The Bloomington-Normal alt-pop/rock quartet Wiplot makes a rare performance Saturday night at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington.
During an in-studio conversation at WGLT, band members Dean Carlson, Tony SanFilippo and James McManus said despite lead guitarist R. Fish Carpenter now living in Colorado, the band remains a unit, even if gigs are spaced months to years apart.
Collectively, the four have been part of many central Illinois bands, including The Something Brothers, Skybeard, That Hope, and Electric Poo-Bah, among others.
Carlson recalled meeting his future band mates.
“I’ve known James since about 1980 at a new-wave night at Braden Auditorium,” said Carlson, chuckling at the recollection of meeting at Illinois State University’s performance venue. It also brought a chuckle out of McManus.
“I met Tony and Fish from Something Brothers shows,” said Carlson.
“And our bands would play together,” added SanFilippo, the group's drummer and owner of Oxide Lounge Recording Studio in downtown Bloomington.
“I was in a band in Chicago and would sometimes come down (to Bloomington-Normal) to hear him play or play with them up in Chicago. Then I got an opportunity to move down here to work at a recording studio. And in the back of my mind I said, ‘Oh, Dean doesn’t have a band right now. When I get to town, I’m starting a band with Dean,’” he said in a mocking sinister voice.
Carlson said at the time he had 50-60 songs left over from previous band Skybeard.
“Something needed to happen, they didn’t need to rot on the shelf,” said Carlson.
Carlson was also the co-lead vocalist with Scott Wilson and a songwriter in the now reformed Something Brothers that ruled central Illinois from the late 1980s through mid-late 1990s. Though band members each had a distinctive personality, Carlson’s seemed to stick out as a bit off-kilter.
“He was the 'interesting' guy,” San Filippo jumped in with arched eyebrows and a more tactful description. Carlson said some of that sensibility came from growing up somewhat isolated on a rural farm. He also blanched at much of what he was hearing on the radio when he was younger.
“The way I look at my songs is the difference between a film and a theatrical play,” he explained. “In a film, a director tells you where to look and what to concentrate on. Whereas if you’re in a theater watching a play, you can look wherever you want. And take in whatever you want.
Carlson is also a film score fan, particularly of the legendary Nino Rota, famous for scoring the first two "Godfather" films. He’s also noted for the films of Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti.
“My wife was a big Fellini fan,” said Carlson of how he came to appreciate Rota. “So, we would watch the Fellini films of course and get to hear all those wonderful soundtracks. It was crazy. So, this wasn’t just mainstream background music, this is like really driving something by giving you different flavors from the visuals being put out there.”
The three brought along a couple Wiplot CDs and played a couple, including “Sunshine Factory” and Real Feel Good Song” from their 2006 “Just Ad Nauseum” release. Carlson writes all the lyrics and nearly all the song structures. It’s when he brings those songs to the other members is when the songs get even more interesting.
“Once I bring in the music, they are the in-ter-pre-tors,” explained Carlson to the laughter of everyone. “To make it … really … as startling as possible, or as orally appealing as possible.”
“Because we’ll come up with ideas individually,” said McManus. “We have our own styles, and Dean could dictate a bassline to me, but I have a pretty unorthodox style of playing that he might not image what I would do with what he brings.”
“I sometimes refer to James’ playing as counter-melody bass,” added SanFilippo. “He doesn’t just sit there and go ‘doom, cluck, do do doom.’ He is not that bass player, which is why he’s great. You can put on anything James has played on, and you go, ‘Oh, there’s James on bass.’”
The three agreed the collaborative nature of the four players is what makes the group tick. Unlike bands with multiple songwriters competing with each to get their songs played, or as McManus hinted, a principal songwriting controlling the arc of a song from beginning to end, McManus, SanFilippo, and Carpenter understand the song begins with Carlson, who in turn understands or appreciates his songs take on a new skin once the others give their take on it.
“Dean is the creator, and we act as his instruments sometimes,” said McManus.
“Just like Duke Ellington,” added SanFilippo. “He used the piano, but the orchestra was his instrument.”
As the conversation wound down, San Filippo reminded Carlson of a time he saw him play solo in Chicago. SanFilippo believed it shined a light on how Carlson can be a solo act but thrives with collaborators.
“About halfway through the show, the Diplomat 6 guys started playing with you. And there was a visual change in Dean’s entire body once there were people on-stage with him. When he was playing alone, even though it was really cool and his songs are amazing, there was very much this idea that ‘this is not how I make music, I make music with people.’ Once there were people, he opened up and it went from this tiny little ‘what’s going to happen thing’ to 'oh that was great!'" said SanFilippo.
Carlson said he appreciated the ideas other band members bring to the table.
“Like rearranging things around sometimes, or of course their playing makes the songs what they are. I mean James is amazing bass player that if you were stuck in a snake pit and needed someone to get you out of there, well he’s going to play the bass,” said Carlson.
You can see and hear Wiplot on Saturday night at Nightshop in downtown Bloomington.
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