White Eagle Hall Interviews: Will Wood of Will Wood and the Tapeworms

Categorizing the music of Will Wood & the Tapeworms can prove elusive.  Wood and his band defy expectations by mixing genres – show tunes, cabaret, pop, jazz plus a heavy dose of Rock & Roll – into a truly unique and original sonic amalgamation. The New Jersey-based ensemble has toured frequently, released three albums and garnered a growing and loyal cult following.  At the center of this psychedelic musical theater is Will Wood, singer, songwriter and keyboard player. Hypnotic, original and unabashedly peculiar, Will is one of the most theatrical performers currently gigging. No two Will Wood & the Tapeworms shows are alike.   Wearing face paint and often confrontational with the audience, Mr. Wood is an extremely animated singer and musician. The band – which also includes Mike Bottiglieri (guitar), Matthew Berger (saxophone), Mario Conte (drums) and Ben Scardo (bass) – put on a powerful, hallucinatory show at White Eagle Hall last autumn in a supporting slot for the Trophy Scars 15th anniversary celebration. Since then, Will & Company have been touring and released an acclaimed new album The Real. Poised to make a return engagement at White Eagle Hall to help celebrate our one year  anniversary, Will talks music while espousing a wide range of interests and perspectives. 

WEH: What was the last song you heard before talking with me?

Will: I’ve had the same nickelodeon PSA about the food pyramid stuck in my head for 10 years.

WEH: Do you apply your own face paint? Does it change every show?
Will: Yes, I do. The designs change now and again but it always features the third eye.
WEH: What does the third eye mean?
Will: If I tell you, it stops working.

WEH: Your stage persona is so wonderfully strange. What are you trying to convey?   
Will: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

WEH: Your Facebook page says your genre is Avant-Pop, which makes sense because you are definitely questioning traditional harmonics of pop songs. How would you describe avant-pop?
Will: It does? Well. A lot of people seem to think that in order to be progressive, or postmodern, or avant-garde, you have to be unlistenable. Don’t get me wrong, I like the residents as much as the next guy who had no friends in high school, but it’s got to be fun. I’m here to do to the avant-garde what Green Day did to punk-rock. 

WEH: Some people might just classify it as prog-rock.
Will: Some of my writing can be prog-y, sure.
WEH: It says on your website that you’re “anti-folk?”
Will: Does it? I used to call myself anti-folk, yeah, but then I quit drinking.

WEH: There is a great texture to the arrangements, what is the challenge of arranging your songs for your band?
Will: I can’t read music, so there’s a lot of me going up to my saxophone player going, “okay, play doo doo doo da da…” 

WEH: Where does cabaret music end and Will Wood & The Tapeworms begin?
Will: I don’t know anything about cabaret music, I just call myself that because other people called me that. I guess theater is in my blood. My great grandfather, after whom I was named, was an advance man for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. Left his family for the human cannonball. My great grandmothers were conjoined twins – they played solo/duet piano for one of the last great vaudeville troops at the turn of the century. Funny I can say I had two great grandmothers on the same side. People assume I mean they were lesbians. No, they shared a uterus. Well, they also turned out to be lesbians. Ran away together. Not that they could’ve run away separately. 

WEH: What is your favorite time of day and what do you like to do to make that time perfect?
Will: I’d have to say 11am-1pm. That’s when I get to guzzle iced coffee and answer emails.
WEH: Answering emails hardly sounds like the perfect time to me.
Will: I get excited when my spam folder is full. I like to stay busy. It’s like a shark- if it stops swimming, it dies. And it can smell blood in one part per million. I’m just trying to avoid going belly up in the process. It keeps me from going into the bad place. Here be monsters. 

WEH: Are you an agent of chaos or a reaction to chaos?
Will: Chaos and order are two incomplete interpretations of the manner in which the universe unfold. Much like how fate and free will are incomplete notions, and don’t even necessarily preclude one another. It just depends on your scope of relevance and what paths of logic you’re willing to consider. I can’t tell you my relationship with chaos, i’m exactly what I’m supposed to be. Does that make sense?
WEH: No.
Will: Haha.

WEH: Is your music a response to the world you’ve known?
Will: Maybe? I suppose I can’t do something without it being somewhat of a response. It’s not necessarily on purpose though. I don’t really have much control over what comes out.

WEH: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Will: There’s some meditation that can really force you to occupy the space. There’s also binge eating, i do that.
WEH: What sort of meditation?
Will: Vipassana.

WEH: Do you have to get into character for your shows?
Will: Not any more so than I have to get into character for anything else. Everyone’s always in character. It’s all made up. None of us are what we think we are in terms of identity- we’re not even really individuals. We tend to think of ourselves as individuals but we’re not moreso individuals than the cells in our bodies are. We are the imagination of ourselves, just dreams in the mind of Brahman. Or maybe I just have a Cluster B Personality Disorder. This could all just be from me listening to too many Alan Watts lectures.

WEH: How rehearsed or how spontaneous is your stage act?
Will: Well the songs are fairly rehearsed, but I don’t always go onstage with a plan. Sometimes I don’t even have a setlist.

WEH: Your antics are so physical, does the piano help with your stage show or is it an obstacle you’ve overcome?
Will: It’s a little bit of both. The piano is such a dramatic instrument, a giant mechanical beast made out of dead elephant parts you can play any note you want on. But it’s in front of me the whole time, which sort of divides me from the audience, which is why I’m always trying to overcome the separation by standing on it, smashing my head against it, playing it with my feet or whatever. Which ends up being a good thing, I guess- trying to destroy that barrier gives me new ways to do what I do. I’m trying to think of a good metaphor here. A tool that needs to be destroyed in order to be used… oh. An erection.

WEH: What is your favorite color? 
Will: I like black or I like rainbows, I can’t seem to pick.

WEH: What is your favorite time of year?
Will: I’d say autumn. I can wear a jacket but i don’t have to. Plus all the colors. The same can be said about spring though. Except spring all I have to look forward to is summer. Summer rolls around I just shut down for three months. Then again I do the same thing in winter.

WEH: If you can be any animal, what would that be and why?
Will: A different person.

WEH: Your Facebook page mentions Tom Waits as an influence, which I can see because you blend genres and your music and lyrics are filled with the unexpected. What does Tom Waits mean to you and is there a preferred period of his work?
Will: Tom Waits is more than just a songwriter, he’s created this sort of microcosm. He communicates in more than just lyrics. He uses genre, instrumentation, character. Has really found a lot of creative ways of self-expression or exploration that’s really unique and powerful.

WEH: Waits has been making music for more than four decades, do you have a favorite period?
Will: The newer stuff, actually. Surprisingly enough I think his latest album is my favorite, Bad as Me. I loved Glitter and Doom. I’d say anything after Kathleen Brennan came on the scene.

WEH: What is your favorite movie?  
Will: I like Edward Scissorhands. Not that I’d watch it again any time soon. I also really like James and the Giant Peach. I really related to the centipede. I have a pet centipede. It’s sixteen inches and vietnamese. Its venom is neurotoxic.

WEH: Do you have a favorite writer or book?
Will: I like Alan Watts, Allen Carr, and Marsha Linehan.

WEH: What is your favorite flower?
Will: I like dandelions, even though they’re supposedly weeds. They’re not weeds. Weed isn’t a classification, its an insult. They’re the disrespected underdogs of flowers. Plus when they die people make wishes on them. I also like fake flowers, they’re cheap, pretty, and they never die. I guess its all about mortality. I like my flowers to remind me of death.

WEH: Plaid, stripes, paisley, polka dots – what is your favorite pattern and why?
Will: Plaid and polka dots can take a long walk off a short pier. Paisley is naturally-occurring, their designs are based on hallucinations. You can see them in mundane textures when soaked in Hoffman’s Potion. Stripes make me look like Beetlejuice. 

WEH: Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton?
Will: Yes. I like looking like Beetlejuice, and I like looking like a hallucination.

WEH: Do you have a favorite form of theater?
Will: I’d have to say musical theater. Listening to the soundtrack to Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, always brings on a very friendly LSD flashback.

Don’t miss Will Wood &The Tapeworms at the White Eagle Hall Anniversary Party, May 5th, which also features: Rye Coalition, The Rocknroll Hi Fives and Long Neck.

Find out more about Will Wood &The Tapeworms, visit: www.willwoodandthetapeworms.com