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Interview with Broken Wolves
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
That’s a fantastic question. Around the age of five, I discovered the Beatles. That was the big one. There was a time, around the age of 10 or so, my parents were a bit concerned about my obsession, a bit worried I wouldn’t ever listen to anything else! Dabbled in piano from about 8 to 12 or so, didn’t get too far. Got into drums around 12, then guitar at 14, and by that point piano became more of a thing as well. Honestly, Classic Rock changed everything – I wanted to play Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Cream, and that’s when I started to actually play, not just dabble.
If I hadn’t gone into music? I’ve often wondered, and I’d probably be a History teacher/professor. I was a hardcore history nerd as a kid, real keener and straight-A student, even up until the end of high school. I also had a passion for photography in my early teens, but I still have a keen interest and passion for history that could’ve carried me along through life without music. I’d be severely missing out on the creative side unless I was to take up the pen with it, but that’s an alternate universe altogether.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
That’s hard. I’m a music teacher/instructor by trade, as are most of us in the band, and while I can’t speak for everyone in the band, if I’m not doing band business or practicing I’m still involved in some light student prep of repertoire/material, lifting tunes, etc. To be completely honest, it’s a small thing, but I enjoy hand stitching/sewing, just rips or tears in garments, simple and utilitarian. Put on a record, sit back, and mend some socks, a hole in a pocket, a jacket, whatever. Something calming about it, like you’re getting your shit together, or so I kid myself. But I love to think of music, especially production, sometimes with analogies of stitching and sewing.
Otherwise, I try to go to shows when I can, support friends and try to grab some influence/inspiration from what’s coming off stage.
Also, long walks clear the mind. Sometimes can get an idea when you’re just walking down the street.
How long has your band been around?
We’ve been around since late 2017, or so I like to say – the first rehearsal ever was in January 2018 with a slightly different lineup. We’ve had four drummers since starting out, so there was a lot of stop-and-go but we had our official debut as a band in March 2019 when we played our first gig at the Cameron House. That said, I consider 2017 to be the start since we had some solid demos already in the works before even having that initial rehearsal.
Where are you based and how did that influence your music?
We’re based out of Toronto, my hometown, and I’ve been here most of my life. My sense of Toronto, as a lifelong resident, has always been one of a series of scattered islands – an archipelago, all interconnected and interwoven. The city used to have a slew of cultural pockets, areas that still are named ‘little (country)’, and adjacent to it (sometimes within), you’d have a scattershot of satellite artistic movements or disciplines. I guess I’m describing the classic story of almost any large metropolis, but all these things, seemingly, co-existed, and sort of shared the figurative ‘watering hole’ like animals do on the savannah - sharing space but not really stepping on each other, sometimes intermingling. The same could be said of venues – you’d walk down a major street and pass a metal bar, a punk venue, an industrial club, a hip hop/RnB lounge, or a country/folk bar. All seemingly within the same block.
I think that some of us who grew up here were lucky enough to be exposed to a real melting pot, one that’s still there, but not as visible downtown as it was before. I figure, it’d be hard to not be influenced or inspired by this kind of city, be it from the disparate patchwork and buzz of a cosmopolis, or a direct line of influence from a spackling of movements and dead scenes remembered in the architecture. I find myself being caught off guard, at times, when an idea comes out of the left field and has a sound or disposition I’d never approach generally, but maybe is some holdover from the old streets I remember – alternative, punky, funky, and unabashedly weird. That said, gentrification has changed a lot in a very short time. I sometimes look at Toronto today and have no idea where the next condo is going to fall.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
It’s a bit of an odd association. But has to do with the fact that most of these songs, at least in their initial stages, came from a place of despair and fear around climate change and the environment, and are the product of a loose narrative describing someone attempting to contact some mystical forces to plead for solace, or rescue, from that threat.
I’m a big fan of Hesse’s Steppenwolf and love that idea of the paradoxical duality of humanity, the rational and animalistic, but the idea of the Broken Wolf was this image I had for a humanity that has cut itself off from its natural roots – a rogue elephant that destroys everything in its path without aim or reason. There’s something extremely Promethean about our current trajectory as a species, as we’ve aspired to become an industrial being ‘outside’ of nature with this notion that we must ‘subdue’ nature with whatever means to justify some selfish, nebulous ends to become self-made gods. There are so many cautionary tales, Faust to Frankenstein, that warn of this kind of thing. And inevitably, we’ve made an enemy of nature, or rather, tipped nature towards our own demise, all the while a self-inflicted fall. And so, like a Broken Wolf, an “ouroboros”, self-eating snake, we’ve come to a point where we can only watch as we chew our tails to bits while ignoring the plea of the pack. That’s the imagery of Broken Wolves – a desperate wolf in the tundra, eating itself to death.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
We haven’t had a ton so far, but I think I’ll never forget our first show at Cameron House in early 2019. I was very happy to have it sold out, our grand debut, and it was back when we wore masquerade masks on stage! Loved playing up the mystique of that small gimmick/prop at the time, however short-lived! That was a special one, even just for introducing the band to a host of friends for the first time.
Last year in March, we were able to play the Monarch Tavern – our second show during the pandemic, and right as venues were allowing full capacity again. We were very happy with the performance, but, just our luck, almost the entire band and practically everyone at the front of the stage got Covid! I also play in another band, Blight Brigade, with my bandmate Alex, and so Alex, myself, and our bandmate in the front row all caught it, meaning we had to cancel a gig the following week since 3 out of 4 of the band were in quarantine! Quite the week.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
So far, my favorite venue might be The Baby G. Just a good scene out of there, with lots of friends involved. A great sounding room as well. I also would say, The Piston – is one of my favorite sounding rooms in the city.
As far as venues to play? Horseshoe Tavern, and we might be playing it soon – for a Toronto boy like me, that’s one of the golden idols. Never played it before, but been holding out for the right moment. For Toronto, otherwise, would love to play the Garrison. And, if I’m going to be obnoxiously ambitious, would have to say, Massey Hall, ahaha, in my dreams.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. A lot of my heroes are dead or broken up ahaha, but let’s see.
I can envision a lineup with King Gizzard and Neil Young, but Neil doing his grungier set. I always like to think of wolves as some weird baby from Psych Rock and Grunge, so I feel like Gizzard would be a good compliment (even just for being varied) and Neil is still one of my favorites, the godfather of grunge, the great-Canadian uncle. If I ever got a nod from that man for something, might die happy.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
I’d say, follow the passion. Some of the most defining moments in a band, a show, a take, or a jam session can all be so fleeting. The business, the politics of a band, the demands of people around a band dynamic, all of that can take away from the initial purpose of being there. So, I guess I might just recommend – try to enjoy it, and remember why everyone is there. To have fun, or fulfill that sense of completion through music, number one. I have to remind myself of this, especially anytime I find the stress of a band starting to get to me. And then, I try to think – what will help balance out the stress and make it more fun again? That’s always a good thing to consider, I think, and I’d say it to my younger self as well.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Practice ahaha. Just kidding. I don’t think it’s right to have any regrets in that regard.
I think it would only be to not doubt myself – be kind to myself, and let the ideas flow out as they intend to arrive. I only started singing and writing in my early 20s, while having had aspirations to write and sing in my mid-late teens, and for some reason, I put it off or doubted myself. Don’t doubt yourself, and trust in the idea of growth. I wish I could’ve had the confidence to start writing and singing more as a teenager. If I could go back, I’d tell myself, “Go for it, and don’t hold back. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
That’s tough. Perhaps “Candle Curse”, since it’s one of my oldest songs. I remember the day I came up with the riff, around 2009, I was at my buddy’s place. There’s even a photo of the moment I discovered the riff. The lyrics were inspired by Macbeth, the scene when he goes to murder Malcolm, and at the time was my highwater mark for writing, lyrically speaking. It also has a ton of chord voicings I’m proud of, and ones that I randomly discovered with little to no theory in mind.
I remember pitching it to a band I played in when I was 20, and we never got around to it. I even had it as an option for my previous band, Ruby Cikada, when we started in 2012, but it wasn’t the right fit to me. Now, almost 14 years later, I’m glad I was finally able to put it down and record it, and I owe it to my awesome bandmates – thank you for believing in this one.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Right now we have a new tune in the set, from one of my solo projects, “I Don’t Sleep”, and that one is a nice brooding, slow burn that gets heavy. Literally two chords and just a lot of feeling, but I think it’s safe to say that it might be the new band favorite.
Otherwise, a common favorite for the band is our cover of Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs”, one that we’re quite proud of and has been our encore/closing number for a while. It’s at least gotten a couple of shout-outs or requests as previous gigs, especially after we did a little ‘live off the floor” series which closes it out.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
The creative process is pretty straightforward – I’ll usually write a tune, lyrics, and chords, have a fairly solid melody, and the arrangements/form get worked out in rehearsal. I might have an idea for something going in that I might request or suggest, but I like to try to give everyone room to experiment and compose their own part around the arrangement. I sound like a conductor, ahaha, but I like to think I’m not a dictator in rehearsal. James actually has a great mind and ear for production – I often refer to him as the “George Martin” of the band – and will give lots of suggestions and advice, sometimes on a macro level or as micro as the placement of the bass drum in the groove.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
A lot of the messages, as mentioned, are influenced by this environmental lens, or at least some sort of fear or anxiety around climate change. But a lot of the mood and imagery is around this visual of a mortal protagonist making deals with some magical, mystical figures to help fix their own mistakes. There’s a strong medieval streak to the lore and the aesthetic, and I definitely would say I like to find inspiration through the aesthetic of folk tales. The biggest message of all, if I can get it across through all the fancy frills and trappings, is mostly this – “don’t run with fire, or you’re likely to burn down the woods”.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
We’ve been pretty lucky to not have many. I will say, as a bandleader/songwriter, I usually get to have the final say or veto power, but I try to not abuse it too much. The others might disagree, ahahah, but I like to think I’m an “enlightened despot” of sorts. Generally, I like to put things to a vote or poll and try to work things out democratically, but if I’m feeling really touchy, I’ll veto it ahaha. All said we get along pretty well, but if disagreements do come up, we’ll try to find a compromise or suggest we sleep on a decision. More often than not however it usually ends amicably.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Well, we just finished our debut album but I think it would be safe to say the next step will probably include a couple of singles, maybe a music video. After that, I know I have another album in the back pocket, but I don’t think we’re in a rush to go into album mode again just yet. Probably gig, try to tour and put out a couple of more tunes in the next bit. Nothing is in the immediate spotlight currently but stay tuned!
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?