Wo Fat are one of the most acclaimed stoner rock acts today. The Texas-based trio have rapidly risen to the forefront of the genre, blending fat, fuzzed-out riffs with hints of psychedelia and Southern rock flavors. The success of their latest effort, The Black Code, allowed the band to reach a wider audience, touring Europe for the first time. Amid a busy schedule, guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump found time to answer a couple of questions for SputnikMusic.
For those unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe it in a few words?
Basically speaking, our music is heavy, riff based, and blues influenced, but one thing that is a very important part of our music is the balance that we have between structured riffing and song writing on the one hand and improvisation and jamming on the other. Both things are important to us and we try to strike a balance between them. We also really believe in the importance of the groove, and, above all, we try to make music that grooves and feels organic and earthy. I think that some heavy music has lost that important primal element of funkiness and groove that originally came from the blues, and, which was really also a key part of the early days of heavy rock and metal. Listen to early Sabbath and it’s inescapable. That’s the roots of it all, and we try to keep that tradition going in our music.
I’m always curious to hear how others describe our music, though, because it’s really hard for me to step back and look objectively at what we do. I can have all kinds of lofty ideas in my mind, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it all translates to the listener. We hope that a good bit of it does.
Of all four full lengths you’ve released so far, which one do you feel captures best the essence of Wo Fat?
In a way, I think each album has been a snapshot of where we were at the time we made the record and truly captures the essence of Wo Fat at that point in time. I think the essence of what we are musically is evolving, subtle as it may be to listeners, and because of that, I think that our most recent work captures the essence the best – both The Black Code and the songs on Cyclopean Riffs, which is the vinyl split we did with Egypt. It’s been a musical journey and I think these are our most ambitious works to date, even though we are still trying to stick within the general structure and use the same blues vocabulary that we always have used for the foundation of what we do.
What are some of your main musical influences which have helped shape your sound?
As I mentioned, the obvious examples would be the blues and Sabbath, but I would also say that Sleep (especially Holy Mountain) has influenced us quite a bit. Trouble is definitely pretty influential on me. A lot of blues stuff, like R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Howlin Wolf, Jessie Mae Hemphill, John Lee Hooker. There’s a killer John Lee Hooker album called Endless Boogie that I love. Also that obscure Howlin Wolf record, simply called This is Howlin Wolf’s New Record and He Hates It is pure unadulterated genius. We also all dig jazz a lot, so Miles Davis, John Coltrane and a lot of the 70’s fusion stuff are influences on our way of thinking and on our aesthetic.
I’m a huge fan of Tommy Bolin and his band Energy that he had in the early 70’s. To me that’s the best Bolin stuff out there, although the Deep Purple Come Taste the Band record is killer (despite what the DP purists say). Lots of other 70’s bands, like ZZ Top, Johnny Winter, Robin Trower, Leaf Hound, Mahogany Rush, Cactus, Betty Davis, Point Blank, Blackfoot, Jimi, Stray Dog… The list goes on and on. So much great music out there. I just got a Reverend Charlie Jackson album, which is an old gospel album, that is quickly going to become a new favorite. Steve from Midnight Ghost Train turned me on to that record.
You’ve recently toured Europe and played some of the coolest heavy rock festivals: Roadburn and DesertFest London, among other club dates. Was it your first international tour? What was the whole experience like?
Yes, it was our first international experience and it was absolutely amazing. We had a great time and were treated so well by everybody – fans, other bands, the venues. I remember when we arrived at Roadburn, which was our first show of the tour (yeah, kind of nerve racking to start with that) I was just blown away by the number of people there and the fact that they all dig the same music I dig. In America (or at least Texas) the stoner rock/doom thing is much more of an underground thing and it seems like all of the true fans of the music are in other bands. Europe seems to have not only lots of great bands, but actual fans outside of that, that love the music and want to support the music. That was the starkest difference we saw between Europe and the US – the support and love for the music is much more apparent in Europe. Both Roadburn and Desertfest were killer and we were honored to be a part of them and getting to play with so many other bad-ass bands was so amazing. And the shows that we did at regular venues were also great. We plan on trying to come back every year. Europe seems to be set up for bands to tour. Renting gear and transportation is readily available, the distances to cover are smaller, there seems to be a lot of good places to play, and people come out to shows.
How would you compare the US audience with the European one in more detail?
Touring in the US is much harder unless you have reached a certain level of fame. There are definitely fans of this type of music in the US, but it seems to me, from what we’ve seen, that it is more of an underground thing (in the US) and it seems to be harder to get people to come out to support the music. The European audience seems a little more hardcore in terms of knowledge of the scene, and more intense in the bands’ support. And of course, that’s not true of everybody, because there are plenty of people in the US that are very hip to the scene. Maybe this is the case, though because so many kick-ass bands, both European and American, tour Europe regularly, which does not happen as much in the US. I see all kinds of great shows listed in Europe with bands that never come to Texas, some of which are American or Canadian bands. It is much harder to tour in the US partly because the distances between decent cities to play in are much greater, and partly because the venues are reluctant to give decent guarantees and won’t even consider giving you food and lodging in most cases unless you are at a certain level. Even then, you’re probably not going to make that much money. Bigger bands do well here, though, like The Sword or Graveyard. But it’s tough for bands that aren’t at that level of popularity.
In the future, which are some of countries you guys are most eager to play in?
We’re already in the planning stages of our next European tour and we’re going to try and make it a little further south this time around than we did last time. We’re going to try and do a show or two in Spain and Northern Italy. We heard that Norway is a pretty cool place to play. We’re also going to try and do London again, as well as Paris, various places in Germany and the Netherlands. If we could swing it sometime, it would be great to be able to do a longer tour and go to Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Further south in Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece, etc. Our problem is the three of us own a recording studio now. So, we can’t be away too long because we’ve got to keep it running as well since that’s how we make our living.
Your latest record, The Black Code, has been greatly received by fans and critics alike. Could you describe its creation process?
It’s a little of both. Usually either myself or Michael (Walter – drums) will bring in song ideas, which often are just sections and fragments of songs. We’ll jam on these ideas, record them (we record all of our rehearsals, which is incredibly valuable to the songwriting process) and we’ll see what works. See what inspires us. Throw out what doesn’t work. Things will usually morph and change a bit once we start jamming on them and they’ll take shape into full songs. Sometimes I’ll have a riff or something that I think is killer and then when we actually jam on it, I realize it’s maybe not as good as I thought. I’ve got stacks of rehearsal CDs with songs in various stages of composition and various jams that became songs.
You have recently released a split with Egypt featuring two new songs. Is there a new album in the works already?
We actually recorded one of those songs for the Egypt split, ”Electric Hellhound,” at the same time that we recorded The Black Code. The split was already in the works at that point and was originally going to be a 7” split with Earthride, which is why that song is kind of short (by our standards) – so that it would fit on a 7”. That ended up falling through for reasons regarding Earthride that I don’t really know. So Ewenn, from Totem Cat Records brought up the idea of doing a split with Egypt instead, which we immediately jumped at because we’re all fans of their music and it then grew into a 12” split, so we could write another song for it (and a long song too). So we wrote “Nameless Cults” for that and recorded it last November. We were actually hoping to have had the vinyl with us for sale when we were in Europe, but it just didn’t work out like that.
We are currently working on new songs. We’re a little behind our original schedule, though, because life just got kinda crazy this summer, but we’re planning on releasing this new album probably April 2014, right before we head back to Europe. We’ve had a nice bit of momentum going with The Black Code, the Europe tour, and then Cyclopean Riffs (the split with Egypt), so we want to keep it rolling.
Is there an artist or a band with whom you’d like to collaborate on a future record or a separate entity?
Church of Misery is one of my favorite bands and I’d love to do a split with them someday. I’d love to play a show with them too. I love their simultaneously bluesy yet ultra heavy riffs and they also have a funk to their music. Sleep for the same reasons. There’s a deep rootedness in history with them but also a modern heaviness. I also like Elder a lot. We had the pleasure of seeing them at Roadburn and they killed. I like the expansiveness of their grooves. Maligno is another current favorite of mine. Again, they’re very groovy, but they’re rockin’ more of an updated Trouble kind of vibe (and of course, I love Trouble). I dig Derek Trucks for his amazing slide playing. Ed Mundell’s new project, Ultra Electric Mega Galactic is pretty bitchin’. Egypt kicks ass and it was an honor to get to play with them a couple weeks back and also to do the split with them. Dopethrone is great. The Disease Concept is a band I really dig as well and am looking forward to their new album. Midnight Ghost Train is an amazing band… Again, the list could go on for a long time, because there are really a lot of bad-ass bands around right now.
The Black Code is streaming over at bandcamp:
Interview by Raul Stanciu (insomniac15)