It took a high-spirited emigrating crew of youthful Australians to perfectly capture the ruggedly forceful post-Beatles rock period (1969-1973) without sounding dated, half-baked or just plain generic in the 21st century. Still in their developmental stage, Wolf People display all of the key ingredients necessary to recreate the glorious fertile past, yet they appreciatively avoid every convoluted pitfall tedious backdated retro styling incurs.
Leader Jack Sharp (guitar-vocals) and fellow wolves Joe Hollick (guitar), Daniel Davies (bass) and Tom Watt concoct a familiar metal-edged, rhythm-heavy setting for heady prog regressions, sonic psychedelic digressions, lofty blues citations and drifting folk migrations, moving forward the general dynamics without resorting to bombastic superficiality.
Since the underground success of formative ‘08 assemblage, Tidings (a neat compendium of early tunes, written entirely by Sharp), Wolf People have called England home, gathering a rabid cult following there that prompted the release of fertile breakthrough, Steeple. Inventively refashioning the classic rock vibes of Traffic, Cream, pre-fame Fleetwood Mac and dozens of lesser Woodstock-era groups with keenly detailed compositional strategies, Sharp whips up quite a frenzied attack, rambling through a few tersely distended jams releasing sprawled tension all over the place.
Placing his timid alto quiver to the fore on pallid mystical rendezvous “Morning Born,” Sharp recalls the haunting detachment of the nearly inimitable Steve Winwood in a few key spots. And the breathy electric flute undulations consuming vexed blues-rock paradox “Tiny Circle” visibly mimics the hoary boldness Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson once insinuated. Despite these retroactive inducements, Wolf People overcome any cheaply limiting motives by giving each basic track an indefinable quantitative sustenance.
The absolute highlight, “One By One From Dorney Reach,” easily overcomes any comparative retro-stylistic tendencies, bringing back the days when Peter Green’s stinging guitar rummaged inside Fleetwood Mac’s cosmic blues, but doing so in a straightforward manner that rekindles the spirit with utmost vitality and void of tawdry artistic pretense. Likewise, “Silbury Sands” inadvertently contrasts the Anglo-folk choral frailty of Traffic’s “Forty Thousand Headmen” against primordial metal flagrancy. Furthermore, the roaring vacuum-tube guitar sustenance and charging percussive march of jinxed alchemy “Painted Cross” wouldn’t seem out of place next to Cream’s colossal Disraeli Gears.
Neither as scruffy nor repulsive as their hirsute moniker may suggest, Wolf People are nonetheless driven by a primal musical urge any true rock and roll cave-stomper will find irresistible.
How’d the name Wolf People come about? None of the members are overtly hairy dudes.
I had some demos I wanted to put on the Internet back in 2005, and chose the name from a kid’s book, Little Jacko And The Wolf People. It was a bit of a stupid name but I wasn’t expecting anything to happen with the songs so I wasn’t that bothered. We’ve discussed changing it but never came up with anything worth replacing it with.
How have Wolf People evolved since Tidings gathered recordings from 2005 to 2007?
Tidings was just me messing about with songs done at home, but it forms a blueprint for the way we work now. We learned to be a band by playing those songs live, and I have a lot of respect for Joe and Tom, throwing themselves into playing them so wholeheartedly. Dan came along a bit later when we’d started writing material together. Now it’s our band rather than my band, which I love. I don’t think you see that so much any more.
Who were some of your early influences?
The earliest songs were an attempt to copy ideas from Captain Beefheart’s Safe As Milk. I was trying to get some of the guitar sounds and copy the way the Magic Band laid melodies out. I was listening to the first Pentangle record a lot at the same time too, so folk music started filtering into it. That was “Empty Heart,” “October Fires” and “Black Water.” Before then, I hadn’t written a proper song or even played the guitar much for about six years. I was too busy buying records and making beats on an MPC. My parents schooled me on folk and blues but when you’re too young you don’t want to know, so I was in the process of rediscovering all that stuff and still am.
What was the most difficult arrangement to put together for Steeple?
Probably “Silbury Sands,” as it’s the most collaborative. That was one of the most rewarding ones to do though. We had so many bits and pieces that worked together when they finally clicked in to place it was great. It was hard to play live for a long time too, for some reason. I feel like we’re only just hitting our stride with it.
What was the inspiration for “Painted Cross?”
There’s a Church in the village me and Tom grew up in that was abandoned in the late 1800s in favor of the new church in the center of the village. It developed a bit of a reputation as a spooky place. In 1962, some graves were opened and bones were scattered. They also found red crosses etched on the inside walls, leading to a story about black magic in the local press. It brought a lot of unwanted attention on the church and caused a lot of distress to the village families, who had relatives buried in the graveyard. My dad developed a theory that the tombs had cracked due to the harsh winter in 1962, which would also explain the consecration crosses being exposed under the cracked plaster. It caused a lot of trouble throughout the ‘60s and even in the ‘80’s, when we moved there; hundreds of people flocking there every Halloween, and loads of police.
My favorite tune may be “One By One From Dorney Reach.” What is it about and how’d the ringing hook line come into being?
It’s about the A6 murder in 1961 that happened on a lay-by just outside our village. A man was hanged for it but the debate is still raging as to whether he did it or not. There are articles and letters in our local paper every week, even now. I read a load of stuff about it and wanted to find out what happened, so I sort of set the lyrics out as a plea to the survivor from the victim. She was unable to positively identify the murderer during trial. Joe wrote the main hook at rehearsal, the one just before the chorus. I changed it slightly for the intro and linking parts. It’s a really simple song.
There seems to be an underlying mysticism inspiring the lyrics. If so, tell me how they affect the music.
That’s nice to hear. That’s the intention. But it’s always a fine line between writing something that sounds ‘mystical’ and disappearing up your own backside, a line I’ve probably crossed more than once. It’s what I like to hear and read and it’s what I feel comfortable writing. I really like when people write candidly too, but find it very difficult to do. It always sounds corny. I listen to a lot of folk music, getting inspiration from traditional lyrics. Scottish songs tend to be the most appealing, as they usually have more grit and bloodshed. I started reading a lot of British and Irish folk tales at the time of writing the LP too. I really liked People Of The Sea by David Thomas and I’ve more recently been reading some George Ewart Evans books, which are full of great stuff.
How has your dynamic live show evolved?
It’s got more dynamic! The more we play together and the better we know the songs, the more we can lean into them and change parts spontaneously and increase the dynamic between sections. We’ve tried to simplify things by using as few pedals as possible. We like to hear the amps and guitars working. If you restrict your options on sounds, it forces you to change the sound with your hands rather than a foot switch, which we find a lot more rewarding.
What have you been listening to lately? Does any of this music inspire your bands style?
I’ve been revisiting a lot of Beefheart, for obvious reasons. I have been pretty hung up on Mighty Baby’s second album for a while, too. I’d love to write something like that. Also, Olivia Chaney, an amazing singer-songwriter yet to release anything. Baron, who is also unsigned, made one of the best albums of last year. I find it hard to listen to anything without it affecting the way I play and write. I have to be careful what I listen to, and make sure I don’t rip anyone off.
What future direction or untried music stylings would Wolf People like to explore?
Kozmik Skiffle? We’re trying our hardest not to think about it.
Steeple is available now via Jagjaguar. More info at myspace.com/wolfpeople.