Wordsmith & The Concert G’s and Mad Wow have had a good run. The live hip-hop band and the soul orchestra (who happen to share seven members) have been performing on campus for three years. But all good things must end, and as much of their membership prepares to graduate, these two Wesleyan institutions are coming to the end of the road, at least for now. We sat down with representatives of both bands — Josh Smith ’11 (also known as Wordsmith, the MC that fronts The G’S) and Nate Mondschein ’12 (the drummer of the G’s and Mad Wow) and Spencer Hattendorf ’12 (tenor sax player for Mad Wow and part of the Concert G’s) and Gabe Gordon ’11 (pianist and organist for both bands)—to discuss the bands’ past, future, and everything in between.
The Argus: So Mad Wow has sort of risen to the level of a campus institution. How did it all begin?
Gabe Gordon: I was a sophomore, and my friend Louis Russo, who’s the bassist of Mad Wow approached me and said there were some freshmen musicians who wanted to jam with us. He introduced me to Spencer and a few other people. Nate Mondschein, the drummer of Mad Wow and Wordsmith was there. So in the spring of sophomore year we played a few shows as Mad Wow Disease. A lot of us went abroad the following fall, but when we got back we reformed and kind of went in a different direction.
A: So how would you describe Mad Wow to a newcomer thinking of coming to your final show?
Spencer Hattendorf: It’s soul music; it’s Motown music; it’s just a good time. We play a lot of original stuff, but also a lot of Motown covers, “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5, for instance. Our guitarist, Jordan Kenna likes to say that when you play a song like that, you become everyone’s favorite band for three minutes. But we also try to do a lot of original stuff in that same style. We play more original stuff these days.
A: So how did you get into playing a lot of Motown?
GG: Well in my sophomore year, back when we were Mad Wow Disease, we played more contemporary stuff. But when we came back we decided to change things up. We liked the idea of doing cool horn arrangements.
SH: One of the goals was to have a really big ensemble, with three singers, people we knew we wanted to work with. We wanted to but this big band together and just super-arrange.
GG: Yeah, so the show this weekend is a culmination of that, since we’ve added, for one time only, this eight-piece string section. This is the biggest this group will ever be. There’s already 14 people minus the strings.
A: So why the strings?
SH: Strings are so emblematic of Motown. Gabe got really into Gladys Knight at one point, and that was when we realized that there are some other really cool opportunities.
GG: And so many of the songs we’ve always wanted to cover or do cover like “I Want You Back” or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” have prominent string parts, and it was really missing from what we wanted to do.
A: Is it hard to capture that really intricate, carefully-constructed Motown feel when you’re up on stage?
SH: Yeah that’s what we spend a lot time working to. When we sit down to play a new song, it’s not like we just run through the chords and go. We think about what the guitars should be doing, what the drums are doing. We really try to make sure it’s as authentic as possible. And when we write new stuff we try to do justice to the instrumentation we have and write for every instrument.
GG: It’s dense at times with all the people we have, but we try to listen to how it was done years ago in terms of the sparseness of the way that different instruments are used.
A: So beyond the new section, what can people look forward to on Saturday night?
SH: New arrangement of all the old songs; we’ve revamped a lot of stuff to make it more dynamic, more exciting. We’ve been playing a lot of this material for a while, so we always try to change it up. A lot of old members will be coming back.
GG: You can also expect the same Mad Wow fun that people have come to expect.
A: So is there any future for Mad Wow?
SH: This is a project all of us started together. Buru Style still plays a little bit—they’re so different, but at least all the same people are still there.
GG: But at the same time, people who are graduating won’t be going too far, so I can’t see any reason that Mad Wow won’t come back in some form.
SH: We’ve put so much work into this band. It would be a shame to just leave it.
A: What’s going happen to soul at Wesleyan without Mad Wow and the Concert G’s? Are you worried?
GG: You know, when I was freshman, The Kinky Spigots were rocking it, and I wanted to be them. I’m not saying people out there want to be us, but I hope people will be coming in playing the kind of music we enjoy.
SH: Yeah, now there’s The Taste who are pretty awesome. They do something a little different, but it’s all soul. And you can definitely expect those of us who are sticking around to start a new project. This isn’t the end.
A: Have you thought about splitting in two and franchising?
SH: I don’t know about that.
GG: What he doesn’t know is that I copyrighted all the songs under my own name.
SH: Well, there’s no money yet.