Milwaukee native Joe Wong makes a living by adding musical accompaniment to other people’s visual works. When he’s not contributing aural touches to elevate television shows like Russian Doll, The Midnight Gospel, Ugly Delicious, and Master Of None, as well as films like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and Seven Stages To Achieve Eternal Bliss, the composer is writing material for his own musical endeavor.
On Friday, September 18, Wong will release Nite Creatures, his debut album under his own name. While the dreamy, expansive, and altogether outstanding record is technically a solo album that’s the product of years of labor on the namesake’s behalf, Wong’s meticulous attention to detail also found him calling on an impressive cast of collaborators to help bring his vision to life. Nite Creatures features members of The Flaming Lips, Helium, The War On Drugs, Shudder To Think, and musicians who’ve collaborated with Thurston Moore, Meg Baird, and even some folks with Milwaukee ties.
Before Nite Creatures is released, Milwaukee Record asked Wong to highlight some of the musicians and audio professionals he called upon to help bring his album to fruition. Here’s what he had to say.
Mary Timony (Producer)
In high school, I was a big Helium fan, but Mary and I first met 10 years later when I played drums for her on a tour supporting her 2005 album, Ex Hex. We traversed the country as a duo in a station wagon and became fast friends along the way. It’s inspiring to have a friend who has built such a stunning body of work over the past 30 years.
I’d wanted to make this album for years, but—although I write hundreds of hours of film/TV score every year—it was a challenge to make my own statement. Hiring Mary to produce was the best decision I made. She held me accountable, helped me find my voice, and—as a bonus—ripped it up on guitar.
Steven Drozd (Guest Guitar, Drums on “In The Morning”)
I was a casual Flaming Lips fan before The Soft Bulletin, but when that album came out, I was obsessed. I remember listening on my Discman until the batteries drained; it’s such an aggressively vivid album that I thought my headphones were melting. Nearly 20 years later, Steven reached out to me as a fan of my podcast. The episode we recorded is one of my favorites.
We tracked Steven’s parts at Howl Street Studios with the great Shane Hochstetler. I was in Milwaukee visiting my family, and Steven was in town with a day off before a Lips concert. He plays stereo drums and the guitar solo on “In The Morning.”
Mary Lattimore (Harp)
I enjoyed Lattimore’s solo work and her deeply evocative collaborations with everyone from Thurston Moore to Meg Baird. I hired her to play harp on my score for Russian Doll, and we had some leftover time, during which she recorded the brilliant harp on the title track. I later wrote the harp/vocal duet, “Minor,” with her in mind.
Paul Cartwright (Arranger)
Paul’s brilliant arrangements took the album to the stratosphere. We met when we were both hired to play with Jon Brion for a live version of his Punch Drunk Love score—a personal favorite. Paul wrote an incredibly detailed orchestral arrangement of “He Needs Me” overnight. The next day, we performed it live with Joanna Newsome on vocals. From then, I knew I had to work with Paul, and he’s been a consistently brilliant collaborator ever since.
Dave Fridmann (Mixer)
I was lucky enough to work with Dave when Parts & Labor made our final album, Constant Future, and I’d always hoped we’d have a chance to work together again. It was fun to reconnect with him after 10 years. His kids, who were in elementary school when we first met, are now adults who assist at the studio. It’s inspiring to observe the duality of Dave’s intense genius and mellow, affable personality. I really respect the fact that he’s been one of the world’s most in-demand producers for decades, all while living in the same small town where he attended college. His talent is magnetic.
Shane Hochstetler (Engineer)
This is the Milwaukee Record after all, so I want to make special mention of Shane Hochstetler, who tracked Steven’s parts. I’ve been friends with Shane since our bands performed together at string of now-defunct venues in Wisconsin in the early ’90s. Shane is one of the most prolific and talented engineers the city has ever known, aside from being quite possibly the heaviest drummer on the planet, and an honorable human to boot.