East Dallas has always been a haven for artists, and there are likely more than a couple neighborhood dads among us who dream of taking the stage like a true rock star. There are a handful who even have bands and play at local bars for tipsy soccer moms. Then there are Michael Walter, Kent Stump and Zack Busby, who have commanded the stage in front of thousands as the metal band Wo Fat.
“Originally, we didn’t think it would be anything,” says Stump. “It’s slowly built up to what it is now.”
They’re on their sixth album after forming in 2003, including their biggest sensation, “The Conjuring,” which was named by NPR as one of the top 10 metal albums of 2014. But there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them, unless you happen to be into “psychedelic doom” stoner rock.
“The local scene, especially Dallas, has never really been into the heavier metal stuff,” says Stump, a Casa View resident. “Or really metal at all.”
In today’s music scene, however, that matters less than ever. The band was able to build a following by targeting niche websites that cater to their particular brand of metal. Their music took off, especially across Europe where the thrashing music scene thrives.
“They are really into metal over there,” says Walter, a Casa Linda neighbor.
Booking annual tours in clubs from Switzerland to Poland and the Netherlands to Austria helped them get on the radar of some of the biggest musical festivals in the world. Last year, they shared the bill with the likes of Black Sabbath, Slayer and Korn at Hellfest Open Air in Clisson, France, which drew 150,000 metal fans.
“Yea, I was a bit nervous for that,” Stump admits.
“It was packed,” Walter adds. “It might have been because it was raining outside, but it was just insane. I remember getting really nervous before Hellfest. But then I think, ‘This is what you always wanted to do, don’t ruin it by psyching yourself out.’ ”
That’s metal, alright.
The band was the brainchild of Walter and Stump, two lifelong musicians who became friends when they lived across the hall from each other at the University of North Texas. Recently, they’ve launched a new musical endeavor by purchasing Crystal Clear Sound, a recording studio near Oak Cliff with a storied past featuring big names like the Dixie Chicks, LeAnn Rimes and Kirk Franklin.
“As far as we know, it’s the oldest continually operating studio in Dallas,” Stump says, who has worked at Crystal Clear as an engineer since 1997.
It’s a full-service shop, from recording to mixing to mastering to manufacturing. Clients range from the UNT marching band, which packs the studio with 40 musicians, to jingle legend Johnny Hooper.
“One of the big things Crystal Clear Studio had was a big client list,” Walter says. “Lately we’ve had string arrangements for CeeLo Green and Meghan Trainor.”
Jumping into studio life was a bigger departure for Walter than Stump, who had long worked in the business side of music. Walter most recently taught macro-economics at Bryan Adams High School but was ready for something new when the option to buy the studio was presented.
“I was burned out of teaching,” he says. “I was there seven years but it felt like it took 20 years off my life.”
Working in music fulltime, including when they take off on their annual tour, is exactly what they always dreamed. They have no intentions of slowing down.
“We’ve performed in one way or another for 30 years,” Walter says.
“And I still get butterflies,” Stump adds.
Check out Wo Fat in one of their rare Dallas performances on May 13 at Double Wide in Deep Ellum.
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