Editor’s note: For the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we are calling “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!
At first glance, London’s Wolf People aesthetically represent the revival of hirsute resin-caked pub-rock. Throw in a flute, a harmonica, and audible vinyl tick and scratch, and you’re reliving Thick As a Brick in your uncle’s basement apartment. Unfashionable as retro–grave digging may sound in some circles, there’s something to be said for striking past the sediment of classic rock and rediscovering the vibes and atmosphere concentrated in records by the Groundhogs, Traffic, and Might Baby. Lead Wolf Jack Sharp will be the first to admit that he’s of the generation more in tune with The Chronic and Aphex Twin than the buried scrolls of British psych, but he’s also found comfort in those primitive, yet progressive, grooves and has spent the better part of this decade at home recording the common ground between technology and those time warps. Recruiting a proper band to fully realize these dusty juxtapositions was the next logical step. With Joe Hollick on guitar, Daniel Davies on bass and Tom Watt on drums, Sharp now has the muscle and sonic ability to bring his bedroom visions to the stage.
Wolf People’s Stateside debut for the venerable, fringe-loving Jagjaguwar, Tidings, was created piecemeal, with the band’s celebrated early singles woven in between. Abstract psych fractals, dirty riffs that became ephemeral interludes, and legitimate breakbeats guide harpsichords, thumb pianos, and acid-drenched solos backwards and forwards until they vibrate long after they’re out of the mix. If it wasn’t for Sharp’s penchant for finding a modern vintage in the near-quadraphonic sonic escapism, those not attuned might mistake the album for an Avalanche-styled mixtape of Vertigo’s rare vaults, connecting all the dots between the ’70s British renaissance of heavy blues, heavy folk, heavy metal and innately deep psychedelic music. Speaking with Sharp, on the precipice of Tidings’ and an American tour, I got the feeling there’s an even grander, richer, experience in the works, as the band’s proper full-length for the label is already in progress.
First, I’m interested in knowing how Wolf People came to be a band, as I know it was originally a bedroom project played just by you. When you were recording by yourself, did you always try to create such an ambitious sound?
Jack Sharp: No, it actually started by accident. I started by producing hip-hop for various people. I was doing mostly instrumental stuff, which is a bit weird considering how things turned out. That was about four or five years ago. I wanted to get back into playing guitar because I was in bands when I was 16 and 17. I was listening to Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk and thought I should have a go of it. So I just started really enjoying experimenting and messing with tape at home by myself. It was a natural progression to get a band together from there.
What in particular drew you to such a specific enclave of British music? Have you always been listening to those records?
JS: Mining my parents’ records influenced a lot of things. My father has always loved the blues and my mother loved folk music. She was even in a few clubs in the late ’60s. But I think when you’re 15 and 16, you don’t really care about the records that your parents have, and you want to rebel against them. So I was mostly into hip-hop and dance music, though I would secretly listen to Crosby, Stills and Nash or Cream. Being into hip-hop, I would buy a lot of those records for sampling and ended up loving them anyway. That opened my ears to all of the older stuff and I became influenced by that.
I think Americans certainly aren’t as familiar with older Jethro Tull, Wishbone Ash, and Traffic records. Do you find your peers as knowledgeable about the records that influenced you?
JS: There is a niche here of like-minded bands that are into that music, and up until signing to Jagjaguwar, we’ve more or less operated in that little sphere. But now we’ve started playing in front of more diverse audiences, and it’s usually split. Half will say we’re doing the Black Sabbath, while we don’t necessarily sound like Sabbath. And until recently we’ve played with a flute player, and we always got the Jethro Tull thing, though we’re not that familiar with Tull.
This is not a slight, but to a lot of music fans here, Jethro Tull is somewhat of a punchline. I think it’s only because of Ian Anderson’s flute-playing, when in actuality Tull made some brilliant records. What’s their legacy like there?
JS: Well, I’m not sure if it’s something people forget or just don’t know, but in the ’70s there were so many great bands using a flute. A few years ago, we sent out a compilation of music that was primarily rock with flute to show it wasn’t just Jethro Tull.
Even though your music contains a handful of vintage elements, there’s a lot on Tidings that keeps it modern. I love the thumb piano on “Storm Cloud,” but the beats are crisp and almost robotic. The overall production places it in the now, so I’m curious to know what you do specifically in order to differentiate your recordings from the past.
JS: Live it’s hard for us to get away from that retro thing, when we are just guitars and drums. So we are trying to tour on this record using a tape machine to get the feel of the record.
Tidings includes singles and “interludes” previously recorded, but do you see it as a cohesive record? Are the interludes scraps of songs thrown away or are they more experiments?
JS: When Jagjaguwar signed us, Chris Swanson (part-owner of the label) wanted to release the early stuff, but since people here had been following us from the beginning, I didn’t want to put the same thing out again. I collected up all the bits and tried to stitch it together so people hearing it for the first time would like it, and those who’d maybe heard it before would get something new out of it. None of the stuff on Tidings is new recordings, and most of it comes from archives of ideas. The tape machine that I use is a really cheap ’70s machine that my granddad owned. It was in the garage until I was given it, and with it came a lot of tape of my great-grandad, whom I’d never met, reading audio letters. I had all of these archives of my family that I thought would work well in the mix.
Did you find yourself more drawn to those tape experiments or to creating these heavy blues jams?
JS: Right now, we’re in a transition. Most of the music on Tidings is just me alone, and over time, through collaborating and developing a band, we’ve moved a step on. The space between what we’re going to be doing and the old stuff that we’re playing is a strange place for us.
So you’re already in the process of recording your first proper full-length? How is that going to sound compared to these older songs? What did you want to do differently?
JS: We want to capture what it sounds like with all of us in the room. The songs have been written in a slightly different way. With the second record, we’ve tended to write first—either I’ll bring a song or we’ll write as a band—and thinking then about what we want to add to it afterwards. That’s an absolutely different process for me. Who knows if that will be detrimental?