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Not long ago the most effective way to find musicians with whom to play was to post a piece of scrap paper to a public bulletin board. In the new millennium, there are far more efficient ways. Namely, Craigslist, the online equivalent of a public bulletin board. That was exactly what Jase Spiegel did when he decided he wanted to take on a new musical challenge and needed a partner for his efforts. Phil Kurut responded to that ad in July 2015, and the duo, dubbed the Wool Giraffes, have been working hard ever since to provide Fort Wayne something a little bit off the beaten path of classic rock and 80s funk.
“It’s not an easy process, finding someone who’s a good fit on Craigslist,” says Spiegel. “Sometimes you find someone, but they want to play bluegrass or country, and that wasn’t what I was looking for. What I wanted when I placed the ad was to find someone with a fire and a passion to do music.”
Once they discovered they were on the same wavelength musically, they had to begin the process of learning not only about each other, but about the other’s musical influences and intentions.
“Starting a musical relationship is like any other relationship,” says Spiegel. “First we had to get to know each other, then we have to learn the ins and outs of what we’re doing from a duo standpoint so we’d know what each other were doing or going to do.”
For Spiegel it was also a matter of adapting his own playing, evolving into a new sound with a fairly new approach to his instrument.
“In the past I had always played electric guitar or lead guitar in bands, and I started picking up an acoustic guitar more and more. I knew how to play electric guitar, and they’re the same notes, but the feel is different on your fingers so it’s almost like a different instrument. Suddenly I couldn’t hide behind all the electric stuff and had to find something more raw and organic.”
Kurut’s own contribution comes from his cajon, a small percussion instrument which perfectly complements Spiegel’s unique approach to acoustic guitar. He, too, was looking for something new. Having played in bands which primarily focused on original music, he was open to doing covers, but he wanted something different than what was already being done on many stages in Fort Wayne.
“The majority of the music I grew up listening to was alternative rock from the 90s, along with some stuff that’s a little more current – Pearl Jam, the Pixies, Bush, Radiohead. There’s something about that music that really inspires me. I see the value in the musicianship of classic rock and can appreciate it from that perspective, but I’m just not that into the music. Jase and I both knew from the first or second practice what we wanted and knew that the last thing Fort Wayne needed was one more 80s cover band or another funk band.”
Kurut also appreciates the simplicity of working in a duo after being in several bands over the years.
“I think when Jase and I got together, we already knew those first couple of times that this was going to be a duo. The logistical stuff is easier to do in a duo. Almost every band I’ve ever been in has at least four people in it, and I think we’ve been very creative in how we do stuff as a duo.”
“A lot of people come up to us after shows and ask if we use background tracks,” says Spiegel. “Everybody thinks we must have a bass player. I don’t do a lot of solo-y high notes, so I’m able to play more bass notes, and then Phil will do something with the cajon that just fills in the part where the bass would be. So we’re able to take those songs that are normally played by a full band and do our own thing with them.”
The pair has also brought new influences to the table, introducing each other to songs they might not have considered playing before. And sometimes they see a challenge they just can’t resist.
“There may be songs with horns or something that it seems like we couldn’t make work,” says Spiegel. “That makes me think ‘I’m going to make this happen.’”
One way it can work is that Kurut really knows his way around the cajon, and Spiegel says that people continue to be surprised how much sound he gets out of it.
“Everyone thinks it sounds like he has a full drum set. No one can believe that just the two of us can produce that much sound.”
While the Wool Giraffes continue to focus on providing something previously lacking in Fort Wayne – namely solid covers of 90s alternative rock – the pair are discussing when and how much original music to work into their set.
“We’ve talked about doing original music, but right now we’re exclusively a cover band,” says Kurut. “We have about 65 songs, and in one night we never get around to more than that. I’ve always been in original bands with the exception of one cover band, so original music is where my heart is. But I’m not sure if I want to get back into what it means to be playing original music – playing until 2 a.m. and getting paid five dollars for it. We may at some point have a couple of original songs and put them into our setlist.”
In the meantime, the Wool Giraffes are content to play covers of the music they love and find a way to make it their own.
“So far it’s been great, and I think we have a really different sound,” says Spiegel. “We’re not so much trying to copy music and to put ourselves into it. We don’t do much 80s music, but we’ve done ‘Alone’ by Heart and rocked it up a little, made it punky. Not that we would do it, but I think we could do ‘Genie in a Bottle’ by Christina Aguilera and do something a little bit punk and not so over-processed.”