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An Interview with Wooster Sang's Peter Farrell
By Kenny Love
(more articles from this author)
1999-11-18
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I recently was afforded the opportunity to speak with Peter Farrell, fearless leader of 'Wooster Sang.' This is an incredibly unique Modern Rock act that had me spellbound from the first spin of its debut CD, due out in January, 2000

[Kenny Love] Wanna interview?

[Peter Farrell] OK...let's do it, but I'll need a cigarette every once in awhile. In fact, I'm gonna have one right now.

[Love] Okay...just don't blow smoke directly in my face, please; especially in my eyes.

[Farrell] Hey, pal...there are no non-smoking rules on-line; uh oh, I just got a note that you left the chat session -- 'nother interrupt, or was that the interview?

[Love] Nah, we still gotta do the interview. And, as such, why don't you begin by telling our readers how 'Wooster Sang' came to be, please.

[Farrell] Version 1, or Version 2...the version we tell people in all interviews?

[Love] You mean there are two? Most people only have one...you guys are SO talented, it's scary!

[Farrell] Okay, since you twisted my arm, here's Version 1. We had been trying to come up with a name for awhile, but every name seemed to be taken. I mean, of course, those names that we thought we could live with. The other names? Well, you know how it can be. So, Racine, our former bass player, was playing around with the word, 'Wooster.' There is, in fact, a street in New York City called Wooster Street, near the famous Irving Plaza where a lot of national acts play. And, since we do pay a good deal of attention to vocals, we added the past tense of the word, Sing. The logo design we managed to come up with looked cool, and we knew we could trademark the name.

[Love] Okay...now, let's hear that bonus version.

[Farrell] Version 2...the version we tell people in all interviews. There was an old Romanian Count, who believing his wife was having an affair with another man, decided to invite all of the men in his kingdom to a great feast.

[Love] Just a second...this version isn't plastered with X-rated incidentals, is it? I mean, I don't believe my Editor would approve...know what I mean?

[Farrell] Don't worry...not many plasterings; it's fairly clean. Anyway, after the feast, and not knowing who the adulterer was, the Count killed all the men. The Count's name was Count Wooster.

[Love] Okay, I've just got to ask it...after killing them, did Wooster Sang, I mean, Sing? You know, do sort of a celebrative dance, much like a 'Highlander' ritual after a beheading?

[Farrell] No. You see, 'Sang' means blood, in some parts of the world. This is based, in part, on some Dracula story my drummer, Steve, tells me...he's quite well read evidently.

[Love] Evidently, he is; yes, I can see that, but you're right because the Spanish word for blood is sangre...I can see the correlation now. ;-)

[Farrell] There we go! Now, I'm out of my league. I read spy stories, thrillers, and murder mysteries, so I rely on Steve to fill me in on the rest. Then, there's this guy named Kenny Love who is a Killer writer...pardon the pun.

[Love] Okay, I'm giving you a raise on your next promotion check for that plug, Peter...thanks. You know, you guys really are going to have to get a life & stop reading all those vampire novels. After all, everyone knows that Angel is the only REAL vampire in existence today. To believe otherwise, is sheer folly. Let's discuss this idea whereby many male artists are coming up with these female names for their all-male acts... is that a trend?

[Farrell] It isn't a trend in my view, though there does seem to be a trend in releasing single named artists.

[Love] 'Wooster Sang' is an incredible band...I mean, I readily see it not only appealing to the Modern Rock audience, but also the Jazz & Adult Contemporary markets as well. In other words, you guys have significant crossover potential.

[Farrell] We actually set out in this project to be as diverse with our material in order to avoid pigeon holing ourselves. The last thing we wanted was to end up having to deliver album after album of one type of genre...too limiting and it wouldn't have tapped our influences or background.

[Love] Please elaborate on your first single, 'Time Passes.' Where did the idea for it come from?

[Farrell] Our lead singer/guitarist, Craig Zund, wrote the song. It's sort of looking at the obvious, i.e., time just keeps on passing. No matter what you do, no matter what dreams you have, where you come from, etc. It sort of says...hey, don't sweat it. So many people really are in a panic, you know...they feel stuck in their jobs, not happy with their home lives, feel unappreciated, and are constantly judging themselves against other's benchmarks as if the success of their friend on Wall Street should have a bearing on how well others will perceive their own lives. Listen, I certainly don't want to come across as too heady with all of this...a lot of our writing, in general, comes from pure unadulterated FUN! We love to play, we love to write, and we love to laugh. So, when you ask a question like, 'Where did it come from'...in part, I'm post rationalizing here.

[Love] I was listening to it with an associate and we are both from the 'old school' days when lyrics were based, primarily, on life's experiences. We sat through the first verse quietly then, simultaneously, looked at each other, tripping on that 'old school' vibe.

[Farrell] Yeah, it is 'old school'...we are, in some ways, 'old school'...musically, it's a huge well for us. We've all been in so many projects over the years...so many different types of bands, quartets, orchestras...and one thing I think we're done with, is trying to be or seem like something we're not. So, one thing we can do is tell it as we feel it, because we're not into preaching it.

[Love] I know how artists really resent being compared, in certain senses, to other artists. So let me just say that I, personally, would rank you guys in the genre and focus as Sting, to a large extent. I guess if I really narrowed it down, I would say a cross between Sting & YES, which ain't a bad place to be narrowed down to at all.

[Farrell] Actually, I quite like being compared to other artists because it helps me understand how we are perceived. That's always a struggle...how the band wants to be perceived versus the reality. And, we have also walked away from trying to be something that we think would go over with audiences. But, YES...that's interesting. A lot of folks have mentioned that. After seeing us 'live,' they'll also add Weather Report and 'B>Traffic, as we do improvise an awful lot.

[Love] You know, I believe that is exactly what needs to happen with all the copycat bands as well...and I'm talking professional acts that have been around for years. They bank their entire careers on copying another style, twist, fad, or something. When a band, either starts out totally unique, or decides that it is no longer willing to become part of the expected "package," only then does it develop a true fan base with a lifelong following.

[Farrell] Indeed, it always amazes me how many good musicians, songwriters, etc. miss the point that music is expression and, as such, an individual is, by definition, 'original.' So you already are given the tools and gifts to begin. People will often say things like "I could never sing, or play an instrument," "You have to start out young to be good," or "You have to be born with it to have it." Well, to that, I say BS because there are cultures in this world where music is not an aesthetic art form. It is as natural to these cultures as brushing teeth is to ours...meaning, you have a voice, you speak everyday and, you sound differently.

[Love] I believe an even sadder situation is when you see artists who have been around for years, whom you would think would have naturally picked up certain things, for instance, in production. Then, someone as young as Lauryn Hill comes along, wins multiple Grammys on her self-produced debut recording, and you have all these so-called veterans coming to her saying they want HER to produce THEIR next album...as if she has a magic formula they have somehow overlooked. All this subservience when, in actuality, it seems that it should be they who are teaching her. Then, all of a sudden, there are several artists out there sounding exactly like Lauryn Hill, or whomever the current hot artist happens to be...just exactly like with what happened when BabyFace first came on the scene. In fact, artists that he has signed to him sound so much like him, I can't tell if it's him, or Memorex.

[Farrell] See? That's just it. In these cases, they (veteran artists) believe that she can do better justice to their material than they can. There are too many musicians who just have to stop thinking they need another toy or another person to make them great.

[Love] You're right.

[Farrell] You have to take responsibility, then take yourself all the way. Of course, I know it helps to have a known entity back you, but that should be something that gets you out there, not something you base your whole artistic vibe on.

[Love] Adding to that in the technological area, just yesterday, a producer friend of mine was showing me a new software that is a drum machine. Instead of actually buying the drum machine today, you can just get the software and manipulate the sounds online! While he was excited, I expressed to him that I was really burned out on technology to that degree...that it had really become overkill.

[Farrell] Well, yes, if it's used as a crutch. But if you use it musically, it's a great tool. It should be an enabler, not a disabler. You mentioned Sting...how about Ani Defranco's story of sheer faith and tenacity? All musicians need to learn the morale of that story. Remember the Charlie Parker story, or maybe it was Coltrane. Dude shows up one day with a plastic sax...this is probably an exaggeration but, nevertheless, a crummy, beat up instrument. The story goes, that the audience thought it was one of his best performances ever. I'll say it again...IT IS NOT ABOUT THE TOOLS! It is about expressing yourself...uh oh, I think I hear Madonna!

[Love] Yes...it's the old adage, 'Less Is More'.

[Farrell] Absolutely! Listen to Stevie Wonder...really listen to what the individual instruments are doing, if you can block everything else out. Not complicated stuff at all, but very simple parts...elementary school simple. Yet, doesn't' his stuff just knock your socks off? And the simplicity is sheer brilliance. How about all those nursery rhymes anyone of us could whip out? When it's simple, it hangs together. We have all heard Beethoven's 5th Symphony, right? Well, it consists of a 4-note motif played every which way...different keys, etc. That's an unbelievable lesson to me.

[Love] So, in regard to you and the future of 'Wooster Sang'...what's on the agenda; more Sanging?

[Farrell] We're writing our second album and hope it will come out sometime next year. It looks like we finally found a new bass player, as Racine had to move on...new family, etc. I think the new album will take on a new direction...which is the idea! It seems to be more groovy, more soul...but who knows where we'll end up? We never know 'til we get there. And that's our motive for continuing to enjoy what we do.

[Love] When does your recording get released?

[Farrell] I believe we're shooting for January. We've been fortunate in that we'll be having a major radio promoter behind us who I believe will be instrumental in breaking the act nationally.

[Love] PLEASE say you are releasing "Time Passes" as the first single.

[Farrell] Funny you should mention that, but after much discussion within the band, we felt that the song would be the best way to get people to understand our vibe. There are other songs, which I believe are equally as good, but this is a fun, upbeat number, which kind of reflects who we are. I should also mention that the band received some solid direction from the radio promoter. We recognize that it's very important in this business to really listen to the professionals. We may not always agree, but our expertise is in the writing, playing, and overall management of our creative vision; not in how the world may or may not react to us.

[Love] Peter, this has been wonderful. I wish you guys much luck with the recording, although from the "sounds" of it, I seriously doubt you will need it.

[Farrell] That's kind of you to say, but we need an angel and we could definitely use some luck. Thanks for your time...I enjoyed this.


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