Cory Wong is the jedi-master secret weapon of Vulfpeck‘s most recent studio release The Beautiful Game. New Vulf-fans might recognize his name from the final track of the album, which released on Monday, October 17th, or perhaps from his recent performances with Vulfpeck last month in NYC. Wong’s style blends in perfectly with the originality of the Ann Arbor-bred phenomenons. He’s the subtle hero who can take a guitar part and turn it into his own magical Vulf-y thing.
Longtime fans of Vulfpeck are already hip to the name, as Wong made his debut collaboration back in 2013 in their YouTube video “TOUR VLOG 002” when the band had the night off in Tulsa and got funky with the strat-o-master. The jam has since evolved into “Cory Wong”, a song that snuck into Vulfpeck’s live repertoire over the summer and is featured as the final track on The Beautiful Game.
Watch the first-ever “Cory Wong” below, and compare it to the version on The Beautiful Game here.
Cory Wong contributed to seven of the ten tracks on The Beautiful Game, more than any other collaborator in Vulf history. “Most of the songs that I tracked with them we just did live in Tyler [Duncan]‘s basement. The thing I love about recording with [Vulfpeck] is that it’s all live with no headphones, and I had no guitar amp. I just went direct and had a little bit of volume from the monitors in the room. Everyone’s playing at a very reasonable/listenable level but it’s interesting to listen back and hear more of the nuance that each person put on it,” explains Wong of his experience recording The Beautiful Game. Theo Katzman also recently told us, “we make records that is mostly based on our live studio performances.” This sort of in-the-moment practice is what makes Vulfpeck’s music so unique.
The approach they are both talking about can be seen in this video of “Dean Town” that the band released last week, featuring Wong on the strat.
But sometimes studio sessions take some planning, especially with so many contributors living all over the country (11 total, not including the band). He tells us, “‘Margery, My First Car’, ‘Conscious Club’, and ‘Animal Spirits’ are songs that Jack [Stratton] sent me via dropbox and just said, ‘do your thing’ on them. So I added all that new guitar stuff to those songs remotely. I remember doing the overdubs for ‘Conscious Club’ when I was on the road with Ben Rector doing a gig at Stubb’s in Austin. I set up my rig before soundcheck and tracked my parts quick. Normally I send a handful of choices for guitar parts, so it was fun to hear which ones Jack used for the actual recording.”
Jack’s choice for “Conscious Club” was not what Wong expected to hear on the final product, however. Listen to the recording below:
“Fun fact, after I finished recording that song, I took a coffee break and forgot to send the tracks to Jack, but I was hearing this funky guitar groove in my head that I ended up recording in to the same session just so I didn’t forget the idea. I think I accidentally sent it to him along with the other guitar stems. He ended up using that as the outro for ‘Conscious Club’ which hit me by surprise in the coolest way. That’s the brilliance of Jack. He can hear 2 completely different things and make them come together to do something that just…works.”
Cory Wong met the band back in 2012 when playing a house gig in Minneapolis at Bunkers with Dr. Mambo’s Combo. “It’s an old school R&B band that has a huge repertoire of the classics but also some obscure deep cuts. The Vulf guys were in town doing a 2 day stint as the backing band for Darren Criss and came to my gig after they finished theirs. I saw a group of dudes really digging on the band and I could just tell by the way they were watching that they were musicians, but also really stoked. I didn’t recognize them so I went up and introduced myself on set break. We started hanging out after that and the rest is history!”
Indeed it is. Cory plays on 70% of The Beautiful Game and is referred to as “the album’s Billy Preston.” Wong responds to this claim, saying “I think the reference is that The Beatles called Billy Preston the 5th member, if that were the case, what an honor. Speaking of Billy Preston, check out George Harrison‘s Concert for Bangladesh. He’s got a bright red Coca Cola can on his B3 that just stands out in most of the shots…It looks like the ads that a lot of companies try to recreate now, but it’s legit.”
He was even recently included in their Sirius XM Radio performances on The Jam Files, after performing four straight shows in NYC at the Brooklyn Bowl and Central Park SummerStage.
“It’s really a blast. I feel like musically and personally I can just be myself when playing with Vulf. They trust my instincts and I trust them to not leave me out to dry either! There’s a spontaneity to everything that really gives it a great feel as a player but I think also as a listener,” he explains emphatically.
Vulfpeck performs in the studio just as they would in a live setting, so their records translate their live performances in a way that is crisp, in-the-moment, and funkily fresh. “Whenever I’ve recorded with them, it’s been just a few takes and it’s still capturing the moments of discovering the song and reacting to the way each other are playing. The same thing goes for playing with them live. The band literally never rehearses, so when I started playing live with them they really didn’t know what I was going to do, and I kind of didn’t either in some respects. I played along with some YouTube clips of them from their live show and just kind of learned their arrangements. It was super fun to really be in the moment and have the audience see us all reacting to new musical moments. I think that’s also one of the things that has been fun for me to be able to do with them live is to kind of be the wildcard.”
It was of course the playing of Cory Wong that drug him into the Vulf world, so his original music coincides with their arena of greatness. Self-described as “guitar funk”, you can listen to his most recent EP MSP (Part 1) here. Cory also has a collection of multimedia videos that showcase his original music, which you should view below:
“I’m a Highway One Stratocaster advocate. 22 frets and a rosewood fingerboard. That’s my sound. Currently using some different Seymor Duncan pickups, experimenting on what I like best…The Antiquity’s are great but a little bright for me. The mini-humbucker is great but a little dark. Still experimenting,” he explains of his guitar sound.
When asked how he is able to minimize his picking hand movement, while keeping a tight delivery, he responded: “I watched a lot of Law and Order with a guitar in my hands running scales and patterns with all permutations of finger combinations and minimal movement. Practice as slow as you need so it doesn’t look like your hand/fingers are even moving. Same approach with Seinfeld and Breaking Bad.”
To get to know Cory Wong a little better, we asked him to provide us with some definitive playlists, to which he replied in detail:
CURRENT FAVORITE SONGS:
1. Kimbra – “Sweet Relief”
This is a seriously intoxicating groove. Top to bottom this is just such an amazing track. The groove makes me want to walk like Jar Jar Binks. Ok that might sound weird but it’s a barometer for me, the first song ever to do this for me was “Fame” by David Bowie, hmm video to follow?…I digress. Her production is insane and her vocal delivery is so convicting.
2. The 1975 – “She’s American”
This is a band that I wrote off for quite a while. Truth be told the only thing I ever saw of them was their live SNL performance and I didn’t like it, but I finally checked out their new record and I fell in love. I love their use of modern and 80’s sounds and musical ideas.
3. Paul McCartney – “Ram On”
Ok I’m obviously several decades late to the party on this one, but I feel like everything that was released before I was born is fair game for me to discover whenever I happen to find it. This song is also one that feels like it could have been written and produced in 2016. It has this great ukulele innocent feel to Paul’s delivery, but there’s also this heavy halftime backbeat that goes in to full time in the turnarounds. I actually thought about doing a remix of this song…still might, unless someone else beats me to it!
4. Smashing Pumpkins – “1979”
Anyone who really knows me, knows that I’m a 90’s music freak. I just revisited this album the other day and there are so many little detail things about it that I notice now that I’m all grown up compared to when I was a 4th grader carrying a Discman on the bus. It’s so simple but it also has some really cool little harmonic things happening with Major7th harmony tension and my favorite detail of all is the hi-hat accents. OH MY GOSH. It gives the song such a cooler bounce and groove than if it was just played straight. This song brings back so much nostalgia for me. There’s something about songs that kids really latch on to that can be a sign of a great song. Kids have no bias of whats cool or not, they like something if it’s good to them. Most of the songs I loved as a kid, I’ll love now because they’re great songs. Case in point, my kids LOVE “Funkytown”. It’s one of the greatest songs of all time, but they don’t know or care. They just know it makes them want to dance, sing, and have fun.
5. Dean Magraw – “Circuits”
I grew up in Minneapolis and spent a lot of my youth watching the local jazz greats. Dean Magraw was the shining example of what I wanted to be like as a guitar player, and still is. He had a couple different trios that BLEW MY MIND as a teenager finding out what was possible with just a Fender Stratocaster plugged direct into an amp, or just a plain acoustic guitar. He’s one of the main reasons that I am a Strat guy. Dave King is one of the most formative and innovative drummers of our time, and he slays this tune. Jim Anton and Anthony Cox split bass duty and are both fretless wizards.
ALL TIME FAVORITE ALBUMS
1. Prince – “self titled”
Prince is the be all end all of guitar for me. I grew up with his music everywhere around me in Minneapolis, so I have a pretty deep connection to it. The Minneapolis feel and sound is a real thing. His playing was so tight, but so human at the same time if that makes any sense.
2. Weezer – “Blue Album”
This is another one that shaped my playing. It’s so poppy and so heavy at the same time. Every song has a guitar solo, and they’re all singable guitar solos. I can sing the solos just as easily as I can sing the choruses. This is also one of those albums I just put on and let it roll start to finish. I also loved that these guys were a BAND. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to have a band, it feels like such a kid thing to say, but it’s totally every kid musician’s dream.
3. Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Blood Sugar Sex Magik”
Reckless abandon. That’s one of the things that get’s me going in music. This album has so much energy and takes so many risks. John Frusciante also has that super tight but human feel. I actually started out as a bass player, and the first bass tab book my mom bought for me was this book. It took me a long time to learn, but it was a classic example of “you can get it if you really want it”. Most teachers would have told me to start with something way easier, but since this was the starting point, I gave myself a higher standard. This was actually also a transition album for me on guitar too. When I finished going through the bass tab book, I got the guitar tab book and wanted to learn all the guitar parts too so I had a better understanding of the songs as a whole. I was trying to hit the triple 20 instead of just trying to hit the dart board. I have no idea why i just made a darts reference, I don’t even play darts. Wait, Joe Dart?…that must be what’s on my mind. RHCP was a huge influence for him too.
4. Steely Dan (everything)
Alright, I know that’s kind of cheating since I’m breaking the format by just saying everything, but really it’s just about everything. Steely Dan is my favorite band of all-time and 95% of their songs get me going in the best way possible, the other 5% are just kind of, eh.
5. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – “Live at the Quick”
This album defined my late teen years. I had no idea who these guys were until a friend of mine brought this DVD to my house and we watched it 3 times start to finish. I had no idea that these things were possible in music. There were so many musical boundaries and acrobatics that blew my mind, but in a really musical way. There are plenty of guys who can shred impossible lines and do all of the musical gymnastics, but they don’t always connect “musically”. Normally it just sounds too….”musicy”? the Flecktones get away with so much content but in a musical way. There’s such an improvisational dance between the players at all times. You can tell that the players are all super engaged and their ears are wide open looking for interaction and in the moment fire.