Wednesday 8 April 2015

A Time To Freak Out!!! - Interview with WO FAT

Do I really need to do an introduction for this band. OK. Ladies and Gentleman – Wo Fat!!

Wo Fat have just released their incredible new Live Album - Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley – It's one of the best live albums you will hear in years. What else do you expect from one of the best Stoner Metal bands currently out there.

Captured at Freak Valley in 2014 when Wo Fat were tearing Europe apart with their good friends and brothers in arms – Mothership – on the mega-successful European Tour they called – The Texas Takeover Tour.

Here is what I said about the album:

If you’re already a fan of Wo Fat then Live JuJu: Wo Fat Live at Freak Valley is a must have album to add to your Wo Fat collection. If you’re a first time visitor to the world of Wo Fat then this is the best place to start. The album sounds incredible from start to finish, it really does. Did we expect anything less? We all know how great Wo Fat records sound. Well this is no different. This is a must have live album.”

You can read the interview I carried out last year with the guys here. Now time for this interview:

Hi guys, Thanks for doing this. How are things with you today?
Thanks for asking us to do this. Things are going very well.

Before we get started talking about your excellent new Live album. You had a great year in 2014. Another critically acclaimed album with The Conjuring. And a stunning European Tour with Mothership. Was that one of your most successful years as a band?

It was definitely our most successful year so far. The tour with Mothership was killer. They’re good friends of ours and we were really happy we could make that tour happen with them. All of the shows were great and the fans really supported. It was our second time to come to Europe and we were pleased that it surpassed our first tour of Europe, in 2013, which was also very cool. We had some more fans this time and were able to hit some places that we didn’t go the first time around.

The reception to The Conjuring has been awesome. We were thrilled to make it on to a number of the year end best of lists and we got some recognition in places that we didn’t necessarily expect, like landing a spot on the NPR radio Top Ten Metal albums of 2014. NPR is a very well known, nationally syndicated radio station in the US and we were really surprised that we got noticed by somebody that’s part of that at all. It felt pretty good and seems to be an indicator that at some level, The Conjuring is reaching a wider audience than we have previously reached.

What were your personal highlights from 2014?

There were a lot of highlights from the year. Getting to be a part of Freak Valley was definitely one of the highlights. Not just playing, but also getting to hang with a bunch of great people and watch a bunch of great bands. We were only able to be there for one day, but it was bad ass. We also had a couple of beers named after our music. A brewer in Baltimore called Oliver Ales has brewed a couple special batches of beer in tribute to us. One beer is a hopped up black ale called the Black Code, which was mighty tasty and strong as well and the other is a chipotle red ale called Noche del Chupacabra.

It may not seem like a big deal, but to us, who are all big fans of good beer, it is one of the coolest things we could think of – having a beer named after your music. Pretty bitchin’. If you’re in the Baltimore area sometime, go by the Pratt Street Ale House and they might have one of the beers on tap.

It was also cool to get to go to some places I’d never been before, like the south of France and Spain and Poland. Getting to spend a little more time in London this time was really nice.

That European Tour you did with Mothership – The Texas Takeover – was one of the best gigs in London I went to last year. I have spoken to a lot of people across Europe and they all said the same thing. Did the response from the European Fans surprise you in anyway? It seems you got a heroes welcome everywhere you went.
First off, thank you, man! I’m glad you had a great time at the London show. We did too and it was great to hang a bit with you before the show. But yeah, regarding the reception for the tour, although it didn’t surprise us too much, it sure felt good. I knew that we have some solid fans in Europe and we had expectations of having some pretty good gigs, so it was nice to see that that was true and that the fan base had grown some since our first time in Europe in 2013. I also had a good feeling that Mothership would go over really well in Europe, which they did.

They’ve been touring monsters in the US and when they got invited to Freak Valley, being friends of ours, we thought it would be cool to share the experience together.

What was your favourite gig from that tour and the reasons why?

In some ways Freak Valley was the favourite, just because of what it was and, like I mentioned earlier, to be a part of that super cool lineup was awesome. But there were some other shows that were my favorites for different reasons. Our Paris show was absolutely insane, which is the second time Paris has rocked incredibly hard for us. The crowd was just killin’ that night. It was early in the tour and I kind of messed up my voice by just going for it too hard that night, which negatively affected my singing the rest of the tour a little bit, but that’s the price you pay sometimes when you’re in the moment and we try to give it all we’ve got every show. It’s rock and roll after all.

I don’t know what it is about Paris, but both times we’ve been there we’ve had, arguably, the most passionate crowds that we’ve ever played for. We didn’t have a bad gig the whole tour really. We met great people and had a good time everywhere we played.

The last time we spoken you told me it was hard for you guys to tour more regularly in USA due to factors such as cost. Have things changed then. Do you think Wo Fat will ever do a more expansive tour in the USA by visiting more cities where you haven’t played before?
It’s hard to say. We’ve done a handful of road gigs this last couple of months with Mos Generator and on with Elder and they were all great shows, but the reality is, that it’s harder for a band at our level to cover just the basic expenses of being on the road in the US. There are a couple of things that make it harder, one of which is the distances that need to be travelled, especially out west, between cities can be pretty far. Also, the venues/promoters here, in general, don’t have the same philosophy or approach that venues/promoters in Europe regarding touring bands.

It’s a much less supportive attitude here and a lot of venues won’t do much, if any, marketing or promoting on their own. They won’t book similar local support acts to help the draw. A lot of times they make you feel like they’re doing the band a favor by allowing them to play in their trashy club rather than an attitude of working together for a successful show. This isn’t true of every venue or promoter, because there are some great people out there that are putting together good shows because they love the music.

Also, the US doesn’t seem to have the fan base that comes out to shows and supports like Europe does, and I don’t know the answer to this. Again, this isn’t true of everyone, because there are a lot of hardcore fans of heavy music in the US that do support, but I know that it can be really tough to play a Sunday or Monday night almost anywhere in the US and count on enough of a crowd to make your guarantee, whereas in Europe, there doesn’t seem to be that problem.

I do think, however, that there is a shift – maybe a sea change, happening here in the US now, regarding heavy underground rock and specifically stoner/doom/heavy psyche music. Just look at the lineup for the Psycho California Festival that’s happening in May. It’s a lineup that you would see at Roadburn or Desertfest. I’ve never seen a lineup like that here in the US. There have been cool festivals before, but not to that degree and also the fact that I think it may be sold out, is very telling and I think possibly indicative of things changing here.

All that being said, though, there are a lot of bands touring in the US and making it work, like Mothership and Elder for example. We could probably make it work too, but we’ve also got some other factors in play that limit our ability to tour, one of which is the fact that the three of us run our own commercial recording studio together, which is how we make our living, and we can’t be away too long or the business will not survive, so because of this we try to be very strategic about going out on the road.

Now let’s start talking about your new album – Live JuJu – Wo Fat at Freak Valley. It’s a stunning live album that manages to capture the Wo Fat energy. What can people expect from the album?

The album is a snapshot of an hour in time that happened at Freak Valley, and I hope that people listening to the record will be able to pick up on the special energy that was part of Freak Valley that day.

Did you guys know before you performed the set at Freak Valley you would be releasing it as a Live Album?

We knew that the Freak Valley people were going to being doing a multitrack recording of the set, so we figured that if it was a good set, then we would probably release it. We’ve wanted to do a live record for a while, so this turned out to be a perfect opportunity, especially considering it was a high profile show that a lot of people were at and it was being recorded for us.

Did you record any other shows from the European Tour in case Freak Valley performance didn’t turn out as you expected.

Haha! We did luck into getting multitrack recordings of a couple other shows from the tour because the sounds guys at a couple venues recorded them and gave us the tracks. Originally we considered doing an album that had some tracks from a few different gigs, but in the end it just seemed cooler to keep it just the Freak Valley performance. We might still use some of the other recordings for something else in the future, though. Who knows…

It’s a great setlist that you performed that day. As you picked the standout songs from your last few albums. Was it a hard set to choose especially if you’re performing to both new fans and die-hard Wo Fat fans?
It has gotten harder in some ways, to come up with set lists since our catalog of songs has gotten to be pretty big over five albums, especially for bigger gigs like this where, even though we want to maybe focus more on new stuff, there also is an obligation to play old songs too. We tried to include songs from a number of albums, but we also always try to write a set list that flows well and that can take you on a little journey. I’m still not exactly sure what I think is best in terms of new versus old songs in the set list.

That reminds me of seeing a show from a band that’s been around a while and that I’ve seen a number of times that had just come out with a new album but that focused more on playing older songs and only played one or two from the new record, and to me, that was a big disappointment. But by the same token, I know a lot of people want to hear older songs from a band’s catalog, so it can be hard to decide sometimes. Usually we just end up playing songs that we enjoy playing.

Before we did the tour we actually did jam on a lot of older tunes that we hadn’t played in a long time and picked a few that we dug playing again the most and that kind of fit with our current vibe the best. Bayou Juju is a good example of that. We hadn’t played that song in a couple years but it felt good to jam on it again. It’s got good potential for craziness and whenever we play it, it’s just a song that lives right on the edge. Like running on a tightrope. For the most part, though, we play newer songs in our set list.

What was the whole Freak Valley experience like? It sounds the audience give you guys a great reception.
The audience gave us a great reception. The whole day was awesome, from the moment we arrived it was a busy day of hanging with people we knew as well as meeting new people and doing radio interviews and things like that and the whole time, trying to check out whatever killer band was playing and also buying cool merch from the other bands and trying not to spend too much money on records. Like I’ve said, it was a pretty bitchin’ experience. And the whole day was topped off by a kick ass set by Blues Pills, who I had never gotten to see before.

Is the Live Album the proper recording of what was performed that day? Did you guys do any professional wizardry in the recording studio to make the album sound better?
It is a proper recording and documentation of what happened that day, and you can hear that in my voice, which, like I said earlier, I had kind of messed up in Paris, which was two nights before Freak Valley. I tried to give it a really powerful mix to help impart the feeling of being there. And no, we didn’t overdub anything.

Are you fans of Live Albums in general? If so what are your favourite ever Live Albums. My favourite Live Album is Thin Lizzy – Live And Dangerous (Though I know it’s been overdubbed to heck. And is made up of about 3 shows). Though your Live Album is one of the best I’ve heard in years.
For certain bands I definitely dig live albums. Probably one of my all time favorite live albums is John Coltrane “Live at Birdland”. It’s not a rock album but is still one extremely heavy record. I also really love all of the live Hendrix recordings. When it comes to Hendrix, I like the live stuff better than the studio recordings because he stretches out and jams so much more. One live record that I have been listening to a lot lately is Johnny Winter “Captured Live”. Man, it just destroys. Side B with Highway 61 Revisited and Sweet Papa John has maybe some of the best guitar soloing, especially slide, ever.

Seriously. Some more of my favorite live recordings would also probably be Tommy Bolin with Energy “Live at Ebbet’s Field,” Live at Tulagi” and the “Radio Broadcasts.” I’m a big Tommy Bolin fan and I think that his best stuff was done with Energy. Speaking of Tommy Bolin, I also dig the live Deep Purple from Long Beach with Tommy playing. He sounds great and Ian Paice is killin’. I’m not really interested in hearing a live album from bands that play things exactly like the record. I like to hear the spontaneity and “in-the-moment” stuff that happens when improvisation is part of the equation and aesthetic of a band, which is why all I dig all of these records so much.

That’s the cool thing about a lot of the live records from the 70’s. So many of the great heavy 70’s bands had that mentality of freedom when it came to playing live.

You’re releasing the Live Album on Vinyl which a lot of people have pre-ordered already. Has the response from people buying the album surprised you?
It has surprised me a little because we’re almost sold out and had actually sold most of the pressing in pre-sales and distribution orders before the actual release date. It’s been great because we decided to release this record ourselves so it was a big upfront cost to press the vinyl and we weren’t exactly sure how well it would go, but it’s been all we hoped for.

You’ve included an extra song on the album with the Digital Download version. Dark Snow. What a great track that is. When did you guys write and record that track. Was it an easy decision to include that track with the new Live Album?

All along I kind of wanted to include a bonus track of some sort and last November we were in the studio rehearsing and, as we always do when we rehearse, we recorded it, and Dark Snow was just a jam we did that night that turned out really cool. We thought about using another live track from one of the other Europe shows, but I liked the idea of giving people an entirely new song as a bonus so we decided to go with the Dark Snow jam.

Some people may not know this but you all own a recording studio where you record many artists and bands dealing in a wide range of different genres. How is the studio going at the moment and how much time does it impact with your personal lives and your time with Wo Fat.
Yes we do. The studio is how we all make our living, so it is a full time job for all of us, which, as I mentioned earlier, is partly why we don’t spend a whole lot of time on the road. The studio, which is called Crystal Clear Sound, is one of the oldest studios in Dallas and I’ve actually worked there as an engineer for 17 years. A year and a half ago, the opportunity arose for us to actually buy the place, so we did. It’s going really well and it’s something we’re very proud of.

We take a very classic, analog approach to recording and we’ve got a nice big tracking room as well as a bunch of great analog gear and an absolutely killer vintage SSL analog console. It is something that is very convenient to have when it comes to Wo Fat for sure. All of our records have been recorded there and we have the luxury of having a great rehearsal space, although sometimes our schedule as a band gets put on hold depending on the schedule and what’s booked I the studio.

What does the next 12 months have in store for Wo Fat? Any new albums or tours in the pipeline?

We have some cool shows coming up in the next couple of months stateside. We’re playing the Psycho California festival that I mentioned earlier in May that will be pretty amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing Sleep play, among a whole list of other bad ass bands.

We’re also getting to play the art opening for David Paul Seymour Rock and Roll Art Show in New York in June. David did the art for Live Juju and we’ve become friends and as well as mutual fans of each other’s work, so we’re honored to be a part of that.

We will be doing a short European tour on August. This one will only be a handful of days and I apologize in advance to our fans for not being able to be in Europe longer. We’ll be playing the Sylak Open Air Festival in France as part of that tour on August 8.

We have also just begun writing new songs for a new album that we hope to release spring 2016 and we are planning a longer European tour to coincide with that.

Well guys thanks for doing this. Do you have anything to say to your fans?
I would just like to say thanks to everyone that has supported us on this journey and also that support underground rock/metal in general. Keep Rock alive! And thank you, too, Steve, for all that you do to further the cause of this music that we love.

Thanks Guys and thanks for doing the interview. Right folks - Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley – is available to buy now.

Words by Steve Howe and Wo Fat

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