As soon as I started in on the first track of “SELF-iSH,” the latest album from New Jersey’s Will Wood and the Tapeworms, Gogol Bordello came to mind: high-energy, messy and fun. It’s not a far-fetched connection because Wood and company have toured with theatrical Gypsy-punk group, so naturally their eccentricities seemingly blend in their video for “Mr. Capgras Encounters a Secondhand Vanity.” Shot in black and white, full of partial nudity and a bit of drag, Will Wood himself admits the cabaret-style video may be a bit risque for some viewers.
“Many people would have a few choice words about the twisted, self-loving, free-love, polyamorous Saturnalia of nudity, drugs, nonsense, and sexuality that the process was,” he says. “There are moments in the video where you can watch my ego swell and pulsate like a throbbing tumor right before your very eyes, and moments where you catch a stray nipple in the corner of your periphery.”
Along with the Tapeworms and “several lovely naked women,” Wood says he worked with filmmaker Adam Nawrot. Shot in a warehouse, they had a cyclorama, face paint, confetti, and all the “tools with to alter our consciousness.” “I was suffering from a bulging disc in my back,” Wood clarifies, “high on a cocktail of painkillers, and surrounded by people willing to try anything.”
This sense of freedom continues guiding Will Wood and the Tapeworms, who are heading to ILM on the final leg of their 2016 tour. Along with Papa Reese Van Riper, Wood and company will play Juggling Gypsy on Friday, Dec. 16. encore spoke with Wood .
encore (e): Tell our readers about your band’s various musical influences and how you’ve developed your own style.
Will Wood (WW): With your ears tuned the right way, you can pick up on frequencies you wouldn’t expect to find—like number stations on a ham radio in your father’s garage. You’re told not to fiddle with the dial but those in-between frequencies that hide between the dominating signals can have strange messages encoded in them. Leftovers from a bygone era still whispering in the airwaves. Not all of my musical influences are musicians, but rather the presence of sound in the face of their context. Picture, if you will, a scene in a ‘40s romantic film, where the leading man with a thin mustache drapes the pale blond waif onto his outstretched arm and declares his whatever to her. The music that plays in that moment—would it sound better in color? You have more than just a melody there, you have an entire scene, you have drama, you have theater. Skeletons dancing, smoke stacks erupting, smog on the horizon, vultures in the sun, flowers on a virgin bed or in the barrel of a gun—there’s so much out there to be harvested from the collective unconsciousness of our culture, and so much to subvert and explore. You just have to listen with your head tilted in the right direction. Make yourself a SETI dish with flypaper eyes.
e: As a solo artist, how did you come to grow this current outfit?
WW: Like I’ve said in the past, I’ve been through more tapeworms than a supermodel with a good connection. The band has shifted shape and changed faces more times than I can remember. It wasn’t until after I released my first album that I even played live with a band. Guitarist Mike Bottiglieri and bassist Jon Maisto have both been involved in at least some manner since the start, but I’ve yelled at more drummers and harassed more saxophone players than anyone ever should. It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing, and some people just ain’t got it. Will Wood and the Tapeworms is a Theseus’ ship of a project, a thought experiment for your sophomore philosophy class. Concepts of the Person 2200, with a focus on Kantian ethics, Sartrian existentialism, Nietzsche, Nihilism, nothingness, and the norm. Stock up on nootropics before the exam season, caffeine-plus L-Theanine’s your best bet.
e: How are everyone’s collective talents expressed on the album?
WW: While I write the songs exclusively, the individual members of the band had the opportunity to explore how they wanted to play many of their parts on both of my albums. Although I am very particular about certain aspects of certain songs, there’s still some room for experimentation on the instrumental level that helps make the details clearer. The Tapeworms did a fantastic job with the songs on “SELF-iSH,” and of course our guests really added a lot. Alex Nauth of Foxy Shazam/The Skulx added some great splashes of color with his trumpet and vocal guest spots. Matt Olsson of Frank Iero and the Patience provided some of the most bombastic and ambitious drum work I’ve had the pleasure of recording, and of course with the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Kevin Antreassian producing, we heard an approach to my music I never heard before.
e: Will the Wilmington show be a mixture of spoken word and music, or strictly your latest work?
WW: I guess we’ll see if the sub-therapeutic dose of mood stabilizers have started to have an effect on me in that context. I’m not sure what I expect to be doing. I know I’ve written a few dozen songs and I’ll be putting a keyboard and a microphone onstage, but past that, I really don’t know how I’m going to be feeling. If I’m angry that day, you’ll get a different show then if I’m soaring on eagle’s wings. Nothing is strict, nothing is set in stone; I’ll be shuffling the deck and hoping I get a good hand. I might have songs shouting “put me in, coach,” and I’ll have Air Bud on my team before losing a game. I’ve played shows where I mostly told jokes, I’ve played shows where I mostly complained about my health and reality deteriorating slowly like Mr. Cotard in “Synecdoche New York,” and I’ve played shows where I got into shouting matches with the shirtless Marfan’s sufferer in the front row. Situations arise and I react—not always appropriately. It’s a living art form. I have an excuse.
e: Do you incorporate theatrics similar to what we see in the music videos?
WW: When you go to a Will Wood and the Tapeworms show, or when you see me solo, you can be sure there will be events unfolding onstage that bewilder, bewitch, and confuse any member of any audience anywhere. I’m not just tooting my own horn here (although, it is my horn and I will do what I please with it); I’m trying to sell some goddamn tickets. You coming to the show? There will be dead doves raining from the ceiling, a horse, fire breathing, water-spouting, snake-charming, a cat race, and my daughter Millie will be playing the xylophone in a hospital gown with a head full of acid and lies about the government. I’m in show business, lady—you think I’m not gonna put on a show? That’s what music is missing right now. Concerts are boring as all hell—I hate going to concerts, so I wouldn’t ask you to come to one. I don’t play concerts—I play shows.
e: Is there anything else you’d like to add about “SELF-iSH”?
WW: This tour will be a disaster, almost a guarantee. I’m snaking my way across the most poorly devised route imaginable, a figure-eight right through the Rust Belt with a BB gun and a bottle of mace. I’m going to be playing melodica on the streets of Detroit for gas money by the end of the week—desperately trying to stay warm in the trunk of my own car. I have nowhere to sleep, nowhere to hang my hat—I’m bumming it across the country with a pair of fingerless gloves, a lamictal rash, and a loose diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. There’s no hope for me.
So if you want to see what happens when you take a 23-year old mentally-ill queer accident and tell him to hoof it across Donald Trump’s America with a handful of granola and half a death wish, this is it. It’s probably set to be my last show of the tour. So we’ll see if I’ve split at the seams and frayed like the end of my rope by then.