What happens when you fuse classical instrumental art and modern-day hip-hop / r&b? Meet Corey Lico Wolffs, a Bay Area-based violinist combining these opposing genres and creating his own spin on how classical music can sound today. Wolffs enchants audiences of all ages with his breathtaking virtuosity, innovative tones and charismatic stage presence and has covered artists ranging from T-Pain to old-school R&B, Montell Jordan. Here, we talk to Wolffs about why it’s important to be active in the community, and what inspires him as an artist.
Interview by Jennifer Nguyen, Kollaboration SF Public Relations Manager
How did you come up with your artist name (CryWolffs)?
My name is Corey Wolffs (And yes, that is my real name. People think it’s an alias but my real name is Corey Wolffs). I just subtracted the vowels from my first name Corey to get CryWolffs. I feel pretty dumb that it took me almost 10 years to figure that out. But I think a wolf is an apt creature for any artist/creative/life-lover. Wolves run in packs, they hold their peers/family/life-connections near and dear to them. They howl at the moon and embrace the night. They don’t cower from life, but they howl at it. I undestand that CryWolffs also has this other notion of the boy who cried wolf, as if I’m lying to people about something, but I think of that aspect of my stagename to be more about the method of my musical delivery. I am doing all these covers of songs, but I’m not. I am playing these great songs by other artists, but I’m not. It’s a violin and as much as it sounds like it, my violin is lying to you, not me. My violin is singing you a song that you know, that you can sing along to, but at the same time, it isn’t. It’s so wonderfully puzzling, I love it!
What kind of styles influence you as an artist? Who/what inspires/motivates you? Who are your favorite artists?
Well, I am classically trained so that sound and technique is ingrained in my muscles and mind. When I play, I would call it a fusion of classical and urban, whatever urban is. It’s hard to list influences. It’s more that when I play, I imagine a cityscape. I usually imagine walking down the streets of Oakland or San Francisco. I just try to make my violin sound like it would fit in with the concrete, high rises, the grime, the windows, the people. It’s that feeling of grit mixed in with progress that gets me.
Jean Luc-Ponty, Paul Dateh, Jason Yang, Peter Lee Johnson. All of those renegade violinists.
Tell us about your artistic journey.
Well, like I said I started violin at the age of four. I played throughout my school years until I got to college where I switched focus entirely to visual arts, where I studied metal arts, metal smithing, sculpture, and new media arts. During my college years, I started making musical sculptures and my BFA thesis was actually a series of conceptual musical instruments. After graduating college, I started working as a contract visual artist, then a watch repairman, then as a private violin instructor. During that time, I started playing at Open Mics and realized that people actually wanted to hire me to play at their events, and now here I am, with the wonderful honor of performing and competing at Kolalboration SF 3.
What is the process behind your music? How do you come up with your material, pieces? How do you pick which songs to cover?
I honestly just choose whichever song I find gets my blood going. If I find myself tapping my foot or if I’m in public, and I have to hold myself back from dancing when a song comes on, I know that I have to try that song. However, pretty much every song I do is almost completely improvised. I search for sheet music or learn the basic melody line by ear and then the rest of the song is fair game. I love to improvise since it keeps a song fresh, promotes intense exploration, and also, every time it is performed on stage, it is different. It may sound similar to another time I’ve played it, but it’s never the same.
If you could duet/collaborate with any other person, who would it be (dead or alive)?
Paul Dateh would be amazing. I would love to have been onstage with Sammy Davis Jr. I love the Rat Pack, not sure what I would have played but man, it would have been amazing to have been on stage with him.
I. Love. Cartoons. I cannot sleep without watching Futurama.
Favorite Disney Song?
I’ll make a man out of you -Mulan
Tell us something not many people know about you.
Hm. I like to be pretty transparent about my life. I’m adopted into a loving largely caucasian family. What else? I’m trained in a traditional form of karate and I have a little weapons training.
What does Kollaboration mean to you?
Kollaboration to me is just that. A Collaboration. I have found myself forgetting that this is a contest and that we are contestants. I have had such a great time working with the other artists and the staff, and I have had such a wonderful time sitting and jamming with such amazing talents that I really do find myself forgetting that there is a contest afoot. To me, that’s the best part of this. I know it may sound cheesy, but getting to know my peers in the performance world is really such an honor and to be able to be wrapped up in recording, video shooting, rehearsing, and jamming with these guys is really just amazing. Kollaboration as Collaboration.
Thoughts on being an Asian American artist?
To answer your question about being an Asian American artist is a bit difficult. Like, I said, I am adopted, however the blood that runs through my veins is Filipino through and through, and I hold that quite dear. On its surface, being an Asian American Performer is really quite tough. Think of all the pop icons that are out there and how many are Asian? How many are Fil-Am? It is a lopsided industry and with the development of social media, everyone and their brother is “famous”, so how do you pull yourself out of obscurity?
I am an Asian who plays violin. There is very little surprise there. Sure, I play popular music and stuff but there are a lot more guys out there who do the same thing. This can all be very discouraging especially to struggling Asian American entertainers but this is ONLY discouraging if you see this industry as some kind of contest. Is your goal to win it? What could that possibly even mean?
No, I believe that what this industry needs is not one or two great API artists to appear out of nowhere. What this industry needs is to be saturated with all of our great talent. Go to an open mic, check out youtube, see a show, you will find that there are Asian Americans EVERYWHERE with absolutely amazing talent.The way I see it, Asian Americans are getting more and more confident in our abilities and you are starting to see all this talent emerge. We are, as it were, just getting our sea-legs. For instance, there was a period of time that I would practice all day and then leave the house in the evening with my violin. I would play at a cafe, in a park, anywhere, but I made sure to never leave the house without my violin. I brought my talent with me and slowly built up my confidence.
How important is it to stay involved and relevant in the community?
It is always important to stay involved. I am particular to Asian American Youth. I see so much potential and so much talent, especially in music, but I see so many young students drop their violins after they graduate High School. I see so many Asian Americans now who say they wish they had never given it up. Music is a liberator. I feel that there is that hole that the stereotype of being Asian American leaves in all of us. Whatever stereotype it may be, Asian Americans seem to always be pegged as strangers and others. We can buy all the American Flags we want and we can get all the designer brands we can afford, but I don’t believe that is the way to sate our lust to realize ourselves as Asian Americans. We are already an amazing people and it is the cultural facets that make us great. I am Asian American and I am made of music.
What’s your dream? What do you hope to achieve in 5 years/10 years?
I hope to atleast have a studio where I can practice and record. I just hope to be able to be able to share my sound on stages throughout Urban America. If there is one thing I love more than playing music, it’s great stages and audiences. If a stage has great sound and if the audience can really get into it, that equates to love for me. I would love to play some of the great stages of America at least in 10 years.
What’s been your most rewarding experience so far?
I would have to say that playing at the FutureRoots Festival in San Jose was pretty amazing. It was such a great crowd that people would come out and take turns dancing while I played. There is nothing more rewarding and more of a complement when someone dances to my music. When they are moved to move simply from the drawing of my bow across a string. It really does feel great.
What’s the toughest part of being a musician, and how do you keep yourself inspired?
The toughest part, aside from the grueling practice, the hours spent mixing and preparing tracks, the endless marketing, and the constant self-managing, the toughest part of being a musician is the general consensus of what the musician does. Whenever I am asked what I do and I say I am a musician, performer, violinist, or whatever, there is always the comment “That’s great you are doing what you love”. Yes, that is true, I am doing what I love, but the validity of Musician as a job seems to be constantly understood as a frivolous pursuit. Being a musician has become this occupation that is for the self (i.e. “doing what one loves”). While to some this may ring true, I could not disagree more. The world needs its intellectuals, workers, economists, teachers, servicemen, etc. but when did “musician” become this self-indulgent title?
I have to thank my family for supporting me. I couldn’t have started violin at such an early age without their love and support, and I wouldn’t still be playing if they didn’t think I could make something of myself. A special shout out to the Sunnyvale Art Gallery where I spent many nights at their Open Mic refining my performance skills.
Kollaboration SF 3 | Saturday, September 8th, 2012
Buy Tickets: $15 Presale | $40 Meet N Greet