"Fairy Pranksters" dunk into the dam
DILLON – If Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters were still “on the bus,” they’d be riding with Wookie Foot.
The way of life – and religion – that is part of Wookie Foot’s musical journey began in the mid-1990s when Mark Murphy (vocals, keyboards and guitar) and JoJo Lash (vocals) turned off their televisions, quit their jobs and opened their eyes. Murphy had graduated college with a degree in Eastern religion, and Lash had dropped out of college. The pair traveled the nation in a graffiti-spackled 1972 school bus and, along the way, they gathered a troop of like-minded adventurers who called themselves the Fairy Pranksters.
Wookie Foot officially formed on a lonely mountaintop in the desert. Murphy and Lash had collected 5,000 Polaroids, a pile of scribblings on napkins and a yearning to answer the questions of the universe. From these raw materials, they burned their first CD, “Domesticated,” in 2000.
The pair settled in Minneapolis in April, 2000, with a gig lined up, but no band. They rented a house, aptly named the Playhouse, where artists, musicians and seekers wandered in and out. Eventually, Wookie Foot grew to nine members: Lash, Murphy, Joe Mechtenberg (sax, flutes, piano), Tom Lewandowski (bass), Scott Holtzinger (percussion), Matt Cartee (drums), Nick Kosevich (DJ) and Aimee Willmoth and Megan Huycke on vocals.
The outfit became a traveling circus – both musically and artistically. Its music blends the collective tastes of the band: a drummer who loves Iron Maiden and Johnny Cash, a guitar player who toured with a Jamaican reggae band, a sax player influenced by Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, a bass player with “funk” literally written across his back and a DJ who alternates between organic trance and breakneck jungle. At festivals, the musicians artistically draw people into their “make believe” world, filled with costumed doctors and nurses who accept walk-in appointments in their circus tent. Once “patients” step into the “office,” Wookie Foot treats them to guided meditations, chakra-tuned sound bowls and other improvisational fairy-pranking.
“It’s an evolving, really frivolous artistic experiment,” said Lewandowski. “We do it because it seems really bizarre and weird.”
This year, the band took its circus to Costa Rica for an 87-day working vacation, where they lived communally and worked out their musical differences. Both the good times – getting drunk at a rodeo and jumping in the ring to run around with a bull – and the bad times – entire weeks where the lead singer and songwriter disappeared and everyone sat in the practice room staring at each other and wondering what was going on – helped them mature personally and musically.
“Everyone had their moments of greatness and not-so-greatness down there,” Lewandowski said. “We had to work though a lot of stuff – personal conflicts. We got to re-meet and get to know each other, and we all changed when we were down there, so now we need to re-meet each other again.”
Even the members on opposite sides of the musical spectrum argued out their differences. Cartee, the drummer, loves heavy metal, while DJ Kosevich grew up in the rave scene. But with some intervention, they came to a melding of the minds.
“It was much needed time to reinvest in ourselves creatively, and now we’re all charged up and ready to go,” Lewandowski said.
The band plans to release its next album, written in Costa Rica, in September. With better crafted, more cohesive and fearlessly introspective songs, the members are investing more into the production of the album.
“We’ve settled into a pocket,” he said. “The reggae is still there, but it’s strengthened. The hip-hop’s still there, but it’s patient and fearless and rockin’. Mark is getting better at songwriting. It’s more of a complete statement. On the last album (“Make Belief” in 2001), we were still searching. Now, it’s coming from a more centrally located place. The songs are better crafted, so it doesn’t sound like we’re a band trying to play a metal song or a ska song.”
After all of the trips and changes the band has taken, the members are still committed to their central philosophy of helping people question their reality.
“We ask about why people work so hard, who they’re working for and why,” Lewandowski said. “We question a lot of the unexamined premises people start with like, “Of course I need a car. Of course I need a TV.’ The whole reason we’re here is to learn from each other and to communicate with each other, and a lot of people don’t see that at all. We come from the premise of, “Let’s just start from doing what we want to do and see where it goes from there. If we end up going bankrupt, then at least we tried.'”
Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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