Dustin Wong's 'Infinite Love'

Baltimore solo guitarist explores the esoteric with his looped, instrumental music

  • Dustin Wong performs Tuesday at the Golden West Cafe in Hampden.
Dustin Wong performs Tuesday at the Golden West Cafe in Hampden. (Joyce Kim, Handout photo )
February 03, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Dustin Wong was in labor. It felt like he was in labor, anyway.

It was his 27th birthday and he was straddling a monster, shroom-inspired psychedelic trip that made him think he was about to give birth. This was a year ago. He was in his Mount Vernon apartment, went to his bed, lay back and pushed.

"I felt this love, and I kept repeating that," he said. "That's where the name 'Infinite Love' came from."

Wong's name might not sound familiar. But if you've been going to shows in Baltimore in the past 10 years, chances are you saw him play at some point.

He's the quick-fingered guitarist who co-founded critical darlings Ponytail and, later, the experimental band Ecstatic Sunshine.

In August, he released his first solo album, "Infinite Love," a 40-minute, instrumental two-CD album that showcases his complex guitar work. He's been touring with it since. On Tuesday, before departing for an European tour, he performs at Golden West Cafe.

Aside from a drum machine, Wong's Fender Telecaster is the only other instrument featured in "Infinite Love." And yet the album moves at at a dizzying speed.

The songs are as layered as Jimi Hendrix at his trippiest. On any given track, there are at least eight melodies on top of each other. Sometimes 15.

Wong recorded the album by himself at his Mount Vernon apartment over five to six months, starting in late 2009. He played and recorded an elemental melody straight through, and then slapped on other riffs, one after the other in quick succession — "like taking a photograph and then tracing it in pencil," he said.

Wong taught himself to play guitar in his teens, inspired by Brian Wilson and Hendrix. Hendrix's intimidating guitar skills was loose, definitely punk, Wong said. "Whatever cool-aid he was drinking, I wanted part of it," he said.

He's been playing the same Fender since. He first came to Baltimore nine years ago to study sculpture at Maryland Institute College of Art, and during a painting class, of all places, he was tasked with forming a band.

Along with classmates Jeremy Hyman, Ken Seeno, and Molly Siegel, he formed Ponytail, an art-rock band that consistently made it to critics' best-of year-end lists. Later, he and Matt Papich formed the almost aggressively uncommercial Ecstatic Sunshine.

Two summers ago, Dope Body singer Andrew Laumann asked Wong to play a show at the west-side venue the Penthouse, on the sixth floor of the H&H building. He took two weeks and came up with a brisk set.

"I only played for 15 minutes," he said. "It felt really good, and I kept on writing what would become the album."

Since he wasn't signed to a label, he took his time writing and producing. The finished product — two CDs that Wong refers to as twins — start out similarly and then part ways, the second one softer in its delivery. The absence of vocals and other instruments was done on purpose, and wasn't a matter of lack of resources.

"The power of instrumental music is that through headphones, the listener can really own the music," he said. "No one's telling you what to listen to. You can become the music. I really believe the listener has a much stronger experience that way."

The album's unconventional sound and length made it unlikely to land at a major label, even a major indie. But after he sent it to Floristree's Jason Urick, Thrill Jockey Records — which represents Urick and a small flotilla of Baltimore bands — agreed to release it, to Wong's surprise.

The album's byzantine structure would suggest it'd be need to be played with computers, or a backing band. But Wong performs by himself. He uses eight pedals to change the timbre of the guitar, flitting between a heavy synth sound and bright treble notes.

At Golden West, Wong will perform between 30 and 45 minutes of new material and some tracks from "Infinite Love."

For the newest material, he's going for a slower sound, thanks mainly to his experimentation with Salvia.

"It's a very strange effect. If you can imagine being the carts in a rotating ferris wheel," he said. "I'm trying to incorporate that into the recording process somehow."

erik.maza@baltsun.com

twitter.com/midnightsunblog

If you go

Dustin Wong performs Tuesday at Golden West Cafe, 1105 W. 36th St. Woods and Ducktails also perform. Doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets, at $8, are sold at the door or at sonarbaltimore.com.

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