An Interview with Trace Repeat
Written by Brooke Forrest on November 1, 2017
The Oakland California based soul-funk band Trace Repeat has recently dropped their first album. After premiering Oaktown Sound at a large release show the group is now planning on following it up with a tour in L.A.
I had to chance to recently talk with co-band leads Wesley Woo and Zach Hing about their new album, the origins of their funky group and what they think the future looks like for Trace Repeat.
How was the process of recording this album?
Wesley: Relatively painless, I guess (laughs). We did a lot of the recording at the studio that I help run. We basically did all the important stuff ourselves, which kind of let us stretch our legs a little bit and really dig into the creative process.
How is this different than your previous works?
Wesley: For me, I don’t know about you, Zach. But for me, I’ve recorded two other solo records and for me, it was a little bit less structured and rigid. Because when I had done my last two records it was more of ‘quick tracks’ then basic fun stuff and you’d build on that and you kind of had an idea already in place of this is what I wanted this to sound like and when it was done it basically sounded exactly like what I thought it would sound like. But when we approached the Trace Repeat record it was like we had a basic idea of how we wanted it to sound and then we sort of went with it. I think a lot of that was assisted by the fact that we basically had unlimited freedom because we were mostly running the sessions ourselves. We tracked a lot of stuff and we ended up not using a lot of the stuff we tracked, we had songs we wrote for the record we ended up not even recording so it was more fluid I guess, more organic in terms of making a record.
How did you end up forming a funk band?
Zach: I mean the story is pretty similar for us as it is with a lot of musicians. You are into that kind of music and you find something you gravitate to. In our case, it was funk because it was, for one thing, different and attention-grabbing. We’ve been sort of listening to that type of music our whole lives but we weren’t exactly playing that kind of music and it also at the time it was the type of music we really really wanted to play and we didn’t really know how to play and it was easier to have two people at work trying to craft a sound that we desperately wanted to play and couldn’t get ourselves to play. I know that may sound a little weird but it was a music that was almost not accessible at first, even though we both grew up on it. Prior to doing this, Wesley and I were doing songwriter oriented stuff. We were doing some different things, he was more into indie rock and alternative music, songwriter music and I was doing more acoustic-oriented stuff so when our paths crossed and at the right timing we said, hey we’re really into soul music and into funk music and there’s not really a lot of people out there doing the kind of music that gets people up and moving. So why not have fun with it? Why not just go with it? We didn’t really give it a lot of thought, it was kind of like, alright… funk band. Let’s just roll with it and see what we can write. It wasn’t like, oh, we are a funk band now you must absolutely only write funk songs. I honestly think now looking back on our original origin point we weren’t really a funk band. In the very beginning we were still figuring it out and then we became a bit more funk as we started to learn how to navigate the sound a little bit.
Wesley: I feel like at no point did we really stop and think about what we were doing. We had started side projects and this kind of just burst itself out of things we were already doing. I was writing a record that was really heavy into U2 and Joshua Tree and really into ambient sounds and I really wanted to dig into that Motown, soul, R&B stuff that I grew up listening to, but I didn’t have an outlet to play more of and I think Zach had a similar experience. He was more into acoustic guitar singer-songwriter stuff so we had started the band but didn’t really know how to play those things but we knew we wanted to play those things. So we kind of started writing songs with the intention of just writing songs till we figured out how to do this. The record is kind of the end point of that.
How did you get into funk music? I know you mentioned that both of you grew up with it.
Wesley: Yeah, I grew up listening to it so it was something that has always been in my ear for as long as I can remember cause it was what my dad was listening to. My dad would play stuff on the radio and here there is a radio station called 102.9 The Quiet Storm and it was basically all Motown, R&B, and soul. So a lot of Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and these really critical elements to the Motown sound so that was I had to listen to because that’s what my dad listened to so I didn’t really have a choice. So it was the thing I grew up listening to so by the time I started playing music it was the thing I was obviously going to play because it was the only thing I was listening to the entire time I was growing up. (Laughs) For me, it was pretty natural.
Zach: Yeah, similar story. My parents had good taste so that’s really what got me into it as well.
So I take it your parents are pleased with the genre you’ve chosen to explore?
Wesley: Yeah I think so. My dad is really into it. Almost all of our parents were at the release show actually. Zach’s dad drove in from Arizona I think.
Zach: Yeah he flew in from out of town so I think he’s done a lot. He’s definitely demonstrated his support and really likes what we’re playing. It sort of started with him and now it’s nice to know that he still likes to see us in action.
What do you think the status is of funk today?
Wesley: I think it’s on its way back. To be honest we don’t really care (laughs), to be absolutely honest. We’re just gonna make music that we like. That was really my intention when we started doing The Oaktown Sound. I really just wanted to write a record that I would listen to. This is a record that if I was picking up a record I’d never heard before this is something I would listen to. If this came up on my Spotify playlist I would play it. Really the only intention I had as we produced the record and wrote the songs was to figure out the sound was that we wanted and it wasn’t really built around ‘how is this going to sell?’ it was more of a is this something I like? In terms of if I think funk is on its way back? I do think it’s on it’s way back, I do think it’s on its way back. If we just wait, just wait (laughs). Really I just wanna write music I like.
Who are some of your favorite bands?
Wesley: For me, my big influence is, at least in writing this last record is a lot of Prince, a lot of Al Green and a lot of P-Funk and lots of James Brown. Those are the big things that went into The Oaktown Sound. Those are kind of things I’m always listening to. But bands I’ve been really into lately are Vulfpeck and Gallant, he’s got a really cool sound. It was one of those records that when I first heard his record and it is clearly like when he wrote this he was listening to a lot of Purple Rain and a lot of Prince. The first time I heard that record I was like, ‘damn, that dude stole my idea’ (laughs). That’s definitely a record I’ve been really into lately.
Zach: Yeah, my favorite artists are kind of interesting cause my favorite artists are not necessarily the ones that directly influenced the writing of this record. In the context of this album, essentially the same people Wesley listed but I take a lot personally more so from people like Michael Jackson and D’Angelo. I definitely come into it from more of a soul approach which is all very interrelated so it doesn’t deviate too far from the funk idea. But as far as bands go, it’s all over the place. I find myself jumping in and out of bands I used to listen to as a kid. Sometimes it’s The Killers, The Roots, Vulfpeck. It really is all over the place because what inspires my writing the most or what helps me the write music is more the approach musicians take and not really the sound that they are making. Vulfpeck, for example, has a really interesting process to their writing and just their personalities in general that it manifests in the songs that they write, they are kind of weird kind of crafty but the approach that musicians take is more interesting to me than the actual music that they are making, if that makes any sense. Wesley and I will normally talk about musicians but were not really gonna talk about the sound that that’s coming out. I think it’s more about the approach or process that actually inspires us more than the final product. The final product is cool, it gets you moving. But it’s more like, ‘how was that made?’, that’s cool. I’m more interested in that, that is funky that is what makes me wanna write a song.
Wesley: The bands that we sought to sound like definitely profoundly influenced the way the record sounds but at the same time we really deviated from that sound after a while cause are not good enough to sound like that (laughs) so we ended up just sounding like ourselves. I guess that’s a good thing.
For the pair, this group has mainly been a labor of love based on a shared passion for making music and enjoying funk and soul. As they move forward from their first album release they admit not expecting any of their recent success to happen but are for now enjoying the ride it has provided for them and are hoping to roll with it for as long as they can.