A Wolpertinger is a Bavarian mythological creature. It’s something like the central European equivalent of the jackalope. One common depiction is a rabbit with fangs, antlers, bat wings and duck feet. According to some legends, the creature has a kryptonite-like weakness for beer.
“It’s eclectic, a creature made from the parts of many different animals,” says Wolfgang Price, the bandleader, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist of Wolpertinger, the Reno band. He named the band after the creature because the band is also eclectic. Price provides a succinct one-line description: “I think of it as if Mike Patton had somehow infiltrated into the National.”
And indeed, Wolpertinger, at first blush, evokes the stately, writerly indie band the National. This is partly because of the warm, tasteful production on the group’s recordings, but mostly because Price’s airy baritone is similar in register and tone to the National’s Matt Berninger. But this would be a version of the National that smoked more weed and drank more sugary, heavily caffeinated soda. There’s the spirit of Patton, the vocal acrobat and genre-hopping jester of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More.
Wolpertinger began as a collaboration between Price and multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer Gary Kephart.
“He and I were composing music for plays in the community,” says Price. “And one day he asked me, why don’t we work on some of your songs? So I sat down and wrote some.”
Price says he’s always written songs, but wanted the songs for this project to have a cohesive, coherent feel.
“When working on something, I want it to have a purpose,” he says.
At that time, Price was exploring another aspect of the band’s eponymous creature: a weakness for booze.
“I was in the middle of a bad depression and alcohol binge,” he says.
Wolpertinger’s first album, Lady Midday, which was released online in 2011, is a somber affair, with drinking references in every song. The band was rounded out with guitarist and vocalist Tom Plunkett and drummer Richard Washburn. That album’s title also comes from mythology: Lady Midday is a character from Eastern European mythology who’s essentially the personification of heat stroke.
The group hasn’t played many shows. Washburn broke his ankle just before an early gig, and Plunkett, who many readers might recognize from local theater productions, is now finally cancer-free after a couple of rough years. It’s essentially a studio band, though the members’ theatrical backgrounds are apparent in some of the big gestures of the music.
The band’s second full-length album, How We Are Alike, was released online earlier this month. Compared with Lady Midday, it’s more upbeat and more eclectic. But all the band members say that they’re largely drawn to the project because of the strength of Price’s songwriting.
“I like all the references in the lyrics,” says Plunkett. “He writes great lyrics.”
“It’s polarized in two different directions,” says Price of his songwriting. “One is trying to express something really human, trying to say something really authentic. And the other is that I’m a big fan of T.S. Eliot’s earlier poems, where he writes a lot with references to push his subject. … The idea of taking cultural icons or snippets of literature that express something and using it in connection with an idea or thought.”
He cites “Nations,” a song with references to both Mark Twain and Taxi Driver, as an example.
“Wolpertinger deals with a lot of different issues that I have that I try to address,” says Price. “One is that I get bored really easily, so I try to make music that allows you to not feel like you’re falling into a repetition. That’s one of the reasons that the music has so many different styles.”