Quenton Clarke’s Wolfelt Is Born of Self-Improvement

Wolfelt is the electronic project of Quenton Clarke. When he isn’t writing and performing original songs, Clarke works as a music therapist for a hospice company in Maryland. During the six months of internship leading up to the job, he was “in a new place, and coping with moving away from friends and family, as well as the deaths of my patients becoming a commonplace thing.” He would “get home from work and start writing and learning how to produce my music better,” and a lot of that writing turned into the songs on his first full-length album as Wolfelt. Haven was released on all streaming platforms on May 3, 2019.

Clarke went in-depth with FRONTRUNNER on the process of making Haven, from the origins of individual drum sounds to the way it was affected by wedding planning. We also got to learn more about his other musical projects and who inspires his songwriting.

I hear keyboards, guitar, and bass on Haven. Do you play all of those instruments yourself? Do you play anything else?

Yes I do! I used to write and record songs to teach myself how to improve. 

I have old singer/songwriter stuff from college under my name that I used to force myself to learn mandolin, banjo, a little violin, singing, and drumming in less common time signatures. When people ask, I typically just say I play “everything but the windy stuff.”

Where do you find your percussive sounds? 

I make most of my percussive sounds, typically by layering sound effects from household objects with a snare or whatever drum sound I’m trying to make, and then by throwing them through a ton of compression to squeeze them together into a new sound. [I use] whatever I can find that provides the texture I’m looking for while producing in the moment. 

What are some of your favorite of these sounds on Haven, and how did you come to them?

Some of my favorites from Haven include my old VW’s horn and microwave for the bloops in “Start,” a bottle cap being flicked at a desk in “Careful With Your Confidence,” rattling, glitched clothes hangers in “Wedding Day,” an old organ drum machine in “In My Sleep,” and the bell on my cat’s collar in “Trek.” I think my favorite, though, is just how driven the drums turned out in “Customer Service” after layering an acoustic set with an in-box electric set and using a cheesy pre-set drum fill as background. 

My newest favorite that I haven’t found a spot for yet is my broken kitchen sink–the handle falls off and hits the granite and makes this BEAUTIFUL clank sound I have yet to use, as part of a snare probably.

What is your song “Wedding Day” about, and how did you go about writing it?

“Wedding Day” is actually literally about my own wedding day and all of the planning involved. I started writing it probably about eight months before the actual wedding, while I was noodling on my now in-laws’ piano. I had the chord progression down that I liked, and a line stuck in my head about how whatever suit or tux I end up with will never compare to the insane process/majesty/beauty of a wedding dress. So the song centered on the lines, “You’ve got your dress / I’ve got a suit I’d wear anyway / My Sunday best / Is just not quite the same.” That was probably early spring 2016. We got married that fall, and I didn’t finish the song until the end of 2018. It was one of the last ones I finally pulled together to finish this album, and it gradually became more chaotic as we got more into the intensity of wedding planning and the actual day itself. Then I took all the samples directly from wedding video and structured the track around the chaos of the big day itself. It progresses similarly to how a wedding–and wedding planning–feels, which is why I felt it had to be double-time at the end.

You have said in the past that you take inspiration from Will Wiesenfeld, better known as Baths. What about his music inspires you?

The first time I heard Baths, I was used to electronic music being either EDM/techno/etc. or Postal Service/Thom Yorke, but not a lot of the latter. Baths is able to combine the fun and energy from pop music with the all-around intelligence I was missing from pop music–and when I say “all-around,” I mean production-wise, lyrically, texturally, and harmonically. Every track is unique, and his use of samples, glitches, infectious beats, clever synths and tones, his voice as an instrument, and poetic lyrics has me hooked.

Who are some other current artists that have you inspired these days?

I listen to nearly anything, but you can probably narrow my favorite genres down to electronic, folk, and indie rock. My favorite artists will always be Baths, Radiohead, Bombay Bicycle Club, Bon Iver, and Big Thief. 

Lately I’ve been listening to Tycho, The Spirit of the Beehive, Jay Som, Sure Sure, The Japanese House, Crumb, slenderbodies, Vilde, Son Lux, Yoke Lore, and tons more.

Haven (2019)
Copyright Quenton Clarke

Haven as a recording feels so methodically curated, and I’m curious how that translates to a live show. When you perform these songs for an audience, is it important to you that they sound as similar to the recording as possible? Or do they take a life of their own?

Sort of both, actually! I like to keep things as close to the original as possible, because I feel that it’s important to maintain the same texture when translating to a live performance. When I play any other kind of music, I want it to be different from the original, but the samples and production are too important to the quality of these songs for me. 

There are a couple that have a few variations to them that you’ll only hear live, and “Pyrenean Ibex” is completely improvised every time with a looped electric guitar and vocoder. The difference in a live setting is that I perform with loopers and stems. I have every stem and every sample assigned to buttons on my MIDI controller, and I live-loop drums, keys, and guitar. I try to keep it as genuinely live as possible, and anything I can’t loop (samples, some bass tracks, etc.) I’m cueing and remixing. My performance is intentionally a lot glitchier, and far more energetic than the studio versions, and I hope to give a fun, unique experience at each show with the real-time production out of a suitcase.

What’s the most challenging song from Haven to perform live?

“Wedding Day” is definitely the hardest to perform, not only because it has the most samples, but also because I have more loops to create and they time out really weirdly! When I play it live, in total I am performing 6 piano loops, one guitar loop, one drum loop, and [then I’m] cueing all of the samples in their places. There’s a section where I have to time out one 4-bar piano loop, immediately switch to a 3.3-bar guitar loop, then back to another 4-bar piano loop while muting the guitar in that .1 beat between those two loops so it’s not noisy while I’m looping keys. Then there’s getting all the glitching right!

Photo Credit: Casey Allen Photography

Do you perform under any other musical aliases other than “Wolfelt”? 

I have a number of small projects. The only one with releases at the moment is my old singer/songwriter stuff under my name, Quenton Clarke. I had a folk-rock band that was going to be the next “Quenton Clarke” album release under the name Q + the Retrograde, and though the band fell through I still have that album written so it might show up one day. 

I’m also in a brand new pop band still forming and writing. We’re called Lunarbound. And finally, I’m hoping to pull together a folk duo pretty soon with my wife, Krystal. We have one song on Soundcloud at the moment as “Krys & Q,” but we’ll probably come up with a more clever name than that soon.

What else are you working on this year as Wolfelt?

I’ve already got a new Wolfelt EP in the works that I’m really excited for. It’ll likely be more stripped down, more acoustic instruments, but still sample-y/glitchy. The big thing that’s coming up next, though, is a remix I’m currently finishing up for Slokey, so keep an eye out for that in August [2019] or so.