Bernie Worrell: Wave From The Wooniverse—Q&A With Producer Evan Taylor of Loantaka Records

Original artwork by Kristilyn Waite depicting Evan Taylor standing alongside Bernie Worrell.

Legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell’s first posthumous album—affectionately stylized Wave From The WOOniverseis not only a continuation of the legacy laid by the likes of Parliament-Funkadelic, but, by extension, the echoes of jazz, funk, soul, and hip-hop itself; from East to West; from Talking Heads to Buckethead; Fela Kuti to Rita Coolidge; Sly & Robbie to Snoop & Dre.

Eight years in the making, WFTW comes on the tails of the 2016 passing of one of music history’s foremost contributors. Not quite unsung, yet never starving for stardom, Worrell’s essence and affinity for collaboration are truly on display throughout this epic 13-song tracklist. Standout features include longtime P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins, Fred Schneider of the B-52s, Sean Ono-Lennon, guitar virtuoso Mark Ribot, and drummer extraordinaire Daru Jones, to name a few. We sat down with Loantaka Records founder and multi-instrumentalist/producer Evan Taylor for a deep-dive into the backstory of this timeless collaborative effort.

‘Wave From The Wooniverse’ cover art designed by Reaghan Buchanan, based on a collaboration with Evan Taylor, Bernie Worrell’s longtime bandleader.

 

AW: First off, how did you and Bernie Worrell meet?

ET: Well, I was a fan for a while. I attended a bunch of his solo shows. I also saw him with Parliament-Funkadelic, but I actually didn’t meet him until our first day of pre-production for the Standards album. So, usually how it works with Bernie, historically, is you go through his manager and his wife, and you kind of state your case.

So I approached her with an idea that I wanted to make an album with Bernie Worrell. And she was like, “Okay, that’s not really an idea… but, get back to me with something,” and then we’d potentially talk. And I had the backing of a record label at that time. So, you know, it was a more attractive thing to talk about. 

AW: Sorry, what year was this?

ET: The jazz standards album came out in 2011, so…

AW: And just to clarify, had you met Bernie before this?

ET: No, I mean, you know, I had high-fived him at shows and stuff, but I never like formally sat down with Bernie. So, around 2010, I was really conscious about publishing and not making it too difficult, which is funny considering this album we just made—which had a lot of different writing splits—but I was trying to think of something simple, and I thought of doing a jazz record, which received mixed reviews, but it was a fun opportunity to arrange these songs with Bernie.

AW: What were those first sessions like?

ET: After we worked out the details, he came over with a little keyboard and we just went through The Fake Book and selected songs, then tried to play them with different configurations. We did that probably twice and then we contracted the session with the musicians that we wanted; I got to pick half of them, he got to pick half, and then we headed to Dubway Studios in Manhattan and spent two days tracking and two days mixing. But it kind of mixed itself. It was really organic. Everyone played in the same room with a lot of bleed and pretty large lineups. And that’s really the first stage I had with Bernie.

AW: Wow, I didn’t expect it to revolve around a jazz record, that’s epic. What about the first moment that you guys finally met, what stood out?

ET: He was a very modest guy. Non-existent pretense. Just a really kind soul. And we really bonded over… I think I had some Mexican coke, and, uh—

AW: Wait, some Mexican what?

ET: Mexican Coke.

AW: Oh, yes, like the super sugary Coca-Cola that comes in a glass bottle?

ET: Yeah, in the glass bottle. He was like, “Yeah, these are the better ones.” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah.” We just kind of… drank some Cokes together. And then, after a little while, he turns to me and says, “Hey, Evan.” And I was like, “Yeah, what’s up, Bernie?” And he’s like, “Can I have another one?” And I’m like, “Yeah, man.”

AW: Tremendous.

ET: And it was funny because I was just hanging out with this guy in a purple jacket and some trippy hat; like you’re with this Martian from Parliament-Funkadelic. And he’s just talking about Coca-Cola. And then at the end of it, he was just like, “Man, I’m proud of you.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” He totally did not need to say that. But it was just a really nice gesture. I could see that he was really, at that point, looking to pass on his wisdom. Not that he knew his years were numbered yet, but he was at a stage of his life where he wanted to pass something on, you know, to a younger generation.

AW: Beautiful. So, the next question I had here—How did each of your backgrounds help reinforce your working relationship as well as your friendship?

ET: Well, our musical background, um, you know, he was classically trained. I was classically trained. So we both understood that kind of discipline. We were also both musical directors. I’d always been a musical director in projects and he was the M.D. for Parliament-Funkadelic, so we understood the weight of what that meant. And what his wife/manager decided to do, she said, “You know, we can’t have two M.D.s, so we’re going to call you bandleader, Evan, and Bernie’s the M.D. because he’s always been M.D. and that’s musically how we got along.

‘Cause, with Bernie, it’s a whole different animal live than it is in the studio. Live was like branching out, with bandmates taking it to a whole different stratosphere, but in the studio it was really about being super strategic about what’s effective for a song and not playing too much and catchy little hooks and stuff like that. So, while I love the live action aspect of it, I really liked sitting in the studio and watching him mix. We would both kind of play off each other with little ideas and collaborate on that level.

And then when it came to interpersonal stuff, um, we’re both shy. I mean, he was a very shy guy. He kept to himself. He needed a lot of space. I consider myself the same. I’m shy. I require a lot of space. Too much stimulus is not an agreeable thing for me. And I felt like I needed a lot of space. And even though he was in the limelight for most of his life, too much stimulus was not good for him. He very much enjoyed his time in his hotel room decompressing from past activity. He liked being onstage and then getting offstage, he was not one to, you know—he’d sign autographs—but he was not one to do it as a victory lap. He would do it, with gratitude, but, yeah, we were both really shy and both kind of understood that about each other. And also we both liked to approach life with a little bit of a sense of humor. Anyone on tour who could make Bernie laugh… you’d just feel like the coolest person. Getting a laugh out of him meant that you were, like, into some deep-ass comedy theory.

AW: Nice (laughs) I love it. And at what point during his final years did you realize you would have to finish what Bernie started?

ET: I didn’t know. In his final years, none of this was on the table. I was approached maybe a few years after his passing, about possibly contributing or assisting with a track on this project. But then a few more years went by and it wasn’t until maybe 2022 that I was approached by his widow, Judie Worrell, and she was looking for a producer and a record label. And I told her, “Definitely, I can produce the rest of the record,” and we had some other guest producers, but I can definitely do that. And my label can do as much as we can until we’ll probably need a partner—which was Org Music. But, yeah, I had no preparation for this. I actually purposefully distanced myself from a lot of things ‘Parliament-Funkadelic’ and that world because it was just too upsetting to think about Bernie’s passing and hear that music and be around it. So, I really did distance myself from that scene. But it was fun to dip my feet in the water again.

AW: So, when and where did Loantaka Records come into play?

ET: At some point, Judie heard that I had a record label and I don’t think she was familiar with anything I was doing or the genres I was dealing with, but she remembered that I had a label. And, basically, to be candid, they had someone working on the record but it didn’t work out. And she really wanted the album to come out as soon as possible, and she just reached out to me. I was at Loantaka in another session and I just got a call. I hadn’t seen Judie Worrell pop up in my phone in a while, so I knew there was something substantial we needed to talk about. I said I had to think about it, so I took about three days, and eventually I just decided to go for it; knowing that there were going to be many unknowns; knowing that we didn’t have our guestlist confirmed. There were only three people confirmed at that point. And it just seemed like the time was right. I was ready to do this, like, emotionally and skill-wise.

AW: Awesome. Is there anything else you’d like to add about Loantaka, the studio, the label, or anything that pertains to recording?

ET: Well, to be clear, Loantaka Records is now evolving into my production imprint. So, with few exceptions, we’ll mostly be releasing stuff that I personally produce and not licensing other people’s records anymore. That may change, but I realize that what makes me happy is getting work to the finish-line that I cultivated. And, while putting a record out that you heard and love and you want to promote is really fun and exciting, it sometimes has diminishing returns for everyone. And I think that I would rather be in the business of taking risks with my own music than taking risks with other people’s music. That’s kind of what I have to say about that, which I think is very important to include, because there’s a lot of confusion about where we’re going.

And, about the studio, it’s still an excellent space to create. I love it. A lot of this [Bernie Worrell] record was mixed and tracked at Loantaka. And we consistently have exciting projects coming through. We take inquiries, but we’re still mostly a private, referral-based studio. We do that basically to keep it as an organic collective of people who are respectful of the vision. Rather than making it a space that is just kind of “pay-to-play”—So, you know, we’re always happy to hear from new people who are interested in working there and we have quite the collection of equipment, some very special items that we worked really hard to get, and we welcome people to stop by or give us a shout. That can be done via my website or via DMs at @loantakarecords.

AW: What about the founding and opening of Loantaka as a studio? When and how did it come about and where did you keep all that equipment before?

ET: The equipment, well, was in a few different places. A lot of it was on the East Coast from when I was living in New York and New Jersey. A lot of it was literally in my parents’ garage, collecting dust. So, that was trucked over. And then there was a storage space that had a lot of the gear. And my tiny apartment in Echo Park just became absolutely riddled with synths and guitars and everything. I was climbing over gear. At that point, I was like, you know, I need to really do something with all of this. Because I really started buying stuff to bring to other studios. The whole studio began because I decided to buy pedals so I could practice setting the parameters and bringing my own pedals rather than having to fiddle with other people’s pedals. And then that evolved into synths and all sorts of keyboards, and getting their parameters down so I could use them faster. And I already knew drums and guitars, you know, all the different types of guitars, whether it’s baritone, bass VI, 12-string, mandolins, tenor guitars, basses, all sorts of basses, and getting my head around those things. It was all for that. So it wasn’t like I got a studio space and then splurged on Reverb.com.

AW: What year was all of this taking place?

ET: That was maybe five or six years ago. Yeah, 2018-2019.

AW: And did you already have the name Loantaka as a label idea?

ET: I decided to go with “Loantaka” because… I already had it for the label, so, I figured it would be an extension. Actually, the big dream was—it reminds me of, like, old Disneyland videos—like, some idealistic shit. It was all for Loantaka artists to record at Loantaka Sound, and then we’d put it out on Loantaka Records, and it would be like a Daptone Records kind of thing. I thought I could do that, but, you just end up dealing with situations where someone’s like, “I’ve been working with this engineer for x amount of time and I don’t want to work at Loantaka Sound,” and you’re like, “Okay.” But it just ended up not necessarily being that vision I always thought it would be, like—day in and day out, music being made there for “the Loantaka machine”—almost like a Motown kind of thing, but it’s, uh… It’s interesting what happens when you actually apply personalities into dreams.

I mean, there was a lot of opportunity there for that, but yeah, I kept the name. I second-guessed it sometimes, because “Loantaka” is a very difficult name to pronounce properly. I know a lot of people who are in the organization who, seriously, have never pronounced the name correctly (laughs) and it doesn’t really matter anymore. It got to a point where I’m like, you know, whatever. Whatever it is to that person, as long as it’s identifiable in some way, then it’s fine. It’s definitely, when you see it, visually, just… You know how sometimes you just see a word and you don’t really sound it out, but you just know what it looks like? When you see it, it’s going to be hard to forget. Especially with the logo, because the logo is a very special design that a graphic designer did for me, and we really collaborated on the vision.

AW: Yeah, I love the logo.

ET: I love the logo, too. And I have pins of the logo, and when I wear it around—it doesn’t even say “Loantaka Records”—but I wear it around and I get so many compliments.

AW: Yeah, it feels timeless.

ET: I have high hopes for Loantaka. I’m proud of my previous direction with the label. We put out a lot of special music with a lot of special people who remain dear to me. However, sometimes a pivot is healthy after a fruitful chapter, and that’s what I kind of feel like we’re doing with this Bernie record. It’s a different genre than anything we’ve put out before. It has a bunch of really great people involved on every end of it, whether featured guests or behind the scenes.

AW: That’s a great segue into my next question—how long did it take you to finish Wave From The Wooniverse?

ET: Two years. But, you know, it wasn’t two years of constant work, because we were trying to get certain guests and certain people involved, it was kind of two years of scattered work, really. 

AW: And then, as far as Bernie’s material, what is the timeline for his contributions and how did that play into selecting the tracklist?

ET: Well, his stuff was recorded in the 90s and the 2000s, apparently in Woodstock, New York. That was a good chunk of it. I don’t really know where he recorded the rest, we don’t really have any track sheets or anything. They were done on 2-inch reels, so that sheds a little light but I’m still not sure. What I could tell, which is where a lot of the sonic forensic-work comes into play, is how things were processed or which sound choices were available for certain things. For example, I can tell when a clavinet was D.I.’d rather than mic’d from an amp, but it just seemed like it was just so clean sounding. I don’t know if it was an effort at that time, just like what people were doing with drums, like really polishing them, and I hear that with certain instruments where it’s just really glossy but not quite clean. But, with Bernie’s parts… we didn’t really touch Bernie’s parts. We re-amped a few clavinets and Wurlitzers and stuff like that, but most of all the synths were there. Mostly, we stuck to the program.

I guess one thing we did that was pretty cool, for the string sounds that are so famously used in Parliament-Funkadelic that Bernie’s known for—that ARP Solina String Ensemble—there were a few tracks where there were strings but it seemed like he was using a new digital keyboard and it wasn’t a Solina. Which, it didn’t have to be, but we were definitely kind of erring on the side of timeless and we wanted to get back to that tone. So, my ARP Solina has a mod on it that allows you to run sounds through it and use the parameters of the synthesizer; so, we actually ran his string audio through an analog ARP that was modded to get more of that sound. We did little tricks like that or, as I said, re-amping. That’s how we were able to do a little forensic work. It could have all been done with plug-ins but that’s no fun.

AW: What went into selecting and coordinating all of the various special guest appearances, of which there are many?

ET: That was a fun process. We had a few artists who had already committed to being on the album, like (Living Colour drummer) Will Calhoun, (Meters guitarist) Leo Nocentelli, and (Talking Heads guitarist/keyboardist) Jerry Harrison. Some of them had already recorded stuff and some of it was scrapped. But, ultimately, it was very spontaneous. We would think, “Who would be a good fit?” And then, “Have we contacted them? How do we contact them?” Like, for instance, we had a song that would be great for Fred Schneider (of the B-52s). Bernie was on Fred Schneider’s solo album in the ’80s. And then I talked to Steve Stales, the percussionist for Talking Heads, who also was on that album, and he’s like, yeah, he would do it. Just find a way to get in touch. And then a friend of mine reached out to his publicist, who then relayed it to his management, who got right back to me and said, “Fred’s interested.”

Then, my friend, Jared Samuel Elioseff, was responsible for helping us get Sean Lennon involved, as well as a number of other musicians who played on the album. Like Miho Hatori. Jared was a really pivotal part of making that happen. He co-produced on two tracks and provided some additional keyboards. He also appears on the title track, “Wave From The Wooniverse,” along with his partner, Sarah La Puerta, who sings the lead. I’m pretty proud of that one.

AW: Naturally. Were there any tracks that were left on the cutting room floor?

EW: Yes, there were. Some of which I can’t speak on for various reasons. There was one track which was supposed to feature Stevie Wonder on harmonica, but then Stevie had some health issues. I mean, it’s still possible, but not for this record.

AW: Alright, now, tell us about this magnificent cover art…

ET: It was done by Reaghan Buchanan AKA @peppermint_raygun. My sister’s a cartoonist, as is Reaghan, and my sister showed me a portrait Reaghan did of Mike Watt (from Minutemen) for a T-shirt.

AW: Oh, no way, I share a birthday with Mike Watt.

ET: Yeah, Watt is a dear friend of mine. He’s also on this record. And I thought it was really hip. I started following her and I loved the portraits she was doing. I loved her style, and how she worked mostly with black-and-white images. I always go with my gut with art and stuff like that. I just feel like I know—also, through their correspondence—if they’re the one for it. And I got on very well with Reaghan. You know, we would often talk music, and she has this book out called ‘The Secret History of Black Punk‘ and I always thought it was cool that she did stuff like that; that she was representing. I respected that. I respected her vast knowledge of music. And I thought that she was the right person for the job. We talked about a few ideas and she was like, “How about satellites?” And I was like, “Yeah, satellites would be cool. It would be really cool if they were made out of synthesizer parts.” And she looked it up and made it her own, and, yeah, we’ve gotten a lot of compliments about the art. I think it’s very-much-so in the vein of Bernie and space and The Mothership. Yeah, it was a pleasure working with Reaghan; she’s a very easy graphic artist to work with because she always has a clear vision.

AW: Beautiful. I also like how the black and white adds to the nostalgia in a way.

ET: Yeah.

AW: So, okay, I guess this would be the last question… but, you know what, I’m curious, while we’re on the subject—Do you know anything about Bernie’s fascination with space or how that played into the whole Parliament-Funkadelic thing, with The Mothership and all of those different characters and whatnot?

ET: All I can say is that Bernie told me he wasn’t from here… I think we were in Montana, and he was smoking a cigarette outside and just sorta looking up at the solar system. Then he turned to me and said, “Evan, you know, I’m not from here.” And I believe him. I think all of those guys are from some other planet. That’s the extent of what I know.

AW: Awesome. I’m really glad I asked that because I was tempted to just shut my mouth and move forward, but that’s going to be a great quote for the article.

ET: Awesome.

AW: Okay, so, lastly—where can people find the record?

ET: Well, for consumers, we made 2,000 vinyl copies and they can be found on the Record Store Day website. I’ve also seen them on Discogs; eBay; I saw one on Reverb. You know, just the normal outlets. Just to be clear, there’s an exclusivity clause for Record Store Day. So we’re not able to have it in circulation for a certain period, but we’re looking at digital streaming platforms in late June and a possible, limited CD release sometime in August. There’s also gonna be a music video coming out, but not sure when yet. You’ll just have to stay tuned and keep your ear to the ground.

AW: Will do.

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About Aaron C. Williams 26 Articles
Senior Editor — Aaron Williams is an artist, writer, and producer from Southern California.

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