When it comes to merging dense arrangements, memorable melodies, and playfully over-the-top showmanship, few modern musicians can match NJ avant pop/theatrical rock artist Will Wood. Merging the singer-songwriter creativity of Rufus Wainwright with the wacky energy and intricacy of the Diablo Swing Orchestra, Wood’s latest work is as richly crafted as it is delightfully zany. Case in point: “BlackboxWarrior – OKULTRA [Live in Studio]”, the latest clip from his new LP, The Normal Album, released this past July. Part classical vaudevillian ode, part madcap spoken-word skit, “BlackboxWarrior – OKULTRA [Live in Studio]” is a great glimpse into Wood’s bold and brilliant aesthetic.
A few years ago, Wood was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which played a big part not only in his artistry, but also in his altruistic path toward donating proceeds from music sales, tickets, merch, and the like toward charity. It’s no surprise, then, that The Normal Album explores themes of normality, identity, morality, and other psychological traits. Produced by Jonathan Maisto (The Dillinger Escape Plan) and featuring a guest appearance from multi-platinum producer Matt Squire (Panic! At the Disco), it’s a thrilling mix of genres (jazz, new wave, doo-wop, and disco among them) that feels like a fitting yet expanded sibling to 2016’s Self-Ish.
Of “BlackboxWarrior – OKULTRA” itself, Wood explains: “It’s an important song to me; it (hopefully, anyway) says a lot of things I need to get off my chest. It’s an exploration of how we use various professional/medical services to help us gain control of the inherent disorder of animal nature, and how we take these risks with ourselves to try and take the reins on our psyches. Being a narcissistic gorilla in jeans, a bra, and arbitrary cultural straightjackets is a truly disturbing, panicked, and bizarrely painful experience, and we all try to decide what’s worth what. So, I wanted to allow my work to speak for itself, and therefore speak to the audience more directly, which is something I’ve often neglected to do and instead focused on performative playing and distractions like confetti and light shows.”
As for the live performance (recorded at GD PonderRosa Studios in Lafayette, New Jersey by Kevin Guillorn), it’s dynamically filmed in B&W and sees his band, the Tapeworms playing in front of a small crowd. About halfway through, he stops everything to make a phone call (embodying the frenetic passion and clever wordplay of the Marx Brothers and the late George Carlin) before resuming the concert without skipping a beat.
Wood elaborates: “I wanted to squeeze as much feeling out of the arrangement as possible. The band and I slaved away at tightening the performance up and gaining control of the wild leads and exchanging solos, and the challenge was worth it. Picking up that phone halfway through was an idea that came to me last minute. Kevin Guillorn, co-engineer for The Normal Album, builds some very interesting things, and one of those things is an old landline with a microphone jack. I knew that I—a sweating and hollering mammal barely keeping up with his own creation in a button-down shirt—had to make a call and talk to someone else and let them know how foolish they are for trying to force sanity onto an innately insane organism, and trying to keep up with creation.”
It was an extremely elaborate and multifaceted process to bring it all home, but luckily, they absolutely stick the landing. Check out “BlackBoxWarrior -OKULTRA [Live in Studio]” for yourself and see if it doesn’t blow you away, too. If it does, you can show your support for Wood via his Patreon, as well as check out the entire new LP at a variety of places (such as Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, and Amazon).