Wo Fat Interview with Kent Stump: Modern Man Goes Head First into the Bayou Juju, Lives to Jazz it up Another Day
Okay. You’re a heavy rock trio from Dallas, and you’ve put out two albums on Brainticket Records, each better than the last. You’ve got a decent buzz about you and your name is starting to ring out from the small but tight-knit scene you occupy.
Time to start blowing minds.
Or so it would seem has been the decision of Wo Fat, whose third album, Noche del Chupacabra, has been a first-quarter highlight of 2011. The full-length was released back in January via German esoterica purveyors Nasoni Records, and it’s a maddeningly potent blend of fuzz crunch, psych wonder and low-end groove. A step beyond the already-masterful second LP, Psychedelonaut (2009), Noche del Chupacabra sees Wo Fat range even further into the realm of solo improvisation — never losing sight of the song in the process, as so many do. Built from four tracks and an extended instrumental titular jam, Noche del Chupacabra is shorter, meaner and Wo Fat at their most lethal yet.
Somehow, though, in the process of trimming down the runtime from nearly 72 minutes to Noche del Chupacabra‘s vinyl-ready 46, the songs got bigger. Not necessarily longer, but they do more. The parts work harder. Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, who also recorded the album, leads Wo Fat with vibrant and spontaneous soloing, backed by the weighted rhythm section of bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter. Their influences concoct a familiar brew of hard-hitting ’70s rock turned fuzz bastardry, but like the best of the new generation of Heavy bands — Lo-Pan comes to mind as a contemporary comparison point — Wo Fat teach old dog riffage the new trick of kicking your ass.
Tracks like “Descent into the Maelstrom” and “Common Ground” blend the catchy choruses of Psychedelonaut‘s high-point material with Stump‘s increasing focus on a live-sounding presentation. In the interview that follows, the guitarist discusses his ethic going into recording Noche del Chupacabra, the process by which Wo Fat writes their songs, signing the deal with Nasoni, the source of his jazz influence, and much, much more.
Unabridged Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.
I know it’s been two years, but it seems really quick since the last release. When did you guys start writing for Noche del Chupacabra?
It was probably before we even finished the last one. Probably right as soon as we finished, which is kind of how it always works. As soon as we get done, I can kind of leave all that behind and start thinking about new stuff, and we usually immediately start working on that. We were able to get this one done a lot quicker than the previous one anyway. It seems kind of fast to me too, thinking about it.
Was there some change in how you recorded it that made it go quicker?
The whole recording process for us always takes a long time because of the situation at the studio. I work at a recording studio, and so we basically record when there’s off time at the studio, when there’s nothing going on. Sometimes that ends up keeping us from being able to get anything done for months (laughs), but this last time, I don’t know, it just worked out schedule-wise and we were able to keep working at a fairly regular pace and we were just able to get it done. Also, it’s half as much music, time-wise, as what we’d done before. That helped make it a lot quicker too.
That was something I wanted to ask about, the shorter runtime. How did that come about?
We started out originally with the goal of being able to release it on vinyl. This was before Nasoni released Psychedelonaut on vinyl. We’d come to terms with the fact that we were just going to have to pay for it ourselves, to put it out on vinyl, and we didn’t want to have to do a double record, so we just made the decision to make it all fit on a record. I think that actually was a good thing. It challenged me to be a little more concise. I didn’t feel like I had to try and get every single idea that I had on there. And of course, it ended up working out with Nasoni, that we didn’t have to pay for it, because we worked out the deal with Nasoni and it was a really cool thing.
How did that deal come about?
John Perez of Brainticket put out Psychedelonaut for us. He’s got a long history and friendship with the Nasoni people, and I guess he had sent them a promo of Psychedelonaut, and they contacted him last May, asking if we’d be interested in releasing it on vinyl – because John didn’t have any plans to do that with Brainticket and we couldn’t afford to do it ourselves – and Nasoni really dug the record and wanted to put it out on vinyl. We were like, “Yeah, totally. We’d love to do that!” We were already in the process of recording Chupacabra at that point, and things worked really well with Nasoni, and they expressed interest in doing the new record, and we were like, “Yeah, totally. Let’s do it.” CD and vinyl. It worked out great. And, you know, the whole Nasoni thing – we were looking to get a little more international distribution and credibility, and it was cool to be hooked up with Nasoni, which was a little more of a psychedelic/jam-ish vibe. We were headed in that direction a little bit ourselves, anyway.
I think there’s an interesting balance of that kind of stuff on the album. Psychedelonaut was more straightforward heavy rock, but on this one, you have the title track that’s all jammed out, and I thought the songs in general on Noche del Chupacabra were more open.
Yeah. I think we were definitely going for that. I like the structure of certain things. I like having certain songs structured and riffs structured, but I also like the idea of just expanding beyond that and the openness. I like that open sort of feel, and we’re headed in that direction more and more, I think. I like it (laughs).
Is that something that you deliberately wanted to do after Psychedelonaut, going into the writing for these songs?
Maybe a little bit. I think it’s a natural progression, because we started heading a little bit that way with Psychedelonaut. Just as far as our playing together, we tried to do more jamming and free-form jamming, and there’s also an influence of ‘70s fusion and jazz and things like that that added to the sensibility. We wanted to approach it with a jazz approach to playing rock and roll, if that makes any sense. A lot more improvisation, a lot more space for improvisation, and communication between the three of us playing together, and not being quite as tied down to real strict song structures. The songs are still structured, but when we play live, especially the solo sections, it’s all an open-ended thing, and whenever we feel like the solo’s over, then we’ll look at each other and move onto the next section.
How do you decide, then, when you’re recording, what is the final album version of a song?
With the five songs on Chupacabra, or even the first four, even though there’s an openness as far as the solo sections go, they are structured. The fifth song, “Chupacabra,” we worked on the various different sections and we knew where it was gonna go, but when we recorded it, we just went in and played it, maybe twice, and picked the best take. It unfolded naturally and it’s just a communication between the three of us as far as when we would change sections, and it worked out pretty well. But I guess it just ends up being a thing of what feels right at the time and when we listen back and say, “Ah, that take had a good vibe.” Really, we’re going for what feels good and feels like it has a good vibe to us.
Was anything on Psychedelonaut done that way, or was that all more rigidly structured?
For the most part it was, except for the very last song, “The Spheres Beyond,” which actually was almost completely improvised in the studio and then we added some other tracks to it. Trying to remember. We had a really, really sparse structural idea for it, but for the most part, that was basically just an improvisation in the studio that we added parts to after the fact. So that, I guess, was the beginning of pursuing or going down this more jazz-like road.
Where does that jazz influence come from? Is that you, or is it a whole-band thing?
It’s probably me. It’s definitely a lot me, because I do come from a jazz background in a sense. I’ve listened to jazz and been interested in improvisational music for my whole wife, although Michael, our drummer, and I were both jazz majors at UNT a long time ago, so there is that aspect of it. Yeah, I guess it’s probably all three of us, really, but we all listen to a lot of different types of music. Jazz is definitely an influence that creeps in more and more. But at the same time, we don’t want to be jazz, we don’t want to play jazz. We want to have that mindset but still play heavy rock and roll. Trying to figure out how to coalesce the two can be difficult. After Psychedelonaut, I was pushing Michael to approach his drumming like a jazz drummer, but still playing with the force and the heaviness and everything else like a rock and roll drummer, and you know, that’s a hard thing to figure out. I didn’t necessarily have a specific thing in mind to tell him what to do, it was just like (laughs), “It’d be cool if we could figure out how to make these two things the same.” And really, to me, that’s what Mitch Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix – they had that sort of thing. Mitch Mitchell seems like he was almost like a jazz drummer, the way he approached things. Ginger Baker too. Take that, but make it heavier. How do we do that?
How is it for you recording your own band? Do you have to step outside the guitar and the singing to work as an engineer/producer?
It’s pretty hard, actually. It’s hard to be objective about certain things. Because I end up obsessing about every aspect of it. I obsess about the sound. I obsess about the performance. The good thing, especially with this record, is Michael and Tim – and this is sort of the progression from Psychedelonaut – have taken on more of a role in producing, helping me not to become too obsessed in the studio (laughs). Helping in the decision-making process, with cutting vocals and things like that, it’s nice to not have it all be on me. And I think sometime maybe it would be cool to have somebody else record us, but then I think, would I actually be able to give up enough control to do that? I don’t know. I think it would be a cool experience to have somebody else do it. Just to take that responsibility off of me.
Is there anyone you’d really like to work with?
Joe Barresi has always been a favorite of mine. He did the Kyuss records. He did Fu Manchu and a bunch of stuff. I always liked Jack Endino a lot, too. Those are the guys that come to mind first, but I’m sure there’s more if I thought about it.
Thinking of Michael and Tim taking on more of a role in the recording, how much does everyone play into the writing and putting the songs together?
For the most part, I’ll come up with almost a finished song idea, and then we’ll flesh it out together in rehearsal. For this last album, Michael actually wrote one of the songs himself, and he came in and sang what he wanted the riffs to be, and showed us what he was thinking and we worked it out together. That was the first time that anybody other than me had actually written a song. It was a nice thing to have another perspective, another voice, bringing something in like that. It was cool.
But aside from the last track, which is everyone jamming, it was basically you writing it?
Do you prefer it that way, or is it just how it’s come together working with Michael and Tim?
I think it’s been that way just because I kind of got the ball rolling in the first place when we first started as a band and had an idea of what I wanted to do. I think as we play together more and grow more and more to be on the same page musically, probably in the future, they’ll be bringing more ideas in and contributing more of their own vision to the overall thing, which I think is a great thing.
And at the same time, that kind of allows you to branch out further, musically.
Yeah. It’s nice to have other people coming up with riffs, because sometimes I feel like I can get in a rut and come up with the same kinds of things over and over (laughs). It’s nice to have other voices adding to that.
Talk about layering in the recording process. It seems like there’s a lot of layering in the guitars and I thought I heard some extra percussion on the last track. How much of that comes from you as a producer?
As far as additional guitars, Chupacabra probably has the least additional guitars of all three records. Basically it’s just two guitar tracks and one of the two tracks will have solo parts on it. That was a conscious decision, keeping more of a live-band feel to it, rather than having a guitar popping out of nowhere and then it goes away. But as far as the percussion goes, there is a lot of other percussion. The intro to “Chupacabra,” the last song, that whole first half of the song was influenced by African rhythms and some African music that I’d listened to, and also a little bit of John Coltrane vibe in there too, but because of the African rhythms we were doing – Michael and I are both fans of African music and he’s a great percussionist. So we were like, “Man, let’s put some African percussion, congas and shakeray and some other African stuff.” We stuck it on there and I wasn’t sure how it was gonna turn out with the heavier guitars, and it was a challenge to mix it. I think it turned out pretty cool. What I was afraid of – I didn’t want it to sound like Santana. I mean, I love Santana, but I didn’t want to come across as cliché as, “Oh, this is just a Santana ripoff.” I don’t feel like I get down like that, but yeah. There’s a lot of percussion going on there. Some of it you almost don’t even really notice.
Some of it’s pretty far back in the mix, but I think you get the vibe that it’s there, and I didn’t get Santana from it at all.
(Laughs) Good. That’s good. You never know when you start adding percussion.
What’s planned as far as touring? You mentioned before wanting better distribution in Europe. Is there any chance you guys are going to head over there?
We are definitely hoping to go to Europe sometime soon. That’s a big goal that we have, and we’re hoping – it would be a shorter tour if we were to do that – but the problem is we’re all locked down to regular full-time jobs, so any kind of long-term touring is probably not in the future. We do hope to maybe do a couple weeks or a month or something in Europe at some point. We are going to play Doom in June in Las Vegas this June.
In the meantime, what are you guys doing next? You said you already started writing?
Yeah, we’re gonna start working on new songs. We finished the mixing and mastering of everything in mid-December, I guess, and it was a nice feeling. Once it’s mastered and I’ve approved it in my mind, I can let go of it and start thinking about other stuff. So, that’s a nice feeling (laughs).
Do you see yourself sticking to that more live feel next time around?
I think so. It’s the natural progression of where this band wants to go.
Tags: Dallas, Nasoni, Texas, Wo Fat