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From the archive: Wolf Eyes

An assignment. The thrill of that first assignment. It was the fall of 2004, and I’d just taken what felt like a real assignment. I had to travel to New York to interview the noise trio Wolf Eyes. I was a freshman at Brandeis University in the ‘burbs of Boston and Wolf Eyes had recently signed to Sub Pop. I knew nothing about them, had barely any music writing experience and hadn’t left the comfort of Waltham, Mass., for a real assignment.

My hallmates thought Almost Famous. “Almost” being the key word. I skipped class, packed a backpack with a change of clothes, a notebook and my compact digital camera, and trekked down to New York for the interview. I came back and poured my little heart and soul into a story about a band I didn’t quite understand.

And the story never saw the light of day. I dropped about $60 on the trip and never got reimbursed. But, more importantly, the article never came out. It was originally slated to be published in Lies, a new culture magazine that a couple students created at Brandeis. It was something of a Vice ripoff, but totally lacking in execution: The magazine went the way of the Dodo after just one issue.

Issue two was to have included my Wolf Eyes piece. I was heartbroken that my article never came out. But, those words I typed out more than half a decade ago recently popped into my head when I stumbled upon a photo I took of the band on my computer.

Wolf Eyes

I decided to fish out the article.

I cringed. I’m still cringing. It’s always hard re-reading old writing, but there’s something comforting in seeing, and recognizing, old errors. There’s something comforting in seeing how you’ve grown. Though there’s things in the article I certainly felt uncomfortable about then – such as the Lies-formated questions I had to ask and include in the piece – it was still a part of my article. I had to fit it in, in whatever way I felt comfortable with.

But I digress. For those curious, brave and intrepid readers, I present to you the original Wolf Eyes article in full. No grammar errors fixed, no embarrassing clauses overturned. Just my youthful, wide-eyed narrative for you to enjoy:

The latest new thing on the alternative music market isn’t some Shins or Postal Service knockoff; it’s noise.  Pure, un-inhibited noise.  The very same label that signed the Shins, the Postal Service, and so many other great indie bands, Sub Pop Records, took decisive points of action to sign Wolf Eyes, the definitive band of… noise.

In spite of how bad that may sound, the trio from Ann Arbor that make up Wolf Eyes, Nate Young, Aaron Dilloway, and John Olson, must be doing something right.  With the un-dying support of Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore and a spot on the ill-fated alternative super-tour of this year’s Lollapalooza (which included indie heavyweights ranging from the Pixies to Morrissey), the band must be doing something right.  Right?

Frankly, this whole situation confused me.  As a staunch music fan who could listen to almost anything, I couldn’t understand who would like the sound that was emitted from Wolf Eyes’ latest release, A Burned Mind.  So, when the opportunity came to interview the much-hyped indie band of today, I decided there was no way I could say no.

On Thursday, October 28th, I made my way down to New York City for Wolf Eyes’ show at the Tonic that evening.  I gave John a little call, and got a little taste of what they would be performing: a blast of noise metal jumped out of the phone.  Their sound check had been fully under way, and I hopped on the subway towards Tonic.

I scrambled off the subway and rambled over to Tonic, a little hole in the wall in the Lower East Side.  I gradually made my way in the club, where I was told to walk over to Welcome to the Johnsons, a local bar.  After a short walk, I meandered into the bar, and squeezed my way through the crowd trying to find the guys in Wolf Eyes.  I didn’t know what to expect, so for a good period of time, I spent at the back of the building, surveying the crowd of mostly after-work softball players.  Finally, I called up John and met up with him and Nate.

I could honestly say I didn’t expect what I saw.  From the brooding and dark music that is Wolf Eyes, I expect to see some crazy, reckless maniac, with a plethora or tattoos and piercings.  Yet, there sat Nate, a tall and rather ordinary looking guy, clad in his leather jacket and cradling a beer.  John quickly joined us, wearing an arty t-shirt and denim jacket.  A little bewildered, I began our interview:

Lies: How do you guys define your sound?

John: Horrible: I’d use a word with 4 r’s.

Nate: John was gonna make this instrument where he was gonna put rocks in a blender, but he didn’t want to use a glass blender, and he couldn’t find any cheap vintage blenders.

John: Nate just plays shit metal.

Nate: We also thought of recording how it sounds when you squish a cockroach.  That’s kind of what I think about when I think about our sound; popping cockroaches.

Lies: What drives you to create your music?

John: We have a white van, a GM, only one door works.

Nate: We have five guys in out band.  We don’t know what we’re gonna do.  We’re probably gonna roll down a window and have to squeeze through it…  But then we have to deal with the equipment.

John: We’re thinking of cutting the fucking top off.  Just saw it all off.

Nate: Just don’t ever try cutting metal with a knife.

Lies: You guys have a lot of support from Thurston Moore…

John: We were gambling one night and he lost and he had to do whatever we wanted.  Just remember to keep aces up.

Lies: With all the support from Thurston and others, you guys have a huge amount of support behind your band.  Does it create any tension or pressure?

Nate: It’s all lies.  We don’t actually play any electronic music at all.  John used to be an art professor.  I work high steel with my dad.  (Aaron) Dilloway works in a Laundromat.  It’s a good job.

But hype?  What hype?  Don’t believe the hype.  I like what Clint Eastwood said – Don’t believe the hype.

Lies: A lot of bands seem to have this way about them, where you have to see them live as well as listen to their album to be able to fully appreciate them.  Do you feel that your live work must be taken into effect for people to get the whole picture of you guys as a whole?

John: Everybody’s gotta take a five-minute car ride with us.

Nate: It’s like the last night we had to practically pay people to come to the show.  We were passing out bags of chips on the street to get people to come to our show.

Lies: What did your work with Andrew W.K. do to your sound?  What was his involvement with you guys like?

Nate: Me and him were up at this place called Tios in Ann Arbor.  They used to have good food, but now it’s just crappy.  He was a delivery guy and I was a cook.  I was about 17 and he was 16.  We’ve been friends for a while.  We went to high school together.  He made this zine and it was all about Wolf Eyes; he was a total poser.  He did a cover of Salt n’ Peppa’s “Push it” and sent it to us as Wolf Eyes.  That’s what it was like working with Andrew W.K.  We were best friends for a while.  He lives in New York City; will he come to the show?  Probably not.

Lies: Boxers or briefs?

Nate: I wear, like, you know, the boxers.  They’re kind of like boxers, but they’re kind of like briefs (stands up to show the top of his boxers).

John: I like tighties, but the boxer tighties.

Lies: What do you lie about?

John: If I buy a rare record.  Say I buy a record from Argentina for 200 bucks.  I’ll tell people I got it for 600.  I’m a big tall tale guy; I don’t like the truth.

Nate: When I don’t want to go to work, but I work with my dad, so it’s kinda hard to lie to him.

John: I can’t get through life without lies.

I certainly didn’t come to expect to hear what came out of their mouths.  From their disk, I expected these guys to fit some strange stereotype of a metal-head.  Yet, these guys were incredibly funny and talkative, ranting on some of the craziest and humorous things at a pace that I couldn’t even comprehend what they were saying.  They talked about everything: from John’s recent wedding, to Nate’s old Yamaha, to a film called the Weirdo, and even “cock piercings.”

Every minute spent with these guys was something out of a crazy tale; these guys always had some strange story to tell.  Even when Thurston Moore’s niece dropped by to chat about Sonic Youth’s recent date in Rio made my life (and love life) seem incomparable to that of the guys in the band.  I had completely taken a 180 on my view of the band as John grabbed my notebook and began to doodle in it.  I couldn’t wait for the show later that night.

****

At around 9:50, a line a block long strung around the area surrounding Tonic.  I looked over the people lining up for the show; most of the crowd was in their late 20s or early 30s, made up of a mostly “Indie” looking crowd; I had to be the youngest one there.  Inside I discovered the “bad” news; my pass to the show didn’t pull through, so I couldn’t get in.

As a stood outside the entrance to the stage, I could hear the “music” blasting from the opening act, Rubber O Cement, a Wolf-Eyes rip off.  As I stared at the door swing open and shut, I saw the crowd stand completely still or try and hold conversations among one another, while onstage some sort of gigantic puppet was being flung around as the music blasted out the door.  As the door swung shut on me once again, I made my way over to the merchandise booth, which John was looking over.

John would be casually talking to many of the crowd rolling into the show.  Most of them were acquaintances, asking about his recent marriage and making various small talk.  There was this one fan there, a Wolf Eyes fanatic who had obviously been to his fare share of Wolf Eyes shows, who was discussing his latest release onto the noise-music market with John.

Were these the fans that were driving the band to such success: the close friends and hardcore noise fans?  Either way, I’d shed some light on Wolf Eyes.  I said my goodbyes to John and Nate and walked out through the chill of the New York night.  As I made my way back to the subway, I passed by the infamous Wolf Eyes van they’d been talking about.  I took a look at it, smiled and thought to myself; maybe John was right about people experiencing Wolf Eyes to the fullest.  Maybe the best way to experience Wolf Eyes would be to slide through the window of the beat up van, and ride through Michigan with the guys in the band.  I may have taken the bus back to Brandeis, but I felt as if I had taken that ride with them.

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