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After spending time on Canyon Hearts, ‘The Whatamagump,’ Spokane’s Tyrone Wells is back with new music

When Spokane native Tyrone Wells was 16, he got a job at McDonald’s, the one on Division Street, near NorthTown Mall.

The singer-songwriter lasted two weeks, for two reasons. He quickly became stressed by the fast pace of the kitchen, and he got a call from TJ Maxx asking him to come in for an interview.

That gig, lead of the ladies department, lasted a bit longer, through junior and senior years of high school and one year post-grad while Wells performed locally in a band.

Luckily for Wells, and listeners, his music career took off soon after, and he’s been releasing music steadily ever since.

His latest, the “Days I Will Remember” EP, brings him back to Spokane for a sold-out show at the Bartlett on Friday.

The EP is Wells’ first collection of original material since 2015’s “Roll With It,” and his current tour marks his first in two years, as he spent time with his family (he and his wife recently welcomed their third daughter) and pursuing other creative endeavors.

“I realized I could be on the road and be more successful, I think, as an artist if I was out there playing live all the time, but for me the trade off is not worth it,” Wells said from a recent tour stop in Denver. “I’d rather be present with my family so I’m trying to figure out the balance.”

But Wells has been plenty busy in the interim.

He released two covers EPs, “Covers One” and “Covers Two,” in October 2016 and March 2017, respectively, and Canyon Hearts his acoustic folk side project with musicians Micah Dahlberg and Brandon Zedaker, released its self-titled debut album in January.

Wells also teamed up with Bryan McIntyre and Greg Boettcher of Portland’s Broken Eagle Studio to create a children’s book called “The Whatamagump,” which follows a lovable creature and his best friend, a scrappy little girl named Julie, who helps him overcome his biggest fears.

Wells and his wife wrote a children’s book for fun more than a decade ago but didn’t pursue it after Wells’ career took off.

It wasn’t until McIntyre approached Wells with the idea for a children’s book that “The Whatamagump” began to take shape.

The trio used Kickstarter to crowdfund the project, meeting its goal on Thanksgiving Day 2016. The monthslong production process began in January 2017, and the book was released earlier this year.

“It’s been paid for by fans of my music and fans of their art which is so cool because now it exists in the world and it wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the support of all these people,” Wells said.

Wells also wrote and recorded a six-song EP to go along with the story.

You can hear Wells’ oldest daughter, Aria, singing with him on “What Is a Whatamagump?,” and he often receives videos from parents of their children dancing to the songs.

With “Canyon Hearts” and “The Whatamagump” out, Wells’ focus is now back on his own music. He released “Days I Will Remember” in April.

Wells said he wrote between 40 and 50 songs for the EP before settling on the six he, his publishing company and his management felt were the strongest.

Wells can’t pinpoint exactly what makes a song stand out and said the process of finding the strongest songs in the bunch is sometimes the hardest part of being an artist.

“When I’m creating I can get into a bit of a funk because I will create all this stuff and feel like I’m really digging deep to deliver something meaningful and sometimes it’s like crickets,” he said. “It’s not received the way I hoped it would be received… Those are the ones that you have to have open hands and not be too precious about it and realize that maybe this one’s just for me and that’s OK.”

Wells recorded the six-song EP with Derek Fuhrmann and Sean Cook, both located in Studio City, California.

Since returning to the road last month, Wells has enjoyed performing new music and he’s happy with how people are reacting to the EP.

Crowd reaction should be magnified when Wells returns to Spokane.

Wells said when he performs in Spokane, he usually recognizes about 15 percent of the crowd from school or church.

He also still has family in town. His sister Donelle Osborne is the head of the Spanish department at Shadle Park High School.

“She used to have a rule in her class that they could listen to Spanish music or they could listen to Tyrone Wells, which I always thought was so cool,” he said with a laugh.

Memories of McDonald’s and TJ Maxx aside, Wells is looking forward to returning to his former home.

“Whenever I come down the freeway, past the airport and come descending down into Spokane, this warm nostalgia rushes over me,” he said. “I think of all my good friends and a couple ex-girlfriends, those young man’s dreams. I love that. I love the city and a lot of people in the city so it’s a joy to come back.”