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Friday, October 4, 2013

Dustin Wong, looping into the future

Hawaii-born, Japan-raised guitarist Dustin Wong first made waves in the indie world deploying frantically precise loops of guitar noise and beauty as Ecstatic Sunshine. Along with second guitarist Matthew Papich, who now records as Co La, Wong's work with Ecstatic Sunshine was a refreshing take on the guitar duo dynamic, eschewing postured doom or aggressive, uncompromising noise for elegantly crowded looped guitar interplay. After Ecstatic Sunshine dissolved in 2007, Wong looked to start a new art-noise-rock project (Ponytail) as well as focus on his solo material. Mediation of Ecstatic Energy, Wong's fifth solo LP and latest on Thrill Jockey, steps away from the strictly guitar-based compositions of his previous material, incorporating samples, found sounds, and more vocals than ever before. While spending a bit of downtime in Japan before venturing on a US tour with the Dodos, Wong gave a bit of insight into his new writing and recording style, a few of his influences, and how he compares working with a band versus going solo.

The material on Mediation of Ecstatic Energy is the first time you've really used vocals. What made you start incorporating them into your work?

I only use vocals when the song calls for it, even when I was in the band Ponytail I would only chime in when it felt natural. In "Speeding Feathers Staring," there is a point in the song where all the sounds created a phantom voice in the background. I heard the phantom voice, so I decided I should actually sing on this song. You can hear this phantom when I'm playing this song live too.

There are still loops central to this material, but the sound has changed. What are the major differences in this new one?

The rhythms are definitely different. I'm using stranger time signatures disguised as standard 4/4, but actually it would be something like 7/8 or 9/8. I use more of a baser tone for this album as well.

Who are some of your main influences?

Michael Rother, Ash Ra Temple, Les Paul, Papa M, BBC Radiophonic, Cluster ... the list goes on!

How did you come into contact with and begin working with Takako Minekawa?

She actually came to two of my shows in Tokyo a couple of years ago, that is where we met. We exchanged information and became a kind of pen-pals. I was such a big fan of her to begin with and it was really amazing to know that she liked my music too. We wrote each other pretty regularly and when I came back to Japan a few months later we decided to try to bring our sounds together.

What are the main differences in writing/recording/performing with a band or a collaborator versus solo? Which do you prefer?

I like both for different reasons. The best part about collaborating is when you make something that everyone is excited about. It's such a celebration. With Ponytail, I remember jumping up and down with Ken Seeno because something worked. We were so giddy! But when you're by yourself, you kind of nod to yourself and think to yourself, "Alright, that worked."

You seem to be more prolific than ever since going solo. Is it easier to work on your own?

Yes and No. Once you hit a stride it's very easy but when you're trying to figure out something new it's a bit difficult.

How did you become involved with Thrill Jockey?

Many thanks to my friend Jason Urick, he played music and books shows in Baltimore. He had already put out a record with Thrill Jockey. I was shooting pretty low, thinking I can release something from a small label. I sent it to him just for listening pleasure, but he actually recommended it to Thrill Jockey. I couldn't believe it. I was so happy.

How has the Baltimore scene changed since you and Ecstatic Sunshine and Ponytail really broke out?

I'm really not sure - I haven't been back in a year or so. There are still a lot of great musicians that I admire who are still going strong in Baltimore. Dope Body, Co La, Chiffon, Dan Deacon, Rod Hamilton, Future Islands ... the list goes on!

The Dodos and Dustin Wong play The Drunken Unicorn tonight (Fri., Oct. 4). $15. 9 p.m. 736 Ponce de Leon Ave.

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