It’s not quite the worst thing ever, but if you’re thinking of going to see The Ghost Wolves perform at Madelife in Boulder on Wednesday, Aug. 6, know that they are pretty sick of getting compared to The White Stripes.
“I’m not offended by it,” says Jonathan Wolf, the Austinbased band’s drummer. “They’re incredible. And if you’re going to draw comparisons, it’s better than Backstreet Boys. It’s just lazy for writers. It’s a way to put us in a box.”
Wolf says he thinks it is because people look at the band’s picture instead of listening to its record, Man, Woman, Beast. And what that picture shows is a monochromaticallydressed husband and wife lo-fi grunge blues duo, hence the write-from-the-hip comparison. But, the roles are backwards, the sound is different and about those colors...
“I’m messy, so I wear black all the time,” says Wolf. “And then Carley wears white, so it looks different.”
That’s the whole story and Jonathan is sticking to it.
But to look past the press photo and hear Carley Wolf ’s vicious slide-licks and the mischievous tone of her vocals as she coos out lyrics like “grandma’s a rebel, raised by the devil,” it’s pretty clear The Ghost Wolves are too wild to live in any sort of box anyhow.
The band got its start when the Americana band Jonathan Wolf was drumming in started to crumble about the same time his wife, Carley, sold her acoustic guitar for an electric. The two began loose jamming in their living room, playing old blues and rockabilly covers just for the helluvit.
“We just kind of wanted to rock out,” says Wolf. “That was the brunt of it. Just wanting to be loud and not be too serious.”
But it didn’t take long before the already-existing chemistry and focus on fun over commercial appeal made the band a hit in the Austin underground. The Ghost Wolves, who took their name from a vision the pair had one night at Carley’s family ranch in Texas, packed their gear and their wolf-hybrid dog, Winter, in the car and began to hit the touring circuit hard, with hundreds of stateside performances since 2011.
Their self-proclaimed “stomp and roll” resonated with the burgeoning lo-fi and psych-rock renaissance, a mildly luddite scene centered in Austin, but with tentacles in garages and basements the country wide.
Wolf is forward about the connection.
“Psych music is all people playing for real,” he says. “They’re on the edge with their sound. We want to own something as a generation, sonically. Hopefully, we’re not the generation that succumbs to the laptop.”
Laptops might seem like an odd thing for a member of a two-piece to oppose, as a major component of the laptop’s rise in contemporary music was the ability to fill in the sound with a smaller band; to make two people sound like 20. But the Wolfs are fine without those 18 avatars.
“We like the sound,” says Jonathan Wolf. “I like just having one person to concentrate on. As a drummer, you’re always trying to fill in the sound and make things sound better. It’s easier for me to get my musical ideas across with just one person.”
A lot of the sound is filled out by Carley’s focus on the lower end of the guitar’s register, but also through the warmth provided by the slide.
“She also just happens to be kick-ass at what she does,” says Jonathan. “Makes it easy to work with.”
He says the two-piece format is also easier to work within.
“If we get into a fight, it’s over pretty quick,” he says. “In a larger band, it can last three months.”
And Wolf says that’s the case, even when the band member you’re fighting with is also your partner.
“It works great,” he says. “I think people might have the wrong idea that working with your lover is a bad thing. To me it’s the greatest thing. We have a nice level of trust. When you’re in bands with people you’re not as close with, it’s harder to communicate. For us, it’s easier to find creative things to do without having to worry about hurting one another’s feelings.”
And who says wolves are vicious.
The performance at Madelife is one of three dates that comprise the band’s first time through Colorado, and it may be a while before they’re back as the band has a series of European dates coming in fall.
If you’re looking for an easy comparison to convince a friend to go to the show with you, good luck.
“Hopefully we just sound like ourselves,” says Wolf. “That’s the goal.”