Wolfgang Gartner Breaks Down His New 'Tucson' EP (And Confesses His Love for Kool & The Gang)

Wolfgang Gartner
Rony Alwin

Wolfgang Gartner

Wolfgang Gartner is back. This past Friday (July 17), the producer released Tucson, his first EP since 2018.

The EP is also the first project Gartner has released since completing a drug treatment program in Tucson, AZ, an experience from which this six-track collection takes its name. In a recent interview with Billboard Dance, Gartner said the EP was made both before and after the month he spent in Tucson, with the experience reigniting his creative spark and his passion for -- and ability to make -- music.

"This most recent addiction really just killed my drive, my passion," Gartner said in the interview. "The drug became the only thing that I thought about. And it was no longer about doing drugs to make better music, it was literally just about doing drugs, period."

Gartner describes the process of getting back into making music was for him much like getting back into shape after a long period of just sitting around on the couch eating Cheetos. "Making music, for me, is like exercise," he said. "And when I haven’t done it in a long time or if I’m not doing it very often, I can see retrospectively that the quality of music that I’m making is not very good. And when I’m just cranking them out nonstop, the music is actually better. For me, it comes down to creativity being a muscle, and I have to exercise it. That’s why it took so long after rehab to get it back. Getting on that treadmill then walking a mile, then two miles, then three miles, then walking with the f--king dumbbells."

On Tucson, he's powerlifting, with the tracks spanning propulsive, experimental beats inspired by studio time with deadmau5, disco-inflected house with a sultry, memorable melody and other fresh, high-octane sounds that altogether make us long for a long night in a dark club.

Here, in his own words, Gartner describes the process of making each track on Tucson, from connecting with his heroes from Kool & The Gang to dipping into the studio at 4 a.m. after a stroke of post-set inspiration.

"Starseed"

With this song I had a few goals in mind. The chords are extremely soulful, which almost juxtaposes with the rest of the song -- but I did it anyway, because I deeply love soulful keyboard chords and have fun playing them. I knew that if I could execute them into a song with an undeniable drop, people would accept them. These particular chords were just the first thing I played when I hit "record" and I kept them. 

For the rest of the song, I took inspiration from multiple places. The end of the song goes into a very percussive techno-oriented drop -- which I intentionally put at the end of the song, because I fully acknowledge it's an eccentric tangent and wouldn't work as the meat of the song. 

The meat of the song was inspired by an experience I had back in 2010, when I heard deadmau5' song "Cthulu" for the first time. He'd invited me out to the studio to collaborate on the song that would become known as "Animal Rights."  I will never forget the stuff he played me that he'd been working on, which I believe became his album 4x4=12. The song he called "Cthulu Sleeps" ended up as an album-only purchase, and subsequently I think not a lot of people know about it. But I remember hearing it there and having my mind completely blown. 

For some reason with "Starseed," when I wrote the chords, I heard them going into a drop with a quarter-note bass pattern much like the one deadmau5 used in"Cthulu Sleeps." Listening to that song now, you would never know mine was inspired by his -- which is good, because I never set out to copy or bite anybody else, just to be inspired and redirect that inspiration into my own original work. That's how that bassline came along.

"So Kool" Feat. Walt Anderson

This song took form when I got a call from management saying, "Wanna do a track with Kool and The Gang?" For those that don't know, my background pre-Wolfgang lays mostly in disco and its offspring: house. Disco sampled house music, so KATG are massive heroes of mine. I have a big section for them in my vinyl collection. 

I wrote a chord progression and developed it enough to make it sound cool, and they dug it, and wrote a vocal over it. That became the main hook of the song. The project was done remotely at this point. After writing more music and developing the idea further it needed verses and more vocal content --which is when I met Walt Anderson, who's currently one of the lead vocalists of Kool & The Gang. It was right before quarantine, and we did a session at my house. 

I had written some lyrics and figured out the phrasing and melody of them. Walt liked it, he delivered it flawlessly, and within two hours we had a full vocal song. It was right before Walt came into the studio that I decided to go "Full Robin Swith the bassline, in the second half of the song. Full disclosure: I've been trying to go "Full Robin S" with an organ bassline for 25 years, and never quite pulled it off, but this time was different. Kool & The Gang was involved. If I was ever going to pull off a "Full Robin S," this was the song. 

I was working out of a different studio at the time and had come in at 4 a.m. because the guy in the studio next to me worked in the daytime. I opened up my go-to organ patch and started summoning my forefathers. Some people may tell you "never go full Robin S," but don't listen to them. We went straight for 1992, and I think we hit it pretty close to the head.

"Distomatique"

A segment of my fans seem to be particularly enamored with a sound I dabbled in circa 2010. It had a lot of distortion and chopped up call-and-answer sounds, and was really more of a science project than music. One example from that era would be my song "Fire Power," which I quite literally approached like a science project.

I wanted to put one of those types of songs on here for the die-hard old school fans that have been with me since the start of the Wolfgang project, but it needed to be fresh. I went back into the music that was inspiring me back in 2010, when I made a lot of that stuff, and had a listening session. I had been using a lot of distorted guitar samples pieced together to play melodies, so I went back in my project files, found the exact guitar samples I'd used in "Fire Power" and got them working in a new file. I made sure to tie in new sound design elements but also old sorta retro ones that I used a decade ago to first achieve that sound. The studio session looked like a hybrid between a song and a math problem.

"Shake the Bells"

“Shake The Bells” was the first song I finished in quarantine. It was first in a number of other ways, too. It was the first song I made on a new pair of studio monitors, the first sound I used off a new Moog One keyboard and the first time I'd used my Juno-106 keyboard in about 5 years. 

I was tinkering around on the new Moog One and came up with the sound/progression that starts the song and takes up the second breakdown. It seemed to want one of those classic "pre-drop" vocals (like in "Space Junk" for example). I had been listening to Foxy Brown's "Rock the Bells" that day, and said, "Why not? Let's call this one 'Shake the Bells' instead though."

After I put that vocal in there, I wanted to give it context so it made sense. So I added bells to the song -- a lot of them. Most notably, there are three different layers of sleigh bells in the track. I'd been trying to incorporate sleigh bells into a track for years but it always ended up sounding to Christmas-y, but this time it worked. At least I hope it worked!

"Strummin"

I made this one a couple years ago, but I still remember it quite clearly. I'd played a gig in San Diego, drove home right after it and for whatever reason was feeling inspired. I hit the studio at about 4:00 a.m. to get down the idea. There are some songs that are very directly inspired by gigs, and this was one of them. I believe the club was Bassmnt, which was always a good crowd for me, a nice small room where you can really feel everybody's energy.

I think I wrote the distorted bassline first along with the drums, got some sleep and came at the rest of it the next day. A lot of times when I'm making a song I "hear" a vocal on top of it -- and sometimes I get so excited about what I hear in my head I feel compelled to record it before I can get a proper vocalist to do it. (My voice is not that great, so I have people re-sing songs that I wrote pretty often.) I remember thinking "Well, my voice sucks, I can't really sing on this, but what CAN I do?"

The answer to that was the vocal, which has no words, and is just me humming a melody -- or more accurately, going "bom bom bop bom bom" with the melody. Of course, since my voice sucks, I need Auto-Tune, but I went intentionally overboard with it to give it that robotic sound. Somehow I thought the result sounded a bit like an old Basement Jaxx song, where the vocalist hums most of the melody, and Basement Jaxx have been a massive inspiration for me for decades. That was a happy accident, or one of those things you do subconsciously without realizing it.

"Supercars"

Somebody recently told me that they thought the intro/outro chords sound like "Hotel California" by the Eagles, which I thought was pretty awesome. (Although the progression is completely different, there's one chord in there that does have an Eagles-y feel to it).

At the time I made this song, I had very rarely been starting my songs with chords or melody. I had been approaching most projects from a drop-oriented perspective, with any chords or melody as sort of an afterthought. "Supercars" is the result of me starting with melody and chords -- it's a very musical song. It's no secret I was summoning a bit of nostalgia when I made it. The song is meant to be a throw-back, like "Distomatique," to the golden era of electro house.

Part of why I enjoy making these types of songs is that they flow very easily out of me, and therefore they are very fun to make. I hadn't used my Banshee Talkbox since I wrote "Push and Rise" back in 2009 and, as mentioned before, my voice is not that great so a talkbox is a great way to remedy that!

I went in on this one though -- spent a few days recording, mixing and processing the vocals. There are five harmonies over the main vocal, and the main vocal is four different takes of me singing it all layered on top of each other. I also recorded myself just saying the sibilants -- S's and P's and C's -- because the talkbox doesn't pick them up too well, and layered those sounds on top of the vocal to reincorporate them.

For the lyrics, I like songs that have a theme where you can list off things -- it makes the writing process way easier and more fun. Cars were an easy pick. For me, vocals are much more about the sound, melody, and attitude of the singer than the actual lyrics. Which creates a process where I write lyrics very quickly, without too much thought, but spend loads of time making them sound good or finding vocalists who can make them sound good. This one came out exactly as I intended -- a fun throwback and my first talkbox record in over a decade.

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