Hailing from Long Island, NY, The Republic of Wolves are a five-piece rock band with an aggressive edge and boundless creativity. They’ve earned something of a cult following in the darker alt-rock scene, with their earliest releases drawing influence from acts such as Brand New and Glassjaw. They’ve set themselves further apart with each subsequent release though, the most recent being 2013’s No Matter How Narrow. To date they have dropped two studio albums and several extended plays/compilations, and everything they’ve done so far has been met with unanimous praise from fans and critics alike. I was fortunate enough to sit down (figuratively) with each member of The Republic of Wolves recently and discuss everything from 2009’s “Daisy demos” to their latest single and upcoming third LP. The interview answers were written in Mason Maggio’s (lead singer/guitarist) voice, but the entire band provided input with regards to content. So without further ado, I present to you Spuntikmusic’s first and very rewarding interview with this talented group of young musicians.
Stream “Northern Orthodox” from the band’s upcoming third LP.
You guys recently unveiled your latest single, a fiery rock piece entitled “Northern Orthodox.” Following the more upbeat and pop-oriented style of No Matter How Narrow, can you tell us what prompted such a noticeable shift back to the band’s heavier roots?
When we worked on No Matter How Narrow, we were possessed by this desire to reexamine (and potentially redefine) who we were as a band. We wanted to stay true to our stylistic roots while also exploring some more mainstream elements and a more positive vibe, since those are things that we often connect with as listeners. I think the end result was a half-measured album that lacked aesthetic cohesion, since almost every musical decision we made was a compromise between our pure creative energy and our more analytical considerations. I think we were trying to mess with the DNA of the project, and that led us on a detour that wasn’t true to who we are as artists — although we still love the songs on that album. Comprar Boxer Calvin Klein For our newer material we wanted to go back to where we diverted off of our original path. We decided to pick up where we left off and throw ourselves back into more dark, visceral, deeply narrative musical territory. Our upcoming album is definitely a spiritual successor to our first record (“Varuna”), and is sort of a continuation of the aesthetic we established in our first few releases.
Mason is on record stating that “Northern Orthodox” was inspired entirely by a dream. I’m sure there’s a story behind that…
I pretty frequently have dreams about songs that haven’t been written yet — they generally consist of me listening back to something I’ve written and recorded, and every time it’s absolutely amazing and groundbreaking, and every time I wake up with no recollection of how the song went. But at some point last year I had an incredibly vivid dream about watching some other band perform a new song that, to my dream-self, sounded like a Nirvana song. Somehow I ended up on stage performing the song with them (playing bass, oddly enough), and I took note of the chord progression because it was something I don’t think I’d ever heard before. It was Em, Am, Am, G, but at a certain point in the song it hung on that A minor chord without dropping back down to the G; for whatever reason, my dream-self was convinced that that decision was absolutely genius. I woke up with a strong recollection of how the pseudo-Nirvana song sounded, and a surprising ability to play it. “Northern Orthodox” developed really quickly from that — the chord progression throughout most of the song is Em, Am, Am, G, with a bridge part that hangs on the A minor chord — not quite as mind-blowingly brilliant as it had seemed in the world of dreams, but it still worked really well for the song. The lyrics came after the fact (and are based on the same narrative themes that the rest of the new songs are), but melodically they matched up with the dream-song pretty perfectly.
The Republic of Wolves have their third full-length album on the horizon. What can we expect stylistically from the new record?
As we mentioned, we’re really embracing our darker roots and not holding anything back this time. We’re hoping to unleash all of the raw creative energy that we’ve built up over the years, and in a lot of cases that’ll take the form of heavy, hard-hitting songs. But we’ve always placed emphasis on balance and variation, so we’ve got some more relaxed and ambient stuff in the works as well. Nothing as soft or pop-oriented as what we explored on No Matter How Narrow, but certainly some breaks from the more hardcore stuff. In terms of the whole album we really want to capture an organic energy, partly through emotionally-charged performances and partly through the kind of rich musical texturing that we abandoned on our last album. In any case I think it’ll be a really cohesive collection of honest songs.
“We’re really embracing our darker roots and not holding anything back this time. We’re hoping to unleash all of the raw creative energy that we’ve built up over the years…
-Mason Maggio on the upcoming record
The Republic of Wolves’ lyrics have always been extremely vivid and imaginative. Often (especially on His Old Branches and Varuna), it seems like they revolve around nature, folklore, and spiritual deities – a concept that appears to be reflected in Ben Kehoe’s brilliant cover artwork. What is it that conjures up such dark, mysterious, and undeniably arresting imagery during the lyrical portion of the songwriting process?
Those kinds of concepts have always been an integral part of our songwriting, since mythology, history, and religion are things that fascinate all of us on a personal level. I’ve personally spent years studying those sorts of topics, so they’re just the references I return to most. On a deeper level I think we all have a strong appreciation for lyrics that take a listener out of their present circumstances and paint a vivid picture of something foreign and mysterious, so that’s often what we’re trying to do. I think that helps to illustrate broader themes of alienation and confusion and fear, and creates this parallel artistic world where those types of feelings can be indulged and understood more fully. If we can create a colorful, distinctive, and memorable image for something that otherwise eludes definition, then that’s a cathartic process both for us as writers and (hopefully) for the listeners. Again, that’s something we stepped away from a bit on our last full-length album, but are definitely embracing again in our new music. We have an entire story written that draws a lot from the folklore and mythology of a particular cultural tradition, and this may end up being our most narratively cohesive album yet.
This might be a question better suited for Ben, but does anyone within the band know the significance of the deer that appears on multiple different album covers?
I don’t think any of us can say what significance that image might have to Ben, since we’ve never discussed his personal artistic intentions with him. But when we first discovered his work and fell in love with “Done Haunting Houses” (the painting we used for the His Old Branches cover), I think we were just drawn to the contrast between the eery, ghostly figure and the serene, content (maybe even blissfully ignorant) deer that he was embracing. It kind of forces you to ask questions and sets your imagination in motion. So in terms of our aesthetic, the deer probably represents that sense of unsettling serenity — the idea that there’s something dark going on beneath a peaceful surface.
I’m sure each and every one of you gets frequently asked about the YouTube/Daisy demos incident from 2009 that helped place TROW in the spotlight, so I’m going to put a slightly different spin on this. What has changed in terms of your approach to making music compared to when you first formed? Would you say the band has outgrown the shadow of those early comparisons?
When we first started this project we were just sort of reaching out into a musical territory that we had always been passionate about, but hadn’t yet delved into creatively. At the time we weren’t thinking much about any sort of end result, but we knew what felt right in that moment. Looking back, Brand New was definitely one of our bigger influences and there was probably a subconscious desire to recreate the raw emotion that had made us connect to their music. Brand New’s stylistic influence definitely shaped the sound of this band in a way that feels pretty ingrained into our musical identity — so even though we don’t continually look to them as a direct inspiration, they’re one source of the creative foundation that we keep building upon. I don’t know if we’ll ever fully outgrow the comparison, and that’s alright with us. As long as we can continue feeling confident that we’re creating our own unique songs and incorporating a range of influences, that kind of comparison is ultimately flattering.
Where would you like to see The Republic of Wolves end up? Is there a specific goal in mind, or a point where you will all breathe a sigh of relief and say “we made it”? Or would you say that the band has already fulfilled the vision that it initially set out to reach?
I don’t think we have one unified vision of an ultimate goal for the band, but we definitely haven’t reached it by any of our standards. At the end of the day we want to be able to make careers out of music, and to commit the majority of our time and energy to writing, recording, and performing. At this point that isn’t possible, so we’ve all got other things going on to make ends meet. I think what we’re really waiting and hoping for is the day that a serious record label reaches out and says they want to invest in us and support us. If we can immerse ourselves fully into the creative process without having to worry about how we’re going to pay our bills, that’s all we could really ask for.
Many members of this band are involved in side projects. There’s Tigers on Trains most notably, but it seems like each and every one of you has his own ideas and ambitions. What can you tell us about your individual styles, and how they all mesh when you come together to record material for The Republic of Wolves?
I think we all have creative urges that go far beyond what we’re able to express through just one collective project. For me that manifests in a number of ways, not only through acoustic-based indie-folk side projects (i.e. Tigers On Trains and my more recent solo project, Souveneer), but also through my current explorations into pop songwriting and production. So I’ve always been invested in creating beauty in music, and that’s something I bring to the Republic Of Wolves as well – even when a particular song is a dark, heavy, rock song, I’m always looking to expand upon some element that I find to be beautiful. Billy (keyboards and secondary vocals) has a more indie-rock aesthetic, exemplified by his solo project The Year Fifteen. He also kind of has his finger on the pulse of current musical trends outside of the mainstream, like the emo revival that’s been producing a lot of great new acts. So he brings some very different ideas to the table and, in particular, contributes a lot in terms of interesting production ideas. Our lead guitarist Christian (who is also a part of Tigers On Trains) has a great ear for guitar sounds and effects, which contribute to the ambience and vibe of the music in a huge way. Our drummer Chris has amazing technical skill and a huge range of influences that he brings in, importing ideas from other genres that we never would’ve imagined working with our sound. Our bassist Ryan has been performing in a lot of different bands for years, and definitely brings a lot of maturity and technical experience to the process.
Is there a genre/style of music that you would like to someday weave into the fabric of your established sound, but perhaps haven’t had an opportunity to yet?
In terms of other genres or sounds it’s hard to say, since we’ve made attempts at weaving in other established genres of music and it often doesn’t quite work. If we can someday find a way to incorporate more raw, organic elements from non-Western cultural traditions then that would be really exciting. Aside from that, I know we’ve always wanted to include more orchestral elements that we haven’t been able to for practical reasons — even just bringing in a string quartet, which is a relatively attainable goal, is something we’d love to do in the near future.
How has being a totally independent band affected you? What are the obstacles and rewards of having so much freedom?
It’s difficult to assess that, because we’ve only ever been an independent band. It was a conscious decision early on, driven by the fact that we all had a lot of different things going on in our lives and couldn’t really commit ourselves fully to the project. At that time the main reward of being independent was the lack of pressure — we could do whatever we wanted musically whenever we wanted to, without worrying about meeting deadlines or pleasing anyone aside from ourselves. In more recent years our independence has probably been more of a hindrance, since we’re all in a place where we’d love to focus fully on music and get paid to do so. Being out of college and in the “real-world-adult” phase of life has made it difficult to contribute serious time and energy to the band without worrying about our financial situations. Obviously there are some drawbacks to being signed to a record label and being beholden to contracts and managers, but at this point we’d take our chances with that if it allowed us to be more fully invested in the project.
I think for the most part we’re all still in disbelief that there’s anybody out there paying attention to us…it’s just hard to grasp that there are actual people who think of us in the same way that we think of the musical artists that inspire and encourage us.
I’ve seen several members of this band dabbling in forums and commenting on album reviews. Ropa Interior Calvin Klein As a group that has clearly earned positive recognition from critics, how do you stay so grounded and connected with your fan base? It’s not every band that interacts with their fans on such basic platforms and with such refreshing humility.
I think for the most part we’re all still in disbelief that there’s anybody out there paying attention to us. We love what we do and we know there’s some degree of merit to it, but it’s just hard to grasp that there are actual people who think of us in the same way that we think of the musical artists that inspire and encourage us. We’re really honored and humbled any time a fan expresses appreciation or adoration or anything of the sort, and we do our best to let people know how much it means to us. Honestly we’d probably all interact with those people even more on social media and whatnot if we weren’t somewhat worried about appearing narcissistic or self-important. Our fanbase is still pretty modest in size, so I’m not sure how we’d react if it grew tenfold, but I can’t imagine ever cutting ourselves off totally from engaging with the people who love our music enough to talk about it.
From a quick glance at your Facebook band page, it looks like touring is ramping up again. Do you have a favorite song to play live?
We try to keep cycling through different songs in our live sets since there’s so many that we love to play, but two songs that we’ve played at almost every single show are “Spill” and “Greek Fire.” They’re two of our darkest, heaviest songs and they really allow us to let loose on stage. They’re definitely highlights of our live show, both for us and for the audience. But we also love to challenge ourselves with our most musically complicated songs, so “Monologues” and “India” are a lot of fun in that regard.
TROW seems to have a knack for reworking tracks. On Covers (Vol. 1) you guys recorded covers of popular songs from Touché Amoré, Limp Bizkit, Taylor Swift, The National, Beyoncé, Taking Back Sunday, Thrice, Bon Iver, and more. Whose idea was it to take on such an ambitious project, and how did you choose what songs to cover? Also, out of that incredibly diverse 15 track outing, which one song did you have the most fun performing?
We’ve always loved covering songs in new and interesting ways, and at a certain point we had the idea to let our fans request songs for us to cover. So as an experiment we announced that anyone who wanted to hear us cover a specific song could pay $30 and we’d record an acoustic cover of it. The arranging and recording of the songs was primarily my undertaking, with some assorted contributions from the other members of the band, but the choice of songs came from about ten different fans. It was a really fun and exciting project, and we were surprised that it got such a good response. Afterward we decided to release all the covers digitally for free (with the consent of all the people who had paid to request songs), and we included a few extra covers that I had done previously on my own. For the most part the most enjoyable songs to cover are the ones that come from very different genres of music, because it allows us to be really creative in arranging new versions. For that reason I’d have to say that the most fun song to cover was probably “Re-Arranged” by Limp Bizkit.
If you could pick from the entire list of artists that you’ve ever covered, who would be on your bucket list to perform a live show with?
Well, in terms of achieving maximum exposure we’d probably jump at an opportunity to perform with Taylor Swift or Beyonce. But realistically I think we’d get the most personal satisfaction from performing with Bon Iver, since he’s such a unique and deeply inspiring artist and performer. There are a lot of acts that we’d be incredibly honored to share a stage with, and Bon Iver is certainly one of them.
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