Over the past few years, Wasp Factory (Jules Jeffers, Logan “Sniper” Kuhn, Sam Gilton, and occasional fourth member Cobi Powell) has built a local reputation as an off-kilter, trend-bucking underground punk act. They’ve entertained audiences of all stripes with their high-energy live shows, as documented on their live albums Wasp Factory is Being Detained and Live at the Midden. They’ve also recently made forays into the recording studio, with their latest singles Magic Marker and Fighting in the Age of Loneliness.
Of course, quarantine has put many of the band’s plans on hold. Luckily, however, Music in Motion Columbus was able to sit down with the band for an online interview. We had an illuminating discussion about the state of DIY/underground music in Columbus, adapting songs to a studio environment, the band’s more, and less-obvious influences, and Jules’s plans to get a very large Bjork tattoo once all this blows over.
I don’t want to dwell too much on quarantine, but how is everyone holding up?
Jules Jeffers (vocals, guitar): Any time someone asks me “How are you?” I just start laughing.
Cobi Powell (aux member, moral support): I’ve been saying “Look, man, you wanna run with the bulls, you best tie your shoelaces” to my roommate at least eight times a day, and it never stops being funny.
Sam Gilton (drums): During this time I have found myself doing some things I usually don’t do, like reading books and running and other small things.
Logan “Sniper” Kuhn (vocals, bass): I don’t want to make light of what’s going on right now, but we’ve always talked about how we need to, like, slow down how often we play shows. And I think it’s a testament to us that a global pandemic is the first thing to really stop us.
Jules: I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but…
I wanted to ask you about your recent experiences in the studio, recording Magic Marker and both parts of Fighting in the Age of Loneliness. It seems like most folks know you primarily as a live/in-person act. The studio experience is different, though, and I wanted to see how you guys approached it based on your past experiences as a band.
Jules: Fighting in the Age of Loneliness was the second time we’d ever been in the studio. The first time was when we recorded our Clout Punk EP.
Sniper: It was my first time ever recording, and I was pretty nervous. I was caught off guard by the fact we would each be playing in different rooms.
Sam: When it comes to studio versus live, it’s completely different for me. Being in front of an audience gets you a little more pumped, especially if they’re into what they’re hearing, and so at live shows I tend to spice things up, maybe do riskier fills. But in the studio there isn’t that energy of the crowd, so I kind of have to get myself in that mentality.
Sniper: It felt odd to do my vocals with the same kind of energy I had on stage. It just feels silly when you’re doing it in a room by yourself.
Jules: Trying to hype yourself up to deliver angry-ass vocals is infinitely different when you’re just in an empty room with all your bandmates and a bunch of strangers staring at you. And on that EP, I think we were all consciously trying to find our footing and figure out how we all wanted to play everything too. Whereas, by the time we recorded FITAOL and Magic Marker, I feel like there was this very conscious shift in our band dynamic.
Your more recent recordings seem to show you guys in a far more comfortable state, making the studio your own and having a clearer idea of exactly what you want to accomplish.
Sam: I personally have a pretty different taste in music compared to the rest of the band – one that leaves me less knowledgeable about the style of music we’re playing. So it definitely took me a bit before I figured out what to play.
Sniper: But at the same time, I think that’s what makes us good.
Jules: It helped a lot to stop thinking about [the studio] as this scary, intimidating thing we have to do for our band. We were lucky enough to have our pals Evan Porter and Brianna Snider record us, and the whole time we were all just joking around having fun together. It definitely made me feel a lot more at ease playing.
From experience, I can say that having a friend in the studio who knows what you want to do, and who makes it as easy as possible for you to do your thing, can really help with easing the transition into the studio. Have you found that to be true?
Jules: I’d one hundred percent rather take an engineer/producer who understands what we’re doing, and who we have chemistry with, and who can help add shit to our music that we wouldn’t have thought of before, in a shitty basement or something, over someone we don’t really know well and don’t have chemistry with in the nicest studio in the world.
Sniper: Even if it’s someone who’s just a friend of Jules, I feel more comfortable with them, which was the case with Bri and Evan.
Sam: Even just the fact that it’s two pals helps a bit, but they’re people with clear visions, and it definitely helps a lot that they can express what those visions are.
How about your other crossover projects, like Taung Child and Forest Fucker? Do those projects exist in their own spheres? Or do they feed back into one another and push each other?
Jules: Oh, absolutely the latter – to the point that sometimes I have to be like, “Man, this is Taung Child practice, stop playing it like Wasp Factory!” But yeah, I’d say even if I wasn’t in Taung Child, they’d be a huge influence on me both personally and on our band, just because we’re all pals with Cobi. But also, I genuinely thought they might be the best band in Ohio before I joined them.
Sniper: I’m insanely competitive, and the one time we played with [Taung Child] was the first time I felt like a band was better than us. Forest Fucker is on a whole ‘nother planet, but TC is close enough to us that I find myself comparing us to them.
Cobi: The plan is for Forest Fucker, Taung Child and Wasp Factory to make a split sometime in the next year, which I’m insanely excited for.
Sam: Seeing them both play is always exciting. Both Jack and Cobi have definitely influenced the way I practice and the things I want to work on.
Jules: It’s weird, because they definitely all influence each other and feel very closely intertwined, but my relationship with each of the bands and the work that I put into each is very, very different. I genuinely love all of them equally, but WF is absolutely the one where each of us has the most pull over how an individual song comes out.
I would love to learn more about your writing process.
Jules: For me, a very strong part of WF’s aesthetic and personality is being driven and motivated and excited enough to just do shit yourself sometimes. I’d say there’s a lot more of us individually bringing nearly-finished stuff to the table, and then the rest of us all trying to pull it in a different direction and see what we can do with it.
Sniper: In our own way, we each kind of suck at explaining things, so it’s kind of like cracking a code on whatever the other person wants you to play. Almost every time I bring a song to you guys, it sounds way different than what I imagined… but it also sounds better and unique, so I don’t mind.
Jules: Absolutely! Like, it changes so much over the course of its lifespan. I used to be kind of a control freak about my songs, and, frankly, was probably not a ton of fun to write songs with at a lot of points. But Magic Marker taught me to just kind of relax and trust and respect my bandmates to get us where we need to go sometimes.
Do you feel the need to subvert people’s expectations in your writing process?
Jules: Literally all the time.
Sniper: If I can be cliche, I’m just trying to make sure we’re uniquely us.
Sam: I sometimes try to really throw in jazz, or funk, or Latin grooves, something I suppose you normally don’t hear, or expect to hear, in a band like ours. I don’t necessarily want to be regarded as just a drummer of “this or that” genre.
Jules: I feel like a lot of our band is based on defying people’s expectations of us, and breaking the unspoken rules of DIY scenes and what bands are supposed to act/sound/look like. There’s absolutely a mold for popular and “marketable” bands in the indie world, and it’s always felt really disingenuous and weird to us. So I feel like a lot of the time we’re consciously trying to be as far away from that as we can. And it’s pretty important to all of us that we feel like we’re always being honest and upfront about who we are and what we stand for, as musicians and as a group.
Cobi: None of us is in bands that are marketable in any way, so it becomes “How can I market this band to the people who like music that can’t be marketed?”
Do you think other bands have this same honesty, this honesty you try to convey as a group, within your approach and writing?
Sniper: Everyone at least tries to convey honesty, I think. Even if they’re not, ‘cause who’s gonna buy something insincere?
Jules: That’s a hard one to nail down. I spent a long time trying to fit into a mold and fit into circles that I didn’t really feel like I was meant for. And as soon as I found a lot of the weirder/more diverse/more sincere artists in the city, I felt a lot more at home and excited about the community I was in. I don’t like being in a band that can be labeled and put into a box easily.
Cobi: Columbus has a super visible dichotomy, I think, at least in terms of DIY. There are the bands that play PromoWest shows, and the bands that play [Cafe Bourbon Street] every weekend, and there’s so little crossover between the two.
Why do you think that is? Why have people sort of retreated into these more insular groups within the community?
Jules: There are certain circles of bands that play the same venues and with the same people a lot – it feels very unspoken, but also very rigidly defined and weird. There are for sure times and places we feel more at home and like a show is a fun and supportive experience, versus where we feel like strangers who have something to prove; both within the same city.
Sniper: Going into Legion of Doom [a local house venue] for the first time, I was nervous about how our band compared sonically to the others on the bill. But because of that, I know I feel comfortable playing with any genre of music.
Jules: That was also a big help for us, feeling comfortable, and that we could adapt to any space or any bill we needed to.
Sam: I used to always be taken aback when we’d be playing with bands and they were all pretty heavy, with blast beats and such, and then we as Wasp Factory were very unique at that show. But over time, that has only made me more confident in us, as a band, that we can stick out, even amongst bands with similar ideas and sounds.
Jules: I feel like all bands implicitly stand for something, whether they intend to or not. And I’d much rather my band stands for one hundred percent honesty and transparency, and being up front that everything we do is because we fucking want to and it’s fun, and not because we want to fit into a mold or get people to like us… even if part of that is making ourselves look a little stupid along the way.
Let’s talk about your influences and inspirations, not necessarily ones that can be heard in the music you make, but the stuff that defines the way you all approach music. Who are some influences that guide your play style, writing style, vision, etc.? Particularly the influences that people might not guess just from hearing your songs?
Jules: I’m pretty influenced by G.L.O.S.S., not even musically but just in terms of attitude. I think Lightning Bolt is a huge one for me, in terms of overall attitude and energy towards music, but also a little bit of their personalities in the same way. Hop Along, and Frances Quinlan specifically, because the way she sings is nuts and incredible and absolutely what I wish I could sound like. Smut from Cincinnati is a huge influence on how I carry myself and how I sing; Tay always sounds like she’s about to kill me. Also, Autechre is pretty sick.
Sniper: Break Stuff [by Limp Bizkit] is hands-down my favorite song of all time.
Jules: St. Anger [by Metallica] is fully Wasp Factory-core. I hope my neighbors can hear me just absolutely blasting St. Anger right now.
Sniper: I was talking to a girl at work and she asked who our band was influenced by, and I said The Eagles as a bit.
Jules: Dude, you were really, really into The Eagles for a while, right at the start of this band.
Sam: That’s all he’d play in the car for a bit.
Jules: I fully did not expect us to end up making music that actually sounds like ours does.
Sam: I always thought I’d just be playing, like, funk and R&B stuff. I never thought I’d be in a band like this at all.
Sniper: I don’t know if I have any influences that are really exclusive to just the way I play. But, music-wise, Steve Albini and Sonic Youth are definitely what drive me the most. Steve Albini has influenced a lot of how I approach my art and being a member of a scene. Also Lou Reed, Bowie, Father John Misty. Nu-metal is a huge one too, but I think that’s just because I’m obsessed with the mid-2000s.
Sam: My influences for this band, for the style, have been New Order, Sonic Youth, Misfits, etc. I also love incorporating aspects of jazz and funk and other genres, and that’s come from Herbie Hancock, Victor Wooten, Nerve. Nerve, especially, has influenced me lately; Jojo Mayer is a monster, and a lot of my more recent playing has been coming from him. Like weird time signatures, polyrhythms, things like that.
Sniper: Madeline from DANA has been a big influence in how I carry myself onstage. She’s just insane, and it inspires me to, like, roll on the ground and shit. If DANA is gonna stop covering Break Stuff, I feel a moral responsibility to carry that torch.
Sam: The whole idea of stage presence, for me, is challenging. Because I don’t want to be awkward and boring, but also it’s just not me to do the whole, like, banging my head and making all these stank faces. It’s definitely fun to see other people really just go crazy and be all over the place.
Jules: Also, super basic of me, but I adore Bjork and all her music, and also how she performs and just refuses to compromise on how batshit insane she is. As soon as it’s safe to go outside again, I’m getting a huge fuckin’ Bjork tattoo on my leg. Put that on the record so I can’t back out.
I know the future is as uncertain as it gets right now, but what do you guys see as the future of Wasp Factory, and the future of yourselves? As people, as musicians, as a group?
Sniper: We’ve all essentially agreed to take this as far as it goes, I think. How far that is, I don’t know. But I do know that we want to go on tour, do the split with FF and TC, and do our album. It’s on hold right now, obviously, but Chris from DANA was supposed to teach me how to record stuff, and that’s certainly something I still want to learn. If I can just help up-and-coming bands get some recorded material for them to open up the doors, that’d be cool. And I want to make Columbus DIY better, as a whole, in any way I can. Because, on the off chance I’m in a position where I can do that and I’m not, I want to be held accountable. That’s another Steve Albini thing, where I don’t want to be the leader of any scene, and I want people on any level of it to feel like they can hold me accountable.
Jules: Right now, I love every project I’m working with, and up until the quarantine I was really hype to play and keep things going with them all. And then that happened, and it feels like all those plans just kind of shattered. For me, personally, a lot of right now is figuring out what to do next. Because some of that is the same, and some of it doesn’t really feel consistent with the way things are now. I feel that with all my projects, of course, but right now, this one is specifically at a point where we all gotta just, like… figure out what we do next and keep going from there? And that’s hard.
Sam: I definitely want to just keep chugging with this band and grow as a drummer. Maybe join some side projects, while keeping WF the main thing. I really just want to keep Wasp Factory growing in all aspects.
Jules: I love Wasp Factory, because I feel like I have a lot more room to be weird and creative and do my own thing in this band, compared to the others. Like, I made a printing press in my basement just to print all our shirts on my own, because I felt like it’d be fun and a really cool thing to do for the band. But, at the same time, because it’s just the three of us, I feel like all of us have a lot of creative influence over it in our own ways. We all just genuinely enjoy working on it and making shit. I feel like we really enjoy just making weird noise and having an outlet to challenge ourselves as artists.