Wanderlust’s Scot Sax on Resurrecting The Songs That Got Away For ‘All A View’ (INTERVIEW)

The band Wanderlust’s story is a particularly interesting one because it pits an aspiring band against the sudden interest and support of the music industry only to experience the unsteadiness of that position and the breakup which naturally followed. The sheer newness of the band in 1994 when their in-process demos got them signed by RCA to create the album Prize, featuring their hit single “I Walked”, was remarked upon in pop culture news at the time, but Wanderlust’s unusual sound was undoubtedly something fans were looking for.

Now, over twenty-five years after that sudden ascent, the band have engaged in a highly successful experiment of working with old tapes to create the release All A View, arriving on July 2nd. The event will be celebrated by a screening of the “visual album” in Nashville on July 2nd and and release show on July 3rd. For the most part, the songs are built around original vocals and acoustic guitar parts recorded during the heyday of the band, which have then been overdubbed with additional parts as needed. Surprisingly, some songs have been “relearned” by the band and played entirely anew but date from the same creative period. Added to that are a couple of new songs by the band, but it’s a challenge to determine which are which because the band’s trademark sound is so consistently realized. Songwriter and vocalist Scot Sax spoke with me about the band’s accelerated rise, disintegration, and the pretty fascinating excavation and resurrection of All A View

Hannah Means-Shannon: I really enjoyed the “Story Behind Wanderlust” video that you made. I feel like it could have been an hour long and still been interesting. 

Scot Sax: The story is a little wild, for sure. Living it was like a movie with the timing of everything. And there’s certainly more to the story. I stopped short of the internal combustion of the band. 

HMS: It’s hard enough for a band to stick together when they are just starting out, but I can’t imagine the added pressure of touring early on and wrangling record labels.

SS: It’s one thing to stay together when you’re a huge success when there’s lots of money and support, but it’s another thing to stay together when there’s not. I’ve always felt like how much money went to different band members was the first dagger and the lack of money from label support was the second dagger. It puts a value to things and that doesn’t come into the picture at all when you first start out. The whole thing then is, “This is fucking awesome!” You’re in a Rock ‘n Roll band, and you rehearse for a couple hours, then you go out and get something to eat and some beers, and you talk about the Rolling Stones. That’s the whole thing. Those were great times. Then when your dreams come true, there are the parts that you don’t think about, the business parts. 

HMS: I heard about how you met the other band members and how quickly you all began working well together. I know you got along easily, but I wonder if not having a long history together yet made it harder once you succeeded right away. You didn’t have that practical knowledge of each other over time yet.

SS: Absolutely, and that’s a really good point. I realized that while it was happening. The first thought that I had about the big picture at the time was, “This is going to be the band that does it.” But my second thought was, “But we don’t have the experience where we’ve handled the obstacles.” We hadn’t been through anything yet, so I was worried that we’d get to a place where that would be a problem. 

So the first thing that I did was to book us everywhere and anywhere I could find so that we would have more experience. I booked us places where nobody knew us. It’s almost like I wanted us to have horrible gigs at dives. [Laughs] I threw us into a shit storm so we could do it at industrial strength. If we hadn’t done that, I think we would have been in an even bigger mess. I booked us at a place called T.T. The Bear, and there were six skinheads in the audience where we played. It was great to have a bad gig. I just wanted to get as much experience under our belts. That said, it’s like getting married a little too soon. We didn’t talk about things and when things came up, it was a little too late.

HMS: It seems like by the time you put the ad out for band members, you had some of the lay of the land. Had previous experience solo or in bands prepared you a little for what was coming?

SS: Let’s put it this way: I never went to a therapist until I started a band. Everything was easy for me as a creative person. That was just me in a room figuring out a tape recorder. When I started putting bands together, none of the logistics occurred to me or any of the million molecules of being a human being that come into play. There’s a lot of responsibilities and it’s a big job being in a band. We were just a bunch of idiots trying to figure things out together. 

Just before that time, I was going up to New York and playing, and I was a Dylan freak. I went to Greenwich Village a ton with my parents as a kid. I was a pretty cultured little dude. I was even in Max’s Kansas City when I was 11 years old and later played CBGBs. I finally got “development” money from Atlantic Records and I think they gave my manager the money. I got to record at a big studio and I did a bunch of my songs. I thought I’d get a record deal and it didn’t happen. I felt really good about my songs, though I hadn’t really found my voice yet. At the time, I thought, “It sounds great, but it doesn’t sound like a band. It doesn’t have its own sound.” That was the beginning of the part of my life where it all started to make sense because having a sound is everything.

HMS: I wanted to ask you about sound. I know that this release, All A View, was created from demo tapes that were made back in the day. There’s definitely a sound to it and it seems like you still have a clear idea of what that sound is. But how would you, personally, describe it?

SS: I don’t mean this to sound pretentious, but the great thing about the band was, we never went for anything and that’s what made the sound. I could tell you what sound I was going for since then, but there was never a conscious thing. That’s why even on our apartment rehearsals, which are also coming out with this album, when the four of us naturally play without any thought to it, it had a sound. That was thrilling then and is thrilling now, just as much. 

We put All A View together separately, from our home studios, in the past year, along with the recordings of my voice and guitar back then. And no one said anything to anybody. Maybe I said one thing, like, “Go over the top!” But it has that sound. It’s like what you might say about the Rolling Stones: “Keith Richards plays like that. And then Bill Wyman does what he does. And Charlie Watts does what he does. Mick Jagger does what he does. And when everyone does their part, that’s the sound of The Rolling Stones.” These songs came together fast, as fast as Dropbox could load and download. It’s like a car where the wheels don’t try to be the fender. 

We didn’t know how to capture our sound in the studio when we first started. That was tricky. We knew that we were pretty rocking on stage and we didn’t want it to sound like light Pop. We’re a pretty hardcore Rock ‘n Roll band on stage and that’s not an easy sound to capture in the studio. Even if you crank the guitars up, it can still sound squashed. We learned a lot from our Producer on The Prize album. I think some the guys had to learn how to unlearn some of the tricks they’d picked up from playing in clubs.

HMS: It’s interesting to hear that you all had that live identity as your foundation and then had to then find your way as a recording band. 

SS: I remember one night after a rehearsal, we ran into Rick Nielson from Cheap Trick at a bar in Philly. He was fairly inebriated. This was around 1992 or 1993. I asked him, “How do you get the guitars to sound like that in the studio? We just can’t figure it out.” He said, “You just gotta put the mic in all different places until it sounds right.” But we ended up approaching it like The Kinks, which was a good thing for us. If you have a well-crafted song, the band can kind of get away with some slop, and some power, and some passion. If you cater to the song too much, there’s no real performance. 

That was a lesson that definitely stayed with me on this album, too. I just did one take on these, even on the new songs, and if I didn’t quite hit the note, or if I knew I had a better one in me, I didn’t do it. I just thought, “This is what it is.” Rob [Bonfiglio] is more of a perfectionist. I knew that since everyone was working alone, they were going to do that. I’ve never been that way. Some people will work on something for years and then not put it out. It blows my mind.

HMS: It occurs to me that it might be important not to overwork the songs on this album to make sure that it continues to feel fresh while working with older recordings. I do think the album feels very fresh and alive but what you just said helps me understand why.

SS: Yes, it would have been so corny to say, “Now we can control all things!” 

HMS: You can now, which is the danger. So much technology has developed since that time. Which songs on this album are the new ones?

SS: We have plenty of songs, so we could have done the whole album with them. But Rob brought up the idea of writing something with me, and then Mark [Getten] had a song so it seemed like a good time to do them since we had all come together as a band after all these years. As I was finding these old tapes of me playing the acoustic guitar and singing, I handed a box of stuff that said “Wanderlust on it” to a friend of mine who does digitization. It was a combination of audio and video material. 

He sent back everything and one of them was a video of us playing, opening a gig in Europe. It was kind of an epic Who mini-Rock opera sort of thing, which I assumed was called “All A View” based on trying to decipher it. I was trying to figure out what I was saying because the video and audio is pretty muddy. I figured out what I could and learned the song from the video and we had only played it once before. So that’s a song that we newly recorded. 

HMS: That’s an incredible resurrection of a song. I can definitely understand The Who comparison, because it has this incredible instrumental track that leads in.

SS: When you play a bunch of shows that don’t really get a sound check, you don’t want your first song to get botched while they are figuring out the levels. So I had this idea. At the time, I would write songs with big instrumental intros, so by the time you start singing, the sound man can get his shit together and it’s correct. That was one of them. But we would have totally forgotten that song had I not had the time to go through a box due to quarantine and give it to a friend who does digitizing. 

The song “Black Currant Jam” was taken from a tape where I was playing acoustic guitar and singing, and then the band overdubbed on that. That was one of the ones that “got away”. We could have called the album “The Ones That Got Away”.

HMS: I really like “Black Currant Jam”. It has a heavier sound and you can really hear the Classic Rock elements there. It works really well.

SS: That’s sort of what I mean when I talk about how we played live. That is really the sound of Wanderlust laying the shit down. I love that song. I love Rob’s lead playing. Some players I think play kind of like Eric Clapton or kind of like Keith Richards, but I have always thought that Rob played like Jimmy Page. I thought that was killer. He just kills the lead on that. 

“Something Happens” was a new song. Rob sent me the track with the melody and at lightning speed the words hit me. I sang it and sent it back and at lightning-speed, that song was done.

HMS: I thought that one sounded a little more psychedelic and then the video turned out to be psychedelic, in a way, with the mandala patterns. 

SS: Yes. We actually did a new video for it, too, which has a little more of a story to it. It’s about parents being interrupted in the middle of their stressed-out arguing, only to notice that their kids are amazing. That song’s kind of special to me.

“Corduroy Moon” are vocal and acoustic guitar completely from the tape and the band overdubbed on that. Luckily, on that tape, I laid the songs down rhythmically straight-ahead so you can play to it. That never usually works out because a guitar player and singer isn’t going to play perfect time. But I was a drummer first so I’m picky about groove and tempo. So I played it really straight ahead back then, and it was easy for Jim [Cavanaugh] to play to it as drummer.

HMS: That’s a really good example of a song that doesn’t feel overworked. There are layers but they aren’t compressed on top of each other.

SS: Exactly, yes. We always try to stick to the ingredients of what we do. We don’t really overdub on top of ourselves. We don’t usually add guitars. We try to do it so we can do it on stage in exactly the same way. We had a rehearsal video since I often recorded them. We had a tape of me singing it, but we also had a video tape of the band playing it at rehearsal one time. We had never done it live. We watched that and they relearned the parts.

 

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