Interview with Wo Fat

After having reviewed their latest stoner opera The Black Code, we asked Wo Fat for an interview, and Kent was so kind as to talk with us about the music, the scene and horror movies. Enjoy!

El Gore: For those outside the stoner rock scene and for the people in Europe, who’ll get to know you on your European tour, how would you briefly describe the essence of the band?
Kent Stump: I think the essence of Wo Fat is heavy, groovy, fuzzy riffs and psychedelic exploration. We’re trying to make a very heavy music that takes inspiration from things obvious, like Sabbath, but also things like the music of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kinbrough and to also have a jamming, open-ended, Hendrix-like sensibility. At the same time, though, we’re not trying to do any kind of retro thing. We want it to have these influences yet be modernly heavy. I think our music also has a funkiness to it, which is something that I think any kind of deeply blues influenced music should have.

EG: The first thing that struck me on your latest record The Black Code was the playfulness, the jam-like hugeness and the different influences from other music styles. Would you say that stoner rock has had too many limits over the years?
KS: Thank you for mentioning that. I’m glad that comes across. I think I would say both yes and no to that question. It was probably less limiting early on before it became labeled as a genre, you know – like-minded bands and fans that dug riff driven and historically aware heavy music coming together and creating a loose scene. I think when things become more popular, things can become more limited because there becomes an expectation to be fulfilled. People are looking for a certain sound. The flip side of the coin, however, is, if certain elements aren’t there, it shouldn’t be called stoner rock. To my mind, there is a certain musical vocabulary that is the foundation of stoner rock which has come from the heavy 70’s influence, which in turn means that there is usually a large blues influence, and also the importance of the riff is key to stoner rock, and, I think a psychedelic kind of attitude. Our music, as I briefly mentioned earlier, for the most part lives within those types of parameters, but all three of us have pretty wide and varied musical tastes and backgrounds so we do try and integrate some of those things as well. I think more than trying to use melodic ideas from other styles of music, we try to integrate those influences in other ways, like rhythmically, or conceptually in how we approach things. For example, all three of us dig certain types of Cuban and African music and so we use some of those rhythmic ideas that are part of that in our own music, but we try to still keep it all heavy and rockin’ hard throughout.

EG: Your previous records already hinted at a (let’s call it) more progressive approach, what where your motives and how much concept does stoner rock tolerate?
KS: I think we’re within the tolerance levels of the stoner rock world. At least it seems to me that we should be. To me, what we’re doing is completely logical. We have had a very natural progression as a band and this album was just the next step from where we were with our last album, Noche del Chupacabra. We have kind of a jazz mentality about our music. We’re looking for a synergy, spontaneity and interplay between us and we allow space for improvisation and jamming, and I think throughout the life of the band we’ve been looking for that balance between that kind of approach and the heaviness that we’re also looking for. It can be tough to have both. Like I said, though, to me, it just seems logical to approach things this way. It’s closer to the attitude of the early 70’s/late 60’s. Hendrix, Cream and, I would say, especially the first Black Sabbath album, all had this kind of vibe. Cactus totally had this vibe in their music as well. When heavy rock became more standardized by the mid to late 70’s, things had become more structured and streamlined. Short solos, short songs, solos that are the same every time rather than improvised, etc. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with that. I can dig that too. For our music, though, I think that I would say that we’re just trying to take that 70’s thing, that truly 70’s thing, that includes the freedom and attitude of the early, free-wheeling days of heavy rock, and modernize it a bit and give it some modern heaviness.

EG: If I’m rightly informed you’ll be on tour in Europe for the first time in 2013, was it a big effort to finally arrange it?
KS: It is a big effort to put together and we’re still in the process of booking all of the shows and getting the details ironed out. This is our first time to go to Europe, so we’re learning a lot in this planning process. We are really stoked about the opportunity, though. We will start the tour at Roaburn on April 20th, and then the rest of the time we’ll be touring with our Small Stone Records labelmates Abrahma from France. I must apologize to some of our European fans, though, because this is going to be kind of a short, limited tour, due to our circumstances and commitments at home, so we won’t be able to get to every place that we would like to play, but we’re gonna play as many places as we can fit in. We will be playing Desertfest London as well on April 27th. If all goes well this time around, though, we most certainly plan on doing a more extensive tour in the future.

EG: Which gig are you most looking forward to in 2013?
KS: Two gigs that I’m really excited about are Roadburn and Desertfest. The lineups for both are just amazing and I hope we get to see some of the killer bands that are playing, but, really, I’m looking forward to all of the European shows. We’ve heard so many great things about how supportive the fans of this music are in Europe, so we’re looking forward to experiencing that firsthand ourselves.

We’re also playing the Small Stone Showcase at SXSW in Austin which has some great bands playing, like Suplecs, Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl, and Deville. It’s gonna be a good show. Austin is always a great place to play and to just hang out. Great food. Great vibes.

EG: Looking at the vastness of musical output nowadays, especially due to the internet, do you think blogging (and social media) also may be the only way (or the first step) for more or less unknown bands to spread their music? Do you prefer the old days?
KS: I think the internet is huge for underground music. It has made it possible for unsigned bands to get their music out there, worldwide, on their own. I think a label with an established reputation and distribution is still really important to be able to move things up to another level, which is why we wanted to get on a label like Small Stone, but it’s possible to get some recognition and start building a fan base all on your own these days, whereas, in the old days, you had to just tour your ass off for no money. My nostalgia for the old days is for other things, but I think the whole blogging thing and social media is incredibly valuable to bands these days. It’s possible to find out about so much great music that you would never have found in the old days.

What I do prefer about the old days is physical product – vinyl and CDs as opposed to downloads. I especially love vinyl – for the way it sounds as well as for the aesthetic involved of having a big piece of art that relates to and contributes to the music that you can hold in your hands and marvel at while you’re listening to the album. Personally, I like having an actual physical item rather than some digital copy only that doesn’t exist in the real world.

EG: Would you say that it’s become more and more difficult to break out in a certain way and bring stoner or sludge music to other places in the world?
KS: I feel like there is a growing interest in stoner/sludge/doom in general lately, which is great. But I think it still is an underground genre, especially in the US. Certain bands are opening the door to a larger audience though. You know, bands like High on Fire and The Sword. Oddly enough, Sleep is actually headlining a music festival here in Texas that has in the past been very focused on Indie Rock and Emo stuff. So I’m not sure what that means about the state of music, but it’s very interesting. I plan on going, so it’ll be interesting to see what the crowd is like and what the response is. I’m sure there will be plenty of stoner/doom fans there as well.

EG: How would you describe the Texas scene?
KS: Texas is a mighty big place, but we definitely have a nice scene for this type of music going on between Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. Bands like Las Cruces, Project Armageddon, Venomous Maximus, Eagle Claw, Tia Carrera, Smoking Spore and Dixie Witch to name a few from around Texas. In the Dallas Ft Worth area the scene is getting really strong. There are a whole bunch of great bands. Dallas can be a little weird about music, as far as fans go – and it’s always been this way. Dallas has never been as supportive of local, live music as Austin, but, nevertheless, we’ve got a really solid group of musicians and bands here and now we’re in the process of trying build a more supportive fanbase and to get more people to come out to shows. But like I said, the pool of bands is amazing and is the best I’ve seen in years. It’s actually kind of hard for me to put together local shows because there are TOO many good bands to choose from and I’m forced to choose. Some of the Dallas/Ft Worth locals that are killer are Mothership (who recently signed with Ripple Music and will be releasing an album that I had the honor of working on with them in the studio) Stone Machine Electric, Orthodox Fuzz, Southern Train Gypsy, Cosmic Trigger, Big Sandy Gilmer, Turbo Motorhome, FTW, Black on High, Pothead Goat, and more that I’m sure I’m forgetting. And these are all great bands, man! I would say there’s a good camaraderie amongst the bands, both locally and statewide, and we help each other out with shows in different towns.

EG: What are the major pros and cons of being a mainly independent band?
KS: Well, the most obvious pro is freedom to do what you want and the fact that you own everything and control everything. The biggest con is that most bands don’t have the financial resources to pay for everything that needs to be paid for and they also usually don’t have the distribution/marketing connections in place or the notoriety that an established label should have. We were able to get our name out fairly well on our own and also with distribution help for Psychedelonaut and Noche del Chupacabra with both Brainticket Records and Nasoni Records, but we felt like we still needed to step up to a label like Small Stone that has a really solid distribution and marketing machine as well as huge name recognition within the world of stoner rock to be able to really move to the next level. And we are definitely seeing the differences that being associated with them bring, even this early in our relationship with them.

Signing with an established label is a compromise on certain levels, but it kind of has to be for it to benefit both sides. We had to relinquish some of the control that we had become very used to having for The Black Code, which is something I’m fine with in this situation. I’ve got confidence in Small Stone and it’s worth it for the benefits that we will have and already are seeing. And happily, we did not have to compromise at all as far as the music is concerned, which, I think, if you’re on the right label and working with the right people, is the way it should be. I don’t mean to imply that we had to make huge compromises either, it’s more just a situation of letting someone else do a lot of the work that I used to do myself (or tried to do, in some cases) and I tend to be somewhat of a control freak. Again, though, if you’re working with the right people, the compromises shouldn’t be painful.

EG: On your homepage you’ve linked an own blog about old school music that influenced the band. How important is for you to indicate your roots and bring them closer to your audience?
KS: Music history, and really history in general, is something that is really important to me. I think you should know where you come from and how things evolve over time to become what they are. I think that you can hear it when musicians have a deep awareness of music history. You know, sometimes you hear somebody play and they just seem to ooze history.

Myself, I’ve always had this need to know where something comes from so I’ve always been interested in the roots of the music I dig. I’ve also had a number of people in different stages of my life that had the same attitude and shared a lot music with me and turned me on to a bunch of things that I had never heard before. I like doing the same for other people. I like hipping people to music they have never heard before. It was much more difficult to find obscure albums before the days of the internet. Now it’s much easier to discover hidden gems, which on the one hand is cool and convenient, but it kind of takes away the thrill of the hunt and the thrill of taking a risk on a record that you find at the used record store when it turns out to be a huge score and completely amazing.

I think you can dig the music of Wo Fat whether you’re a fanatic of 70’s obscurities or deep blues or not. Hopefully our music stands on its own, but I just hate it when bands/musicians refuse to admit who their influences are, as if they’re so original or hip that nobody influenced them. No music comes out of a vacuum. So if people are interested, I’m happy to tell them what I dig and what inspired the music of Wo Fat and I’m also always happy to discover new great music from other people.

EG: Who would be the members of your personal super band of the last centuries?
KS: That is a really tough question. I don’t know if I can narrow it down to one band, but let me throw out a couple ideas here. How about Tatsu Mikami (from Church of Misery) on bass with John Bonham, drums, Terry Weston (from Penance) guitar, Randy Holden, guitar and Elmore James on vocals. Or maybe Brant Bjork, drums, Geezer Butler, bass, Tommy Bolin, guitar, Depraved Dave Szulkin from Blood Farmers, guitar with David Coverdale singing. It would be cool to have heard Hendrix play with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice of Cactus. Definite potential for some serious magic there!

I could probably go on all day coming up with different combinations…

EG: In this blog you’re using an own rating system. Out of 10 points, what would be the score for The Black Code considering “riff density”, “riff caliber”, “post blues factor”, “groove factor” and (my personal favourite) “dig it”?
KS: Well, I’m highly biased, but we definitely aspire for “10’s” in every category, but I don’t know if we always make it. I think riff density for us is pretty high; riff caliber – that’s up to the listener to decide, but I think it’s fairly high; postblues factor – pretty high also, since we use the blues melodically as a foundation for our riffs, but we don’t play straight up blues really at all; groove factor – I think gets higher with each album from a performance standpoint and we try to make sure that all of our riffs are pretty groovy to begin with; and of course, I, myself dig it! But there’s always room to step things up a notch and groove harder, get heavier, etc.

I came up with that rating system to help describe the music a little better based on the things that I am wanting to hear. I’ve read a lot of reviews about albums, especially obscure 70’s records, that weren’t very helpful in describing what the music sounds like, so I thought this might be a helpful gauge for some likeminded people. Of course it’s highly subjective.

Sadly, I’ve been so busy lately that I have failed to do any reviews in a while. I plan on trying to get back into that soon.

EG: I heard that you are a lover of old horror movies, which flick would be the perfect one to be set to Wo Fat’s music?
KS: I’m a big fan of classic horror of movies from the 40’s through the 70’s – from the Warner Brothers and Val Lewton classics to all of the Hammer Films movies, to Mario Bava and Dario Argento, Sam Raimi, etc. I am, by no means an expert or super knowledgeable about a lot the more obscure stuff, though. I’m not sure if our music would work, literally, for some of those movies, but from a conceptual standpoint a couple movies come to mind that have either inspired some lyrical ideas or have a vibe that we’re trying to conjure. A couple that our music might actually work for would maybe be Argento’s Suspiria or Deep Red. They’re kind of hallucinogenic and highly intense. Night of the Living Dead was the inspiration for a song on our first album and is one that I really love. Night of the Demon is one of my favorites and is inline with sort of the vibe and atmosphere that goes with some of our lyrics – you know, the idea of dabbling with dark knowledge that summons some sort of demon. Evil Dead, I or II, I think would be pretty prime for some Wo Fat. Angelheart inspired some of our lyrics and a lot of imagery on our previous albums was very Voodoo based, so that’s a good contender.

EG: Looking at your homepage, the general motive certainly has a big touch of horror, which concert location would you prefer: Dracula’s castle or Frankenstein’s laboratory?
KS: Frankenstein’s laboratory is pretty cool, but if we’re talking Chrisopher Lee’s Dracula with the 60’s gothic castle, I’d have to go with that.

EG: Thanks a lot for this interview guys, we wish you all the best for your European adventure!
KS: Thank you, man!