Sunday, 2 September 2012

Interview: The Family Wolves

So, Family Wolves – is it with or without the ‘The’?

“With the ‘The’, definitely,” asserts Matt Williamson, co-ringleader at Rusholme’s eclectic arts house Antwerp Mansion and the crux of The Family Wolves, a rock band formed from within the Mansion’s decrepit walls. “You need a run-up to it,” adds lead guitarist Dan Jones.

A fair point; it would be unwise to dive straight in. So, some key facts: there are six of them, they play music for the love, they have been gigging for less than a year, they’d pack it in to be able to make cheese and pate platters at the Mansion and they go by The Family Wolves.

Given Williamson’s proclivity towards more complex verse, it comes as no surprise to discover that this name derives from a Sylvia Plath poem named ‘Manor Garden’, which contains the line: “two suicides, the family wolves.” Of course, there’s more to them than odes and hors d’oeuvres.

As with any of the third Millennium AD’s heaped recycling centre mound of music, there are influences; part of the trick is being able to delve deep enough into the mound so that it’s as freshly repackaged and unrecognisable as the last time it successfully emerged. For The Family Wolves, this is a 1960s USA West coast jam band psyche folk feel, paralleled of course by others before and since using the media du jour but placeable geographically and temporally both in its outward appearance and stated nurture.

Neil Young’s legacy crops up in the ‘sounds like’ column as his is a smartly presented grunge. Grunge’s Godfather, in fact. And not the FF Coppola crime syndicate variety, but a less ill-tempered model. Aesthetically, the Godfather’s apparel is apparent with the Wolves' trilbies and waistcoats rather than a scruffy demeanour more fitting with Young’s Godsons and Goddaughters of the late Twentieth Century stoner rock.
On top of this, the vocal angle is more choral than growl, much indebted to Celine Belli’s reprise of Emmylou Harris’s collaborations with the Canadian Young, or more currently Mimi Parker with Low, Amber Webber with Black Mountain and until 2010 Rachel Fannan with Sleepy Sun. Indeed she carries her double x chromosome like a lone star, shining it as crucially as those fellow psyche maelstrom brewers. Again, although more modern, the appendices are North American.

Although relative Luddites compared with the loopers and vocoders and Ableton Live sequencers of Twenty Twelve, Gibson SG wielder Dan Jones boasts a well-populated pedal board featuring an oft-used Wah Wah wailing with near-crescendonic dominance. But even as lead guitar he stays in line with the Family’s values; the bluesy garishness of the late 60s with post-“Judas” folk amplification is still more team than I. Ivory tinkler Bradlie Houldsworth too is an example of FX in a land of Americana.
Sticksman Alex Grindulis (also of post-rocker locals Peak District) remains untouched by technology as he thunders his skins with a furious fortitude, as if revenge is perched intently in his mind’s eye, just as he is perched intently behind the more upright Wolves.

Then there’s Matt Williamson taking on the burden as the central figure, calm and in control but mindful of scenarios beyond his grasp, which are verbalised with clamour to enamour. His shouts and bawls about who-knows-what deliver in paradox to the poetic eloquence of a classical bard itching within. The polysyllabic articulation is often lost in the sheer depth of the compressed strata emitted by all six, including his own acoustic guitar, plucked rhythmically in tune with the lupine dogmatism rather than aiming to stand out as a lead.
It’s a wholesome broth that can easily lose key ingredients. With this in mind, the motorik certitude of audio density creates another angle aimed towards the stoner rock dial; it’s easy to forget the folk and blues foundations when you’re treading water in gluttonous drone, but for Kris Extance plundering the sonic depths of bassline with rigid reliability. With tides rising vertically all around him it could easily become nonsensical dirge, trailing off into aimless tangential self-indulgence. That rhythm section rudder provides both structure and direction, deliberately guiding towards the sirens luring the Wolves’ bonnie voyage to a final destination.

But it isn’t quite the end. Shouty vocals with messages hidden amidst a crepuscular rhythmic elegy energise a steadily pounding regularity for the hip-swaying shoegazers ebbing across the rattled floorboards. They don’t hear what Williamson says until WHAM; silence hits harder than noise. It clears the room of the all-encompassing muggy miasma enshrouded, before he unflinchingly continues, “I’m your maaaaan!” And in these words he speaks for the whole sextet.
If it’s an unremittingly infectious groove enclosed within clamorous cacophonies that you’re after, then, tonight at the Dulcimer venue in Chorlton at least, he is your man and they are your band.

It hasn’t always been that way in their short history. But as Kris runs through a veritable nightmare of a debut outdoor festival slot at Leek Summer Jam you can tell by his tone that they haven’t taken the experience to heart.

“We got told, ‘2,500 tickets have been sold, you’re on the main stage, at a good time,’ and we were thinking ‘oh, great!’”

“We turned up; three glorified marquees, ours was the furthest one away and the only one without a bar in it as well, the weather was shit, Matt snapped a string before we went on then two when we did go on, the power cut out halfway through the set, the crowd had just witnessed a covers band who played Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ before we went on so that obviously set the mood for us...”
It’d be misguided to blame only external forces every time. Matt’s vocal is often off-key in the same way as Bob Dylan but that’s rock’n’roll, as it is told. Precision discarded for pure, raw emotion; the odd bum note lost and forgotten whether sung, strummed, thwacked, grooved or tinkled. After all, to make genuine mistakes is more meaningful and true than hiding behind auto-tuned, over-produced sheen.

They’ve grown tighter both musically and emotionally. Together, they present more than a group; family is indeed a more apt description. They are a synchronous unit, starting as one and pausing in unison, understanding the emphasis of a strategic collected breath before rising to song finales.

Taking account of the root of their growth, the comparisons between Antwerp Mansion and Andy Warhol’s Factory HQ also point towards the equally ramshackle collective The Velvet Underground. Indeed, Lou Reed’s troupe’s early backroom dirges harvested a fine crop of recordings and so will be the case for The Family Wolves, with a debut EP pressed through their Animal Sounds label and ready to go later in September.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photography: Andy Minotaur

The Family Wolves next perform live at the Nothin’ But Abattoir Blues Festival on Saturday 8th September, shared across Oldham Street’s Castle Hotel and Gulliver’s. The free entry event also features fellow Now Then gig alumni The Bourbon Words, The Calimocho Club, Death Vignettes and many more besides.

No comments:

Post a Comment