Tim Wenzel, affectionately known to some as the honorary Mayor of Belmont, has a new show up this month entitled Ride the Snake, full of his iconic visual work. Much of Wenzel’s music and art is rooted in humor and the absurd, but it’s also poignant, heartfelt, intuitive and really, really good.
His visual art is in the same spirit as Dadaist photomontage work of artists like Hannah Höch, Max Ernst and Raoul Hausmann. It’s rare for artists to make work like this by hand anymore, but his pieces remind what magic can come from the limitation of found images and utility knives over infinite internet archives.
Wenzel’s process is unlikely to change anytime soon. “For one, I hate sitting,” he says, about his aversion to digital media. “I don’t like computers because they frustrate me and I just never found them very interesting.” He’s only recently started using the internet at all because he discovered YouTube. “Now I love YouTube”, he laughs. “Like 10 years past the fact, I’m like ‘YouTube rules!’ Of course, I’m like a 5-year-old kid typing in ‘daddy farted.’”
He’s worked for Stumptown for 12 years and is somewhat of a legend around these parts. (You may remember some of his work from amazing Stumptown Ads of the past.) He has also just released a new record under the moniker White Glove, a band he plays in with another long-time Stumptowner, Deja Sparks. White Glove is a departure from his last project, a well-loved Euro-Casio-techno project called MSG, which featured life-affirming dance cuts like “Macchiato” and “Do You Like to Party?” Both records are the kind you unearth in a record store years later and feel as if you’ve struck gold.
We stopped by his bright house for breakfast and a tour of his basement studio, walked through his winterized pepper patch, and talked to him about his new work.
Tell us about your show Ride the Snake and your process for making this work.
I gather a ton of images that I like, usually from old magazines with Kodachrome printing, and I usually find the background part of the image first. With certain images, I’ll see it and I instantly have an idea how I’ll alter it and make something out of it. With others, if I like the image and think it might work for something, I’ll grab it.
Normally, I work with the exact image as-is and don’t change the size, but for this show, I wanted to do bigger pieces so I enlarged the background image on a copy machine and pieced it together and dumped the collage work on top of it.
Tell us about your new record, White Glove S/T. How does this project compare to your last MSG record?
MSG is more like a novelty. This one is more cohesive, it’s more heartfelt. It’s more real and more listenable.
How did this project start?
The band started because my friend starting making guitars and said he’d make me a steel string guitar if I promised to make a record with it.
I was living alone at the time, and I decided to dedicate a Sunday completely to making the record. I wrote and recorded seven songs in one day. Most of the music I’ve done has been coupled with laughter, and this one is still tongue-in-cheek, but the jokes are not so obvious maybe. It’s a little more real. It took me in a new direction which I was super stoked on.
A lot of times it’s hard for me to be serious writing music, but I was with this record. A friend of mine heard it who owns a little label and wanted to put it out. More than half this record are those original songs.
You’ve worked at Stumptown for 12 years. Some people definitely come into the cafe everyday just to talk to you. How’s it been?
It’s been a full roller coaster ride. Highs, lows. Early days were hella fun because it was so loose. It truly felt rebellious. I felt like I was in this small group of rebels that were doing something rad, not to say that’s not what it is now, but it’s just different.
The early days ruled but they were also coupled with a lot of us having no control over our emotions whatsoever and everyone was getting fucking wasted constantly. (Laughs). Those were great days.
You went on a Stumptown source trip to Costa Rica a few years ago. What was that like?
The trip was fucking awesome. In the past when I’ve travelled, it’s been pretty hardcore sleeping in parks and bushes, going on skate trips with zero planning and basically being like a homeless young kid. This trip ruled because no matter how drunk you got there was always a bus waiting for you in the morning to take you places.
It was also cool to see the farms, because I do a lot of gardening and grow a lot of vegetables. It was rad because it reminded me that every aspect of what we do comes from a farm. I know everyone knows that, but it’s really cool to see, it’s all just farmers who are not fancy, there’s no pretentiousness. This is not glamorous work.
Sometimes it’s easy, even me, to lose focus of my job or to take my job for granted or be tripping on what I do, and then you go there, and it puts things into perspective. I like that what we do all stems from farming and agriculture.
You and Tim Root came back from that trip with some pretty fancy haircuts.
I think I just wanted a haircut. I tend to overheat really easily. We were in town, so me and Root went into this super small salon, looking like two weathered travelers. He speaks no Spanish, I speak very little.
They took us in they were having fun with us. I was kind of motioning what to do. At this point, Root was like, ‘Dude, I’m not getting my haircut.’ I was telling the barber short on top long in the back, and finally one of the ladies said, “Mel Gibson?’ And I was like, ‘Si! MEL GIBSON!’ And right after that, they knew exactly what to do.
I got a trim-up. I asked for the “town special.” And Root got the “Mel Gibson.”
What music have you been listening to lately?
Television Personalities, Buck Owens, The Beets, Derrick Morgan, Henry Thomas, Cat Stevens, Big Youth, The Fall, Los Lobos and Roscoe Holcomb. Those are the ones that come to mind. I like a lot of punk and folk stuff too. I am always listening to Jamaican music year round. I just think it’s some of the best stuff that I’ve ever heard. I just saw a picture that my parents showed me when I was like 17, and I had a Rasta necklace and a Peter Tosh shirt on.
You haven’t changed a bit. Where can we buy your record?
The record is at most all of the record stores in Portland and at Palace Clothing store and Sweedeedee Cafe. Check it out, it’s 10 bucks, fun and quick.
You go fishing with your Dad a lot out in Eastern Oregon. How do you make your coffee on those camp trips?
At home I use a ceramic pour over, but when I go camping with my Pops, we use a big stainless steel percolator. Those things dominate. I used to bring the pour over but he drinks too much coffee to be sitting there making cup after cup. With the percolator you can do a bunch at once AND you get to watch it bubble up into the glass bubble on top. But its always better to bring more whiskey than coffee. Whiskey is just WAY easier to make.
Upcoming plans and projects?
White Glove is recording new songs for a 7″ and another LP. We’re doing it with Mike Coykendall and it’s been hella fun. For some reason, I want to go to Siberia but that might not happen because no one wants to go with me. I’d also like to go to the Chile Festival in Hatch, New Mexico next year but that might not happen either.