interview – american wolf

american wolfchicago’s american wolf have spent the better part of the past five years meticulously honing a craft that blends stadium-caliber rock music with more introspective, sprawling atmospheric sounds.  the culmination of that work can be found on last fall’s my main sport, an album that quietly found its way onto our best of 2014 list.  we recently caught up with the quintet to talk about the songwriting behind that album, the chicago music scene, and the band’s essential mix of songs.  check out the transcript below.

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my main sport is your third full-length effort as a band, so i’d imagine you all have been at this for quite some time.  can you give a quick american wolf backstory?

the band was initially started as a solo-acoustic act by sal in 2010 in chicago.  he had a collection of songs that he self-recorded that year and called the advantages of being deaf, so i guess you could call that our first “record”.  eventually, he began looking for other members to play these songs with and american wolf was born.  since then, we’ve gone through a couple of line up changes and like you mentioned, released three studio records and a couple of eps.  additionally, we’ve tried touring and playing as much as possible.

there’s a stylistic shift from myriad to my main sport that could be perceived as moving away from smatterings of technical lead guitar work and more towards a cohesive, spacious soundscape dictated by the entire band.  did you have any particular sonic or textural goals while writing the new record, or was the outcome pretty organic?

it’s definitely a mixture of both.  myriad was made with two past members who actually left as soon as the record was done.  that definitely contributed to the way that record was created.  as a band, we took a completely different creative process with my main sport.  we had a chance to really step back and figure out where we wanted to go without feeling rushed or obligated to anything.  we wanted to try stepping into simpler musical arrangements with a more cavernous and atmospheric sound.  we’ve always been really into weird and surreal ideas so we wanted to incorporate that into our music.  but most of all, we wanted to say more with less.

talk a bit about the songwriting process on my main sport.  was the approach any different from previous efforts?

we definitely had more time to write my main sport than our other stuff.  we try to be active listeners and truly digest our influences.  it helped us revise and further develop our ideas in a way that we hadn’t before.  being our third record, we were more knowledgeable about the whole process and how we wanted to execute our ideas.  we tried experimenting with an array of ghastly and ethereal sounds.  musically, we wanted to create musical movements with lesser chords and fewer words.  it was definitely our most collaborative effort to date.

i think i’ve compared you sonically to silversun pickups, partially due to sal’s vocal range, and i’ve read other reports likening you to brand new.  who do you draw inspiration from, either collectively or individually?

we definitely love those bands and have been directly influenced by them.  we are always listening to new music.  i think that as musicians, it’s part of your job to listen and constantly ingest new stuff.  at any given moment we could all be listening to the same thing, or the complete opposite.  we’re really digging flying lotus and mum right now, and we’re really excited for radiohead’s new record as well.  they’ve always been a tremendous collective influence of ours.

where do you see yourselves within the spectrum of the chicago music scene?  do you have a support group of other artists and bands that you like to perform and/or collaborate with, or have you carved out your own niche?

chicago’s scene is always changing; it has a mind of its own.  it’s a city rich with talent and so many bands.  i think that the city has so much talent that people almost take it for granted.  i guess it’s somewhat understandable as any given night you can catch amazing music.  the good thing is that we get to play with so many different acts.  i guess that makes it hard to create a niche, but it helps us network and stay connected with bands.  most importantly, we’ve honestly just tried to establish ourselves as a band that loves what they do.

who have you guys been listening to as of late?  what collection of artists would constitute the essential american wolf mix tape?

track list as of late:

mum – “we have a map of the piano”
polyenso – “falling in rain”
muse – “starlight”
pup – “reservoir”
copeland – “like a lie”
st. vincent – “huey newton”
the decemberists – “make you better”
flying lotus – “coronus, the terminator”
tycho – “awake”
sigur ros – “isjaki”

essential list:

elliott smith – “ballad of big nothing”
owen – “bags of bones”
bob dylan – “don’t think twice, it’s alright”
jimi hendrix – “little wing”
thrice – ”open water”
periphery – “the walk”
led zeppelin – “good times bad times”
radiohead “2+2=5”
the beatles – “don’t let me down”
radiohead “knives out”

what’s on the docket for american wolf in 2015?

we’re going to be releasing a new music video for our song “cave fantasy” in a couple of months.  additionally, we’ll be playing a ton of shows until august or so and then we’ll head into a writing cocoon.  we’ve tried to make a point to travel outside chicago as often as possible, and we’ll be performing at audiofeed festival this year down in champaign, illinois.  we’ve already begun writing some new stuff and exploring where we’d like to head; we’re not sure if we’ll be releasing an ep or another full length.  it’s become increasingly difficult to release records every year as we are becoming more and more meticulous about the stuff we release.  we’ll see.

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those in the midwest would do well to seek out an american wolf show in the coming months.  the band plays a haunting brand of alternative rock that doesn’t quite match anything else coming out of the region, and their increased affinity for dreamy soundscapes makes the follow-up to my main sport that much more enticing.  look for more coverage when the “cave fantasy” video hits later this spring, and click on the links below to hear more of american wolf.

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