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Red Stuff Shoot From The Hip on 'Woodfaces'

Apr. 11, 2017
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While they’ve been around in one form or another for nearly a decade, Red Stuff has always occupied a rather low-key position in the overall Milwaukee music scene. As it turns out, there’s a good reason for that. Whereas other acts are eager to cultivate an online following or court a lucrative recording contract, Red Stuff, led by the husband-and-wife team of Tom and Kelly Wanderer, is more content to go with the flow, a tendency that comes through loud and clear on their latest release, Woodfaces, which, while entirely improvised, shows a remarkable dedication to their particular craft.

“We started doing music immediately pretty much, with no idea of what it should sound like or where it should go,” says Tom, explaining the couple’s unique creative chemistry, “We weren’t going for anything in particular; the idea was just to get together and make music and that’s still pretty much the way it works.” The approach had so far resulted in a psychedelic, subtly dub-wise take on early ’60s guitar instrumentals, well-documented on a handful of lovingly produced records; yet, even if they already had a rather freewheeling style, Woodfaces’off-the-cuff nature still represents something of a departure.

Recorded during a single one-hour practice session and comprised of material completely composed on the spot, Woodfaces finds the trio, including longtime member Steve Tiber on drums, spontaneously exploring new sonic territory, much to the surprise of the members themselves. “We had a hard time even realizing it was us, listening to it after the fact, because we had all just made it up in real time,” says Tom, still somewhat incredulous. “And when it was done, it was like, ‘Whoa what did we just do?’ It’ messy, but it just had this quality that we thought was worth exploring.”

Beyond feeling a little like they’d captured lightning in a bottle, the serendipitous project also provided some much-needed perspective on another they’d been struggling with: a long-in-the-works and then stalled studio album. “I feel better about it than ever before, we’ve made up some new stuff, revisited some old stuff; it made a lot more things seem possible,” says Tom, explaining how refreshing it was to take a step back from their creative frustration, even temporarily. “To hear ourselves in a way we’ve never sounded before, I think that idea has really reenergized the material we were working on before.”

Despite obviously being less rehearsed, and perhaps a little more ephemeral, than their previous releases, that hasn’t stopped Red Stuff from treating Woodfaces with all the care and attention they’ve devoted to the others, which is to say a lot. “With all of our records, we’ve physically constructed each one,” says Kelly, which means designing and screen-printing every album cover and insert for this initial run of 300 numbered LPs, and at no small expense. “We know that releasing our record is not a money-making venture,” says Tom, laughing. “I just love being able to hold it in my hand.”

But even if Woodfaces (or the subsequent studio album) is unlikely to rake in the big bucks for the couple’s ad hoc Skell Records imprint, Tom—who’s also known for his popular Thursday afternoon program on WMSE—and Kelly both seem more than happy to pursue making music not as a career but as a labor of love, a (hopefully) self-sustaining outlet for their shared musical passion. In the cutthroat world of the music industry, that kind of hobbyist approach is hardly the recommended way to get ahead, but as Red Stuff demonstrates, it can result in some all-around beautiful records.

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