am usually obnoxiously energetic—my roommate is laughing because he knows—and most people don’t see me as a sad person. I reserve the emotion of sadness for the realm of music, because that’s how I naturally express it. My album “Left” definitely focuses on the sadness of romantic stuff, and I hope that people will be able to mold it to their lives.
Wherever I go also has a big influence on my music. I spent the entire year abroad in England last year and that was really inspiring. No matter what, even though my music comes from a place of transcending sadness, you have to find yourself surrounded by good things. I’ve spent the majority of my life optimistically and I attribute that to the amazing places that I have been. Basically, when shit hits the fan, I hit a piano and get rid of it.
Melissa: What comes first: the music or the lyrics?
Aaron: Music always comes first for me. They lyrics usually take a longer time because I really put a lot into them. I play the piano everyday and themes always seem to arise. I eventually take my favorite themes and turn them into songs.
Melissa: How did you start playing the piano and composing?
Aaron: My parents put me in piano lessons in second grade. I did that all the way until somewhere in eighth grade. I hated playing in recitals and I made the decision to quit lessons. But that’s when I really started playing the piano: I finally had the agency to play whatever songs I wanted, so I started playing things Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, and started learning things by ear for the first time. I composed my first song in eleventh grade to ask my girlfriend at the time to prom.
Melissa: What is one of the best parts of being a recording musician?
Aaron: When you write a song, for a while, it’s just you playing it in your basement. Then you can record it and release it, and all of a sudden it’s not really yours anymore. It’s everyone else’s, and everyone interprets it in a different way. You can emotionally affect people that you will never meet. Because of this, I’ve learned to stop having an “agenda” for my music, if you know what I mean—like, I used to hope that someone would understand exactly what I meant by my music. I’m over that. I’d rather see people get something out of it.
Melissa: That’s so interesting, and I really respect that you want other people to benefit from your music in their own ways. However, I personally am interested in what the intended theme of your first album “Left” is—can you tell me about that?
Aaron: For a lot of “Left,” I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to other people. It was mostly like me basically reflecting on my own past and trying to see myself through it. So yeah, a running theme of “Left” is getting over your past. For example, my song “Denuo: Pt. 2,” is about that time when you’re about to go off to college and you’re sick of high school and want to leave your hometown. The imagery in “Denuo: Pt. 2” is of a guy setting a clock on fire. You can burn the clock, but the seconds are still the same as a unit of time. Burn all the clocks you want, but your past is still going to be there, so instead of dwelling on it, you might as well move forward. “Denuo” is the Latin word for rebirth.
“Just Like” stems from the concept of being romantically involved with someone before you’re okay with yourself…before you’ve really accepted yourself as a person. And this person is admiring this stuff about you that you don’t admire yet. It’s kind of about the common cliché “You can’t love anyone if you can’t love yourself.” This was a big part of my past.
As for the song “Calvary,” I’ve struggled for years—I think we all do—to come to terms with religion and our own existences and everything like that. I was raised very, very Lutheran and I was still quite Lutheran when I wrote that song, and it’s about Good Friday and the death of Jesus. This song is about coming to terms with the past in a more abstract sense. Jesus’s death was in the past, but in my religion, it still symbolically affects me today.
“Speak” was a reflection on a summer. I was reflecting at the end of the summer about a failed romance. That’s really what it’s about, but lyrically, I think it’s my favorite. This song is very rooted in poetry.
I wrote “Morning” as a Valentine’s Day present for a girl I liked at the time.
My newest single “The Ruse” is definitely a romantic one. I’ll talk about that one, too, even though it isn’t on “Left.” A few summers ago, I had a 9 to 5 summer job in a warehouse. I was crushing hard on a girl, who lived in the most rural part of Iowa, and something about her seemed so pure and innocent, which likely had to do with her rural upbringing. Because of this, I started wondering where my life was headed, and one day found myself packing a box at this warehouse reflecting on the difference between industrialized society and the peaceful countryside life. I started contemplating whether I’d rather lead a busy, stressful life in a city or live a quiet life with someone I really love. The more that you chase music as a job, the more you become embedded in an urban pop-culture society, and I wasn’t sure if that’s what I really wanted.
Melissa: Your first album “Left” and your single “The Ruse” are amazing, and I know that I personally can’t wait for more. Can you give us any hints about your next album?
Aaron: I will most likely be recording it over the summer. There is a lot of stuff that I’m writing, and I can’t wait to release it, but I have to wait. I can’t make any promises about the content as of right now, because things always change during the recording process because you start realizing what you can and can’t do, and sometimes your songs change. What I can tell you is that I plan on recording my next album with a full band. All of the extra guitars and things were missing from “Left,” and I want to spend more time on this next album so I can get them in. I’d also like this album to be a full album rather than an E.P. It will have at least 10 songs.
At the moment, I am playing the piano and doing some background vocals for the musician Jamison Murphy, so that’s a project that I’ve been working on.
Melissa: Do you have an official band that you play with?
Aaron: No, it’s just me. I’d like to do what Bon Iver did, though. At first [Justin Vernon] had a solo career, but then he got a band and now they are known as a band. I would love to do that, because as great as it has been to do this solo thing, and to get through what I got through by doing it, I’m really more interested in community, so I’d like to have a set band at some point.
Melissa: What is the hardest part about being a recording musician?
Aaron: My emotions at the time of writing each song are encapsulated and preserved forever in song form. Songs don’t always stay current because situations change over time. However, you still have to climb into that musical encapsulation every time you play these songs, and sometimes that is very difficult.
For more information on He Who Never, you can visit his website
You can also listen to his work with the musician Jamison Murphy on www.jamisonmurphy.com