A conversation with Brian Wnukowski

 

    We spoke with Brian Wnukowski (Big’n) about automatic writing, his ideal winter outfit, his encounters with Steve Albini and the all-encompassing HAWK concept.

    There are dozens and dozens of tones that you can get out of every drum and cymbal based on where and how much force you hit them.


    The following is simply a numbered list, one through twenty. We asked Brian what each number represents or reminds him of in his life.


    One

    is the loneliest number.

    Two

    to tango.

    Three

    is the magic number.

    one – two – three –

    Four

    Five

    finger discount.


    Six

    six six (pack).

    Seven

    is the luckiest number.

    Eight

    Octopussy.

    Nine

    meow.

    Ten

    Bo Derek’s tits.


    Eleven

    snake eyez.

    Twelve

    all downhill from here.

    Thirteen

    is the unluckiest number.

    Fourteen

    bought first drum kit and started first band.

    Fifteen

    rack ‘em up.


    Sixteen

    There are sixteen meanings of the word “BEAT”:

    q to strike violently or forcefully and repeatedly.
    q to dash against: rain beating the trees.
    q to flutter, flap, or rotate in or against: beating the air with its wings.
    q to sound, as on a drum: beating a steady rhythm; to beat a tattoo.

    q to stir vigorously: Beat the egg whites well.
    q to break, forge, or make by blows: to beat their swords into plowshares.
    q to produce (an attitude, idea, habit, etc.) by repeated efforts: I’ll beat some sense into him.
    q to make (a path) by repeated treading.

    q to strike (a person or animal) repeatedly and injuriously: Some of the hoodlums beat their victims viciously before robbing them.
    q Music. to mark (time) by strokes, as with the hand or a metronome.
    q Hunting. to scour (the forest, grass, or brush), and sometimes make noise, in order to rouse game.
    q to overcome in a contest; defeat.

    q to win over in a race: We beat the English challenger to Bermuda.
    q to be superior to: Making reservations beats waiting in line.
    q to be incomprehensible to; baffle: It beats me how he got the job.
    q to defeat or frustrate (a person), as a problem to be solved: It beats me how to get her to understand.


    Seventeen

    lost virginity to a pregnant woman. Was she?

    Eighteen

    old enough to vote & buy a gun.
    Celebrate by shooting a hole in a ballot.

    Nineteen

    Phil Lynott.

    Twenty

    Jackson.


    1

    Julien Fernandez

    Can you please explain your drum setup with a drawing or painting? Do you prefer to do more with less, or go crazy with additions?

    Brian Wnukowski

    Well, everything is set at an extremely tall height, especially the cymbals, which come in at roughly 6 ft. 3 in. I would love to say that I strategically do this to create the maximum amount of separation between drums and cymbals when mic’d, but to be honest, it just looks really fuckin’ cool; Not very comfortable at all. Here’s a rough layout.

    I prefer to do more with less. There are dozens and dozens of tones that you can get out of every drum and cymbal based on where and how much force you hit them. I also try to incorporate my physical self, whether live or studio, as supplement to the phrasing of drum parts: noises, yelling, spitting, body movement to keep time. Endless possibilities! Right before high school when I started playing drums, I was really into metal, prog rock and Jane’s Addiction, so yeah, I went a little crazy with additions, such as roto-toms, chinas, splashes, garbage can lids, etc. I got that out of my system early on, thank heavens. The only additions back there now are beers & weeds.

     

    I’d play forty-five minutes of near perfect drum parts, hitting all of the right fills, nailing all transitions, witty crowd banter, keeping time, running the show and not remember a goddamn thing about it afterwards.

    2

    The ideomotor effect causes people to act and move unconsciously and often believe it comes from an outside source. It’s responsible for everything from automatic writing to talking boards, but I think it can be responsible for a lot of the things we do without realizing it. What unconscious acts do you do every day?

    Well, I haven’t pulled out my dowsing rods in quite a while, so this one requires a little thought and reflection. I’d give the obvious answers of breathing, walking, chewing gum, biting my nails or anything that involves muscle memory, but those actions fall more in the realm of excitomotor and sensorimotor effects. I think there’s far more of a spiritual sense attributed to the ideomotor effect, something larger than ourselves at work, a bit of divination. With that in mind, a series of moments throughout my time playing in a touring band, I feel, are a good example of the ideomotor effect. I’m not an alcoholic or drug addict by any means (first sign of addiction: denial), but I’ve been known to tie one on occasionally before a show. There’s not much else to do in all of that downtime. In these blackout moments, I’d play thirty to forty-five minutes of near perfect drum parts, hitting all of the right fills, nailing all transitions, witty crowd banter, keeping time, running the show and not remember a goddamn thing about it afterwards. There’s definitely something more going on here than just muscle memory. I believe the drums to be a place of worship. The set’s overall layout mirrors that of an upright pentagram, a conjuring area for spirituality. The sticks are like dowsing rods, witch sticks, conduits for beats. Just ask Danny Carey. Dude will only autograph in purple sharpie.

    3

    Can you tell us about your favorite winter outfit, down to the last detail?

    r Head to toe:

    q Generic hunter green skull cap.
    q Beard.
    q Gray wool scarf.
    q Gray tee.
    q Gray thermal top.
    q Corduroy button up (buffalo plaid or black.)
    q Black waffle-knit hoodie.
    q Gloves.
    q Captain America thermal underwear.
    q Levi 514 slim-straight medium blue wash (or gray) jeans.
    q C.E. Schmidt arctic weight wool blend socks.
    q Frye moc toe boots or, if snowing, Sperry olive/brown duck boots.

    r Coat dependent on temperature:

    q 45-30°F: Levi jeannie or tight maroon Starlord leather.
    q 29-15°F: Levi heavy jeannie with Sherpa lining/collar, brown Sherpa lined boar suede jacket.
    q 15°F and below: Gap Permaloft down hooded parka army green jacket.

    Steve Albini apologized, gave us $20 and suggested going to see a movie.

    4

    We recently spoke with Steve Albini about the first two Shellac recordings. You once told me – if I remember correctly – that you helped assemble the covers while recording in your band, Big’n. Can you tell us about this period in your life? What was this process like?

    I believe it was 1993. I was still in high school, senior year. High school was a very different experience, I believe. I did not have classmates for friends. I always ran with an older crowd, because of getting so deeply into music that early on. I spent most nights and weekends going to shows at Lounge Ax and other bars/clubs using my brother’s ID. Most bar owners knew I wasn’t of age, but tolerated me frequenting their establishments. It was pretty unreal. Here I was, hanging out with folks who’s bands I was really digging on and actually influencing me in a major way. It was all very cool. I was young and dumb, so I tried to play it really cool, rather than just being a super fan and really getting to know some of these people. I’ll always regret not forming lasting friendships with some people that I’d constantly see/run into at this time in my life. Like I said, young and dumb. Oh, wait, wait… no regrets! This was definitely the most developmental period in my life and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The Big’n years were by far the best.

    Big’n had been recording with Steve for a couple, two, three years at this point and becoming pretty friendly with him and all of the nomads that would come through his house. Before Electrical Audio, Steve’s studio was in his house on Francisco. A few weeks before the release of the first two Shellac 7”s, “The Rude Gesture (A Pictorial History)”, in which a coffee infused stain was brushed on the front and “Uranus”, which had a red stamp on the front, bands that had booked sessions at Steve’s were recruited to stuff and assemble these records in their downtime, either waiting for Steve to get out of bed or off the phone!

    There were sleeves, boxes of records, inserts and the necessary crafts strewn about the living room. The first time he asked if we would mind stuffing and assembling, I think we were recording a 7” for Gasoline Boost. We were young and quick to oblige the request from one of our favorite Chicago musicians. Our excitement, though, lead things to get a li’l out of hand. For example: Along with the inserts, I stuffed all sorts of random goodies in ’em: photos of ex-girlfriends, random phone numbers, dollar bills ya’ll, Fluss’ hair (Steve’s cat/engineer), gum, random 7″s of other bands. I recall Todd Johnson (Big’n guitarist and bro to Al Johnson of U.S. Maple/Shorty) painted a Van Halen logo with the coffee stain on a few. At the first sight of these masterpieces, we were told to stop… ha!

       

    The second time we were asked for our services, we had shown up to record only to find Dazzling Killmen in the living room stuffing and assembling while mixing their masterpiece full-length Face of Collapse. He had double-booked. Oops. I’m not sure if this was a regular occurrence, as Bob recorded there at the time, as well, but this happened to us on more than one occasion. On one other of these occasions, Todd and I showed up at Steve’s to mix our first album only to find that Bob double booked Six Finger Satellite. They might have been mixing The Pigeon Is The Most Popular Bird. Oops. Steve apologized, gave us $20 and suggested going to see a movie. Ha.

     

    5

    Plenty of great figures in our culture have had biopics made about them, starring Hollywood figures. If a movie was made about you, who would you choose to play you – and not necessarily a well-known actor?

    Great Swayze’s Ghost, of course! Julien Leonard Fernandez is a real close second. HAWK!

    6

    I love that you mentioned the HAWK concept. Can you elaborate on that for our readers?

    You will definitely have to offer an addendum to this, as I only recall bits and pieces of this concept/lifestyle. This idea constantly morphed throughout the Big’n European tour in 2013, in which Mr. Fernandez drove/tour managed.

    This is a very brief outline of the Hawk evolution, as there were way too many details and fantastic brain storming sessions to remember all of the gold:

    I believe it started out as a simple app called Traffic Hawk, which could help bands on tour navigate from club to club, offering up best routes, where to eat, stay, play pool…all the things touring bands seek out. With the app, you would send out “Hawks!” to see what lay ahead. There might have even been a discussion about including drones?

    From there, I believe it became more of a dating app. I believe Tinder launched in 2013, so maybe we were trying to piggy-back on that concept. I don’t remember specific details on what would set this apart from other dating apps/sites, but sort of the same concept above: finding groups of people with similar interests in the area and sending out a “Hawk!”.

    Finally, the Hawk just become more of a way of life, to me anyway. All the best parts of a brotherhood/sisterhood: camaraderie, collaboration, love, trust, admiration, partnership, bonding, growing, sharing: all rolled into one word: HAWK!

    So, it started as a traffic app, then dating app, to finally an all inclusive love-fest. Basically, all artists are totally gay for one and other. HAWK!

    That’s probably all I can say, anyway, without acquiring the proper patents, copyrights and trademarks first.

    Thank you.

    Data


    Conversation: 56
    Curated by: Julien Fernandez
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: October 30, 2017
    Total questions: 6 + 20
    Word count: 1935
    Reading time: Seven minutes
    Hyperlinks: 10
    Imagery: 1
    Sixteen: Beat
    Hawk: Dating app, tour management
    Cold temperatures: 3
    Roto-toms: Yes
    Addendum: HAWK!

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