Cory Wong has it all going on: a brand spanking new solo career, numerous collaborations, plus his status as a prime contributor to the soul/funk/permagrin-inducing Vulfpeck. He recently took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to lift the curtain and answer a few questions about his world.
What can you tell me in terms of similarities and differences between the first Vulfpeck recording and this latest album, Hill Climber? How have you as an individual and the band evolved as musicians, what have you learned about yourselves and the way you approach music, etc.?
Jack Stratton’s a great visionary and has a great idea of how things can keep moving forward. I think it’s similar in a linear progression of the band.
This current record was really fun because they were recorded in a lot of different configurations and also in different studios. Last year we played at Austin City Limits festival two weekends in a row. During the week in-between, we did two shows in Austin but also did three days of recording. So that was a fun way to stay in work mode, which yielded “Lost My Treble Long Ago,” “Darwin Derby,” and “For Survival, “”Disco Ulysses,” and “Love Is A Beautiful Thing.” “The Cup Stacker,” “IGF IV,” and “Half Of The Way” were all done in L.A. in consecutive days. What was fun about that was that Jack kept things exciting by having guests come in on different days, and also switching up the studio for one of the days.
As far as how I’ve developed as a musician in the last few records. I’ve just been on a continual journey of maturing and growing as a musician and it’s a fun thing to be on that journey with the other guys in the band. It’s so obvious that everyone is pushing and growing, which in turn keeps us all pushing forward.
If I were to be more specific…I learn a lot from Theo [Katzman]’s overall musical sensibilities, Jack’s concept of creative vision, Joe [Dart]’s virtuosity and feel, Woody [Goss]’s harmonic sense, Joey [Dosik]’s tone/delivery/phrasing, and Antwaun [Stanley]’s energy and hype. I think there’s different ways that everyone inspires and encourages one another, which makes it all the better.”
If I’ve done my homework correctly, there is sort of a rotating cast of musical contributors to Vulfpeck. How does that sort of structure affect the way you approach songwriting? Could you sort of break down your writing process in general as well?
The songwriting with Vulfpeck comes from a lot of different places. Jack brings in some great song ideas that are sometimes pretty much fully fleshed out, and sometimes just a few ideas as jumping points to explore in the studio. This album also has a couple of great Theo songs that he brought in, and also a song of Ryan Lerman’s that turned out to be a banger!
In 2018, there was the Fearless Flyers EP. What can you tell me about that process in terms of how it relates to your other work?
The Fearless Flyers was a super fun project that has turned into a band and is what Jack has coined ‘Olympic Funk.’
That process was fun because it was some song ideas and riff ideas that we built off of and developed into songs for the record. The commitment for The Fearless Flyers as it stands is less than 10 days a year of work (laughs) …. maybe and hopefully that will grow a little more as well.”
Are there any projects you have in mind that you haven’t been able to realize yet?
I’ve always got some side projects and collaborations that I’m dreaming up in my head. I feel like for the time being, the best thing to do is to let them naturally happen or come to life without forcing it. The Fearless Flyers is a great example of that.
Sort of tying into Question 2 here: Vulfpeck’s music has featured some huge names, like Bootsy Collins, Bernard Purdie, and more; Trey Anastasio also sat in with the band at Red Rocks. What’s it like to share the stage and collaborate with artists like that?
Wow, it’s still crazy to have you ask that question and see those names and know that we’ve played with those guys and had some insane bucket list experiences. There’s been so many times I’ve had to pinch myself and soak in the moment. The most fun part of all is that I’ve had the chance to do that with some of my best friends.
I remember playing at Red Rocks and having Trey in the middle, flanked by Theo and I who were just kind of in awe of the moment. It was this fun guitar hero thing that simultaneously felt like being kids playing basketball at the park with the varsity captain, but also this really encouraging sense from Trey who said he was a big fan and was treating us like peers. It was insane….and Purdie…man…he’s a friggin’ legend of all legends. His feel is so iconic and such a huge influence on so many musicians. To see him play the “Purdie Shuffle” live, WITH HIM, was a moment i’ll never forget. I remember thinking in the moment, ‘Woah, that’s how he does it…those grace notes are with his fingers?!’ I remember in that moment looking up at Joe Dart who was also ear to ear grinning and laughing at how much fun it was.
You’re on a solo tour now if I’ve done my homework right. What do you prefer (or not prefer) about a solo tour vs. playing with Vulfpeck or any of your other projects?
I love doing my solo thing, but I love playing with the band too. They’re both such great experiences for me as a musician, but also as a person. At this point, I feel like doing both of them is important for me because it keeps the sides of my personality balanced. The role that I function with Vulfpeck is in a band setting…it’s great because I get to play guitar parts that fit the song, or fit the vibe of the moment.
It’s usually a supportive role in the band (like most bands). It’s fun to come up with and play guitar parts that fit together to be part of the rhythm section supporting a singer or a lead instrument. It’s great to have the collaborative experience with Vulfpeck. Jack is a great leader, and can see the best qualities and unique qualities that each of us as individuals bring to the table, and fit them all into something cohesive that feels compelling. I love that.
On the other hand, with my solo project it’s great to be able to have guitar centric music and songs that have the guitar as the lead role more often. It’s a fun riddle to solve when I have a tune idea for my solo project that feels kind of rhythm guitar, and also lead guitar at the same time. The riddle is how to make it feel like my part fits in the rhythm section, but also stand out as the lead thing that people will connect with.
Regarding solo touring…I’ve just started my career as a solo artist and it’s fun to be building something new and learning new things….That being said, I 100% understand that I have a great advantage of being a new artist that happens to be a part of a band that has already picked up a lot of steam. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be doing it all!
I’m forever grateful that there are people all over the world who come out and sell out these shows and listen to my music online. It makes me think back to the hundreds of gigs and recordings I’ve done over the years where there were less than 10 people in the audience. I’m grateful that I had those moments to learn from and to grow from them…and as I said before, continue on the journey! who knows what the next 5 years will bring? I’m excited to find out.
Don’t miss Cory Wong coming to your city, whether he’s by himself, with a new mystery group, or with Vulfpeck. Information on his current solo tour can be found at his website: https://www.corywongmusic.com/.