Interview: The Ghost Wolves talk rock and roll, Tokyo fashion takeovers, and the changing scene of Austin
The Texas capital of Austin has always been a hotbed for music. Whether it’s Willie Nelson’s country twang that has called the city home for decades, the proto-psych madness from Roky Erickson, or newer torch-bearing acts like The Black Angels, Alpha Rev, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Black Joe Lewis, and Spoon, there’s always a wide array of musical talents coming out of the esteemed “Live Music Capital Of The World” on a consistent basis. The reputation is well-earned.
Tonight at Firehouse 13 in Providence, Austin rock and roll duo The Ghost Wolves will be headlining quite a night, joined by post-apocalyptic rockers Blackletter, Attleboro blues maniacs The Dead L.A., and local groove machines Deadlands. For a bit of last-minute hype, and to shine a light on their two New Hampshire shows — Friday at Portsmouth’s Press Room and Saturday at the Tin Roof Tavern in Manchester — we got a chance to have a chat with drummer Jonny “Little Hammer” Wolf about collaborating with Bushwick Bill from The Geto Boys, a crazy time they had while in Tokyo, the gentrification of Austin, and what the future holds.
Rob Duguay: The Ghost Wolves’ name derives from the ferocious primal sounds you and guitarist Carley Wolf exude while performing along with Carley’s unique upbringing among hybrid wolves on her family’s ranch. What influences such a raw style from the both of you?
Jonny Wolf: We listen to a lot of rock and roll music and blues music mostly. Carly grew up playing a lot of rockabilly music so pretty much any electric guitar based kind of stuff we both grew up on. Garage rock, blues rock, all that stuff. That’s pretty much what we grew up listening too.
You can definitely notice a bit of rockabilly in the band’s sound, especially with a lot of the jumping rhythms and beats that are in a lot of your songs.
Being from Texas that’s pretty natural. Rockabilly was and still is pretty big here, we play shows with rockabilly bands once in a while and we’re definitely into that stuff for sure.
One thing that’s pretty interesting about The Ghost Wolves is at one point the both of you collaborated with Bushwick Bill from the Houston based rap group The Geto Boys. What was the experience like? Do you and Carly picture yourselves doing any hip-hop collaborations in the future?
Yeah, we’re open to anything, man. It was a cool experience, it was definitely a little surreal just knowing The Geto Boys’ history. Bushwick was in Austin for a period of time just hangin’ around, he would show up to shows and do sets with bands and stuff. We met him through mutual friends and we put out the track we did together only for our subscribers so the only way you could listen to it is to subscribe to us on Bandcamp. It was cool and people really liked it, it was an alternate take on another track. Bushwick’s a pretty crazy dude.
I bet, it can be pretty cool when a rock and roll band gets together with a hip-hop artist and they make something happen.
Another thing that peaked my interest about you guys is that the Japanese fashion line Hysteric Glamour flew you and Carly out to Tokyo to perform their 30th Anniversary event along with carrying The Ghost Wolves’ complete music catalog at their stores. Was there a culture clash while the both of you were in Tokyo?
Tokyo is definitely the most unique place we’ve ever been. Everything is very different there but there wasn’t really any sort of clash, everyone was really welcoming. They were stoked that we were there, everyone was so friendly and having a good time was their main objective. It was like going to a different planet, you can’t read anything and no one speaks English. We were lucky that the people who brought us had some people who spoke English to kind of help us navigate and they really took care of us. Doing the show was the most important thing. The crowd was great, they had a couple thousand people and there was a bunch of DJs with these pole dancers and it was probably the wildest show we’ve ever played. They had us go one at 2 in the morning and the show didn’t end until 6 in the morning. They party harder than any group of people we’ve ever met.
Did you get any free clothes out of the deal?
Yeah, they let us go to their stores and just raid and take whatever we wanted for a couple of days [laughs].
That sounds awesome.
They took us around and they wanted to show us what they were doing. They do a lot of rock and roll inspired clothes, the brand is great and really interesting. The guy, Nobu, the main dude there was making stuff for Iggy Pop back in the day and he’s always been into American music so all their stuff is kind of influenced in that way with leather jackets, letterman coats, jeans and band t-shirts. They let us just go to town and we got a bunch of really cool stuff out of it so that was pretty sweet.
It’s great when you get hooked up with free stuff at a place completely different than anywhere else you’ve been before.
We weren’t expecting it but they were really generous.
I always hear of Austin these days going through a big gentrification problem where the rents are getting higher and it’s harder to sustain yourself as an artist. Is there anything being done in Austin to combat what’s happening over there?
That’s a big question, man. First off, there’s definitely some of that going on and it is a problem when you’re moving families out of neighborhoods where they’ve been forever. At the same time, it’s also progress for a city and on the other hand it’s bringing a lot of money in. As a band, I think you have to look at it as a positive thing. The more people with money in town, and generally speaking the people who are coming through are down with the whole Austin thing which is just going out and seeing shows. They spend money on art, that seems to be the trend so you’re getting rid of some of the affordable housing but that only means that you’ll have to commute a little longer and that’s sort of how it goes in big cities a lot of the time anyways.
It’s definitely changed but we don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. For the families in those neighborhoods hopefully they’re not being disrespected and their heritage isn’t being disrespected or anything, but in terms of the people moving to town with good jobs who want to support art it can be really good for a band. You need to position yourself in order for it to be good for you though. We sell a lot of merch in Austin, people always buy t-shirts, they buy records and they want to come out to shows. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also a double-edged sword.You’re losing some of the vibe as a town but you’re also gaining a lot of people from the West Coast who are freakin’ rich and want to party too, ya know? They like music, they like festivals and all that stuff.
I can totally see what you mean by referring to it as a double-edged sword. You can people coming to Austin with money and supporting the arts but you also have families being forced to move out of neighborhoods they’ve been in for generations. Last year, you guys released your debut LP Man, Woman, Beast, so what’s the next recording we can expect from the both of you?
We’ve actually just finished our second record in Austin with this guy Mike McCarthy. He’s a record producer, engineer dude who worked on all the Spoon records and stuff from The Trail Of Dead so he’s really cool and we’re really excited about that. So that’ll be out sometime soon.
THE GHOST WOLVES + BLACKLETTER + THE DEAD L.A. + DEADLANDS :: Thursday, September 17 at Firehouse 13, 41 Central St. in Providence, R.I. :: 8 p.m., all ages, $8 :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page :: Full tour dates below