by Dylan Naumann
Quenton Clarke’s adolescence was surrounded by mountain ranges, fresh air, community, family, which was all encompassed by the intimate small-town aesthetic of Staunton, Virginia. Eventually coming-of-age, Quenton would end-up leaving the home to further his own endeavors – academically and artistically – by attending the University of Shenandoah. He traveled to Shenandoah with the idea of majoring in jazz piano. But as we all know college can be overwhelming process to say the least: the bonanza of degree programs to consider; the possible paternal burden of upholding linages, financial constraints, etc. All of those decisions and constraints are daunting, but ultimately, you have to step out and choose. Quenton decided to emerge the thought into the possible reality of trying out for jazz piano. But before any admittance into a university’s music program, there’s a pre-screening requirement that has to take place. In Quenton’s case – an audition. And unfortunately, he did not pass the audition.
Through the voice of failure Quenton continued onward with the idea of studying mass communications to eventually gain knowledge in music production. The idea carried throughout summer, up until he had a change of heart. A month out of from his first semester at Shenandoah,he decided to give the music program another shot. This time it’s an attempt to study music therapy. With no time to waste, he submits an audition video to the school. Rather trying to gain entry by playing piano, he instead submits a video that highlights his voice. Upon receiving the video, Shenandoah likes it and submits him into the program!
During his time at Shenandoah the musical project know as Wolfelt was born beyond Quenton’s aspirations. Named after the inspirational author and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Quenton began composing electronic music to decompress. He wasn’t thinking anything of it at the time says Quenton – “It started as a way to decompress after the days of working in hospice.” At the time he needed a final project in order to pass the class. He declared his side project the one he would end up presenting during final presentations. The electronic compositions Quenton composed were a sonic representation of his personal experiences during his internship. He needed to figure how he wanted/how to perform Wolfelt to live audience. The previously gained knowledge from taking a MIDI class back in college, tinkering around with cheap MIDI controllers, learning Mainstage, and live looping on the fly gave him an enough fundamental information and experience to where he could figure the tedious processes to perform as an electronic artist.
Tinkering your way through the muck of trial and error is a way to figure something out, but another way is through influence by the artists that are already doing it. Ingraining how they interpret the material, and through your learning you’ll find your own process of creating. Quenton did just that. He mentioned the names of artists such as: Animal Collective, Radiohead, Baths, and BinkBeats of who he looked up to in the realm of electronic music and alternative genres. Baths and BinkBeats were among the top of the list that shared a fair amount of influence for Quenton. Baths for example is known for his use of “unconventional” sound textures such as the clicking of pens or the snaps of scissors in his compositions. BinkBeats implements a rhythmic minimalistic feel to some degree within his compositions. The sounds BinkBeats uses from TV static or to a pair of air pumps puts him in the same spotlight as Baths by using “unorthodox” textures. But also puts a focal point on how he live loops the sounds. Those techniques implemented by those artists impacted Wolfelt’s compositions. When you listen to “Careful with your Confidence” (the second track on Haven), you’ll hear what appears to be a normal snare drum but you would be misled to think that. In fact, Quenton tells me that he was hitting a “bottle cap against a desk” to emulate a snare drum. “It was a different way to give off the texture of a snare without using one.”
I sat down with Quenton (actually leaning against a wall along Charles St.) before his album release show for Haven at the Metro Galley in Baltimore, MD. He was kind enough to tell me his story of how he got where he is today, and how his compositional process had developed over the years.
As the evening progressed, Wolfelt’s performance showcased a couple of emotions that lingered with definition. One was a decadent, brooding landscape of ambience and the second was less on the introspective side-of-things, but more on the head-banging, move your feet till they hurt kind of vibe. The ability to contrast between the two – ambience and treading a measure –was refreshing to witness. Ambience alone, as a vehicle to texturize, can go a long way in adding substance to a composition. But it also carries the tendency to blur the other components of the song (melodic structure, harmony, tempo, etc.). Rather than complement, it can drive the song to an unfortunate repetitive annoyance. Wolfelt’s performance casted no annoyance whatsoever. The song “Wedding Day” – the single off the new album – for example, blossomed from a slow, wavy beginning, to an upbeat dance your socks off anthem. As the song started off, the crowd was hanging in the air with suspense as grainy, time lapsed noise (samples of conversations from a crowd) created a soundscape for an array of possibilities to come forth. The arrival of a melodic ostinato (a repeating sequence) came next and drove the song into the refreshing landmark of energy that featured head-banging and arms swaying. One of Wolfelt’s goals during a performance was to make people dance, as he tells me along Charles St. – “I just want people to come and dance!” He accomplished that goal, no doubt indeed. In fact, it was hard not to feel it when you glance up at the stage and the sight of Quenton dancing, just as much, if not more than anyone else in the audience, would inspire you to follow suit.
The show Wolfelt put on had something for everyone – dancing, memorable melodies that anyone could hum/sing, inward-looking ambient moments, and of course the head banging –to take in and enjoy. Wolfelt is a must-see act to witness live, no questions about it. Watching Quenton scramble on stage to find the right button(s) to push on the MIDI controller, or to quickly, while keeping time, pick up the guitar to add texture is a sight in itself to witness – it’s an art form on top of an art form (inception!). As Quenton puts it – “the beauty of it all is trying to figure out how to perform it live!”
Please give Wolfelt a follow-on Instagram or on Facebook to listen to his latest releases, and to catch where he’s playing next!
Dylan Naumann is a freelance musician, composer, writer, and improviser. Born and raised in Towson, Maryland, he’s currently finishing up his degree from Towson University for jazz commercial performance. He enjoys wondering around town, from local venue to venue, trying to find the inspiring sounds from local artists.
People’s Blues of Richmond is a heavy-touring, blues-psych power trio from Richmond, Va. In the past two years, they’ve signed with Management Anonymous and Madison