show review

Wolf People @ Ace of Cups 10/18/13

Chad W. Lutz
(Lutz 2013)
I’m the kind of person that only puts half-stock into coincidence and superstition. I believe that anything is possible, but there is definitely a statute of limitations I honestly believe probable. Err on the side of caution; expect the crazy so I’m never surprised. It’s most likely some sort of defense mechanism I’ve developed over the years. Survival 101. But I do believe there are things that are just too coincidental, a little too appropriate given a certain set of circumstances to just be written off as random happenstance.

The night I saw Wolf People live at Ace of Cups in Columbus was one of those nights. Outside a full moon towered high and pasty yellow over the Midwest metropolis. Also towering were my spirits. Wolf People has been a personal favorite of mine since their 2010 release Tidings. Admittedly, I was a little nervous initially. I can’t tell you how many races I’ve run with songs like “Cromlech”, “Season Pt. 1”, and “One by One from Dorney Reach”, blaring through my headphones to power me through to the finish. My first Boston Marathon included a playlist featuring Tidings and Steeple, the band’s second LP and first album proper, in their entireties. I actually crossed the finish line in 2012 to “Cromlech”, which is primal and thundering. One listen and you’ll take off into the woods in a predatory heat. Ok, maybe you won’t. But that’s what it does for me. Either way, I honestly didn’t know what to expect getting the opportunity to sit down with a group I had followed so closely and used as a source of inspiration for so many years, but that’s kind of the fun of attending shows and writing reviews. You just never quite know what’s going to happen. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes coincidence and serendipity work out in your favorite, regardless of what you originally set out to find.

The quartet known as Wolf People first got together in 2005 and began “gigging” in 2006, but revealed they didn’t start “touring proper” until 2009. Three of the members of the band lived in Bedfordshire, while the other hailed from London and it was difficult, they said, to get the band together to rehearse being roughly 40 miles apart. But after traveling through the United States on their first U.S. tour, which began in New York City October 11 and wraps up October 21 in Chicago, IL, the band has a new appreciation for the size of Britain compared to the United States. (United Kingdom 94,000 sq. mi./United States 3,794,000 sq. mi.)
As drummer Tom Watt put it: “At this point, if we want to play a gig, what’s 350 miles, you know?”

Before the show, the band invited me backstage, which was really just a small side room in the buildings basement, for an informal exchange over a few PBRs and the faint hum of an old furnace chugging away like the Little Engine That Could. Accompanied by my photographer, Brendan, we sat back and talked casually about everything from the future of the band and the music scenes in London to their awe of the size of American pickup trucks and our insistence on tipping for alcohol.

“In the U.K.,” front man Jack Sharp explained, “you don’t tip on alcohol, and that’s very different here [in the U.S.]” He went on to say that tipping on drinks might encourage better service from the bar staff back in England, but that it hardly ever works, and usually results with some random person just taking your bills off the bar counter. Touché.

Ace of Cups was empty when my partner and I arrived about a quarter after eight. The band looked as though they had just arrived and were still setting up their equipment on the small, nook stage off to the right of the main room as you enter through the front entrance. Dark-stained hardwood floors and finishing serve as the main decor. To the left as you enter is a long, dark-stained hardwood bar. The lighting is low, almost sinister as it shines off of the rich finishes of the wood. The image of the bright autumn moon looming overhead kept coming to mind as I set to watch a band called Wolf People. Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I made every effort to encourage the odd synchronicity of the evening by ordering up a Barley’s Blood Thirst Wheat and howling at the full moon on all fours…Alright, so I didn’t do the last part. But the beer was delicious.
Medieval gothic decor dominates all backdrops at the intimate Ace of Cups on High St.
(Lutz 2013)
By the time I finished up talking to the band, a sizable crowd of around 150 had found their way to the Ace of Cups to take in the show. Wolf People was billed as the opening act for progressive, Indie rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra, which was set to go on around 11:30pm. At first, it didn’t seem like many people were there for Wolf People, and understandably so as an opening act. Weaving through the crowds of bundled up music patrons on a brisk fall evening, few nods to either band were bantered back and forth between sips of PBR and quaffs of brown bourbon. Right as Wolf People took the stage, one attendee in back of me shouted, “DORNEY REACH.” That was the first inclination anybody other than myself in attendance had ever heard of Wolf People before. Tsk tsk, Mr. Lutz. Assumptions make an ass of you and me. Their first song was a spot on rendition of “All Returns” the second song off of Fain released in April and one of the bands newest singles, followed by “Silbury Sands” off of Steeple. Other tracks included the aforementioned “One by One from Dorney Reach”, “Nrr”, also from Fain, “Castle Keep”, and the lone song played from Tidings in “Cotton Strands.”

Their sound has been regarded as retro and a throwback to the psychedelic bands of the 60s and 70s, but Wolf People largely came across as regarding their sound as prog-folk with hip hop origins inspired by DJ Shadow, Mighty Babies, Dungen, Iron Claw, and Dark.

“Around the time we moved to London in 1990 we got into a phase where we were complete bored with conventional instrument playing. We were pretty much obsessed with sampling and digging for obscure songs and that’s pretty much all we did,” Tom Watt explained of their sound and how it came to be. “We then sort of got bored of sampling. So we decided to try to make something with those [sampling and conventional song playing] kind of sounds in it.”

Their initial release, Tidings, was actually a sort of “bedroom” recording put together exclusively by Sharp. After hearing a couple of songs, which were just anonymous tracks without a cohesive title at the time, friends and peers suggested he and Watt try to recruit others to play the album out live. It was there, in a small London apartment where the band began to take form.

“We had a flat in London,” Sharp added, “where we could actually play out and practice. We could set our drums up.”

“Living in London, to get an apartment like that,” Tom says with a smile, “is quite lucky.”

Agreed. It’s hard to do that in Akron, let alone in one of the Top 20 largest cities in the world.
The band admits there was never really an aim for their sound, or even their future, initially.

“The idea was always to carry on and do something [Sharp and Watt], but we didn’t know what.” The two were actually doing different things at the time the idea for Wolf People came about. Jack was doing demos and Tom was involved with various prog-rock, jazz groups. Their initial exposure for the Wolf People act came on a website called Vinyl Vulture (then called VG Plus), where Sharp first posted their initial projects.

Then in walked blonde-haired, blue plaid bassist Dan Davies, introductions went around, and we got back to it. For the time being, anyhow. The dressing room was, by definition, small. We later had to vacate the dressing room in exchange for the basement floor in the hallway just outside. Too many bodies. Davies sat, legs crossed, on the concrete floor and treated himself to a PBR.

We continued to talk about their sound and the state of the music industry both in the U.K. and U.S. I posed the question where they would like to see their music, and music in general go in the next few years, and their answer was really striking.

“More and more I feel like we should be making an effort to move things forward,” said Sharp. With a good-natured, self-critical laugh, he adds, “I get so much joy out of play fuzzy rock music. And it’s not even nostalgic; we’re just playing it, it’s just fun. It sounds good. We’re enjoying it; the people in front of us are enjoying it. It sounds good.”

“Don’t reinvent the wheel?” I ask. To which Watt replies, “Exactly.”
Wolf People on stage at Ace of Cups in Columbus during a final sound check.
(Lutz 2013)
“I do think,” Sharp continues, “that advances in music should be made in terms of rhythm and melody rather than relying on technology to move things forward. I personally think there are still things you can do with rhythm and melody completely new that didn’t involve just hitting a button or involving a new piece of equipment that just come out.”

It was interesting to think about. He went on to say that he almost feels, to be a new musician anymore, that’s what you have to do [hyper use technology].”

Unfortunately for Wolf People and its members, some critics have been less than enthused with a more stripped down kind of approach, “writing them off” as a retro band.

“Believe it or not, Watt said quite casually at one point in the interview, “One of our worst reviews in London included a criticism that we sounded too much like Led Zeppelin.” Both Brendan and I nearly turned purple from disbelief. Watt continued: “There is some amazing music in the electronic scene, but it just seems like one person creates a new, electronic kind of sound and then everyone just jumps on that straightaway.”

“They beat it to death?” I suggest.

“Exactly.”

And, in effect, Wolf People try to ignore that whole sort of scene and just play “fuzzy rock” and have fun doing it.

The new release, Fain, is available on iTunes for download, Amazon, the band’s website, and through label Jagjaguwar. Wolf People, in keeping with the throwback sounds of their music, offer all three LPs on vinyl as well as CD and digital release. During the interview, they announced they’re set to release an EP in December, which will feature two tracks from Fain and two new songs from a potential fourth album. In the meantime, Wolf People have a few more shows left in the U.K. to round out the year after finishing up the final dates on the current U.S. tour.

“As soon as we finish an album we always tell ourselves we want to get started on the next straightaway,” Watt said of the band’s future. “But, as it often plays out, that doesn’t always happen.”

Word. How many of us can relate to that? You begin a project or a new phase in life with one set of expectations, and then, looking back once the ride has pulled back into the station and, reflecting on all the loops, twists, turns, and hills, how often do the two ever truly align? Microcosm of existence right there, you never know what the future holds until you’re strapped in and flying full-tilt through its courses. But if you find yourself listening to Wolf People at any point in the near future, you can expect to find something original, driving, and played at the hands of four musicians who both take their music seriously and have fun with it. Even if it is just fuzzy, Led Zeppelin, retro folk they’re playing.

No sympathy from the modern critic…