Food for the angsty soul: Wonderbad’s Milo Stanfield chats Sting, the importance of musical voice memos, and more…
Whenever I sit down to watch the news, I get an overwhelming wave of anger and frustration crash over my body. Yes, I could spend my days trying to drink these emotions away (however, I think my family might intervene at some point & it seems an expensive habit to keep) or I could put my headphones on and blast away the pain with Wonderbad.
We managed to have a virtual sit-down with Milo Stanfield – the one constant in the fluid roster that makes up Wonderbad. Since the band was conceived when Stanfield was 15, they have gone from strength to strength – most recent success being their ‘Red Herring’ EP with acoustic versions of some of their best tracks from their 2021 self-titled album.
Fans of Nirvana will know that the discordant, pleading tones – soaked in Cobain’s angst / outrage / pain – is a tonic for the soul. Similarly, Wonderbad have this explosive energy. From the screaming guitar solos to the harmonies, where it almost sounds like the accompanying melody is being sung at full blast in another room, to the repetition of such lyrics as “I spent three hours writing something on a piece of paper”.
This all comes together in a beautiful storm of emotions with a dirty raw edge. Lyrically, Stanfield is quite poetic – he isn’t afraid to stray from the traditional songwriting ‘formula’ with imperfect repetitions and unrhyming couplets – which is really refreshing to unpick after every listen.
Coming from Richland, Washington, it’s inevitable that past grunge legends from the Tri-Cities area have been a source of inspiration for Stanfield – but Wonderbad is more an homage to, rather than simple imitation of, bands such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana. To prepare for our interview, I tried to immerse myself into the music which, as a grunge fan in my dirty Converse, was not difficult. Favourite tracks include Paperwaster, Magenta (particularly their acoustic version) & Red Herring.
There’s something in this – it might be the ebb and flow of the angst against the calmness – that will nestle in your brain like an ear-worm until you realise that you’ve been listening to the same track for the past 20 minutes. Let’s just say that we’re excited to see what happens next for this boy Wonder.
Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to talk with us at IAMUR. Can we start with some introductions – maybe a bit about the roles you each have in the band, how you guys met etc?
My name is Milo Stanfield. Wonderbad is a collection of the music that I’ve been writing since I was 15. I play guitar and sing. Band members have changed over the years. Once I had my first batch of songs written on acoustic guitar, my dad and his friend Cory helped me flesh them out in a shed in the backyard. From there, Dave and Chris at Thunderdome Studios in Washington mentored me through the recording and producing process, and soon after releasing the Magenta EP, I got together a more permanent lineup to play live shows with and record more material.
In my hometown of Richland Washington there is a shortage of dedicated musicians, so willing souls are few and far between. Most of the time I’ll have at least one family member backing me up on stage.
You’ve grown up with a rich variety of musical influences in Richland and the Tri-Cities, such as Hendrix, Cobain, Soundgarden – we can hear these grunge and rock elements in your sound. Who would you say influences you the most during songwriting and then composition, respectively?
Influences are many. There was a significant Fugazi-esque Punk scene in Eastern Washington State in the 90’s, running parallel to the grunge explosion. Wonderbad was featured in a documentary film called “All Ages Show” about it, but that local scene, for as long as I can remember, has been virtually dormant, especially among my generation. One of my hopes in creating and performing music was to encourage young people to rebuild it.
Stylistically, the foundation of my writing draws a lot from that Lennon/Cobain approach–sad chords, melodies, harmonies, and lyrics– Things that anybody can sing along to and hopefully relate to. Guitar solos are something I’ll never miss an opportunity to include. I prefer melodic, bluesy solos (which works out as I’m not the speediest player anyway). That being said, I always pushed myself to the limits of my ability at the time of recording, so each solo really captures what I was capable of at the time. After the foundation of a song is laid, I tend to flavor it with whatever I’m listening to at the time. Built to Spill, Heatmiser, and Loudermilk, to name a few.
“In the age of algorithms, guiding users through the oceans of digital content, it feels like music trends have been stalled onto a very specific pop genre, with little room for evolution, or exposure of new sounds to the masses.”Milo Stanfield
How has your musical taste changed/ developed over the years, and what was the first album you remember owning?
As nice as it was growing up with all the streaming platforms, I think I missed out on having that “first album” experience. But I recently gained possession of my dad’s CD “Mercury Falling” by Sting. I’ve been listening to those songs my whole life, and I own it now so I could count that as my first. Great record.
I’ve observed that a lot of songwriters eventually become formulaic and predictable as they get older and “figure out” music, but Sting still feels like he’s discovering music for the first time, and he plays in many genres. You can sense that he’s writing from a real place of inspiration and enjoyment. I hope music is always like that for me.
Can you talk us through your creative process – for example; how you typically go about formulating new songs, where you guys jam/ practice as a band, and how you decide what riffs or ideas are worth developing?
Ideas for songs never seem to come at a time when it’s convenient to try them out on a guitar, so I started using my phone voice recorder. Every Wonderbad song once started as a little voice memo of me humming or mumbling an idea, likely while I’m driving or trying to fall asleep. I probably have a thousand of those by now. (The thought of someone scrolling through all that after I die crosses my mind a lot.) Later, I’ll sit down with a guitar and revisit the voice memos. If one starts to sound like a song, I’ll make a demo recording of it. Then it’s just experimenting from there. I may ask for feedback from friends, or collaborate with current band members to get ideas in their area of expertise.
Ideas that are worth developing, naturally find their way to higher levels of production. I stitched together a few of those voice memos and released it as a bonus track for “Teach a Man to Fish” on BandCamp, so people could see how a song comes together for me. It sounds pretty funny, but I hoped it would be interesting to listeners and helpful to aspiring song writers.
Of all the songs you’ve written to date, which are your favourite to perform live? Which covers do you like to include, and why those choices?
I always look forward to playing “I Was So Certain”. A lot of my favorite guitar parts are in that one–especially with how the two guitar parts play off each other. The change up at the end of the song is pretty intense. The audience seems to enjoy it too and that’s really what makes it fun for us. For a few shows we played Loudermilk’s “Tooth for a Tooth”. Other than that, covers rarely make the set lists and they never stick around long if they do.
Once we played Nirvana’s “Floyd the Barber” as a sound check for a high school graduation party. The venue was just someone’s backyard, but the acoustics were great for some reason. Afterward we listened to the phone video recording and were very surprised at how good it turned out. The video is posted on Instagram and is one of our most viewed videos.
Speaking of live performances, the pandemic forced a halt to gigging literally everywhere! How did you guys spend your time in a creative sense during that period, what impact did it have on you, and how have you bounced back since all the restrictions lifted?
After the first couple months of the lockdown, the band, which included extended family at that point, started practicing again as long as we were feeling well. That’s also when we did the majority of our recording of the first album. Once the actual risk factors of the virus became available, and people were able make better informed decisions for themselves, we found ways to play shows for anyone who was comfortable with the idea.
Because venues were pretty much out of the question, a lot of very loud backyard shows ensued. They could be heard for miles around and we were always prepared for the police to show up, which they usually did… but with the size of the crowds, and the shows being on private property they didn’t interfere. Those were the most fun, probably because people were starving for socialization and we all knew it was technically “illegal”. At that point the consensus in our region was that it was time to move on, and so most of us did. We also toured in Idaho and Utah which were early openers.
So far, what has been the most enjoyable gig you’ve done, and in a similar vein, what has been the best show you’ve attended?
Somehow, one of the most enjoyable sets we’ve ever played was at this little farmers market and classic car show in the middle of nowhere, Oregon. The rural townsfolk were not prepared for what we were bringing but we figured we may as well play as loud and hard as possible while we were there. Most people filtered out by the time we finished, save a handful of teens who really liked it. The event paid us for the gig and we went home. I never got around to cashing that check.
My favorite concert was a 20 year reunion show for a band called “Small”. They were the biggest name in the local scene back in the 90’s. That show was my first mosh pit/stage diving/crowd surfing experience. I learned that many of the songs they were performing that night were written when those band members were 15 and 16 years old, which was the age that I was at the time. That really motivated me to get more focused on my music.
Who would be your ultimate collab (send those vibes out into the universe & manifest it!)?
There’s no simple answer to that, because there are different artists in songwriting, performing, and production that I’d be thrilled to collaborate with, but also a level of what’s most probable. My first thought is Brendan Benson. I really enjoy his music, especially what he’s released in recent years, and also what he’s done with the Raconteurs. Like Sting he’s one of those song writers who seems like he’s authentically enjoying his play with sounds and lyrics, even after doing it for many years.
Playing with Willie Nelson is definitely a prize that any musician covets, but more realistically there’s a U.K. punk band called “Carter Daze” that I connected with during the Covid stuff. We’ve swapped merch and kept in touch a bit. I think it would be really fun to jam with them someday. On the production side of things, recording with Butch Vig would be an appropriate icon for me to wish for a collaboration with.
What would you say have been the most challenging aspects for you over the past three years/ have there been any stand-out moments that have stopped you in your tracks?
In the age of algorithms, guiding users through the oceans of digital content, it feels like music trends have been stalled onto a very specific pop genre, with little room for evolution, or exposure of new sounds to the masses. That, with the phenomenon of earbuds, I believe, has slowly de-socialized music. It has become more of a private thing for my generation, and not as much of a characteristic of outward showing personal identity or subculture as it once was. This has been especially detrimental to rock music as it’s best enjoyed in cranked up on big speakers, and performed for larger audiences. Rock Music is a social thing, and I hope that by exposing kids to it from a peer, it can become a thing again.
“There’s always been this unspoken thing between the audience and the band, that even though we’re not famous rock stars, everyone’s gonna act like we are for a few minutes.”Milo Stanfield
And in terms of positives – out of everything you’ve done/ experienced so far… what has been the absolute highlight for you all?
There’s always been this unspoken thing between the audience and the band, that even though we’re not famous rock stars, everyone’s gonna act like we are for a few minutes. It’s just more fun for all of us that way, it’s hard to explain, but the energy we get from each other is as real as can be. And really, this has been the musical ritual for thousands of years, in all cultures. I think it’s an important part of the human experience that has been largely lost for younger generations, and it’s going to take a lot of effort from a lot of people to bring that back to where it should be. So I appreciate very much what this magazine is doing. Exposure is so valuable to independent artists and I’m very honored for the opportunity to be interviewed.
Your debut album came out in 2021 – the self-titled Wonderbad – and, most recently, your Red Herring EP in May 2022 – what’s in the pipeline for the end of 2022 / 2023?
The most popular track off the acoustic album, released earlier this year is a song called “Pointless”. A fully instrumentalized version will be released early in 2023. I’ve also got about five more songs written ready for recording, and will continue humming and mumbling voice memos when inspiration strikes. I’m currently serving a religious mission in Tennessee until 2024, so those will be on the back burner until then.
Listen to more from Wonderbad on Spotify now:
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