Avant-pop musician Will Wood is an artist of the highest caliber. He defies expectations by mixing genres — show tunes, jazz, cabaret and a serious amount of rock & roll — into a truly unique and original sound. It has been said that Will appeared out of nowhere, stumbling out of a hallucinogenic haze back in 2015. He immediately began attracting attention and controversy with his eccentric and difficult-to-pin-down public persona and provocative performance art. Joined by his band ‘The Tapeworms‘, Wood confused and excited audiences and press alike with his constantly shifting, genre-defying musical style and over-the-top performances that challenged the status quo of the local scene.
The New Jersey – based ensemble — which also includes Mike Bottiglieri (guitar), Matthew Berger (saxophone), Mario Conte (drums) and Ben Scardo (bass) — has toured frequently, released three albums and garnered a loyal cult following. After being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Will dedicated to giving back to the world in the form of charity funded by merch, tickets, and music sales, and using his music to try to inspire others with their own struggles. He now leads a reclusive life in rural New Jersey, having turned his back on social media, except for his Patreon account, where he publishes most of his work as one of the top 1% of creators.
Will Wood‘s the most recent album, ‘The Normal Album’, is a virtually desensitized chronicle of his condition, a pop-rock guide on how to deal with mental ilness and how to use this experience in order to educate one’s feelings in loving and acting better and stronger next time. Currently premiering the official music video for ‘Marsha, Thankk You for the Dialectics, but I Need You to Leave’, Will found time to answer some questions regarding his style, his fantastic live performances, and well, about ‘The Normal Album’.
I think it comes down to just feeling out what sounds belong with or have the right type of opposing relationship with what songs and lyrics and using those relationships to communicate something I can’t with just the words.
Given the state of mainstream culture that permeates how we consume media, how would you introduce your music to a stranger?
I recently got a phishing email posing as a special sweepstakes offer, and the fine print at the bottom was just repeated phrases and codes to make it look like legal information. Scrolling through it out of random curiosity, my eye caught buried in the wall of text the phrase “42% of Hungarians think Jews have too much influence in finance and business around the world.” Hidden between paragraphs of half-gibberish faux sweepstakes rambling, was a short essay on the global prevalence of anti-Semitism and how insidious and widespread it is. I think my work is received like that email, and I like that. So I call it pop music.
Your project is not pop in the conventional sense, and in this regard will only suit so many ears. What are its main themes and how would it be served best? What important messages are we missing as listeners?
I think art can be like jelly. The more you try to spread it, the thinner it gets, and the dryer your toast. So I’ve always felt like my goal is as much to narrow down my audience as it is to expand it. I’m always trying to find the people who truly connect with what I feel I’m truly saying with my work – and sometimes that means using more jelly or making less toast. This can lead me to being particularly provocative or using esoteric references and loudly expressing fringe ideological viewpoints. If you’re not suckered in enough to read the fine print, you’re not going to get the message. And that’s on purpose.
How are things going in this period? Is it the most difficult period a band can go through?
With this being a solo project and most of my work being online, my work hasn’t been too affected thankfully – with the exception being that I can’t tour. I miss being on the road, so hopefully I’ll have the opportunity again sooner than later.
What moments do you recall on influencing your music the most? Any childhood memories or the like?
I remember in early childhood being confused by the difference in style between “Come Together” and “Here Comes the Sun” and wondering how they could both be The Beatles.
Ever since you were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, you have chosen to open yourself about your treatment and begun to take a new direction with your work. Has that made you feel closer to your music?
Finally being able to produce something from a place where I’m actually there is a very fulfilling experience. I can relate to my own work a lot more now. I look back at the old records and don’t know who that guy was, because both of those albums were made by a guy with serious untreated psychiatric disturbances who at the time I wanted dead were I to meet now I would want to kill. Despite the romanticization and attempts at making it into some kind of social prop, mental illness is a purely ugly thing. I hope we as a society start to try removing the stigma from the stuff we can’t easily self-diagnose, relate to, or romanticize so folks have better opportunities to heal before being too destructive in an altered state, find redemption for behavioral episodes, and have their lives saved. I hope that my work can bring some inspiration or comfort to people who have been or are where I am or have been – the places we don’t make cute posts about.
Hypnotic, original and unabashedly peculiar, you are one of the most theatrical performers currently gigging. No two Will Wood & the Tapeworms shows are alike. Do you stage your shows by yourself?
I mostly play solo – nowadays mostly over livestreams available exclusively to my Patreon members. When I do play live I stage my shows myself, yeah, but how theatrical they are is as varied as any other element of my work. I find the most enjoyable shows to be the intimate ones with a seated audience and no unnecessary frills – just me and my audience sharing an uncomfortably honest experience.
When you perform live, how do you want your audience to feel as they leave the show?
When I received the email from question 1 I took a screenshot with intent to share it later and forgot about it. As I was about to sit down and answer these questions, the file caught my eye from my desktop. I opened it, and scanned the fine print for the subliminal message. I couldn’t find it. I spent a solid fifteen minutes reading the same things over and over, desperate to find that noble yet ineffective Trojan Horse message warning phishing victims of the harmful effects of rhetoric about “globalists” and telling the story of the “17 year old boy afraid to wear a kippa on the streets of Paris.” As you can imagine, I was terrified. With the paranoia and panic I’ve been feeling lately, I thought maybe I was finally on the precipice of full psychosis. I tore my junk mail inbox apart, and finally found the rest of the email, which I had just neglected to screenshot. I let out an audible sigh of relief to see the essay, and began this interview. I think I want audiences to feel that way.
Let’s talk now about your fantastic lyric video for his track “Marsha, Thankk You for the Dialectics, but I Need You to Leave”. How did it feel working on the video in these times of Corona Virus?
Well the video is more Angelica Pasquali’s work than my own, and the process of putting it together happened long before COVID hit the states.
‘The Normal Album’ deals with themes of psychiatry, identity, politics, conventional values and morality. How difficult is it to write down the world’s current problems and make it sound ‘normal’?
I’m surprised to hear you found politics in the thematic content. I cause enough controversy by daring to breathe through Will Wood’s mouth; I don’t need to get into subjects I know next to nothing about.
And I’m not sure, I guess I don’t see that as being what I’m doing. To me I’m just writing what comes to me sort of intuitively and getting together with my team to create the sounds that make it work the way it does. I think it comes down to just feeling out what sounds belong with or have the right type of opposing relationship with what songs and lyrics and using those relationships to communicate something I can’t with just the words. So that retro Americana sound to “Marsha, Thankk You” for instance was the result of playing with a lot of different styles until we stumbled across the right sound to hit the mark with the genuine parts and properly miss it with the satire.
‘The Normal Album‘ was produced by Jonathon Maisto, with a guest appearance by multi-platinum Panic! At the Disco producer Matt Squire. The Normal Album’ was released July 10, 2020. Will Wood plans to resume touring as soon as this nightmare is over.
Released through Say-10 Records, The Normal Album is available now on CD, vinyl and all digital formats, including Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, and Amazon. Listeners can support and get exclusive content through Patreon.