Wolfgang Parker does 7 impossible things before breakfast and makes us all feel like we are just lazing about. He is an artist of many mediums and seemingly endless inspiration. We chased him down and made him tell us all about himself, his work and cats:
Hello! Thank you for joining us here at Altvenger. We know you have about a million things going on at all times and we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. So, we’ll just dive right in!
Deep down you’re a country boy, and you are a musical autodidact, and you learned to play at age 12 on your mother’s acoustical guitar. Did you learn to play by ear first and then by reading sheet music or did you learn it all at once?
Wow, Mrs. V. , you’ve done your research. I’m impressed! I learned to play by messing around with the guitar and listening to records. Unfortunately, I’m not that intuitive, so it was a bit of a struggle. I cannot read music nor can I hear/sing harmonies.
Do you think growing up in a small town did more for your imagination and creativity than growing up in a city would?
I can only speculate on that, or course. Knowing what I know about myself, I think I would have probably benefited from an increased cultural stimulation, but there’s no use wishing for a different past. I am who I am in part because of the experiences I’ve had, and growing up in the sticks is part of that.
You were also a bit of a metal -head and had a band in your teens. How did you get your music then? Was it a monthly pilgrimage to a bigger city or mail order?
MTV, mostly. Back when they played music videos, I used to watch the Alternative Rock show, 120 Minutes. I found a lot of music that way. By High School, my musical horizons were expanding beyond Metal. The 1990s were spent envying British bands like Pulp, Blur, Osais, Inspiral Carpets, the Cure, Morrissey, etc.
In 1995 you formed Wolfgang Parker and started playing Punk Swing, being one of, if not the first band to fuse the two genres together. Your music was deemed too progressive at the time as the neo-swing movement was just starting and most of the bands around you were mostly just cover bands, with very few original ideas. Looking back on it now, are you glad you took the musical break until 2007? Do you think the world was more ready for you then?
Looking back I’m mostly thankful we were seen as being too progressive. I have no doubt that if wide audiences would have embraced the band back then, I would be long dead. I was so self-destructive then. I had too many issues that required stability to sort through that a life of touring wouldn’t have been able to provide. I think tastes were primed for our music by 2007 after more of a culture grew from the retro scenes. But I also know the business realms have remained aloof of our contribution.
Wolfgang Parker arrived on MySpace around 2007 with Room 19 which featured tracks from Hep city Swing and Octoboure in new arrangements. I always felt Room 19 was almost a concept album, telling a story of love and loss in the wartime. Was it ever conceived as such?
I’ve never thought of it. Room Nineteen was just a compilation of our previous indie albums, so there was no story in the conception. And that was from an era when I didn’t write anything personal, save a few songs like Room Nineteen, English Lover, Lonely Just Like Me, and Whisper Something German. But that music holds a totally different meaning for you than it does me. That’s the beauty of music.
How do you feel about it now, 8 years later?
I’m proud of the band’s contribution. While a broad commercial success eluded us, those recordings hold a special place in the lineage of Rock ‘n’ Roll. There aren’t many bands that can say that they recorded the first album in a genre. We can. Plus, Alex Ligowski and the guys at Roadstar Records did a great job pulling that album together.
You also did some covers, and they wouldn’t (and don’t) sound out of place either at a punk or a rockabilly/swing venue. Were they strictly planned, or was your take on those classics a more gut thing?
Yes, the Petty Standards EP was a collection of cover songs we had been performing for about 17 years. While the act of recording them wasn’t anything groundbreaking for us, the process proved to me that the band was ready to finally make an artistic statement.
In 2013. you published the Father/The Son single which has a decidedly more rock/metal sound. What made you go back to those roots? Will there be more of such tracks? Is there an album in the works perhaps?
The Father/The Son was to be the first track from an EP titled Father of the Black Cat. The song was dark, political, and very conceptual—all of the things that make a terrible single. The song was apocalyptic in style and it was created as Wolfgang Parker, the Punk Swing band, was coming apart. It turned out to be a disappointing swan song for a 19 year long run. Our long time fans didn’t take to it. They wanted another Room Nineteen, I think. We needed to grow. A lot of music fans want their favorite artists to be “uncompromising, go-against-the-grain” types who don’t bend for anyone, but that sometimes comes with a price when the artist doesn’t bend for them either. I can tell you from experience, no one applauds you when you do it.
Wolfgang Parker isn’t your only musical project. There is also the Weedhaven Laughing Academy. Edward Goreyish by name and grungey by sound,it has almost the same lineup as Wolfgang Parker. How did the project come to be?
Weehaven Laughing Academy (WLA) was born out of the wreckage of Wolfgang Parker, the band. Our drummer, James Oberlin had been drifting away from the band for years and finally up and moves out of state. The rest of us—Anthony Yates, Alan Mauger, and me—had to decide to either carry on as something different or if we were going to hang it up. About that time I had written a song called Glue. It didn’t take long for us to decide to see if we could find a drummer for this new thing—which at the time didn’t have a name. Matt Mees appeared and it was instant magic.
What are your plans for it?
We released Glue in October and we are currently tracking our next release, Laelia. Our plan is to continue playing and release a single every couple of months for the foreseeable future. WLA’s song catalog is so strong, it’s tough to decide which songs to record.
Your creativity doesn’t stop with music and songwriting. We heard rumors of you dabbling in photography?
Yeah, I shot sporadically for three years. I haven’t been active for five or six years now. I shot indie fashion and art photography. I was published in some indie fashion mags and some art publications. It served a more immediate artistic vehicle for self-exploration, but the process was so labor intensive that I quickly burned out.
Your love for visual arts stretches into the graphic novel realm as well, as your horror graphic novel “1888” shows. It is a supernatural take on the Jack the Ripper story, and for it you had to learn everything there was about the comic book industry. What was the journey from the first idea to the now almost finished product and when will it be available for purchase?
Yes, I got funding for 1888 through Kickstarter, when it was still being beta tested. The book is in production right now and it’s overdue by years, but production recently resumed, so new pages are expected soon.
I was really fortunate as an aspiring writer that some really talented people took time to share valuable insight with me. Mike Perkins at Marvel was actually a fan of the band when we first met and has been a great advocate. Writer, Steve Niles, was probably the first working professional to recognize my talents. There have been a handful of others that taught me a lot, but the process of actually creating a 200-page novel has been grueling, so it’s a good thing that it’s a great story. Otherwise, I might have had a difficult time pushing forward when the resistance became overwhelming.
I expect my backers will see 1888 in 2016. But until I take care of them, I can’t even entertain dealing with a publisher. I’ll deal with that when I get there.
In the meantime you weren’t sitting around doing nothing. True to your renaissance man persona, you tried something new yet again- writing and illustrating children’s books. How big of a challenge was it compared to your other projects?
I don’t know about being a renaissance man. I think I’m curious to a fault. I wrote the first Crime Cats book as a gift for my nineteen nieces and nephews as a holiday gift in 2013 and printed a few extra to see if my neighbors wanted to read it. The book created a lot of excitement and has grown into a series. I’m releasing the third volume this week. Crime Cats follows the adventures of an 8-year-old superhero who solves neighborhood mysteries with his two cat detective partners.
Crime Cats is the very first piece of art I’ve made that is for general audiences. I never aspired to write for kids, really. It just happened. But it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to communicate with so many people at once.
Were the cat detectives, CatBob and Neil Higgins based on cats you know?
Yes. The two cat detectives, Neil Higgins and CatBob, are both real cats. In fact, all of the cats in Crime Cats books are real cats from my neighborhood.
You also founded the Crime Cats relief fund, a charity that helps with medical cere expenses for the South Clintonville cats and is primarily funded through the book sales. Where can we donate?
Yes, thank you for bringing that up. The CCRF has actually helped cats in other states in the USA. It’s a charity I set up to help cats in need of emergency medical expenses, and I certainly do accept donations. Anyone can donate by going to http://crimecatsbooks.com/crime-cats-relief-fund/ and clicking the “donate” button.
And while we’re on the subject, where can fans go to get your music and your books?
I recommend purchasing music downloads from iTunes, Amazon / Amazon, and Emusic. Most of the money from sales will go toward making new music. And Crime Cats books can be purchased through Amazon only. And $0.50 USD of each book sold goes to the Crime Cats Relief Fund.