Meeting Go Wolf

The synth rockers caught our attention with debut single 'Voices'. Now if they can just find a decent rehearsal space...

Their recorded output so far amounts to one song (the gorgeous 'Voices') and a handful of remixes, but over the last year Go Wolf have made a name for themselves as Belfast's next most-likely-to indie-pop band.

Blending the pop nous and elastic basslines of Two Door Cinema Club with the bedroom intimacy of The xx and a little of Talking Heads' nervy funk, their live show is highly recommended.

The band began as a partnership between singer, lyricist and guitarist Scott Jamison and bassist Chris Sloan, and was eventually augmented by drummer Steve Hackworth and Anna Leyden on keys and backing vocals, though Leyden played her last gig with the group at Culture Night Belfast 2013.

Chris Jones met Jamison and Sloan – the creative core of the band – to discuss the story so far, and to try to find out what makes this intriguing new band tick.

How did the two of you meet?

J: I was reading poetry at a poetry reading upstairs in a hairdresser's shop. Chris happened to be there to hear a friend read and we got chatting outside, primarily over the fact that we were wearing almost identical outfits.

Did the idea to play music together come up immediately?

S: Pretty much. I was forceful, almost. I was in between bands and I said to him, 'We look very similar, do you play music at all?' It was strange, an instant connection. I knew something was going to happen. And above that, he seemed like a fairly together boy. We took it from there.

Was there instant chemistry on a musical level?

S: Yeah, I think so. We weren't friends at the start, so it was straight into a professional relationship. 'Let's get together and make something valuable.' The friendship came secondary to that, it didn't matter if we were friends at the start.

J: We didn't start hanging out outside making music until six months after we met. We didn't see each other socially at any stage. Then there was that second awkward stage, like, 'Do you want to go for a beer?' Getting asked out by your own bandmate!

Did you have any reference points or declared influences?

S: There were a couple of areas we fused on. We really loved R&B, the Gayngs album, The English Riviera by Metronomy. The stuff Scott had done previously was more from the folky side of things and I came from the more funky side of things. That's probably still true now.

C: If there's a Venn diagram, there's an area where we cross over, but we don't really say, 'What are you listening to?' You'd probably be horrified if you knew!

What do you feel your USP is as a band?

S: I think Scott's unique selling point is his voice. He's got a great vocal range, and there's a real soul behind it. He conveys a lot of things in simple lines, and that's what I look for in a performer, someone who can convey emotion in as pure as possible a form.

J: I like to think our lyrical content is maybe a bit more thought out than other bands in the same genre. We want the songs to mean something. They're throwaway pop songs, but you can sit down and analyse them and come away with something.

Why do you think you are drawn towards writing about relationships?

J: A romantic relationship works as a metaphor for a lot of different things in life. 'Even Gods', while it sounds quite romantic in the chorus, is about living in Belfast while everyone else is leaving, and wondering whether you should be part of the exodus. I like the idea of reaching a perfect representation of classic or tired ideas. Writing 'Talk To You', for instance, I was going for the same sort of aesthetic you get from a John Hughes movie. 'Could this song be soundtracking part of Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club? Could we take this clichéd set-piece of a guy and a girl in the back of a car, and make it sound fresh?'

Do you still write poetry, and how does that relate to your lyric writing?

J: I'm doing a PhD in creative writing at the minute, and the basis of the creative part is poetry, so that's what I'm doing day-to-day. I think there's an overlap but maybe less than people think. You can get away with more in songwriting, for various reasons. The one crossover that I've definitely employed is that in the six years I've been studying poetry, I've always been told to show and not tell. Don't tell the reader what you want them to know, give them an image or take them somewhere where they can come to a conclusion themselves. I try as much as possible not to have something explicitly clichéd or emotional.

Who are your poetry and lyrical heroes?

J: I love John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop and all the 1960s American confessional poets. I like that idea of writing explicitly about their private lives but without saying so, and how those two things exist separately. As for lyricists, I think Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend is one of the best lyricists of the last ten years. Especially their newest album, it's incredible. I love the way it's tied to a place. You're in New York the whole way through. It's such a visual album.

S: We listen to a lot of rap as well. The new Kanye album is great, and you love Jay-Z.

J: Yeah, Jay-Z is hands down my favourite artist, full stop. For a genre that often gets put down as not being intellectual, he's an intellectual artist. Van Morrison is another one. His lyrics are great but a clear example of how musical lyrics can transfer into poetry if they are written down. 

Rhythm seems to be very important to the band too. It's a very prominent part of the songs, and it's especially highlighted live.

S: Yeah, I think that's fair. Every song could be stripped down to drums, bass and vocals. That's the raw essence, the heartbeat of what we do.

J: I'm reading David Byrne's book, How Music Works, at the moment, and he's talking about the early days of Talking Heads when it was just three of them playing in CBGBs. It was such a basic sound, but they were so tight because it was just guitar, vocals, drum and bass, with no add-ons. So by the time they came to put that nine-piece band together and do all the crazy stuff, they had it nailed. I think it's probably the same [with us]. The three of us [Scott, Chris and drummer Steve] played for four months to laptop tracks, and just got really tight.

A strong performance element ­­­seems like a large part of it, too. Chris, you always seem to play as if you are on stage at Wembley Arena, no matter how big the crowd. What's your approach to performing?

S: I want to remove any barriers between me and the audience. If I'm there, I'm not going to shy away, I'm going to give it my all. Even if you're only playing to five people, give them a good time. They're there to see you and they want to enjoy it.

J: People gravitate towards that confidence. You want to present something that people want to engage with. There's nothing worse than when a band thinks, 'We're only playing to 20 people, so we'll just half-ass this'. We talk about all the things we're going to do before we go on, without thinking whether there are going to be 200 people there or two people. That's another thing from that David Byrne book, the Stop Making Sense tour. He was talking about how every part of that show was scripted, and how that doesn't take away from the spontaneity of the music. We want a confident framework for people to engage with.

It takes some bands a long time to develop that level of confidence. Scott, you haven't been in bands before – had you been working on it behind closed doors?

J: Not overly, but when I'm practising my parts, I'll set up the mic as if I'm on stage. We want to play big shows, so we want to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy where we make it so good that it's going to happen.

The two of you are the core of the band. Why do you think it works well between the two of you?

J: There's an honesty about it. We're older than the other two – and I don't feel ancient at 25 – but you're starting to have to do real things with your life. Not feeling that the band is just hanging out on a Saturday – let's do this properly. That leads to an honesty where if one of us doesn't like something that the other one has done, we'll just say it.

S: Yeah, we don't hold back. There's no nonsense between us. I think that's the key to it, there's no resentment. If we do bicker, we never leave on bad terms. It's purely for the benefit of the band, what we think is going to be best. I think that's helped the relationship.

You come across as quite driven and ambitious. What do you want out of it?

J: I just don't want to have to get a job. [Laughs] We'd love to do it on a proper commercial basis, have a decent-sized label put out our music and get it to a large group of people who want to come and hear us play.

S: I think every band sets out to become the biggest band in the world, but I don't want to be that, that's ridiculous. It would cheapen it, and it becomes kind of disgusting when you're that big. You never want to lose that connection with people. Retaining our roots is important, but we want to expand. We feel it's important to let people hear what we're doing, because we feel there's enough value to it. And if they think so, that's wonderful.

Have you had to overcome any particular difficulties so far?

J: I get quite negative because it's something we're invested in emotionally and in terms of time. I find it hard to be in the moment and not be like, 'Are we still going to be a band in a year's time? Is this going to keep getting bigger?' I suppose it's the same as being in a relationship. You have little periods of being really comfortable – writing good music and playing nice shows – and then nothing happens for two months. I'm up and down, band mood swings.

Sometimes I have a moment of realisation and think, 'This is utterly ridiculous. Tomorrow someone could click their fingers and we could be rich and on tour'. Or we could decide tomorrow, 'Actually, let's stop meeting in my parents' living room every two weeks and rehearsing and just call it quits'. It seems like such a ridiculously slight margin in terms of what could happen.

S: Sometimes part of the reason things fail is other people. I don't think we will make it fail, it'll be because of other people screwing up. I have enough confidence that we can achieve what we want to achieve, but it's up to other people fulfilling their promises. We're just fortunate we were born at the same time and met each other and got to make music together. Lets look at it that way.

You haven't released much yet. Is that deliberate?

J: There are plans in place to put stuff out. We're trying to build a team around it and we're talking to people in London. It takes a while to court these people, and I guess we didn't want to just throw everything away and have 1,000 people listen to it and that's it.

S: At the very start I loved that idea, of recording something in an afternoon and stick it up online an hour later. I love that immediacy. Whereas now, we record something and it takes months because there's so much to do in the back end, registering with PRS and all that sort of thing. Ideally we'd be releasing something every week, because we have so many ideas, but we have to drip-feed.

Do you feel you're on the right track?

S: Well, this interview will help, won't it? We've got a lot of good shows coming up, and there's certainly interest behind the scenes from nice people. It's good to have that behind you, someone to add a bit of credibility to it. It's a nice boost to our confidence.