Features, Print October 21, 2019

The Lone Vulf: Cory Wong Ventures Outside The Pack

by Valerie Vampola

Cory Wong loves playing for Vulfpeck so much that his own album sounds, well, a lot like Vulfpeck. Where other members who recorded solo projects see it as a chance to show another side of themselves, like Theo Katzman’s melodious yacht rock-esque pop, Wong plays acid-jazz and funk with a goofy touch because, well, that is his true voice. The only difference being that on his latest album, Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul, he got to call all the shots.

“[Vulfpeck] encourages everyone to do their own thing. The solo stuff helps the band be better,” said Wong in a phone interview for BandWagon.

Cory Wong and Paris Monster play at The Aggie Theater in Fort Collins Halloween Night.

All the members of Vulfpeck are accomplished solo artists, but instead of egotists, they are just a group of self-aware music nerds excited to play together. They draw from each other’s energy and use it to power their own projects.

You could mistake some of Wong’s songs for something out of the Vulfpeck catalog, but Wong values the opportunity to feature himself as a songwriter, singer and guitar player. Like his eponymous 2017 album and two live records, Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul lets him show off his helicopter hand technique that produces one of the cleanest boogie sounds in the business.

However, as much of a beast as Wong is on the guitar (and how catchy his composing and songwriting is) the album isn’t exactly a pedestal of attention for himself. Instead, he collaborated with several well established musicians: some personal friends he met on the road, and some he met only once after an Instagram follow.

“I would sometimes pick someone based on pre-written material . . . but in some cases it was just because people wanted to hang,” remarked Wong.

That structured process of selflessness manifests in different ways on the album. On his collaboration with Caleb Hawley, the main ideas written for their track “Limited World,” were workshopped via voice memos. With Emily C. Browning (on “Starting Line”) they had the opportunity to develop an idea over a 3-month period while on tour together.

Cory Wong live at Red Rocks – photos by Wallyography

His perhaps highest-profile collaboration, that with Jon Batiste (band leader for Stay Human , the Late Show with Stephen Colbert house band) wasn’t entirely intentional, but naturally developed when the two were hanging out one night after the Late Show. Batiste wanted to be involved in Wong’s project, so Wong flew out to New York, where they recorded “St. Paul” and the soulful, emotional “Home.”

And then sometimes those hangs lead to true spontaneous moments of magic. His collaboration with Tom Misch felt as such. Misch was visiting Los Angeles when he invited Wong over to hang out and see if they could write something. 30 minutes later they had “Cosmic Sans” recorded. 

Supporting his new record Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul, Cory Wong’s tour stops in Denver and Boulder on November 1 and 2.

Wong encourages featuring the voices of other artists on the record and emerses them in his writing process too. Often these magic moments are so surreal, he sometimes has to ask himself: “Am I allowed to do this?”

As a response to his own self doubt and disbelief of his current state, he wrote the song “Today I’m Gonna Get Myself a Real Job,” where he mulls over the process of quitting music and getting a generic job. But really he’s acknowledging, in a playful way, that despite the exhausting grind of being a full-time musician and the negative YouTube comments or discouraging Spotify statistics that come along with putting yourself out there, moments like recording Motivational Music and getting to play with Vulfpeck are what motivates his soul.

Catch Cory Wong Halloween night, Thursday, October 31 at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, as well as Friday, November 1 at the Fox Theater in Boulder, and Saturday November 2 at the Bluebird Theater in Denver. The not-to-be-missed Paris Monster opens each show.