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By: Andy Little Photo By: Andy Springham
The critically acclaimed Wolfhounds released four albums between their formation in 1984 to their split in 1990, as well as contributing a few John Peel sessions, and an appearance on the now legendary NME fronted C86 cassette back in 1986. They reformed in 2006 at the request of St Etienne’s Bob Stanley to play at a celebratory C86 20th anniversary gig at London’s ICA. This sparked and set in in motion more gigs and the writing of new material which were released as singles on Odd Box Records. These singles were later released as an album, Middle Aged Freaks, in 2015. Now, they are about to reveal their first album proper since 1990, Untied Kingdom (or how to come to terms with your culture), is as ambitious and expansive as the title suggests, and should at the very least maintain their lauded status. We caught up with the founders and the driving force behind the band, Dave Callahan and Andy Golding, to find out more about the ideas and making of the said record.
(((o))): The title of the album, and the cover, conveys an impression it is, at the very least loosely, a concept album. Did you begin with the idea first or did it develop later due to the shape and themes of your lyrics and how they were forming?
Dave: I’ve been largely writing about the chaos and confusion of modern London/British life for the last few years and trying to figure out a way of making that scattergun approach coherent.
I wrote ‘Apparition’ by singing it into my phone, and it formed itself into a kind of description of the current resurrection of Victorian values we seem to be going through at the moment, represented by the ghost of a cartoon Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel built a fair amount of the infrastructure in east London, and a fair few people died doing the labouring, so he seemed like an obvious cipher for that dominant upper class, especially as he had the clichéd cigar and top hat to make fun of.
Around the same time, ‘Across the River of Death’ suggested itself when the title of an old travel book I own, and the phrase, settled well on a riff I’d written in a weird tuning. I’ve written about the extravagances of the colonial age in other songs before, so I after the first verse I pretentiously wanted it to encapsulate the whole of human life in one song – all the good and bad things people do, and how we should all strive to do better rather than wallow in our failures. I kind of had Jacques Brel’s lengthier songs and The Wasteland in mind, though I don’t much like Eliot.
So, I had a beginning and an end in mind and the rest of the songs kind of fell into place, though it’s no more of a concept than most of our other records – it just seems a bit more epic owing to the length of some tracks and the sprawl of it over two 12” discs.
We often start the set with ‘Across the River of Death’, so the concept doesn’t extend to live where the order is more structured as to how it will affect the crowd.
(((o))): Was it a hard decision or risky choice to use Joel Goodman’s now renowned photo for the album cover?
Dave: No – the moment I saw it, I thought it would suit the mood of the tracks. The photo is well known now, of course, but it is timeless in its scuzziness. It seems to say that nothing has changed in human behaviour over history – it’s like Hogarth or Juvenal, but in the rain in front of Greggs. It took some negotiation to get permission, but it’s being used legit.
(((o))): On the song ‘The Comedians’ you, like many, grew up watching and listening to the 1970’s show, The Comedians, whose jokes were focused on clichés and stereotyping people, and how you avoided forming their outlook on life. Were there any specific life experiences which helped you see through their rather, shall we say, blinkered view on life?
Dave: Shows like The Comedians I kind of considered as part and parcel of the peer pressure to conform at the time, something which I had already seen through even as a kid, partly because I didn’t fit in. I was lucky – I knew other misfits who went the other way and joined organisations like the National Front, but I had a healthy disrespect for any authority imbued in me by being brought up an atheist. The racist and sexist jokes told on the programme (which was incredibly popular) were only funny if you accepted their premise, which I found it hard to do in the first place as it just didn’t make sense. Also, there was an easy availability of magazines from NME to Spare Rib to Private Eye, all of which could be read by awkward kids like me who wanted to have their preconceptions challenged or were curious about life outside their limited local areas. Don’t get me wrong, I have prejudices like anyone else but I try not to take them as a given.
(((o))): There is a warm nostalgia to the song ‘My Legendary childhood’ and it sounds like you had a good childhood. There is the line ‘I don’t feel bad about getting up to no good.’ What kind of shenanigans did you get up to?
Dave: The nostalgia in the song is misleading. As is all nostalgia. It’s superficially a look back to then times when I was a teenager, taking crap drugs, exploring sex and sexuality, launching yourself into raging obsessions. We were being told that there was no point in doing anything creative, it had all been done before and better. But we did it anyway. It’s a message to people now to ignore cultural and financial imitations, no matter how harsh, and just get on with it. Of course, that’s kind of easy for me to say …
(((o))): In the song ‘The Stupid Poor’ the line ‘the stupid poor are born to serve, credit to the companies’ is rather packed with meaning. Can you elaborate on that line and also about the song as a whole?
Dave: Well, that little ditty is meant to reflect the fears of the bourgeois towards working/’ordinary’ people. “We’d better batten down the hatches because the poor will take all our stuff that we’ve worked so hard to accumulate,” that kind of thing. And of course, the whole of the working and purchasing world now revolves around credit, which is why we’re in the state we’re in. Keep exploitin’ ‘em and keep ‘em in their place!
(((o))): A lot of people will connect with the song ‘Thanks’ about going above and beyond at work, working longer hours, and how it now seems to be expected. But, as you say it doesn’t put extra food on the table. Are you concerned there have been reports that the current government hasn’t ruled out cutting or removing some workers’ rights when we leave the European Union?
Dave: Of course. But the song is meant to be more universal and timeless than that. It’s just about being forced to work extra for no pay, and the effect that has on family life. It’s a blues song in essence.
(((o))): There are some powerful one-liners in the song ‘Across the river of death’, which may, in my opinion, be one of the best songs so far in the Wolfhounds canon of work. Could you elaborate more about the themes and how it developed into a near 8 minutes long epic?
Dave: See above, but you can’t have that ‘How The West Was Lost’ kind of breadth without being epic, and the music seemed to be able to stand prolonged torture. The first time we played it was in Glasgow, and a member of the audience said: “That first song was great. It just kept going and wouldn’t stop!” It’s a confused song lyrically about a confused world, but it’s meant to have all human therein, good or bad – it’s up to you to decide which.
(((o))): How does it feel to be veterans of the original Indie music scene and are there any key differences being in the band in the 1980’s compared to the present day?
Dave: I don’t feel like a veteran. I feel more like another regeneration of Dr Who. We still have the Tardis, but it all looks subtly different, there’s a new assistant or two, and lots of new adventures to have. And still Daleks to fight. Always the Daleks.
(((o))): As well as featuring the signature Wolfhounds Indie guitar pop crossover sound, the new album, however, does feel/sound like a return to the band’s early 12 inch singles/E.Ps in the sense it is more expansive, unafraid to be experimental. How did this take shape and develop?
Andy: We took a year between recording the drum tracks for the live songs and then completing the songs. That gave us plenty of time to work on the parts and arrangements live, so by the time we came to recording the guitars, vocals and other parts we had a lot of ideas that we could try out. Having access to recording facilities at home using Macs and iPhones also opens up a whole world of experimentation. I was able to record my guitars and vocals, Alice’s vocals, the bass tracks (with Richard) and the violin tracks (with Paul) without having a lot of the ‘time is money’ pressure you get when recording in a studio. These days you can take your time and get it right until you are happy. Dave was doing the same thing with other musicians independently to me at his house and we swapped a lot of files via email. We then sent then parts we were happy with to Ant (who is not afraid to point out bad ideas) and he compiled them into rough mixes. When we got to the final mixes we had a lot of editing and arranging to do, but it was really exciting to hear the parts all gel in the studio and create a whole.
(((o))): The one constant throughout the Wolfies history is the song writing partnership between yourself and Dave Callahan. Has the process/methods you both write together changed over the years?
Andy: When we first started it was a lot more “who’s got a riff?” when we went to rehearsals and then Dave would put words over the top. From ‘Blown Away’ onwards Dave started writing more music and lyrics on his own and we started to play and arrange those as well. We do still write both ways (‘Now I’m A Killer’ was written like that) but we used a lot more of Dave’s songs on the new album as they are just great songs. It’s fine by me as it gives me freedom to sonically add to them without being too cautious or precious. I think we took several of them in directions that Dave wasn’t expecting when he first presented them.
(((o))): How did Terry Edwards become involved with his contribution to the song ‘Legendary Childhood’?
Terry went to the same school as Dave and their paths have crossed over the years. That song started off as a medium paces pop track when Dave first send me a scratchy demo. I sort of turned it into a half speed, bass heavy PIL thing, and then Terry’s horn parts have turned it into something else again.
(((o))): On the track ‘Fire in the home’ you list as musical credits I-phone and Bulbul Tarang. How did you, if it’s the right word, play I-phone? And, forgive my ignorance, but what is a Bulbul Tarang?
I wrote and recorded ‘Fire in The Home’ mostly on an iPhone on train journeys, adding vocals and other parts later. iPhones and Garageband have just changed commuting for ever for me. You can start off at 6am with a sample of a train door, loop and ruin it by the time you get to Liverpool Street, add a beat and write some words on the tube, and have a completed backing track sent to The Cloud and downloaded into Logic for working on by the time your evening meal is ready. A Bulbul Tarang is also known as an Indian Banjo. I got it off of Ebay. I’ll send you a picture.
We are going to play it live, so we’ve had to learn it as a band for the first time and it’s now going somewhere completely different. That’s the best thing about being in a band; things evolve
(((o))): The band have in the past never been afraid to play all new songs in a set. Are you considering playing the album all the way through when you tour to promote it? How will the band accommodate the various other sounds on the album e.g. backing vocals, keyboards, horns etc?
We are playing most of the new album live, plus a few tracks from ‘Middle Aged Freaks’. I have no problem with older songs, it just that a lot of the new songs are 6 or 7 minutes long so we don’t have a lot of time. If we ever release a 10 album boxset and get to play Wembley we can do a 3-hour long set. We hope to have a few guest musicians popping up here and there. We’ll see. We’re not Orbital, so playing along to backing tracks is not really an option.
(((o))): Who are your key musical influences? Which guitarists inspire you?
All of the guitarists that played in The Magic Band (even the rubbish ones), Hugh Cornwall, Robert Fripp on ‘Scary Monsters’, Angus Young, Neil Young, Hubert Sumlin, Jeff Hanneman/Kerry King, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Ribot, Paul Clark, Matt Deighton, Dave Callahan, everyone else. In that order.
The Wolfhounds release Untied Kingdom (or how to come to terms with your culture) on Odd Box records on 14th October. They head out to play The Prince Albert, Brighton 14th October – The Square, Harlow 15th Oct – The Swan, Ipswich 27th Oct – The Islington, Angel, London on 29th October.