While 2020 and COVID-19 saw the halting of many artist’s careers, slowing down was not in the cards for the internet apt pop/funk sextet Vulfpeck. With an affinity for online antics and a habit of stockpiling recordings, the (mostly) LA-based act has been sufficiently busy this year, demonstrating they are prepared for pandemics to come.
Riding off the momentum of their recorded “Live at Madison Square Garden” concert last fall, Vulf took a winter recess to let its members work on their own endeavors, a common occurrence for the group. With each individual having their own intensive touring and recording schedule, recent years have seen the band adopt a more remote model to composing. Vulfpeck attempts to record whenever they can wrangle everyone together, meaning their sparse tour dates double as studio days.
In March, the spread of COVID-19 signaled an early end to members Cory Wong and Theo Katzman's respective headlining tours. Not long after, Vulfpeck surprise dropped their first studio single and accompanying music video — excluding their cover of Bach’s "Ninth Contrapunctus” from “The Art of Fugue" — since 2018. Featuring frequent collaborator Antwaun Stanley on vocals, “3 on E” would be the first release in a series of audio-visual content for the band and their instrumental, string-based side project 一 The Fearless Flyers. The music video drops were sparse at first, but as April blurred into May the team at Vulf Records, the band’s self-owned record label, picked up the pace, releasing a new song and video nearly every week until late July. The consistency prompted fans on YouTube to temporarily deem Thursdays at noon “Vulf Time.” These singles heralded the release of two new albums for the Vulf team: Tailwinds by The Fearless Flyers and Vulfpeck’s The Joy of Music, the Job of Real Estate.
For fans of Vulf, the unannounced releases were a treat, but no real surprise. Band leader and Vulf Records founder Jack Stratton has always utilized his mastery of the internet and awareness of his audience to drive his projects. Since its inception, with the release of the “Beastly” music video, Vulfpeck has always considered itself an “internet band.” Social media has always been their main source of publicity with YouTube as their performance venue of choice. Every single Vulfpeck song is tracked live in the studio, and the accompanying video is simply footage of the session magic unfolding, giving each release the authentic energy of a performance and allowing the user a window into the creative genius of the band. The legitimacy of their online presence has allowed the band to grow and sustain a devout fan base despite maintaining a light touring schedule — they played just four shows in 2019. This approach has paid off as they navigate 2020’s set of challenges for artists. With an audience already expectant of online content, Vulfpeck has mainly been able to function as usual, getting the same kind of engagement they’re accustomed to. Just seconds after the group posts a video to YouTube, the typical Vulf comment section is at the ready with quips about bassist Joe Dart’s neck, typeface fonts and other zany inside jokes that litter the band’s history.
In addition to Vulf Records releasing two full length albums, Tailwinds by The Fearless Flyers and Vulfpeck’s The Joy of Music, the Job of Real Estate, this year also saw two additional compilation record announcements: “Vulf Vault 001 Antwaun Stanley” and “Vulf Vault 002 Inside the Mind of Woody Goss.” As with every Vulf Records release, the distribution of these four records depends entirely on fans meeting the crowdfunding preorder goal on “Qrates” — a Kickstarter for vinyl pressings — which they never seem to have a problem surpassing.
The funk group was even active on the charity front this year, as they pulled their first digital revenue generating stunt since 2014’s Sleepify campaign, where they funded a free nationwide tour with the royalties from their fans streaming a silent album on Spotify. This time around, they auctioned off the tenth track slot on their upcoming album The Joy of Music, The Job of Real Estate for $70K. The winner of the auction, who remains anonymous, received naming rights to the track, along with two minutes and thirty seconds to put whatever audio they please, be it their song, ad or some other devious clip, onto the last track of Vulfpeck’s album. While the concept of selling a spot on their album was met with confusion and frustration from fans and critics alike, it provided clarity as to why the band decided to include the word real estate in their new album title. Ultimately, the track 10 cash grab ended up generating some positive publicity for the group, as Vulfpeck used the auction funds to donate to projects for music education in public schools. Supporting campaigns via DonorsChoose.org, the band posted each classroom they helped to their twitter, ensuring fans their vigilante PR stunt streak is still alive.
As quarter three of 2020 winds down, there is no spelling what might come next for the band. The Joy of Music, The Job of Real Estate just finished its preorder on “Qrates,” signaling its quasi-official release. The first nine tracks are up for streaming on their Spotify, but the infamous tenth is still shrouded in mystery. Whether Vulfpeck decides to keep it in the dark until the pressing of the vinyl is anyone’s guess. Heck, they may even have another ace up their sleeve. Vulf seems to find perverse satisfaction in keeping their audience ever-so-slightly out of the loop, furthering their aloof, minimalist theme. After all, why waste energy on a promotional campaign when a YouTube post notification will suffice?