Bellowing viscous slabs of meaty stoner riffs and psychedelic itineraries, Dallas trio Wo Fat have little in common with the sly Hawaii 5-0 villain from whom they take their name. Nonetheless, the Brainticketed brainchild of songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and engineer Kent Stump sees the countdown through to zero and blasts strings first into ’70s space like something out of a Monster Magnet video on their second full-length, the aptly journeying Psychedelonaut, turning cuts like “Analog Man” and “Two the Hard Way” into bloozy (we all know which words combine to make that one) anthems of nonconformity and defiance. Floating helpless into the depths of “The Spheres Beyond,” no one can hear you scream for more.
They began their waltz down the riff-hand path with The Gathering Dark, but Psychedelonaut is a next-level effort the dynamism of which is slow to reveal itself and willingly reverential of the lords of both classic guitar muscle-building and any and all waves of stoner rock. You got your Fus all Manchued and your Goblins are all Orange. Amps too on that last one.
Stump‘s adjoining rhythm section, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter, propel the huge side B jam of “Not of this Earth,” making their presence fully known among the blues-becued licks, but it was the guitarist himself who was kind enough to answer some questions via email about the inspirations behind Wo Fat‘s psych turn, whether or not they’re stoner rock and what can be expected from them in the future (hint: it involves vinyl). Interview and some listening music are after the jump.
Give some background on the band. What?s the Wo Fat story so far?
Wo Fat began somewhere around 2003 or 2004, I think. The original concept was to build from the dark hypnotic blues of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside and throw in a good helping of Sabbath and Sleep. In some ways it moved beyond that, but we do stay within the realm of a dark deep blues. We jammed very sporadically in the beginning — once every few months. As we were starting to pull some songs together, a friend of mine, Matt Watkins, started playing guitar with us. Matt is a killer guitar player and playing with us the short time that he did influence my own playing tremendously. Unfortunately, Matt moved to Kansas City. For a while he tried commuting from KC for jams, but ultimately that was just not realistic. So then there were three. He does play on three songs on our first record, The Gathering Dark.
One of the cool things about Wo Fat is the fact that we’re all good friends. Rehearsal is as much about hanging out as it is rehearsing. Michael and I have known each other for some 20 years and have played in a number of bands together. Tim played in an improvisational noise band prior to Wo Fat. All three of us have widely varied musical tastes and backgrounds which helps in bringing more depth and perspective to the music.
You?ve said that you went more psych for this album. Was that on purpose or just the way the songs came out when you were writing? Was there something in particular you think might have inspired the change?
I think it was probably a bit of both. I had in mind that I wanted a more “live” feel to this record. I wanted to capture as much live as possible and even though there would inevitably be overdubs, I wanted it to feel like the band playing live, which I think it does. We had also gradually become more jam oriented I think. Open-ended solos, free jams, etc. I had been listening to Earthless, a lot of ?70s fusion (Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock‘s Mwandishi band, Eddie Henderson, etc.) and Tommy Bolin‘s band Energy, and I wanted to incorporate more of that freedom, groove and interplay/communication between players that’s present in music that involves a lot of improvisation. We strove for more freedom of all three instruments, bass, guitar and especially the drums, while still remaining within the context of the overall style.
What is the origin behind ?El Culto de la Avaricia?? Something about that song just makes me think there?s a tale there waiting to be told.
“El Culto de la Avaricia,? or “The Cult of Greed,” is song about unchecked corporate greed told using H.P. Lovecraft-ish imagery. It’s a horror story about CEOs whose thirst for more and more profits at any cost conjures up monstrosities that grow beyond their control and will eventually doom us all. While The Gathering Dark was much more political lyrically, this is really the only political song on Psychedelonaut.
You can really hear a Fu Manchu vibe in the vocals on ?Analog Man,? and that groove is killer. Was there some negative experience with digital recording that inspired the song?
I did have Fu Manchu and Brant Bjork‘s solo stuff in mind for the vocals on “Analog Man.” I guess also lyrically too. Instead of talking about hot rodded cars or something like that, I figured I’d talk about something I know well: recording. I am a recording engineer by day and I spend my days recording, using both analog and digital gear. I don’t know that I’ve had any specific bad digital experience, but I do enough work in both the digital and analog worlds that I truly believe in the superior sound of good analog gear. That’s not to say that great sounding records can’t be made completely digitally, because they can. I think what “Analog Man” is partly about is pushing back against the ever more pervasive virtual world that we live in where everything is a simulation of something that was once real and tangible. It is also arguing against the idea that because something is new, it must be better, which is more and more frequently not the case these days. True craftsmanship and quality work seems to be falling by the wayside and the world of making records is an example of that: mp3s, software plug-ins that are made to emulate vintage gear and analog tape, digital guitar amp simulators that are made to imitate the sound of classic tube amps, etc. If you don’t have the real things to compare them to, then maybe they sound fine, but ultimately they all fall short. That’s why people still pay thousands of dollars for tube amps and that’s why vinyl is making a comeback. In a lot of ways it’s a battle of convenience and expense versus quality. Analog, whether it’s a guitar amp, a recording console or pressing vinyl records is expensive and takes more work. It’s just not convenient.
Since you write the songs, what roles do Tim and Michael play in the creative process? Everyone is credited on ?The Spheres Beyond,? was there something different about how that song was composed? Is it just a matter of who does what while jamming?
Most of the time, I come into rehearsal with relatively complete song ideas, in terms of form, structure, lyrics and riffs. I don’t necessarily have ideas specifically as to what Michael and Tim will play though. They will figure that out as we play the song together, and often parts will change as we hear how things sound and see how the parts lay when we’re actually playing them. Michael and Tim supply me with invaluable feedback on ideas as well.
When we first started, there was maybe less collaboration, but more and more we are of the same vibe. We have some new songs ideas that are based on jams that we have had at rehearsal.
“The Spheres Beyond” was actually a live in-the-studio jam that we then added some more stuff to (like some percussion, B3 and some additional guitar parts). We didn’t have anything worked out in advance other than a vibe as a starting point, so it was completely a band improvisation/collaboration.
How did you come to record yourself? Did you have an idea of what you wanted Psychedelonaut to sound like before you started putting it to tape?
As I said earlier, I am a recording engineer professionally, so it was kind of a given that I would record us. Plus it’s a lot cheaper that way. Sometimes it’s hard to do both, play/perform and engineer. It’s hard to be objective. Someday it would be cool to have a great engineer like Joe Barresi or David Sardy record Wo Fat, but for now, we will do what we can.
I did have some things in mind sonically before we started recording. I wanted it to feel live and urgent. I wanted to get nice thick molten guitar tones. I love the guitar sound on the Bongzilla Gateway album and was trying to achieve something similar. I also had the super fat but still cutting through the mix snare drum sound of Fu Manchu‘s ?King of the Road”(the song) in mind. The King of the Road album as a whole has a really nice analog sound to it that I wanted to achieve also.
Michael really digs the drum sound, especially the overheads, on the Mystick Krewe of Clearlight record, so we also were keeping that in mind.
What does the Hammond add to the sound of the band?
Man, I love the sound of the Hammond B3 organ! It definitely adds more of a ?70s vibe to things. Who doesn’t love the sound of those sweet overdriven tubes running through a spinning Leslie speaker? ?I would like to use it more in the future, but maybe with somebody with more skill than I have playing.
Where did the idea for the album art come from? It?s a really cool blend of old and new school styles and it looks like one of those covers you could just stare at for a while. Did you know what you wanted visually?
The front cover was done by a very talented artist named Jessica Beethe. Her style seemed like it would be a great fit for what we were going for, so we commissioned her to create the cover for us. Her art had elements of sci fi and futuristic visions, was somewhat surreal, and she also does cool beasts and dragons. We wanted something vaguely ?70s, kind of psychedelic, kind of sci fi-ish, and something that worked well with the title Psychedelonaut and I think she nailed it. We all love album covers that you can look at for a long time and trip out on. The inside was sort of inspired by the opening sequence of The Andromeda Strain from 1971.
Do you consider Wo Fat stoner rock?
Yeah, I think so. I’m not really offended by the term stoner rock like many people seem to be. Our music is heavily influenced by ?70s rock and we strive to take you on a trip when you listen to it. I also kind of think of our music as roots metal, because we are going way back to the beginnings of metal and using those ideas: the blues, Sabbath, ZZ Top, Zeppelin, Hendrix, etc., to form the basis for our music.
There are a ton of bands in and around Austin, obviously, but what?s Dallas like? I know there?s the Dallas Doom Daze fest. What else is going on down there. Any bands the world needs to know about?
The Dallas music scene as a whole is kind of strange. It’s not what it once was 15-20 years ago and it’s definitely not like Austin. Dallas doesn’t seem to do a good job supporting local original music of any kind. Dallas is a very appearance driven city and I think because of that atmosphere, a lot of people can’t decide for themselves that they dig something unless somebody, like the Dallas Observer, has said it’s cool. Cover bands and tribute bands do well here, which is pretty sad.
There are a couple glimmers of hope though. We have had the Dallas Doom Daze festival the last two years which is put together by a super cool guy named Justin [Delord], who works harder than anybody around here to try and build a stoner/doom/underground metal scene. The festival has been really cool and Justin’s managed to get killer bands from across the country to come and play. Hopefully it will just get bigger and gather more support each year. There are also some smokin’ bands around: Blood of the Sun, Justin‘s band, Kin of Ettins, Orthodox Fuzz, Little Big Horn, Dragna and Jury of Robots, to name a few.
How has it been working with John Perez? How did you get hooked up with Brainticket in the first place?
Man, it has been great so far. John is the coolest guy. I actually met John last year at the first Dallas Doom Daze festival. He started selling our first album, The Gathering Dark, through the Brainticket online store and when we were finishing up recording and mastering Psychedelonaut, we decided to talk to John about releasing it on Brainticket. John is a bit of a legend in this scene and we wanted to have some of the legitimacy and street cred that would come with his name and backing. He dug the record and we made a deal. We were really psyched about the fact that John wants to release Psychedelonaut on vinyl also. Look for that to happen soon.
What are the band?s plans going forward? Any other closing words or details you want to spill?
Our goals right now are to get Psychedelonaut out on vinyl and to try and find a way to go to Europe and play. We are also writing new songs for the next album.
Tags: Brainticket, Dallas, Texas, Wo Fat