Behind the Earth Pounding Riffs of Kent Stump and Wo Fat

We are excited to have caught up with Kent Stump, guitarist and mind behind the earth-pounding riffs of doom Wo Fat are known for. Kent, whether in the studio mixing, recording or on the road, is always very busy. So, we are very thankful for the time he took to share his thoughts on Wo Fat, the future, his gear and style of play.

Kent tearing it up in Europe last summer, 2017.

Midnight Cometh was a fantastic album. There are a lot of similarities with this release compared to past releases, yet there are some differences too. How have you seen your songwriting and playing evolve over the years?

That’s a tough question, actually. I think through the course of all of our records, especially the last 3, we’ve really found our groove and vibe in a lot of ways. Looking back, to my mind, our first record was somewhat erratic from song to song and was very much about trying to figure out what we would be as a band and how I would go about the composition process. I tried to fit all of my ideas at the time onto that record, because every band I had played in prior to that either only released one album or never completed anything, so I felt like I need to try and fit as much in it as I could. I didn’t have the focus or flow that our newer records have. Now I generally take more of a big picture, conceptual approach to the composition – thinking about
the album and the collection of songs and how they fit together. I think, partly because of this, we think more epic and expansively about the song forms and compositions. We have always tried to strike a good balance between structure and freedom – heavy riffs and open jams – metal and jazz, but I think we’ve gotten better at pulling that off and, whether it’s obvious to the listener, we’re trying to stretch ourselves groove-wise and playing-wise, even though, for the most part, we try to stay close to our original paradigm of using the blues as a melodic foundation.

Writing and recording music is a strange thing. You can have a grand epic idea in mind of what a song will be, but once it’s realized in the real world with real musicians, it always morphs a bit and ends up being a little different in some ways than the original conception. Often this is a good thing, especially with the right musicians because they bring a different interpretation and perspective to it, but it can take a while to get used to if you’re a control freak about your music, like I tend to be. This process of working through the songs by playing them and jamming on them has become more important over the years, and I’m especially excited about the next record because we have a new bass player, Zack Busby, who brings a whole new vibe and
groove to the table so I think it will add a new feel to what we’re doing and it also opens the door for doing some things that we hadn’t done before.

Wo Fat has gone on several tours, playing festivals and clubs throughout Europe and the USA. Tell us, what’s it like to play in Europe and how does it differ from playing in the USA?

The biggest difference is in how the bands are treated. Don’t get me wrong, the fans here in the US are great and we love getting to play for them and meet and hang with them, but in Europe, the fan support is larger, and I think there’s more of an attitude of supporting not just heavy bands, like us, but the arts in general. This is something intrinsic to the culture that goes back
centuries. We can play a Sunday or Monday night gig in Europe and have a packed house. It’s not only with the European fans, but also the venues and promoters, who are inclusive, supportive of the scene, and really know how to treat bands right and pay fairly. In the US, many venues and promoters are only looking to make a few quick bucks off of the backs of
bands while refusing to pay them fairly. This isn’t true of every venue or promoter, of course, but true enough of many that it’s much harder to finance a domestic tour and not lose money, much less actually make a profit. Obviously, we don’t do this for the money, but it costs money to make records, it costs money to tour, and it costs money to have merch and to keep a band
going, so we can’t just always lose money if we want to keep it going. I do think, though, that there is a shift happening that is changing the vibe here in the US, at least regarding heavy underground rock and metal. I believe that this is in large part because so many US bands have been to the promised land (toured Europe) and have seen what it’s like when things are
done right. I think this is also largely happening thanks to the close-knit international online community of fans and bands which is helping US festivals to gain some traction and bigger turnouts, and I think in general, the fan base seems to be growing for our type of music, which is very encouraging to me. Psycho Las Vegas being a good example of that.

Wo Fat is pure high energy riffage and a force live. Every show is a powerfully unique experience.

What can fans of Wo Fat expect from the band in closing out 2017 and going into 2018? Will you hit the studio again in 2018?

We do plan to hit the studio again in 2018. We’re a little behind where I had planned on being at this point in terms of writing a new record due partly to life just kind of getting in the way this year, but we are now getting back into the creative groove and are starting to write new jams. We’re also looking to do some select touring in 2018, including a trip back to Europe. We hope
to have a new record mid-2018.

We understand that every solo you lay down is different in some regard and that you use much feel to lay down your lead work. What’s your approach to soloing and the extended jams that Wo Fat lays down?

I come from a jazz background and so it’s just a logical thing to me to improvise solos. Jazz is, of course all about improvisation, but rock and roll had a good amount of that in it to originally as well. Listen to live Hendrix, Cream, Trower, Tommy Bolin, Mahavishnu Orchestra, et al. and that is obvious. Somewhere along the line, the idea that solos should be composed and
performed live exactly as they are on the record became a thing. A thing that I don’t understand and that I honestly hate. Music is an art form the exists in the dimension of time and the beauty of real musicians playing music live together, as opposed to MIDI sequenced tracks, is the way that the musicians communicate with each other, feel the groove together, react to that groove and what they are experiencing sonically and emotionally on the fly spontaneously as it is unfolding in real time. That’s the reason I wanted to play music in the first place. Searching for that ephemeral moment of perfection, nirvana, if you will, when everything just comes together – those fleeting moments when the groove just locks in super tight, somebody rips off some sublime lick, etc. It’s a fleeting thing but an amazing thing to feel, and I think many people also feel that as listeners, which is why music is such a powerful medium. That same kind of perfect moment of groove can certainly happen without it being a situation of improvisation. Just simply locking in hard and heavy with riffs can be equally as fun and transcendent an experience, but for me, the uncertainty and edginess of having an improvisational aspect to what’s going on takes it to another level.

Kent tearing it up before 1000s of fuzz fans!

What type of gear do you like to use? Do you consider yourself a gearhead like many
guitarists?

In some ways, I’m kind of a gearhead, but I have never really been able to afford to be a true gearhead and buy all of the amps and guitars that I would love to have. That being said, though, I am getting more and more into tube amp design and am actually considering building some amps in the future, so I guess, yes, a gearhead. Actually, a big part of the Wo Fat guitar tone came from the fact that before starting the band, I was looking to get a good high gain tube amp and wasn’t able to afford one – you know, Orange Marshall, etc. so I ended up having a 30 watt custom amp built for me that was designed by a guy that sold amp kits. This lower wattage amp showed me the greatness of power amp distortion, which is something that you basically cannot get with a 100-watt amp unless you’re playing an arena. These days I run the 30-watt custom simultaneously with a 20 watt Jet City JCA 22 head. I can drive both of these amps really hard which gets me the power amp overdrive I’m looking for and also get plenty of stage volume. The combination of the two amps work really well together and give me a nice thickness to my tone.

Guitar-wise I’m using a TV yellow Les Paul double-cut and a Firebird. Both guitars are outfitted with Planet Tone pickups, which were a revelation to me when I first tried them. I was an endorser of another very well known pickup company when approached by Planet Tone. I figured I would give them a try. Why not? I’m always up to check out new gear and I had heard a podcast where Jose from Planet Tone was interviewed and I really connected with his passion for tone and his whole purist attitude towards pickups. The first pickups I tried from Planet Tone were the stock P90’s and they blew me away. More depth, thickness and dynamic response than my previous pickups or the stock Gibson P90’s that were originally in that guitar.
Then I worked with Jose to come up with the P90 variation that became my signature P90 pickups that Planet Tone now offers.

Who are some of the artists past and present that have influenced you? Any out there, currently, that you would like to collaborate with in some capacity?

There are so many artists that have influenced me. Some of the great guitar influences are Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, Johnny Winter, Tommy Bolin, Robin Trower, Guitar Shorty, Tony Iommi, Ed Mundell, Leslie West, Santana. There are a lot of artists that are important to the shaping of Wo Fat’s sound. Blues and gospel musicians like Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Kimbrough, Staple Singers, Elmore James, R. L Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Jessie Mae Hemphill, Reverend Charlie Jackson. We also take a lot of influence from 70’s fusion like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, and Eddie Henderson.

We are of course are inspired by more current bands, many of whom are friends of ours that we’ve had the pleasure of playing shows with. Bands like Elder, Mos Generator, Arrowhead, Earthride, Witch Mountain, Goatsnake, Fu Manchu, Nebula, High on Fire, Oresund Space Collective, Beaver, Earthless, Penance, Trouble, Sleep and Tombstones, The Skull. I could probably name bands and musicians that have influenced me for hours, but those are some of the key ones. Music, just like all art, is about inspiration and an awareness of history and where things came from, and it’s all about building on and adding your voice to that unfolding story that is much larger than you as an individual artist.

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Special thanks to Kent Stump for this killer interview! To catch Wo Fat on tour, buy any of their catalog or check out pics, gear and more, click here.

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