An interview with Guitarist/Vocalist Frank Laufenberg
by Michelle Harper
photo by Kyle Hilker
“Oh hi. I’m just making my way to my garden studio, so I can be by my calendar, but you can go ahead and start the conversation”. Cars rush by in the background as Frank Laufenberg, guitarist and vocalist strolls to his destination.
The visual juxtaposition of a garden studio containing a precisely organized calendar is a fitting illustration of the complexity that embodies the eclectic 7-piece funk-fusion band, Wurk.
Fresh off their victory at the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA)’s “2018 Breakout Artist of the Year” competition at the High Noon Saloon, Wurk is taking the Midwest by storm.
“We’re trying to find the time to get new music out in 2019” Frank shared with me. “We’re playing some big shows, we’re going on tour for the first time in Minneapolis with The Civil Engineers. Wynona, Rochester, Minneapolis. Two sets in a big festival in northern Wisconsin. We’re going to play as much as possible. We’ll be in Chicago in the Elbo Room, Brat Fest in May. We’re busy.”
The musical roots of Wurk began in a town called Mount Horeb, WI, population 7,421 give or take. Frank got a guitar when he was 11 and, after experiencing multiple sports injuries, started channeling his energy into playing music. He met classmate Miles Morkri at the “ripe old age of 14” Frank recalls, and the two musically “evolved together”.
Add the talent of Miles’s older brother Max Morkri (who was nominated for MAMA’s 2018 Instrumentalist of the Year on drum set), and a college campus house on Bassett Street, and the seeds of Wurk were sewn.
Frank and the brothers lived with a bunch of musician friends in the heart of the University of Wisconsin Madison campus, an area many locals deem “party central”. They had formed a band and were all set to play a big gig on campus.
Fate had other plans.
“The first group we formed broke up because the lead guy left. We got an offer to open at Union South and we were like, well that group doesn’t exist anymore, but we live in a house full of musicians. I’m sure we can figure something out. And that’s when we formed Wurk.”
Frank, Miles, Max joined forces in 2017 with Ryley Buchanan and Carl Hipenbecker to make the band’s first album, entitled “Wurk”. Six months later, with addition Casey Seymour on bass, they released a follow-up EP “Broken Disco”. In October 2018, the guys decided to introduce another dimension to their groove-layered sound, adding Daniel Haschke, the only Wurk member who isn’t from Mount Horeb, on the saxophone/flute. Add the help of Noah Gilfillan and Audrey Martinovich at Audio for the Arts in Madison WI and that’s when “The Devil’s Wurk” EP came to fruition in all its intricate, explosive glory.
“With ‘The Devil’s Wurk’ EP, we were more like “ok, we’re professionals and we want to do a really good job with this one” Frank comments. “Get it on the radio. We want people to love it.”
The experience was so positive, the guys decided to remaster “Bloodline”, a haunting waltz blending ethereal keyboard melodies with horn-driven power and passionate vocals, that’s near and dear to Frank’s heart.
It’s the song “Dealin’ with the Devil” that really stands out as a masterful emotional odyssey reminiscent of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, traversing through a musically variegated terrain of dark and groovy undertones with both technical and melodic precision.
“I put my heart into it” Frank reminisces. “I think that one song characterizes our group. Different moods, different musical genres, in one song”.
“A lot of the songs either myself or Miles have written” Frank relates in an excited tone. “We bring an outline to the group with some ideas and some lyrics and a melody or countermelody. So, let’s say there are 5 sections of the song, each with a transition, we’ll start and learn the first section and worry about the transition and the other sections later. We’ll be like, ‘let’s groove this section now’ and have everyone feel out their part and we feed off each other. It’s almost a proofreading process. Like someone reading it before going to print. Everyone is reading their part and correcting it. It’s like you have all the ingredients and you have to figure out how much of each ingredient is needed to make the recipe work.”
Frank attributes the band’s 2018 success to the band’s rehearsal methodology, coupled with frequent gigging.
“We really came together as a unit and played around 70 gigs last year, so we’ve really refined our craft. We play as much as we all can, I think it was that and with so many shows under your belt, we’re constantly working on improving and writing new songs and better songs and we played a lot of shows, so we generally are going to bring a different mashup of our original songs and cover songs to each gig, and that exercise really helps us to arrange complex songs, like “Dealin’ with the devil”, which has got like 6 different parts going on. Getting together at rehearsal talking about what covers are we going to incorporate and how, and that’s exciting. We’ll play a song that you know, like Thriller by Michael Jackson, in a different way and mash it up with our original stuff and it all comes together.”
Finally, I had to ask. How did this eclectic 7-piece band get named “Wurk”?
“We were all at the house on Bassett”, he chuckled, “and we couldn’t figure it out, couldn’t figure it out, and I got this snap chat from my cousin at a resort out west and he was just snowboarding down the hill and it just said “WURK” spelled W-U-R-K. And I’m like guys, this is a lot of “wurk” trying to figure out what to name the band. And so that’s pretty much how it went. “Well, this is starting to feel like WURK”. It’s to the point. “Wurk the band” is out doing “work”. And drinking. Working and drinking. Wurk the band is us doing work and you know, drinking. Drinking work!”
Yes, Wurk has a punny side too.
Frank accomplished a big musical goal from his youth this past summer, when the band headlined a gig at the Memorial Union Terrace in Madison, WI, not too far from the original jam house on Bassett Street.
When asked what his dream gig would be, Frank answered, “I’d love to open for Tauk or Umphree’s McGee. I think opening for a big band in Alpine Valley or Red Rocks would be awesome. I mean, Madison square garden would be amazing. Carnegie Hall if they would let a big 7-piece band do it”.
One thing’s for certain: The 7-piece funk-fusion band named “Wurk” will be “working” hard in 2019 to serve you the infectious grooving experience of a lifetime.
Frank Laufenberg (guitarist/vocalist)
Max Morkri – Drums (2018 MAMA award nominee for Instrumentalist of the Year on drum set)
Miles Morkri – (keyboard/vocals)
Casey Seymour – Bass
Ryley Buchanan - (synth/organ)
Daniel Haschke (saxophone/flute)
Carl Hipenbecker (trumpet)
WURK 2019 Tour Dates:
1/11/19 – Funk Fest at the Majestic, Madison, WI
1/18/19 – Elbo Room, Chicago, IL
1/23/19 – 1/26/19 – Minnesota Tour with The Civil Engineers (see Facebook page for details)
2/2/19 – Harmony Bar with The Earthlings, Madison, WI
3/15/19 – High Noon Saloon (SCAMP Battle of the Bands), Madison, WI
3/16/19 – Tyrol Basin, Mount Horeb, WI
3/29/19 – High Noon Saloon Funk Friday, Madison, WI
Last Weekend in May 2019 – Brat Fest, Madison WI
Summer Festival at Driftless Music Gardens (either Bonfire Fest or People Fest)
Project North Festival – 2 sets in late September