Interview – Wolf & Cub
June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, April 21, 2009.
Wolf & Cub have always had their thing. Since emerging with their ball-tearing 2006 debut Vessels, the Adelaide four-piece’s revivalist take on stoner and psych rock hasn’t exactly pushed new boundaries. Rather, they’ve done what they do and done it damn well, and it’s paid dividends. Aside from snaffling them a deal with indie label du jour 4AD, Vessels has seen them tour with everyone who is anyone. Think TV on the Radio, Primal Scream, The Killers and Queens of the Stone Age to name a few.
Why oh why then, one might ask, would the knotty-haired quartet turn to Bumblebeez logician and cut ‘n’ paste type Chris Colonna to craft their new record? The thought alone is enough to conjure disastrous visions of passé indie-electro gone wrong. Luckily, Science and Sorcery tells a very different story. The record’s chopped-up, reverb-laced sonics, densely layered melodies and asymmetrical rhythmic patterns are nothing short of a revolution for a band some thought were stuck in the past. (Read TheVine review.)
We spoke to songwriter and bandleader Joel Byrne (above left) about the trials and triumphs of recording with Colonna, transforming the band’s creative process and his hankering for subversive blogging.
Hey Joel, how are you?
I’m good Dan, I’m good.
Hey, I’m liking the new record. It kind of clicks with me a lot more than Vessels.
Thanks man, that’s really cool!
There’s a kind of deconstructed sensibility to it…
You mean from our point of view?
Yeah, yeah, I think it definitely was that kind of thing. It really required that kind of approach. I think even before we started the record we had an idea about what it would sound like, then halfway through it we realised it was nothing like that. So we had the choice of either giving into what it was going to become – let it happen and facilitate that – or fighting it. So me and Chris and the band came to the conclusion that we just had to let it become what it was becoming. And I think it’s a positive thing for us to have done that, you know, because you have to let go. I had to let go especially. So thankyou for saying that. I really appreciate it.
When I first got the email from the label about the record and read that you were using Chris Colonna, I was kind of like ‘What the hell is that going to sound like?’
Man, imagine how we felt when his name was suggested. Actually, I can tell you how I felt – I dismissed it, thoroughly. I mean it wasn’t my idea – I wish I could’ve taken credit for it – but it was our manager’s idea. To be honest, I’d dismissed it as a manager’s attempt to get us on some kind of bandwagon. The Presets had blown up at that time and MGMT were going crazy – not that I think of MGMT as an electronic band or anything like that, but they have that kind of aesthetic to an extent – and I just thought ‘What’s this guy thinking?’
Also at that point we had to pretty much decide who was going to make the record. So looking back, I’m really glad that I went the other way. Because if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been in the spirit of what we had decided before we made the record, which was to really change our approach to making music. I don’t mean change completely, but I mean change how we make a record, and that was to completely give into a producer’s interpretation.
On that, do you feel that analogue rock music is perhaps one of the more conservative forms in a sense? A lot of people really play by a pretty defined set of rules, more so than most genres.
The thing about rock music, like, it’s all about going out and doing your own thing and not performing and all that kind of stuff, but to be in a rock band you have to perform. That’s the thing about punk as well. Everyone’s thing with punk was that it ended up being about having the hair and the clothes and that whole thing.
It becomes its own antithesis.
Yeah, exactly. So you know, there was that vibe and we noticed that the bands that were making rock music were doing it far better than we possibly could, and so we decided – it wasn’t a conscious decision to go ‘Oh we’re not going to make a rock record’ – but it was more about just trying to rethink our input and seeing what happens at the other end of it. And that’s pretty much what happened.
That’s sort of how I feel about it and that’s sort of what was required of us – to put the songs in the hands of someone else and let him be quite discerning about what should go where. And it was really hard, you know. We had the demos sorted out and we had a vague sort of concept about what the record was going to be like and then it all changed. Chris was very, err, straight forward (laughs). Even I took it quite hard. I’d sat with a song for so long and we all had an idea about what the record was going to be and then it just changed.
Wolf and Cub – ‘One to the Other’
I found some rather interesting details on your blog yesterday. There was a diary entry from Chris’s studio and you were really openly talking about Chris’s straight talk and what a hard time you were having dealing with him in the early days. (Read our article here.)
(Laughs) Yeah, he hates me saying it but he was really quite blunt; he was really blunt about what he thought was shit and what wasn’t, and that was quite difficult to take because you’ve got these demos and you’ve got everyone in the band liking them, and you’ve got people around you – your label and your management – going ‘I like those demos, I like how that’s going’. And then you get this third party who comes in and says ‘No, I don’t think it’s good’. So it was really quite difficult to take, but I decided that I was going to really listen and really put this record in the hands of a producer, which was him. When I say that, I mean we were going to allow ourselves to be produced, more so than we had done before.
I feel really good about that now. I feel very positive that there’s been some growth, for me as a songwriter and for the other guys as participants in the band.
Going back to the blog, the stuff about Marvin (new drummer Marvin Hammond) was really interesting too.
How I was trying to get him to sing?
Yeah, yeah. Did you ever get him to sing? I’m thinking he might have been on the first track and a couple of others, or was that you double-tracked?
Yeah, there are really slight touches on the second track where he sings on the chorus – they’re very, very slight (laughs). But yeah, he did eventually do some singing, which was to his credit. I’m trying to get him to sing live but that’s actually proving even more difficult, so I might have to write another blog about that (laughs).
Yeah, I mean I was just getting my blogging legs at that point. I’d never really blogged that much before then and I was trying to get some tips on how to blog and someone said ‘Just write exactly what’s on your mind’. So I didn’t bother to filter anything – it was just a kind of stream of consciousness – and then when the guys read it they were like ‘What are you doing writing that about Marvin! How’s Marvin supposed to feel?’ and I just didn’t really take that into consideration (laughs).
Who reads blogs anyway, right?
Well that’s the other thing! I didn’t think anyone would actually read it anyway, but then Marvin’s girlfriend and all these people read it and I was being really harsh on Marvin. That’s the other thing, I never think anyone’s going to listen to anything that we do but it turns out that people do.
I didn’t realise that Chris worked out of Braidwood. It’s a lovely town, kind of like a step back in time or something.
Yeah man, I think I underestimated just how much of an effect it did have on the record. I think, had it been recorded in the city or something, it would have been far more claustrophobic than the record actually turned out. I think the record has turned out quite loose, but a good loose if you know what I mean, like Sandinista! by the Clash…I’m not saying it sounds like Sandinista!, but that record has a bit of looseness to it because it was recorded in fucking Jamaica or whatever (laughs). But anyway, there’s a looseness to it and I think that has a lot to do with the relaxed nature of Braidwood and even to an extent the relaxed nature of Chris.
‘Restless Sons’ almost had a kind of dub-like rhythmic structure.
Yeah, yeah! That was the main aim of that track and that was also a track that came together at the last minute, you know. Chris and I were going through everything and going ‘We need more tracks, we need more tracks’ and I had that riff and then he came up with that beat – which was just like this sampled beat – and I was like ‘Oh man, that sounds like a duck!’ and he was like ‘Nah man, it’s good, it’s good’. After a while I got to like it and it’s actually one of my favourite tracks now. It’s definitely got that kind of dubby looseness. I’m really glad you sort of cottoned on to that.
Tell me a bit about this notion of Science and Sorcery and how that really relates to this record.
The way I guess I see it is that within Wolf & Cub and especially within me, there seems to be a conflict all the time, you know. It’s like analogue or digital, you know, yin and yang. In the end you’re just trying to achieve the same thing and I guess science and sorcery seem to be the same thing. You’ve got quite a conservative approach to doing something, and that seems to be the science, and then you’ve got the sorcery type approach and that’s essentially a bit wacky and everyone’s a little fearful of it. But at the end of the day, you’re achieving the same thing.
I guess the record is the combined efforts of those two types of thinking. I particularly come from the sorcery side of things, in that I’m not classically trained or anything and I can rarely tell you what note I’m playing, but I’ve got a vague idea of how I want it to sound. To an extent, Chris is the science side of things; he’s a little bit wacky and crazy and things but he’s actually quite methodical in what he does and he knows what the structure of a song is and why it should be that way.
Has doing the amount of touring that you’ve done a bit of a trap creatively? Like, by the time you’d finished touring Vessels and played those songs over and over, were you pretty spent with your own sound?
Totally and that’s exactly why this record has turned out the way it has, because we lived with Vessels for so long. It was almost like we had to, as you said, deconstruct ourselves. I don’t think we totally deconstructed ourselves – there’s more room to shed ourselves of Vessels – but yeah, Science and Sorcery was definitely reactive to us being on tour and playing the same songs.
I think if we did make a Vessels II, yeah, we would please a few people. We would appease some of our fans who really loved Vessels, but I really don’t think the four of us would really feel that satisfied. I know I wouldn’t feel satisfied. Not that I’m saying that this is a massive departure from Vessels, but if you’re to put these two records together, as far as Vessels was concerned I felt there was lots of room for me to improve and I feel like this is another step up towards that level. I feel like it’s another step in my song writing evolution. It’s definitely required us to re-evaluate how we play.
Science and Sorcery is out now through Dot Dash/Remote Control