Photo credit: Joshua Vandal
When he isn’t taking home huge accolades for his editing chops, the multi-instrumentalist behind Whoa Sequoia is working diligently on his music. From the beaches of California to the mountainscapes of Denver, Whoa Sequoia found solace in just pushing his creativity forward, and from all of that came his latest, ‘David Letterman.’ Out on November 11th, we talked about the record, redoing a film score, and more in this back and forth exchange. Also, may we suggest the next album be Conan O’Brien?
Kendra: You’ve had quite the career but I want to go back to when you were 14 and the moment you decided to take things into your own hands and teach yourself guitar. Did you have any sort of guidance or were you just trying to imitate what you heard and go from there?
Whoa Sequoia: I am about 95% self-taught. I was just really eager to play guitar as a kid. My favorite bands at the time all had amazing guitar players, and I wanted to be able to do what they did. Playing guitar quickly became my favorite thing to do, and I played as much as I possibly could. At first, your fingers hurt, and then it becomes fun, instead of practice.
I would go to parties during high school and college and just sit in the corner with a blank look on my face, playing guitar for hours. It was a running joke with some of my friends for a bit. “Dude put the guitar down! Come party!” But I loved it. And it soon defined me to an extent. Playing guitar soon became much more than just “playing the songs of my heroes” – I wanted to write a lot of original material, play live shows, produce, do it all.
Kendra: Over the years you’ve managed to work just as much behind the scenes as you have in the spotlight. Does your mind ever switch modes when you’re helping someone else with their music as opposed to when you’re just doing your own thing?
Whoa Sequoia: I’ve produced a lot of music over the years, and collaborated with lots of people. Lots of friends who are amazing musicians. I’m very comfortable in my own little home studio zone these days when I’m able to write and record whatever comes to me on the spot. With no preconceptions or restrictions. But I love working with all types of talented people.
Kendra: Now, your 2021 release, ‘David Letterman,’ is based on the foundation of time but with songs like “Bet Middler” and “Film Review,” and the video for “Hold On, My Brother” featuring over 100 movie clips, I have to ask…If you could redo the soundtrack or score of any movie from the past decade, which would it be and how would you revamp it?
Whoa Sequoia: Great question! Hmm. I don’t know necessarily: there are so many amazing film scores that have inspired me over the years. Maybe a Pixar movie or something. Maybe ‘Wall-E’. And give it a darker, more dramatic, electronic feel, instead of the minimalist, classical score. Love that movie.
Kendra: Let’s talk a bit more about a couple of those songs I just mentioned. In “Film Review” you sing, “It’s been a long month since like a week ago.” That pretty much summarizes how time has felt since March 2020. Did you ever get discouraged during those times in the past year or so when time just felt like it was dragging along?
Whoa Sequoia: Totally. I spent the first 6 months of the pandemic in a tiny studio apartment near the beach in Los Angeles. It was the craziest time ever – but also became oddly productive, because there was nothing else to do. I wrote two screenplays and wrote and recorded a concept album, ‘The Geyser Saga’ – 2020.
I moved to Denver a year ago. I started writing some new material pretty quickly. When I was writing that new song “Film Review” last January, we had just started to see a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel – with vaccinations on the horizon – while also knowing there was still a long, uncertain road ahead. This whole thing has been confusing, chaotic, insane. But usually when I have nothing else to do…I just hunker down and work on creative stuff. It’s sort of how I process the world.
Kendra: On top of all you do musically, you’re also an Emmy-winner TV and doc editor. How do you feel the two mediums, music and TV, play off one another in your life?
Whoa Sequoia: I think they are forever linked, in my life at least. I’ve worked as a documentary editor for a while now, and a huge part of making a scene work is the right music choice. Sometimes I’ll go through 50 different tracks until the perfect one works. Or sometimes, I’ll just score it myself.
I’ve always viewed good Film and Cinema as the ultimate art-form…when it’s done well at least. It comprises all the creative elements: acting, cinematography, storytelling, music, set design, etc. It’s all of the great artistic pursuits and lots of human collaboration meeting up for one special experience. At the same time, movies, TV, streaming content on our phones, VR… these are forever evolving visual mediums. I’m not sure what devices or aspect ratio we’ll be watching movies on in 10 years.
But music might be the most fundamental and universally human experience that exists. Maybe only besides food. We all love music. We cry and laugh to music. People get married or have funerals set to music that means something powerful to them. Music has always been there for us. And for me. And it always will be.
Kendra: With the new album ‘David Letterman’ out in November, what else can we be on the lookout for from you as we say goodbye to 2021 and hello to 2022?
Whoa Sequoia: I’ll be staying creative and staying healthy.
I wrote a movie that I’ll hopefully be filming at some point, so I’m excited to get back to some of that stuff. And on the music front, I’ve already started to write some new material for another release hopefully in another year. I might have to call that album ‘Jay Leno.’