WO FAT must be one of the most underrated bands out there. The more-than-heavy-fuzz-from-Mars-pure-horror Texans are a league of their own in Stoner. “Noche de la Chupacabra” was a total blast and with this year’s “The Black Code” the band seems to be on killing spree. Did I neglect to mention an invitation for this year’s Roadburn? Kent Stump (Vocals, Guitars) has something to say…
Dr.Doom: “The Black Code” is one nicest surprises of the year. I believe fans were expecting a new album from WO FAT no sooner than next year! When did you actually write the material for “The Black Code”?
Kent: We started working on some of the initial ideas for a couple songs on “The Black Code” pretty much right after we finished “Noche del Chupacabra,” which would’ve been around January 2011, and the writing process continued for the next year. We knew that we wanted to get another album out fairly quickly because there was a bit of a buzz going around about “Noche del Chupacabra” and we wanted to make the most of that momentum. Ideally, I’d love to be able to put out a record every year and half or so, but sometimes it’s not that easy to do. The writing process for us is a fairly long one. Either myself or Michael Walter (drummer) will bring in some ideas that we have for songs and we’ll jam on them together. We record every rehearsal so that we can listen to the new songs take shape over time and we can critique them and decide what’s working and also see what needs to be changed. We like to let things ferment for a while as we jam on them and see how the grooves feel. Lots of times after playing a riff or a groove together, it will morph into something maybe a little different than what I originally was thinking, which is why it’s really cool to let the songs grow and unfold organically over time. We don’t usually come up with ideas from scratch in rehearsal, but we do work through and flesh out our skeletal riff ideas together.
That being said, though, some songs do come together faster than others. Lost Highway was the last song written for“The Black Code” and it happened really quickly. I think we first started jamming on it in maybe February and then we did all of the recording for the album in April.
Recording our rehearsals is incredibly helpful, I have to say.
Dr.Doom: I found that the new record is balancing amazingly between heavy riffing and jamming. Do you feel that the chemistry between the band members reached its peak with “The Black Code”?
Kent:I’m glad you noticed that! Yeah, we are trying to strike a balance between heavy and jam. We try to have a foundation of heavy yet groovy riffs that serve as a launching pad, a jumping off point, into extended psychedelic explorations. That’s a combination that seems to be somewhat uncommon, but seems completely logical to me. You know, it’s easy to find bands with massive heaviness and great riffs, but they don’t really go for it when it comes to extended jamming and sometimes those bad ass riffs just scream out for a slammin’ guitar solo over them, and, of course, the opposite can also be true –cool jam, improvisation-oriented bands that don’t have a lot going on as far as riffiness goes and that can sometimes get tedious after a while if it’s just about freedom with no structure and is just aimless jamming. We want the best of both worlds.
And yes, I do think that the chemistry we have between us is stronger than it’s ever been which allows each of us to have more freedom and to reach further both individually and collectively. We definitely wanted this album to have an urgency and a very live feel to it. When we record, we track everything live together, so that we can get that vibe – that ebb and flow and give and take that happens when you’re all grooving together. There are of course some parts overdubbed and/or redone, but I think this is the livest record we’ve done so far.
I am always baffled by bands that don’t record at least the basic foundation tracks live together. There’s a groove and synergy that happens when you do that. To me, that’s why we play music. Music is about time and interaction and communication of parts and players. You know, we’re always searching and striving for those fleeting moments of sublime groove when it all comes together, and we hope to capture some of that magic on the record.
Dr.Doom: Do you think that jamming has become one of the basic elements of the band? Do you give much room for improvisation?
Kent:It definitely has. Like we just talked about, we’re trying to strike a balance between heavy riffing and jamming and that basically means a balance between structure and improvisation. All of the songs have a basic form to them, but within that are some sections that are very structured and some that are more open and improvised to one degree or another. The long intro to “The Shard of Leng” is an open ended improvised jam that has a loose framework as a guide and we cue off of each other as to when we move on into the more structured and composed part of the song for the verse/choruses. All of the solo sections are improvised and both Michael and Tim (drums and bass) have the freedom to either stick with a more static groove or expand beyond that. Generally Tim keeps things very grounded for us with the bass and the guitar and drums can take things out a bit further.
Even with the structured parts, though, there is freedom to take liberties with the riff. We have sort of a jazz approach to playing. Not harmonically but from a conceptual standpoint. Music is emotional and I think should also be spontaneous and reactive. Not everything should be exactly the same each time we play it. I mean, sure, there are specific parts that we do play the same each time, but I don’t want every part of every song to be that way.
Dr.Doom: WO FAT has one of the most consistent styles all these years. What are the chances for a big change? Since it’s obvious that you guys come from different musical backgrounds do you experiment at all or try new styles when you are in studio?
Kent:I guess there is a consistency there, but to us, we feel like we have evolved quite a bit since we first started playing together. We do try to work within a certain set of melodic parameters and I think because of that, maybe some of the evolution and change is kind of subtle. We consciously try to mainly use the building blocks of the blues as our melodic vocabulary but within that we do try and experiment with incorporating different styles and concepts and try to expand the language in our own way. We all have very wide ranging tastes musically, which I think definitely affects our music. It gives us different ways of thinking about things and different ways of approaching things and I truly feel that you can hear that wide array of influences, maybe not overtly, but subtly, maybe rhythmically or compositionally, in our music.
For example, Michael and I both have been very influenced by deep 70’s funk and I think that informs our need to have a funkiness to our riffs. You know the blues has always been a deeply funky music and early on rock and roll, especially the heavier bands, like early Sabbath, Zeppelin and Deep Purple, had that funk engrained in their music. I think it sort of faded away a bit later and sometimes is the missing ingredient with some metal these days, in my opinion. Of course I live in Texas and I like that extra bit of spice thrown into a dish.
Dr.Doom: Is it true that “The Black Code” is a self-recorded, self-produced, self-mastered record?
Kent:It is true that is self recorded, self mixed and self produced although we did not do the mastering ourselves. I work as a recording engineer at a killer studio in Dallas that has a bunch of seriously badass analog gear and it just made sense for me to do the recording, especially from a budget standpoint, but also, the way the record sounds is extremely important to me. I believe the recording/mixing can make or break an album and since we know what we’re wanting to hear sonically, it is helpful, also, that know how to achieve that ourselves. I am not, however opposed to working with another engineer/producer in the future. It’s just not an opportunity that has presented itself yet. It can be good sometimes to have outside ears and opinions, although it would be tough to give up some of the control, though, I have to say. I think the sound of our recordings are an important part of what the Wo Fat persona is.
Dr.Doom: Since I don’t have the lyrics, is there a lyrical concept behind “The Black Code”?
Kent:Yes, there is an overarching theme to “The Black Code”. Our lyrical content has always been influenced and inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. I like using imagery and concepts from his writing as vehicles for telling my own stories and getting my own messages across. When starting to think about lyrics for “The Black Code” I knew I wanted to move to a more modern, science fiction kind of vibe and away from the swampy, hoodoo, horror themes I had been using for previous albums and I had been thinking a lot about technology and how we’re all constantly connected to the internet and various networks through our smart phones and wifi, etc. , and also how we are directed, controlled and educated, essentially, through these devices by often hidden agendas that we don’t even think about and how we spend more and more time living in this virtual digital world. We have more information at our fingertips now than ever before but we mostly just use this technology for mindless distraction. It’s an ongoing, endless means of advertising and directed-thinking run by, more often than not, corporate interests. So “The Black Code” is a Lovecraft style concept about this technology, inter-connectedness and wireless data that is constantly in the air around us and the idea of doorways and portals opening in the digital and virtual world that let loose digital demons through the cloud and networks to enslave us or do other more sinister things. I read a really cool short sci fi novel recently that introduced the idea of these quantum computers that opened doors to other dimensions and led to interdimensional servers where a website called Faust.us existed that was like a demonic ebay where people would essentially sell their souls, or prts of themselves, like their sense of humor, in exchange for wealth or success or something. Then whatever they offered up for their part of the bargain would then be collected by digital demons that would manifest from the virtual to the real worlds. I thought it was a really fascinating idea and I used that as part of my lyrical inspiration.
The album isn’t so much a chronological story as it is a set of different tales relating to this idea of an evil computer code, maybe it’s sentient, or maybe it’s a tool for something more sinister, that enslaves and or destroys us . A couple songs are more loosely related than the others, but I’ll leave that to the listener to ponder.
Dr.Doom: You (Kent) must have one of the most characteristic singing styles in the genre and I didn’t realize this until “The Black Code”. Can you reveal any inspirations or singers that you admire?
Kent:Hopefully that’s a good, thing! Haha! (Dr.Doom: It is, unless Lemmy’s singing is bad). Singing, for me, has been something of a journey of trying to figure out what I can do and what I can’t do. I’ve always loved singers like Robert Plant or Chris Cornell or David Coverdale, but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be able to sing like that, so I just kind of have to embrace what I can do and just do what I do. Some other singers that I’m really dig are Jan Bengtsson of Skanska Mord and of course, John Garcia, who is completely a badass and is one of my favorites.
Speaking specifically about “The Black Code”, I think the vocals are the best that we’ve had so far with Wo Fat and I did get a lot of inspiration for the performances from listening to Elmore James. I think his singing just kills and I was trying to cop a little bit of his style. I’m not saying that I sound like Elmore, but I hope that the vibe comes through. Great singing is something that’s hard to do and I think that for certain aspects of it, you’re either born with it or you’re not. To me, though, a killer singer is heavier than just a screamer that doesn’t do any kind of melody.
Dr.Doom: WO FAT is a band that smells 70’s all the way but lately more and more bands turn to 70’s for inspiration. Do you listen to any new stuff (i.e. post 2000) at all? Do you have any favorites?
Kent:We love the 70’s, man! But yeah, we listen to a lot of new stuff too. I, myself go through phases where I’ll listen to certain bands or styles a lot for a little while. For example, I went through a period during the writing of some of “The Black Code” songs where I was heavily into a number of Blackfoot records from the late 70’s. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of newer music. It varies. We get a lot of inspiration from 70’s rock, but we also like the modern heaviness and we like to combine elements of both of those things. There are a bunch of post 2000 bands that I dig heavily. The new High on Fire record is a monster (and obviously Sleep is a big influence on Wo Fat). I just recently got the new Tombstones album, which is also a monster, as well as the new record from Wight– also quite bitchin’. Of course Church of Misery are a favorite of mine as well as Las Cruces , who are some fellow Texas boys. The ReStoned, Earthride. The Egocentrics, Premonition 13, Stonehelm, Bongzilla, Ufomammut, Smoking Spore, Orchid, Maligno. I could go on and on probably. There are so many great bands out there right now.
Dr.Doom: Small Stone Records has become one of my favorite labels but how did you decide to shift from Nasoni records to Small Stone Records?
Kent:Well, we were actually really happy with everything Nasoni did for us and I’ve got nothing but great things to say about them and I truly believe they played an instrumental role in getting us where we are now. Our previous album, “Noche del Chupacabra”,was very well received and when we were about to start working on “The Black Code,” because of the momentum we had from that, we felt like it was time to try and step things up a notch and Small Stone seemed like the perfect label to do just that. Small Stone has solid worldwide distribution, an awesome reputation and name recognition and, best of all, they have released so many killer records over the years that are now classics in the genre and for us to be able to be a part of that catalog and history is a huge honor for us as well as a bit humbling. We were really thrilled to be able to work out a deal with Small Stone and already, even before we’ve had the new album released in physical form (vinyl/cd’s), we’re already seeing the benefit of being associated with Small Stone. Being invited to Roadburn this year I think is one indication of that.
Dr.Doom: Invitation to this year’s Roadburn is certainly a big reward for your efforts but did you know much about Roadburn in the first place? Do you tour much in the U.S.?
Kent:I’ve known about Roadburn for a long time. I remember, it must’ve been around 1999 or 2000, and I discovered the Roadburn website, which back then had some wacky url that I couldn’t ever remember, and that’s one of the places where I learned about some great obscure 70’s bands. I remember also always reading about the festival when they started doing that and ever since we started Wo Fat, playing Roadburn has been something that I’ve wanted to do. So, needless to say, the invitation to Roadburn is something that is pretty huge for us.
Dr.Doom: Have you ever felt that WO FAT is underrated or that you don’t get the recognition you deserve?
Kent: Man, I’m just thrilled when anybody digs our music. Don’t get me wrong – I stand behind our music and what we’ve done and I’m proud of that, but we try to make music that WE dig and if other people like it, then that’s even better. Of course who doesn’t want more recognition? But ultimately, I’m a just fan of this music– metal, stoner rock, doom, heavy psych, 70’s rock, blues – and for me, I’m just really happy to add our voice to the unfolding story of this music. I think if we get too worried about what people think or what people’s expectations or criticisms are, then it will negatively affect our creativity and our sound and we just need to stay true to what we dig and keep doing our thing. Just getting to where we are is pretty damn cool. Getting further and doing bigger things would be even cooler.
Dr.Doom: Now this is a question from the fans! Are there any plans for touring Europe this year, next year, ever…?
Kent:We are actually in the process of putting together a tour right around Roadburn as we speak. This first time around it will be kind of a short tour because of our commitments here at home, but if things go well, we plan on doing a longer tour in the future. But we’re gonna hit as many places as we can this time. Coming to Europe has been a goal of ours for a long time and we’re really stoked about actually making it happen. The expense of getting there has always been our main impediment, so we are about to start a kickstarter.com campaign to help raise the funds for air fare to get us there and back, so check our facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wo-Fat/127735577283067) for information about that.
Dr.Doom: Before we close, since I know that your name comes from the evil mastermind of the legendary “Hawaii 5-0” series do you watch the new version?
Kent:It’s funny that you bring that up. Man, no I don’t watch the new version because, honestly, I’m really disappointed that they made a new version and that it really is nothing like the original (Dr.Doom: That’s the answer I was hoping for). The original is just a classic and it had arguably, one of the best opening credit sequences ever. It had this cool 70’s vibe plus had cool mysterious eastern/asian overtones to it, especially the Wo Fat character, who was sinister and enigmatic and seemed ancient in a way. The new version I think just lacks so much of what made the original series a classic. Also, it’s kind of a drag that the name Wo Fat is now associated with a current tv show. Originally, when we picked the name, it was just a somewhat obscure 70’s reference.
Dr.Doom: Thanks a million for this interview! Take care!
Kent:Thank you! We hope to see you at Roadburn!