In Dallas, the doom grows like hormone-injected cattle, and among the hordes of underground heavy rockers, perhaps none evoke the power of the riff as potently as do the trio Wo Fat. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter, Wo Fat have released three albums, 2007’s The Gathering Dark, 2009’s Psychedelonaut, and the latest, 2011’s Noche Del Chupacabra, which finds them not only signed to German indie imprint Nasoni Records, but also exploring more open structures and improvisatory music.
As Kent Stump explains in the following interview, that’s no accident. The band’s focus is increasingly on being able to play off each other and take their sound in unforeseen directions. Dig it if you dare:
I know it’s been two years, but it seems really quick since the last release. I guess maybe I just wasn’t done with Psychedelonaut yet. When did you guys start writing for Noche Del Chupacabra?
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. What was behind that?
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.
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 [University Of North Texas] 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 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.
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.
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.
Wo Fat’s Noche Del Chupacabra is available now on Nasoni Records. More info at wofat.net.
JJ Koczan has never had chupacabra, but wholeheartedly recommends the jackolope burger. firstname.lastname@example.org.