Woo Park mixes multiple genres in debut Smokes release



Chicago-based groove rockers Woo Park were the featured band at this year’s FreQ Out and are performing in July at Chicago’s newest music festival, Mamby on the Beach.

By Copy Editor

The sounds off Chicago-based groove band Woo Park’s debut album, Smokes, are hard to classify to genre. Bobbing bass lines and bluesy electric guitar create a jazzy feel at first, but ever-changing synths and assorted drumming styles make the workings of Woo Park stand out in vibrant colors throughout the album. 

After winning last year’s Biggest Mouth competition and performing as the featured band at this year’s FreQ Out—the Television Department’s annual “Saturday Night Live” style TV show—Woo Park has conquered Columbia. With two Columbia alumni—Parker Grogan (bass) and Emily Nichols (vocals)—the band’s success is climbing. Along with its other three members—Christian Zwit (keyboard), Luke Sangerman (drums) and Brian Sanborn (guitar)—Woo Park performed at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, back in March and recently finished an eight-show tour throughout Colorado in April.  

The Chronicle spoke with keyboardist Zwit about the band’s neo-soul beginnings, jamming out and how Woo Park got its name. 

THE CHRONICLE: How did you name the band?

CHRISTIAN ZWIT: My old band—we used to have pizza at our shows. Everyone loved it because not only were we playing music, but they could come and there’d be pizza. My thought was [that] we should name our band something that everyone likes. We were brainstorming through things everyone likes, like different foods, and I thought of this friend in our circle of friends named Woo Park. He’s a cool dude and everyone loves Woo. He’s everyone’s favorite person, so we named the band Woo Park. 

How was performing at FreQ Out?

I think it went very well. Our songs, at least for the live performances, usually have big solos and are kind of extended—some of them will be over 10 minutes. We [only] had a four-minute window, so we had to arrange the music accordingly so it would fit, [and] that was a cool thing within itself.

Your sound combines a lot of different genres. How would you describe it?

We’ve gone on our first two tours within the last month or so—we went to SXSW and Colorado. In a span of three weeks, we had played 14 shows or something like that. It was interesting hearing from all different people because our genre is something we’ve been trying to pinpoint this whole time. Everyone had a little different something to say, but I would say it’s like progressive neo-soul jazz funk rock … progressive slam jazz. Anyone who describes it has a mouthful of different words.

How has your sound evolved?

Initially, it was very neo-soul—very Erykah Badu, very hip-hop neo-soul. But as we grew together and all individually grew as musicians, we [all had] very different musical influences. No one outright writes the songs, we all write them as a team effort. No one could write a part that the other person would’ve thought of because of all our different influences and playing styles. It’s definitely come a long way in the past year, especially since our EP came out five months ago. Our music is dramatically changing all the time. 

What was it like releasing your first EP, Smokes?

It was a long process. None of us had recorded in that manner before in the studio. We went in not as prepared as we could’ve been, so the songs grew in the studio a lot from our initial intentions. Next time we do it, we’ll be more prepared, but it was interesting that the songs grew and came together over the couple months that it took to make the EP. 

What is your song writing process?

We’ll come in to practice and before we even start on our practice schedule or whatever we’re planning to do, we’ll start off with a jam. A lot of the songs grow out of us jamming, someone hearing something and getting an idea and stopping the jam to be like, “Oh wait, keep doing that.” Sometimes people will come in with an idea, but it will only be for their instrument. They’ll have a vibe or example of what they’re trying to go for, but it all grows together. 

Can fans expect new music from Woo Park soon?

We have a bunch of new songs that aren’t on the Internet at all, and we brought a video guy with us [on our last tour]. We have like a terabyte worth of video and audio footage from the tour, so we have to sift through that and put out some live videos of the newer stuff. The new sound has a whole revamped vibe compared to the EP. It’s like on a whole [new] level. It’s completely different in a lot of ways [and] it’s a much more new style of writing. The EP reflects us getting together and putting a sound together without knowing each other’s players that well, [and] the new stuff has a whole new vibe to it. It’s much less conventional—it has way more different sounds and doesn’t have as many cookie-cutter songwriting qualities. The forms of the songs are way different, and the production level is much different than it was with the EP.