andrew kruse-ross | the ghost wolves | april 2017
Austin's Ghost Wolves return to Green Bay to deliver their own brand of unapologetic swamp rock upon a Lyric Room audience and this time, just days before their new full-length album, “TEXA$ PLATINUM" hits the streets.
Married rockers Carley and Jonny Wolf took some time away from a busy touring schedule to discuss the new album, side projects and more with Frankly Green Bay.
SXSW keeps coming up in my recent interviews, I understand you guys played a showcase at the Swan Dive recently, how'd that go and did you try out some new songs on the crowd?
Jonny Wolf: It was great. That's a nice venue, really our style. We played stuff off the new record mostly. That's what we've been doing lately, new music. SXSW is a beast but it was more manageable this year. The official festival stuff was so much better organized. It seems like they realized they'd outgrown their britches a smidgen and they dialed it all back. Made it doable. Last year we canceled our official show at the last minute because it wasn't doable and it felt dangerous. The crowds were out of control. There was a shooting outside the club. This year, it was a lot better. We had fun. We learned a lot.
Carley Wolf: SXSW is one of my favorite times of year in Austin. The festival brings so many music lovers together and you never know who you will meet or see around town that week. Our Swan Dive show was fun. We played a bunch of unofficial day shows too. It's always a busy week.
'TEXA$ PLATINUM' is quite the endeavor and boasts 16 tracks, I think the last time we spoke you'd just released 'Man, Woman, Beast,' which you recorded at Arlyn Studios in Austin; some of the songs like 'I Got Money' and 'Journey On' will be familiar to fans, others not so much, did you have a pretty clear plan set for what you wanted to do with the new album and was it nice to get back into the studio to record?
JW: Our thing with going into the studio has always been to capture the band in the best light, where we are in time. Records are a freeze frame to us - we work and work, tour, write, rehearse and then boom - capture that vibe as best we can in the studio. We try to work in studios that are almost too good for us, to give us the best chance of getting things right. It's a lightning in the bottle kind of thing...sometimes you get it, and sometimes you don't. I think we did capture some nice moments on this record. There's even an acoustic cut in there, which is unheard of for us. We've done a few acoustic sets lately. Gutbucket style. Mike McCarthy engineered and produced this one. He's a badass. A real genius type technical mind. A tinkerer. A rock and roller at heart, I think. Kind of Detroit in a way, like...don't fuck with my shit. I'll fuck you up. And you're lucky to be here. But real too. A kind dude. He recorded some of the best bands in Austin before he split for Nashville last year. I'm glad we had to chance to hang with him.
CW: It's always so fun to record. I just wish we could do it more often. It goes by so quickly and seems to not come back around often enough. Working with Mike was a great vibe. We learned a lot and got a solid record out of it. 'TEXA$ PLATINUM' was originally going to be 10 tracks, but then we decided to add a few deeper cuts, a track we recorded at SX with Aaron Bastinelli, and one we did at Arlyn with Elijah Ford. It's a great mix.
Howie Weinberg mastered 'TEXA$ PLATINUM,' he famously had a hand in doing the same for so many bands (Nirvana, The Cult, The Clash, Motörhead, the Beastie Boys, The White Stripes, U2, etc.); I know he's had a hand in your work before, what's it like having your album in his hands again?
JW: It's a good feeling. Howie is one of the best. We try to work with the best. We hate to waste time or money when we're producing recorded music. Nothing is more frustrating than dealing with shitty production. You give it your best, you write and get your music together - and then some dude forgets to hit record, or misses something important. That's the worst. We want to work with people at the top of their game, technically speaking. That's hard to find and hard to afford, but we've managed so far. We aren't rich people but we snowball money from one project into the next and try to keep our production values high. What's the point of recording lo-fi music? Now, that said, you can't buy vibe. That's one thing you can't spend money on, it's there or it isn't. But you can definitely set yourself up for success. Or so I think, at this point. Could be totally wrong. Music is like that, you never really can tell until it's done. Maybe our next album will be done with 4 microphones. Who knows? I don't mean you need 2000 tracks and the latest protools to make great records. I just think you need to work with competent people with good ears who can tell you if something sucks or sounds great, and won't fuck up the tape at the most important moment. That's what I mean.
CW: It's an honor to work with Howie. He does great work.
I'm not the first to say that The Ghost Wolves are a band that should be experienced live. You pack a lot of energy into your sets and, I don't mean it lightly when I say your shows are a lot of fun. Is it difficult to capture that live energy in a studio setting or is it something that you maybe approach from a different angle?
JW: Thanks, man. So far we've been approaching it from two different angles, I think. Maybe that's a mistake, I'm not sure yet. We're still learning, figuring stuff out. We've always worked out our kinks publicly and I think that makes us real to people. Our music is real. We don't autotune, we don't tinker. We play drums, guitars and keys, and we sing. That's it. Sometimes we get our friends to sing along in the studio...but we do that live too. We're probably best experienced live at this point but we love being in the studio too. Hearing yourself back in high definition is awesome.
CW: Thank you, that's what we want, for people to have fun. It is very hard to capture the energy of a live show on tape in the studio. It's nice to be able to record in a more controlled atmosphere, though, where you can clearly hear every frequency, but yeah, it's completely different than our live show.
Aside from music, you guys have quite a few extracurricular activities going on. Carley took a role in Noël Wells' film 'Mr. Roosevelt,' as well as published a book concerning the Austin music scene; I wonder what you might be able to tell us about these projects? Also, are do you find side projects like this a way to recharge the batteries from the demands of being a touring musician?
JW: I play drums in a country western swing band full of real deal cowboy types. That's my secondary outlet, we play dance halls in Texas mostly. Backwoods shit. It's the opposite of Ghost Wolves. Carley's stuff is more Hollywood, more high-level. I'm really proud of her; she's kicking a lot of ass, and taking acting seriously. Taking lessons. She spent so much time working on that book.
CW: We have a lot going on. It's crazy, but I enjoy having a lot on my plate. It was a trip being on the red carpet for the 'Mr. Roosevelt' premiere and then running from that to do a book signing for Seduced by Sound; Austin. The book project was a whole lot of work, but I was so happy to do it, even if most of it was done from the passenger seat in the van on tour. I have always been interested in documenting history. The Austin music scene is a rich and interesting place and that really came through in the book. On top of that, I also have my clothing line Starwolf that I am constantly working on, making stuff to take on tour to sell. It's a hustle.
Your band is closely connected to a special breed of dog that Carley's father breeds. In the past, we've spoken about both the roles that Ice and Winter played in your history. Are you touring with any furry friends these days?
JW: We'll have a new pup with us on this trip. He's kind of like Winter's cousin...he's a big huge Great Pyrenees we named Falkor. And he actually found us, he showed up at Carley's family's ranch a little while ago starving, obviously lost. Probably a sheep dog that someone dumped or lost after they sold their sheep, out in the Texas hill country. Sometimes country people aren't the best pet owners, they treat their dogs like cattle since they're working dogs. So he's a working dog, turned pet. He used to fight off coyotes and protect his sheep. He's an anti-wolf, in a way, which is funny to me, because we've always had these wolfdogs that are total predators, and now he's the opposite. He's a protector. And I think he appreciates that he has a loving home now. He can sleep on the couch and eat good food. He's been so gentle with us and he's young too, maybe only 2 years old. He's a great guard dog, though. He doesn't take shit from anybody. I think lots of people will meet him on the upcoming tours in the USA.
CW: Yes, I was raised with wolfdogs and hybrids that my dad would rescue and raise as pets. Over the years he has developed his own bloodline. They are really special animals. It was devastating to loose our trusty companion Winter last year, but it is nice to have Falkor around now to keep us company. It will be his first tour. I hope he enjoys himself and makes a lot of new friends and fans.
So, you guys have been at it for roughly seven years now, I think you've said that the two of you teaming up and performing together was, in a way, a reaction to being — at least in Johnny's case — in somewhat restrictive musical elements previously, where someone else was calling the shots. How much is your music an expression of freedom and are you still enjoying the ride?
JW: Six years ... but who's counting? I love it. It's the second best feeling in the world, playing music for people. We work for ourselves, we don't have bosses, we hang out all the time. I don't have to leave Carley behind and go on tour with other bands anymore. That's the best. We just get out there with our dog and our half stacks...we do it, we turn up, we have fun, we hug our fans, we hang out late with our friends in different towns. We get to make records and have these great little labels putting them out. Hound Gawd!, the new label, is out of Berlin, Germany. I never thought I'd have a record come out on a foreign label in my life. That's so cool. The dude running it is a total baller, he's amazing. Clothing designer. We have clothes out in Japan now. 50 stores throughout Asia. We're doing it. Carley's in a big movie that Noel Wells made. It's Hollywood but in a cool way. Who would have thought? We started this in our living room in Austin. We didn't have goals really, we just wanted to be loud and kind of obnoxious, and have fun. I guess we wanted to be a big band too but that wasn't the main thing. We want to have fun, and we'll do it until it's not fun anymore. But I don't see that happening, as long as we're on the way up. But when people are asking you to come play for them on amazing shows like we get and labels from different places are putting out your music, you don't quit. You play harder. You do more gigs. You hit it. You go big.
CW: It's so nice to have Jonny as a partner in life and in the band. We work well together and are open to each other's creative whims. We have fun. That's what it's all about. We love each other and get to spend 24/7 together. I'm thankful for that.
Is there anything you'd like to add or mention that we haven't?
JW: Glad to be going back to GB. Wisconsin has been good to us. There's a good vibe up there. People appreciate music. You don't see that everywhere. We're so lucky to be doing this. We're extremely fortunate people to be making music. If we keep that in mind, none of the bullshit moments matter.
CW: We love GB. It's one of our top places to play. We appreciate all of the support we get there and look forward to seeing everyone soon. Thank you!
Catch The Ghost Wolves in Green Bay at the Lyric Room on April 8.
--Banner image courtesy David Brendan Hall