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Tales of Wojo

During the course of an average set, the Boulder-dwelling white boys in Wojo play more funky music than Wild Cherry did during its entire career. In this regard, they're little different from peers in seemingly hundreds of lousy Front Range groups. So why do these other acts suck while Wojo doesn't? Because rather than mindlessly regurgitating riffs that are more worn out than James Brown's perm, Wojo exhibits a taste for musical adventure that makes it one of the least predictable combos to hit the local scene in years.

"I think our approach to shows and music in general is really experimental," says Randy Morgan, 23, the group's lead vocalist and guitarist.

"We definitely want to at least have something different happening every show," elaborates guitarist/vocalist/synthesizer player Jake Cameron. "So people would want to go each time, maybe--just to see if we pull it off."

At this stage in the life of Wojo, which also includes bassist Paul Kirby and Randy's seventeen-year-old kid brother, Greg Morgan, on drums, the players don't always succeed on this score. The culprit is often Cameron, who is in the midst of mastering a Roland groove box. The contraption, which was popularized by rave DJs, can produce everything from ambient soundscapes and simulated sitar tones to squalls of racket that closely approximate the roar of a T Rex with an empty gut. Too bad Cameron doesn't always know what noise is going to come out until after it already has. "Sometimes I just press a button, and I have no idea what sound it's going to make," he confesses. "I just hope it's a good one."

Fortunately, the four are adept at picking up the pieces after things fall apart. At a recent Boulder Theater engagement, they were plagued by sound-system snafus that rendered Randy's electric guitar useless. But rather than getting flustered and stopping the music, he cheerfully picked up his acoustic ax and completed the gig without missing a note--an extremely impressive feat given the intricate nature of his licks.

In talking about this experience, Randy claims, "It was actually more fun" than if the concert had gone seamlessly. "And I think that's a really good example of our whole philosophy. Nothing's really wrong or right."

Adds Greg, "Some of our neatest ideas have come when stuff changes like that. It's like we're expecting to do one thing, and then something else happens that kind of shifts our ideas. It offers us cool stuff to grow on if things don't always go in the same groove every single time."

This ethos began to take shape as soon as Randy and Cameron began making music together in the eighth grade. As Cameron recounts, "We were messing around with a guitar that I played, to an extent. Then Randy came over a few times, and we had fun plugging it into my radio and turning it way up, where it got really distorted and almost blew out the speakers. We just said, 'Wow, that was some really good stuff there.'"

Greg was invited to participate in the unnamed project two years later, shortly after his tenth birthday. Kirby followed in 1994, and although he didn't know how to play an instrument, he was very much on the same wavelength as his bandmates. For reasons that remain obscure, the other three players secretly videotaped Kirby's inaugural practice session--and even after finding out that his privacy had been invaded, he kept his cool. "We were psyched that he wasn't surprised," Greg says.

Wojo, whose moniker comes from a random line in "Bouncy," one of Randy's compositions, tried on a number of styles--including Cure-inspired goth and Metallica-infused metal--before settling on the freewheeling sound featured on its self-titled debut CD, issued by Boulder's Broken Records. The recording, featuring "Jabba," on which the performers trade lead-vocal duties like a post-pubescent Hanson, and the country-tinged "Happy Tap," has been embraced by a growing number of young fans, as well as by Ted Guggenheim, who oversees the Samples and Sherri Jackson. Once Guggenheim decided to become Wojo's manager earlier this month, the outfit's profile instantly rose. Before the agreement, Cameron says, "we couldn't play anywhere. But now it amazes us; Randy's phone rings off the hook."

Randy is pleased by Wojo's sudden good fortune--but just because his band's on the upswing doesn't mean he wants to alter the way he's done things so far. "There's no formal plan," he insists. "We don't know what it's going to be or how it's going to go down. We're not afraid to take chances, and we're not afraid to mess up. We're good at messing up."

In other words, if it's broke, don't fix it.

 
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