Wolf Eyes “There’s no towel to be thrown in yet. Ever.”

Keeping up with the Wolf Eyes discography is something of an insurmountable task.

“We got a huge tidal wave of recordings, they’re just sitting there and getting moldy in the basement, or making Discogs dudes grow older by the minute,” says John Olson, one of the band’s founding members (along with Nate Young, who responded to questions via email). Olson introduces himself on the conference call line as “John, inzane” and is phoning from a skate park on a Sunday afternoon. “We’ve got enough releases to last us until the cockroaches take over.”

There are zillions of Wolf Eyes releases, on about as many labels, and the third member of the lineup has switched three times since the band’s inception in the late 90s (from Aaron Dilloway to Mike Connelly to “Crazy” Jim Baljo). The band has worked with De Stijl, Sub Pop, Hanson Records, and Hospital Productions, and now they’re adding two more labels into the mix: Third Man, the label founded by fellow Michigander Jack White, and Orion Read, a curated label that has released a Tim Heidecker album and a handful of recordings from country singer Terry Allen.

Wolf Eyes’ new album, I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces will be out October 30 on the former, while the group’s second full-length, Slicer, was just released on vinyl for the first time by the latter. And, true to prolific form, the band is releasing rarities on their new Bandcamp page at a pace of five recordings a month. Bring on the cockroaches.


What’s the experience working with Third Man been like so far?

NGY: Third Man has been amazing. They bought our record straight up. They did not ask to change any of the music or art, they just trusted our vision 100 percent. They even offered to help bail Jim out of jail. Truly supportive in every aspect of this record. We only signed on for one LP but I would do another if they asked.

JO: We had the record pretty much done and we were shopping it around before those guys got at us, so it was already in the bag. Those guys reached out to us because we’ve known them for a long time, so it’s kind of a local homey Michigan-style thing. It’s been nice. They’ve been great.

And you get to put something out that will have a catalog number that says “TM.”

JO: Yeah, that shows they know what’s up.

So did you guys go straight into working on this album after releasing No Answer: Lower Floors?

JO: Kind of. Nate will write a beat, we’ll hash it out, we’ll go on the road, and then it will eventually just kind of write itself through playing it live. So we’re always having a set of live songs that we’re working on. So it’s just a process. By the time the record’s out, we don’t want to play those songs anymore.

If the listener is missing the sticky spray paint covers and poorly-made tape labels then come take a ride in my car, it has had a tape stuck in the stereo for four years.

Can you describe the writing/recording process for the new album? Did you do anything differently than you have in the past?

NGY: Writing this record was a very long process. I wrote enough material for a double LP but only used half of it. I recently started using different DAWs [digital audio workstations] to sequence and record. This made composing more of a live experience. I was able to change drum sounds and try different algorithms while everyone was jamming. In the past, I had always written the compositions on my MPC at home, and only worked on editing alone. I brought in Charles Ballas [Dan’l Boone, Formant] and Leith Campbell to help with the final mixing. I usually do everything myself but this record took over a year to record and my ears started to get tired.

How do you guys decide to write/record something as “Wolf Eyes” as opposed to recording something under the moniker of any of your other various projects?

NGY: The instrumentation is usually what makes the different bands. Nowadays, all that really does not matter, I use all the same gear in every project and band. I think a little Regression minimal synth sounds at home in Wolf Eyes, and the Stare Case blues works great as well.

JO: It was our dream, it still is our dream, to have it all be under one umbrella and just incorporate all the elements into one thing. I cooled out on playing live under a lot of my projects and just putting all my energy into the Wolf game. There’s a lot of Stare Case ideas and stuff like that, so it’s just trying to make the umbrella a little more narrow so that we don’t have to change it so much. At the end of the day it’s just one vernacular sound and idea that we all share.

I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces sounds less minimal, more instrumental than 2013’s No Answer: Lower Floors. Did you know consciously that you would be incorporating more instrumentation into the new album when you started working on it, or did that come into play over time?

NGY: We consciously brought back the woodwinds and sax. The new material demanded we embrace all of our past experiments and try new ones. Bass Rhodes is used on almost every track.

JO: When we rolled up to No Answer, we lost [Mike] Connelly and we had Jim, so everything was kind of new, we were still kind of getting our feet in the ground. It’s really difficult to replace someone in a trio, a pyramid. So there was a little bit of scrambling going on, but we all like to play and practice so eventually we popped this album, it really worked well with Jim’s style of riff-playing. It’s a lot more song-based. A lot more riffs. A lot more ideas – not necessarily just building upon texture, but a lot more modal ideas, being in tune, a lot more musical stuff that me and Nate really worked hard on in Stare Case. So that kind of opened up the door to the new level, next phase of Wolf Eyes. And consequently, now, we’re just going back to free-forming.

As you guys have gotten older and you have families, you’ve been a band for a while, do you still feel as involved with the DIY and skate scenes as you were when you started, or has that changed?

JO: I think the nature of DIY has changed a lot. It’s become kind of watered down, it has it its own baggage and rules. Back in the day, it could mean anything. Whenever I think of DIY, I think about a killer dude in a town that had a rad basement, and that was the end of that. You’d go and experience this dude’s world, or this guy or girl and their scene, and you’d meet a whole bunch of people with a bunch of different viewpoints, and now it’s like, the DIY umbrella is under some coffee shop shit or something like that. I think that you roll up to a DIY place nowadays and it’s got more rules than a Walmart, you know what I’m saying? I’m intelligent, my friends are intelligent, we don’t need rules, and we don’t need people to tell us what to do.

I think that you roll up to a DIY place nowadays and it’s got more rules than a Walmart, you know what I’m saying? I’m intelligent, my friends are intelligent, we don’t need rules, and we don’t need people to tell us what to do.

How do you continue to maintain the Trip Metal lifestyle?

NGY: Trip Metal is nothing but a headspace. It exists to make connections with people based on confusion, rather than confusion being a threat to authenticity. The one true thing we all have in common is confusion.

JO: It’s just kind of fun to us now. I roll up to a skate park and a dude I’ve never met will start talking about it. And having a kid gets you out of your shell and doesn’t make you intense, serious. So I totally am into the lightening up of everything. When you say ‘trip metal’ you kind of chuckle. And not to be stereotypical or anything, but it seems like a lot more women are into it rather than like, say, power electronics which seems extremely exclusionary. I see a lot of women getting involved in it and all sorts of people in the cracks feel that they can step to it and not be judged. It’s all welcoming.

That’s why noise was such a turn-off to us, it started to get sort of divided and male, you had to do this and you had to do that. When I was a kid in high school, I read an interview with Genesis P-Orridge who said the only way to be absolutely free is to invent your own language. And that stuck with me 100 percent in almost everything I do, even when I skate I have my own tricks that nobody else can do. Strive for something that only you can do, you can do that musically and through skating or through anything.

Can you see inside with your sunglasses on?

JO: No. An artist friend of mine that we’ve known forever gave me the trademark cyber Trip Metal glasses, and I keep losing them, so she keeps sending me batches of two like once a month. And I keep losing them. But I’ve got really bad eyesight, I’ve got one eye that’s like 20 vision, and my other eye is like -5, so I always gotta wear my glasses, and I don’t like wearing my glasses on stage, so I just wear sunglasses to not have just a bare face, and it’s great because you concentrate on the music, but I can’t see 3 feet in front of me. So if there’s a commotion or anything like that, I have no idea what’s going on. When I was younger and I played drums I had a lot of older people thinking I was blind.

NGY: S.A.D.s are traditional in Trip Metal. Lux said it best: “I got somethin’ to say to you and you better listen. I’m’a tell ya how to be cool in one easy lesson. Sunglasses after dark! AAAAAHHHH! They’re so sharp! And you’ll be cool… and the squares’ll drool.”

So what’s next?

NGY: We are going on a world tour.

JO: We’re doing a thing at Third Man where we’re recording 40 7’’ and we’re going to do it live to their acetate machine and then we’re going to hand-make all the covers for those and then have an art show at Trans-Pecos in New York of all the records. Some of it will be live but I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone — to watch us play for 24 hours or something like that. But we have this whole new style of jamming, like a system of writing songs from scratch that we call improvising but it’s a songwriting system, so we’ve been working hard on that for that 40-record art show thing that Third Man’s gonna do for us, so that’ll be fun.

Third Man has been amazing. They bought our record straight up. They did not ask to change any of the music or art, they just trusted our vision 100 percent. They even offered to help bail Jim out of jail.

Are you bringing your woodwinds on tour?

JO: I just bought a C melody saxophone, which is a rare 40s saxophone that’s pitched to a C, it was made for riffing during the boogie-woogie era. It’s pitched like a piano and you can play it almost like a bass. I’ve been playing that a lot. So there will be a ton of woodwind, that’s a big part of the new sound. I’d like to eventually just play woodwinds but we always need a lurking tone underneath everything that kind of acts as a bass or a timbre.

In addition to the new record there’s also the Bandcamp project. Why did you decide to make the jump to digital releases? Do you feel like anything in the music/listener experience suffers from being released only in digital format?

NGY: Tangible objects can never be replaced. The digital archive is a way for us to never forget the mass amount of tangible objects we have created. Honestly, most of my copies of the limited releases are either lost or beaten up so bad they do not play. If the listener is missing the sticky spray paint covers and poorly-made tape labels then come take a ride in my car, it has had a tape stuck in the stereo for four years.

JO: We got a huge tidal wave of old recordings, they’re just sitting there and getting moldy in the basement or making Discogs dudes grow older by the minute – at least doing it this way more people will hear it and they will be able to put the story into perspective, so that’s kind of why we did it. And we got a manager guy for us that helps facilitate the whole thing, ‘cause it’s kind of hard with ex-members, and you know, the different releases, stuff like that. So having a third party helped a lot.

Organizationally?

JO: And diplomatically. We’ve got enough releases to last us until the cockroaches take over, so there will be a lot of that going on.

There’s so much material, can you listen to an old recording and remember what you were thinking at that time? Or is it all a blur?

JO: Oh, yeah, 100%. You remember the studio you recorded it in, how you were feeling at the moment. It’s like when you smell an old smell and it just brings you right back.

There’s a book about post-punk, Rip It Up and Start Again, and it mentions Wolf Eyes in the same breath as Interpol and Franz Ferdinand, which I always thought was a funny grouping. How do you feel about being grouped with those bands then? I feel like now you take on totally different adjectives or are associated with a totally different movement.

JO: We’ve seen so many cats and movements come and go. Styles come and go so fast. People are always trying to group everything together, but a lot of the time it just makes us mad. Like this festival we played last week was filled with all these gloom, doomy acts and that’s just not our trip at all. But, at the same time, inversely, it’s great to play in front of a new audience. We did a really long tour with Sonic Youth, or even before that — the Oops tour with The Locust and Arab On Radar. It was like playing in front of a ream of paper every night, nothing was happening. But I think that kind of stand-off is really good for aesthetics because it makes you play better, and if you’re playing radical music you might as well be doing something radical.

If you can make someone listen to something they don’t want to hear, then you’re at a really good aesthetic opportunity, rather than just preaching to the converted nonstop. And we’re always trying for that situation, and that’s why we love Third Man, and Sub Pop, because it’s not “TM-approved.” We had a couple of opportunities to go with things that made more sense in terms of a label but we’ve always been a fan of the conflict and not fitting in, rather than putting the fangs on and going to the vampire dance.

You know, we’re totally spoiled rotten with gigs, because this summer we played what I feel to be the best gig of our career, at the Satanic Unveiling in Detroit. That was, to me, the ultimate night, never a musical achievement, but in terms of the First Amendment, going back to DIY being a place where anything could happen. To me, it was phenomenal, it was America at its best. Free speech. Conflict. Satan. It was awesome … anything after that, until we play on the River Styx, it’s going to be hard to top that.

But you’re going to try?

JO: Oh, yeah. There’s no towel to be thrown in yet. Ever.

[Photo: Alivia Zivich]

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