Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

INTERVIEW - Wolfgang Parker, Pioneer of Punk Swing

Wolfgang Parker

Wolfgang ParkerWolfgang Parker, the big cat of Punk-Swing, jumped into Dieselpunks a short time ago. He said, "check this out," and by the first tip of the record needle, I could tell this was the real thing.

If you haven't heard of Wolfgang Parker and his band of the same name, they hit the neo-swing scene in the late '90s. On stage, they performed an alchemy of slick lyrics, swinging beats, and scalding hot guitar licks that could make Brian Setzer shed a tear.

But their sound was a little too loud & too raw for these expecting the same old cover tunes, and they slipped through the musical cracks into the underground.

A decade later, Wolfgang Parker is back in the game and he's ready to slip on the brass knuckles again. Except this time, he's fighting for a whole new prize.

Thanks for joining us, Wolfgang. It's been a long time in the making, but I'm glad you had time to stop by. Before we get into the nitty gritty about your new project, what can you tell us about your roots? Every man has a story to tell, and that story usually starts with a family and a town.

I grew up in the countryside of central Ohio. There wasn't much out there other than a town with one traffic light, and a prison.

You're obviously a talented guy, but there must have been some training involved. When did you first get into music and how did you hone your skills?

At the age of 12 I found my mother's old acoustic guitar, and began plucking on it; enough that when I turned 13 my father bought me a Fender Stratocaster. From there, I just sat in my room and played all of the time.

Most of my songwriting skill was honed in my High School band. Anthony Yates was in that band with me. I was the least talented out of the 3 of us, but somewhere some of Anthony and Doug Clay's talent rubbed off on me. Other than that, I am totally self-taught as a musician.

Was the line-up for "Hep City Swing" in '97 your first official band?

The HCS line-up actually formed in 1995. We released two 7" vinyl singles with that line-up. James Oberlin was on drums, and Anthony Yates on guitar. The only difference now is the addition of Alan Mauger on guitar.

Wolfgang Parker
When people think of swing music, the idea of a big band jumps to mind. However, you're able to produce the same amount of sound and energy with just three people. It's a daunting task that seems beyond most musicians, so I'd like to hear about how the three of you met and decided you were going to jump, jive and wail together?

The inception of the Punk-Swing sound was conceived in the summer of 1993 when I saw a jazz combo for the first time. For some unknown reason that really appealed to me. I had never listened to Jazz, and my playing was sophisticated enough, but I didn't let that stop me. I just started to take blind stabs at it.

Anthony joined on shortly after as I had broken-up our high school band, and I recruited James later. I had my doubts about him as he was a purely Metal drummer. I had a big Metal background, but he fit right in because he didn't know what he was doing either.

When "Hep City Swing" was released, America was just at the start of a neo-swing revival. How would you describe the scene at the time?

HCS was released when Swing was finally breaking, and I had been playing it for 3 years prior. Everyone told us that this was our time. They lied. It was very bad for us. The "scene" was basically dancers who drank nothing but water crowding bars to hear the same Big Band standards their grandparents listened to.

Every venue wanted a cover band. No labels would touch us because we were too loud, too hard, too fast. I fucking hated it. Everyone said, "You should get a horn section."

I didn't see the value is creating something new just to make it part of a passing fad. Truth be told, most of those bands were jokes. The whole scene was a parody of the Swing movement. People were writing songs about "swing" and not writing music to contribute to the artistic enrichment.

I took that upon myself after HCS, and I paid the price.

Wolfgang ParkerHep City Swing was followed by the now hard-to-find Octboure in 2000, but then you took a break from the public eye for seven years.

When pop culture cooled to the idea of swing, it seems like all of the heavy hitters were going back underground. What was cooking between Octboure and 2007's release of Room Nineteen?

All of the songs off of Octoboure are on Room Nineteen with the exception of a hidden track. We already knew the band was breaking up at that point due to my out-of-control self destruction, so we only printed 500 copies of Octoboure. Then I left music for 7 years to sort my problems out.

I was in therapy, and heavily medicated, but it was worth it. I worked hard and overcame my issues to become a stronger person in the end.

Room Nineteen should be required listening to everyone interested in swing, but it also has a wider range of song styles than any of your previous releases. Was this an organic growth, or were you consciously shooting for something different this time around?

All of the songs on that album were written as Swing songs, but I had a vision to push the arrangements more, and just play whatever felt right at the time. Some of that panned out and worked really well, and other songs fell flat. I'm not sure that was a right or wrong choice at the time, but nothing I can do about it now anyway.

How has your audience changed since you first hit the scene?

They get older and younger. I was 18 when I started playing. I'll be 35 soon. Culture changes, but it is a testimony that the music we have created is timeless, and that is exactly what we wanted. We exist outside of scenes.

I'm not going to play a stand-up bass because that's what's "cool" right now. I don't care what other bands are doing. I've been playing longer than most all of them, and I'll still be playing when they crash and burn.

This isn't about cashing in. This is my fucking life. I take it very seriously.

Let's talk a bit about your "swing punk" sound. It has all the technical guitar styling of the rockabilly era, but you're still able to put the swing edge into the songs with the rhythms and vocals.

For example, your 2010 cover of Cab Calloway's famous "Minnie the Moocher" on Petty Standards has the flavor and lyrics of the original, but your band drives it into the 21st Century with tight guitar licks and punk style beat changes.

When you start deconstructing a classic like that, it must be like taking apart a pocket watch. What kinds of challenges are involved in getting the song working again as a coherent piece when you're done?

That is a tough order. You don't want a version that doesn't at least give the original a run for its money and these songs are classics. So you have to be confident.

I look at what qualities the song has that drew me to it in the first place. Then I use that quality as the basis for the re-construction. The process also allows you to really see the beauty of great songwriting, when you can re-vamp a song and it sounds totally different than the original, but still sounds great.

Do you think Cab would have approved?

A woman that was directly related to him saw us perform that song in Pittsburgh years ago, and she said he would have loved it. I guess I gotta trust that.

Besides your musical talents, you're also an accomplished photographer and writer. I heard you're putting those skills to good use in a new graphic novel about Jack the Ripper. What can you tell us about that?

1888I can say I am a published photographer. There is a big difference in bank account size with being an accomplished photographer.

As far as writing, I am using a site called Kickstarter.com to launch my first graphic novel "1888." The book is the story of a Victorian metaphysician who is called in to help track Jack the Ripper and finds himself in the crossfire of a supernatural gang war where men kill by the power their faith grants them, only to find he has no faith of his own. It is a totally different kind of Ripper story. It is definitely more "Deadwood" than "Sherlock Holmes."

What's involved in putting together a professional graphic novel these days and how can Dieselpunks help?

There is a hell of a lot that goes into it, but that is the exciting thing about Kickstarter. You can pledge money to help us get the book in production, and in turn be rewarded with copies of the book, art prints, original art, and other rewards that we have set-up. Then all of the backers will get access to once a month updates on the production where I will be taking them through the entire process. [If we gain enough pledges to get moving,] the updates will teach everyone how a graphic novel is made, and give you insight into the world that has been created for the story.

Once 1888 is on the shelves, what's next in store? Will you be back in the studio, or are there bigger things on the horizon?

I'll be back in the studio this fall. We have another EP coming out. It will be half of a full-length album titled "Father of the Black Cat."

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Wolfgang. Before we go, can you recommend a favorite swing or swing-punk tune for our jukebox?

Anything by Cock Sparrer. They were the original. If you like the Ramones, take a listen to the band that they ripped-off. For Swing, check out D'Jango Reinheart. He was the gypsy Eddie Van Halen of his time, and he's still so bad ass it will make you want to cry.

Help Wolfgang bring 1888 to life with some help from KickStarter


1888 is a Victorian Noir where metaphysician, Deklin Skurlock is called in by police to assist tracking Jack the Ripper, but the trail of the killer thrusts him into a supernatural gang war where men kill by the power their faith grants them, where he finds he has no faith of his own.

1888 is an original graphic novel project currently on Kickstarter.com, a web site that has given comic book creators a new avenue to produce independent comics with the help of readers, friends, and fans.

Through the Kickstarter community, users can pledge money to back a project, and in turn, backers are given rewards by the creators. Parker and Amor are offering original artwork, copies of the book, limited edition art prints, and even the chance for backers to be characters in the book. A video presentation informs potential backers about the project, its creative team, and the concept of Kickstarter.

1888 has been endorsed by writer Steve Niles (creator of 30 Days of Night and Criminal Macabre) and Marvel Illustrator Mike Perkins (Captain America and Stephen King's the Stand.)

Click on the image below to learn about how you can help bring 1888 to life.

1888 graphic novel

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Comment by Tome Wilson on May 18, 2010 at 11:00am
The deadline to donate to the 1888 project is this Saturday.

If the goal isn't met by Saturday, then no funding will be awarded. If you're interested in seeing this horror/steampunk project get off the ground, please chip in a few bucks. Every dollar is appreciated.
Comment by Arctodus Rex on May 14, 2010 at 8:36pm
Damn that's pretty inspiring. I've been looking for things like this for a while now, and trying to get a few people together for something similar :)

Great interview!
Comment by Hayen Mill on May 14, 2010 at 7:55am
Man, that is the exact SOUND i was looking for! Awesome! Good job, and keep up the good work! Nice interview Tome ^^
Comment by Deven Science on May 13, 2010 at 9:25pm
I have some Cock Sparrer that I got from a friend years ago, and I've never really sat down with it to give it a proper listen. I may have to.

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