Bubblin' Up: Woolymammoth

Early conversations with the new Alpha Pup artist.
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Jason Wool is the latest addition to Daddy Kev's Alpha Pup, home to the likes of Daedelus, Eprom, Alix Perez, and many other artists to whom the rising 21-year-old American has long looked up. Filling Spots, a 15-track LP, Wool's first through a label, landed just last week and captured a growing sophistication in his bass-heavy sound that falls somewhere between glitched-out IDM and experimental hip-hop. "It’s been a long time coming and I’m just really stoked for people to hear what I’ve been working on," Wool explains, failing to mask his excitement.

Wool's musical journey started many years ago in his hometown of San Francisco. Having learned the ropes of Garageband and Logic Express during his adolescent years, he began with much more of a mainstream foundation drawn by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Michael Giacchino—a far cry from what he produces now. With maturation came evolution, and high school saw Wool's tastes change considerably as he became increasingly proficient in production. Inspired by more leftfield genres, he started the Woolymammoth project as a vehicle for such sonic explorations, its name stemming from his second and that of his animal namesake. Around the same time, he also started two other projects, too, both lesser-known but still of equal importance.

Graduation from high school and a music-inspired relocation to LA pushed the project further. Immersion in the city's beats scene saw Wool's tastes develop once again, a maturation that can be traced from his 2015 debut all the way to this new album. The clear turning point, if there is one, came with 2016's Nova Jaunt Mixtape, the first example, Wool explains, of the sound he wished to achieve—itself leading to various live bookings across America. The album, Wool adds, aims to capture this development and refinement in his work—his journey, if you like, to the finding of his "new" musical direction. "It's like filling in the spots to this brand new, developed Woolymammoth," he jokes, explaining the album title. With a full album tour on the way, and with lots of excitement building around Wool, XLR8R dialed him in to learn more.

In addition, Wool has offered up an exclusive, unreleased track for free download, available via WeTransfer at the bottom of the feature. 

You’ve just released your debut album via Alpha Pup. How do you feel about it?

I feel pretty excited, a bit nervous, but definitely ready. It’s been a long time coming and I’m just really stoked for people to hear what I’ve been working on. I’m also thrilled to have the record come out on Alpha Pup; it’s my first full-length with a record label and I don’t think it could be in much better hands.

What can we expect on the album?

You can expect honest music from myself, including collaborations with artists that are my friends/musicians that I’ve looked up to for some time now. I wanted this LP to contain a bunch of original tracks to start it off, that would introduce and tell the story—which I think can be pretty standard for a full-length. As the album continued, I wanted to also highlight some artists that I thought helped introduce this new direction/sound that I’ve been embarking upon. In the end, each track on the record seemed to find its own unique place.

Talk to me about this “new direction/sound” that you mention. How would you describe it?

Over the years as I got older and was exposed to new music and new genres, my taste and sound adapted. My musical interests now have grown a lot more into experimental music of all forms, and music that bends or mixes multiple genres. So my direction with creating music has changed pretty significantly since I was younger. Back then, I was listening to very different music altogether.

Yes, so this is why the press release describes the album as “a summarization of this path and the many states of evolution Woolymammoth has gone through as a musician."

Exactly. when I started writing electronic music back in high school I had a completely different taste in music than I do now. It’s taken time and patience to find what type of music really interests/inspires me and what type of music I can most naturally write. Graduating from high school and moving to LA were both big changes in my life that gave me a chance to be exposed to different types of music that I had never really heard before. Through these experiences as my taste changed, my growth and direction as an artist did as well. This album reflects the process of finding my own place/sound that I see as myself. I definitely think my sound will change as I move forward, but in the same direction.

Is this referenced in the album name, Filling Spots?

Yes. While growing as an artist, I’ve moved to different environments, met different people, lived different lifestyles, and all these changes have given me a chance to see life from a different perspective and listen to music that I hadn’t been exposed to before. Only very recently have I refined my taste in music and found the artists who inspire me most. Throughout recording this record I was able to fill a void in my “sound” and writing process that clarified my new direction. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but I’m stoked to be where I’m at.

Can you name some of these artists that “inspire you the most?”

As far as electronic/beat music goes: Dibiase, Ras G, Lorn, Alix Perez, and Flying Lotus, to name a few.

How did the relationship with Alpha Pup come about?

I got to know the Alpha Pup crew through Daddy Kev, whom I’ve known ever since I first performed at Low End Theory in September of 2016. It’s a trip because I had always looked up to those cats and many of the artists that have released with them ever since I moved to LA.

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Let’s go back to the start. What was it like growing up in San Francisco? Artistically speaking, did you have a crowd of like-minded musicians?

Growing up in San Francisco is one of my favorite memories. Although I never got to know many musicians when I lived there, I was always listening to music on my iPod or humming melodies in the back of my pop’s car. I didn’t get interested in playing/creating music until a little later, when I first picked up playing the piano (I still play to this day, as a matter of fact.) I was classically trained but ended up falling in love with jazz when I became more exposed to it in middle and high school. Only in high school did I get to know like-minded musicians that were either in my band class or group of friends. Years later, when I moved to LA after high school, I got to know a lot more people I now seem to only talk "music" with, or just about.

When and why did you begin experimenting with music production?

I first started making music with GarageBand on my Mom’s computer during middle school. I was around 12 years old and it took me a while to learn how to write anything because of my lack of knowledge in DAW’s and creating music in general. One thing I had going for me was the ability to play the piano; as I mentioned, I was classically trained and was able to apply some of what I learned from piano lessons into my production with GarageBand. I was making jazzy-pop music back then and Michael Bublé and Jack Johnson were some artists I was into at the time. I’d say my taste has definitely evolved a bit since then, but you gotta’ respect your roots!

How did your sound evolve from there?

Back in middle school/high school I was really just exploring any software I had access to and trying to find what music really interested me. Those were also the years of seriously building my fundamental piano and production chops. Only when I moved to LA did I start to really get more interested in sound design, and more experimental music in general, of all genres.

Can you remember the first music you made that sounds like what you’re releasing on the album?

I think the Nova Jaunt Mixtape (released in 2016) was around the time I was making that switch.

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Where does the name “Woolymammoth” come from?

My last name is “Wool” which is where it all started. One of my friends in high school said that I should call this project “Woolymammoth” because the beats I made were “mammoth-like." I think originally as more of a joke, but it stuck. I had thought about changing it before, but after researching the animal and learning a lot more about it I became more appreciative of the name and the extinct animal itself. However, I did want to change the spelling a bit to make it unique to my project, also so you don’t only see images of Woolly Mammoth’s when one chooses to look my music/project up online!

You first released as Woolymammoth in 2015 with the Tricks EP. But the project was born before then?

Yes, the project started when I was a junior in high school, just before I moved to LA. I was writing electronic music in my free time and slowly became more addicted to it. Once I moved to LA and was out of high school, I was able to devote more time to it and take the project more seriously.

You’ve previously released music under different names, I understand? How does this music differ?

Yes, I also release music under an alias called Cast, which has an experimental jazz-fusion/funk sound to it. I’ve been playing the piano for just about my entire life and love to incorporate my playing into this project mainly, which actually also has an LP in the works set to be released with Courteous Family later on in the year. It’s a very different style of music than “Woolymammoth”; however, quite often I will combine the two and feature both aliases in the same track, including on the album. I also have another (rap) alias, Legoon, which is a smaller project with only a couple features out to date. I’ve found that writing music under different projects like this gives me balance and can keep the inspiration flowing more naturally.

Did all these projects start at the same time?

They did, but the “Woolymammoth” project received a lot more attention from the start and is now 90% of the shows I get booked for today. However, that percentage may shrink once I get more content/this next album out on the “Cast” project.

Moving back, was Tricks the first time you felt happy with your music? 

Not really! When I was writing the EP, I was still in the process of discovering what music really inspired me and what style of music I really wanted to direct this project towards, which has taken a while for myself to discover and I don’t think will ever really be set in stone. As I said, I’d say the first time I felt I found somewhat of a style to hook on to with my own music was when I released the Nova Jaunt Mixtape in 2016. I actually still play some tracks from that release at shows, and that to me is the ultimate test to see which tracks I’m really into or want my fans to hear. I tend to have very picky taste especially when it comes to my own art.

How did that Tricks release come about? Were you sending out demos?

I had management at that time and they were helping me get it out to the press and what not. It was actually released independently, but still accessible through various music streaming services (iTunes/Bandcamp/Spotify/Soundcloud/etc).

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It then escalated very quickly you were playing big events before the age of 21. What’s it like being so young in the scene?

I feel appreciative for having been able to have the option to create from a very young age. Many don’t ever have that option and I try to remind myself of this as often as possible, it can be easy to forget. Kiefer Shackelford once told me, “Music is a privilege, not a right,” and I hold that idea close to my heart. That being said, it’s also a very humbling feeling being young in the scene; many of the musicians/peers I’ve gotten to know through the past couple years are a bit older than me but it’s something I’ve gotten used to. While in middle school I played percussion for five years in a symphony orchestra (based out of Berkeley, California) entitled Young People’s Symphony Orchestra. In this group, I was one of the youngest amongst all the musicians and was able to become more accustomed to hanging out/working with peers older than me.

You’re now based in Los Angeles. What made you move down the coast, and when did you do it?

I moved to Los Angeles about three years ago, after I graduated high school. Tristan Fong and Anton Reifsteck (whom I now still live with) had already made the move a year prior, being one grade ahead of me in school. I wanted to come help them with running Courteous Family and get to know some artists I had been talking to/working with online.

So it was very driven by the development of your music?

That, and being around my buddies that were pursuing similar goals. Also, the fact that Los Angeles was still only about a six-hour drive from home, San Francisco Bay Area, was a big factor.

Have your parents been understanding of your musical ambitions?

My parents always were aware and supportive of my passion to create and play musical instruments ever since I was a kid. I owe a lot to them for giving me an opportunity to create and supporting my career along the way. They’re my backbone, for sure, and I’m really close with both of them.

"I wanted to write Filling Spots to showcase this new direction I was headed in and didn’t think there was any other proper way than to make it a full-length and release it on a label that I really look up to and trust."

Do you think the move to LA has influenced your sound and particularly the sound of the album?

I think the move to LA had a big influence on my sound and this album. After moving to LA, I was exposed to so many different types and styles of music I had never heard in the Bay Area. My taste quickly adapted as so much new music was presented to me, and I never looked back. I wanted to write Filling Spots to showcase this new direction I was headed in and didn’t think there was any other proper way than to make it a full-length and release it on a label that I really look up to and trust.

Did you make the album and send it out, or did you make the album for Alpha Pup?

Originally Daddy Kev had asked me if I wanted to release a full-length on Alpha Pup at some point, which I believe motivated me to rally up all the unfinished/unreleased beats I had laying around and start piecing together this LP. Most of the record was definitely made after we made the plan to release on Alpha Pup.

Speaking generally, what’s the production process for a track? Are they preconceived or do they come from spontaneous jamming?

When I’m writing electronic music, usually I start by either digging through record or analog samples until I find something interesting, or drumming out different rhythms using my laptop’s keyboard. If I’m writing more acoustic style track, the idea will commonly start from a spontaneous jam on the keyboard.

Where is your studio today?

My studio today is the attic of the house I share with some buddies in LA. But really my workplace ranges from there, to the hotel I’m staying in on the road, or even the on plane while travelling. Wherever I have my laptop, headphones, and some downtime becomes my studio.

What’s your setup?

In my studio at home, my setup consists of my laptop, a pair of JBL monitors, a Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (mixer), a Pearl custom drum set, and various midi/analog keyboards.

How is touring going at the moment? Are you playing out a lot?

I just performed in Cincinnati, Ohio, last weekend which was a lot of fun and my first time there. I’ve been playing shows here and there on some weekends, nothing too crazy. I’ve also been pretty busy with different projects and jobs, teaching music-production/basic music theory lessons online being one of them. I have some different side-gigs like that which keep me grounded and level-headed.

So you don’t yet rely on your music full time?

I’m working on the side, I also teach music production online, write commercial music for advertisements, and I’m an Uber driver when I have time to kill.

Do you plan to play live or just DJ?

I’ve performed live a couple times so far, once was a solo set as my alias Cast, at Electric Forest in Michigan and also in a two-part band (keys + drums) at Low End Theory which was as my “live” Cast set as well. I’ve also performed a couple live shows as Woolymammoth in the past, including drumming on a cymbal and using a MIDI-fighter to improvise with distortion/processing effects through Traktor live (how I’ve been performing recently). Actually my first gig at Low End Theory was also a live set back in September of 2016.

Any gigs that stand out over the past few years?

Performing with Eprom in Chicago was really a treat; he was the first to introduce me to DJ TechTools’ MIDI-Fighter that I now use in my own sets. Also, playing in Paris was incredible because the trip was a real adventure and the city was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever travelled to.

Will you be touring more frequently around the album?

I actually just announced the Filling Spots tour where I will be playing shows from Tucson, Arizona to New Orleans, Louisiana, with some more dates sprinkled between. I couldn’t be more excited to be on the road again! Many of these dates will also include performing with Bleep Bloop and Eprom.

Do you have a clear idea of where you’re going as a musician?

I think I have a much clearer musical direction than I did years ago, hopefully, that keeps moving forward throughout the years to come. I want to keep pushing myself as a musician, mentally and physically (whether it’s keeping my producing, rhythm or keyboard chops up to date.) As long as I keep all of that in place I think everything else will come in due time.