Words + interview by Tracey Moyle – The Music Maven
Adelaide’s Wolf & Chain have hit the ground hard with a debut EP ‘An Honest Mistake’ bringing listeners the best emo/punk/hardcore blend since……. well maybe no one. It’s brilliantly unique. Their first two singles released from the EP, Repent and the title track An Honest Mistake, have caught attention from listeners around the country with triple j’s Declan Byrne saying “It says 2020 but this feels so genuine that it simply must be exhumed from like 10-15 years ago?! A big sound here to rev you right up!”
Combining all of their influences into one giant theatrical tale could always be a risky venture, even for bands with more miles under their belts. But it seems this band have found the perfect formula.
With musical influences stretching from My Chemical Romance, Falling In Reverse and I Prevail, to AFI and Rise Against to Panic! At The Disco and David Bowie, they have not only brought an album that will spark excitement fans of any of the above bands but they have put it all together in a brilliantly crafted concept album with a tale worthy of it’s own graphic novel.
Our punk loving Music Maven had a chat to vocalist Jack Cumes and guitarist Joe Butcher about the story and characters behind the songs, their own musical influences and how theatrics play an important role in not only their music but their live performances.
Congratulations on the new EP! I’m very excited to talk to you guys about the new album. First up though, how are things in Adelaide at the moment with the restrictions from Covid?
Jack: “Yeah good. Adelaide is still quite but it’s one of the better places to be at the moment with the situation around the place.”
Joe: “We can go out and have a couple of sit down beverages now which is nice”.
Jack: “I think shows will be staring soonish. Not sure when.”
Joe: “We saw a live band last weekend, it was wild. There were like 20 people in the room at the max. So bad luck to them but they put on a good show.”
We have shows starting up in Brisbane on the 11th July and I am very excited to be heading out again to live music.
It has been a pretty cathartic few months and a lot of bands have spent a much of the time soul searching becoming quite creative in so many ways, so how have you guys spent the down time?
Jack: “We had a lot of things planned. We were going to shoot the music video and things like that but obviously that didn’t go ahead because of restrictions but we’ve used the time to do pre-production and that sort of thing. Just getting ahead of the next step for our selves really. Using that time to do stuff that we can do by ourselves. There’s been lots of recording and lots of demoing and stuff like that. It’s been good to use that time.”
Joe: “And after a month we started practising again, singing harmonies together and that sort of thing, adding guitar parts to songs we’d been working on.”
I wish I could express to you how much I love this EP. It’s been out just over a week and I just can’t get enough of it. You’re being compared to My Chemical Romance and I can understand why, but when I heard the album the very first band that jumped into my head was Falling In Reverse. And throughout I heard a little bit of Red Jumpsuit Apparatus as well. I’m not sure what your influences are within the band so who inspired you to play music?
Jack: “Yeah, Yeah. Definitely a lot of MCR but personally I love Falling In Reverse and Escape the Fate and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. I think it’s just that era of bands, like Fall Out Boy, The Used, Taking Back Sunday, I’ve seen them a bunch of times, Paramore… I think it’s just for me, with the EP there is such a theatrical theme that people connect with My Chem a lot. It’s the accumulation of all those, the love for the kind of music that we all have.”
Joe: “For me it was the The Used and AFI and Rise Against, same stuff as Jack, My Chem and Pierce The Veil that’s definitely in the influences for Jack and the stuff he’s been writing.
Jack: Yeah, just any sort of fast, punky, catchy, poppy stuff. I always thought if it as aggressive pop or violent pop or something like that.”
That’s a great explanation of it. There’s been a resurgence of Emo/pop punk influence with MCR announcing their tour last year. I was heading to Download Melbourne to see them but that didn’t happen because of Covid obviously.
Joe: “So were we.”
Jack: “Yeah we had tickets, flights and everything. I’ve had the worst luck with seeing My Chem because I had tickets at Soundwave, years and years ago when I was like, 14 or 15 and then they cancelled and then they broke up *laughs* and then I got tickets to see them again and then this happened.”
Maybe next year. *laughs*
Getting back to the new EP, ‘An Honest Mistake’, essentially is a mini concept album. You have a great story running through it. The emotion and the theatrics throughout the album are so exciting, so intense, I have to ask does anyone, especially you Jack, have a background in theatre or drama, because you’ve captured the emotion of it so well?
Jack: *laughs* “Not really, I mean, we did that stuff in school but I didn’t take any particular interest in it. I think I was more into comic books. I was into drawing and comics and stories like that. My dad was really into Bowie and The Cure and really theatrical acts, particularly with David Bowie the concepts are quite prominent right there.
But I always really did love that theatre thing, later I got a bit more into that and how that became more of a live show sort of thing. And all that cool storytelling and imagery from the comics can really add something to your performance. Yeah I would credit that more towards, comics, and movies and horror films than I would theatre, but I do love the theatre, that’s something of a more recent thing for me.”
Joe: “Yeah, I don’t have any background in theatre, but in high school I got into a lot of progressive metal bands with long concept records and stuff. I just really like bands that commit to their aesthetic and have it permeate everything that they do. It’s really cool. Bands like the The Used, My Chem – ‘Black Parade’ – huge concept album. I love David Bowie as well, my parents were into that.”
Jack: “Meatloaf as well, a lot of that kind of stuff, Ozzy Osbourne – they all had a kind of theatre to them I just felt was really powerful live.”
I love the fact that each member has taken on a role within the album’s storyline and you’ve given yourselves names or titles with characters. You don’t just focus on the lead vocals, you hear everyone in the band and their role, every instrument seems to shine through.
Jack: “Yeah, I think that’s really important as well with us because I feel like everyone is so strong it’s one of those things, you do want to show off what everyone can do. It just sort of plays in again to the purpose, like, we’re not just shredding for the point of it. It’s like Sam (Gutwein), his character is like this kind of sort of muscle clown, so there was a lot of background with his character with the circusy vibes and organ and stuff like that, just bringing that into it. I mean there’s just a lot of little things like that that have a bit more purpose, it adds to the narrative or the universe that we’re building.”
Joe: “It just like helps tie some of the elements of our music together like, gunshot samples in our song, like the Gunslinger, it just helps the themes come together. And its like, I found it really useful, because I’d never done anything like this, with the characters we all get glammed up when we played shows before we even released this. But I found it really crucial to get into the moment for performing, like take on a persona, it helps me get in the zone and let loose on stage without so much barrier.”
Jack: “It kind of distances your self from being on stage and stuff, which is really cool. And I think it’s really important as well because it distinguishes each member of the band as well. Each member has their own character. Bands like the Misfits, you know, bands like that. They were all kind of cohesive but everyone had their own look. Everyone had their own vibe to them and it was less of a generic looking band where people could chop and change around, it was quite obvious, I kind of like having a gang of misfit characters.”
And that takes you back to Bowie, because he had his different persona’s per album and you can really go right back to Split Enz, when they first started it was about characters and make up, then in Australia in the 70’s the Skyhooks had the same character concept with the members. I’ve seen interviews with Daniel Johns from Silverchair and the agony of getting up on stage with his anxiety and how taking on the ‘rock star’ persona, gives him confidence, he becomes a different person. So it is a very powerful thing to take on a persona when you perform.
I’d love to go through the album and dig a little deeper into the story behind the concept of ‘An Honest Mistake’. Can you give us a summery of the story behind the album then we’ll dissect it a bit more track by track.
Jack: “Yeah sure. The general concept is, there’s this Preacher character who becomes sickened and disenchanted with the world, he’s building up that festering mindset to the point that he becomes obsessed and one day he just cracks. He becomes possessed with the idea that he’s going to change it and it’s going to be better and he’s going to bend it to his will. The general tale is that sort of rise and becoming what you never sought to become. I always quote Darth Vader or even stories like ‘Citizen Kane’ or ‘The Godfather’, where these characters are like ‘I’m never going to be like this, I’m going to be this and this but I’m going to do it by any means possible’ and with that they become the monster that they sought to destroy. So it’s sort of like him (the Preacher) building up this cult like following. And just tearing down everything in it’s way for the sake of redemption or revenge or anything that he saw was just and right, and in doing that he loses the ones that he loves, that’s more prominent later in the EP with Interlude but he changes into a monster of his own creation. Eventually down the track, once he realises that.
So he seeks solitude and refuge in some who offers – ‘I can change this for you, I can make you into something meaningful’, but again he’s transformed into this sort of Frankenstein’s creature. It’s a bit of an irony where he becomes truly like a monster. So he’s physically becoming now, that sort of creature. So it’s the rise of the cult following and that idea. It’s based on that feeling that I always had, you know, growing up in high school you always get so angsty and your like ‘oh man, they did me wrong and I’m just gonna show them and I’m gonna get so big and you know, whatever’. And I always thought that was healthy, but I’ve found that that was a super dark mindset to be in, you know. So it’s just displaying the darkness of that sort of mindset and I don’t know, I always felt that affinity and obsession with revenge so it’s just building on where that could lead you. It’s a cautionary tale, like – ‘you may end up in something you don’t want to be in’.”
So in a breakdown of the songs, the story begins with the title track, Jack’s theatrical vocal straight up stating with a desperately spoken “Forgive Me Father for I’m about to Sin” then hits you like someone is standing screaming in your face. The intensity of the emotions of the story are strongly portrayed in the vocal. With An Honest Mistake, there’s an almost desperate pleading in the lyrics.
Jack: “It’s the general mindset of that character, that’s why it’s the title track as well, it’s thematically what the EP has going for it a lot, where it’s like he wanted to serve his loved ones and make the world better for them but even if they get in the way, they’re not safe from his wrath. It’s like ‘I’ll do every thing for you’, but in the end it’s all self serving because if you don’t believe in what I’m doing then you’re the enemy, and you will also be on the other end of that. So it’s kind of speaking to that mindset, where it’s that kind of dark and consuming obsession and it is desperate its got a sort of desperation to it because it comes from that dark festering place. Being the title track it’s more less the themes but more the mind set.”
Musically is comes together in an intense way as well, the guitar in the beginning, where it just hits you, is intense. Are you on lead guitar Joe?
Joe: “We share it a bit at the moment. We’re just working it out at the moment, how we want to divvy it all up. But it’s all me on the EP.”
Murder Song grabs you with an almost psychotic vocal intro and carries that through the song. Erratic riffs that rise and fall throughout the track imply building chaos and then that feeling of unhealthy co-dependency with the lyrics, “I need you like you need me, you’re my one and only”. It’s a wild ride with melodic and frenzied vocals giving the feeling of coming unhinged and comes together in an eruption at the end with an intense guitar solo, but brilliantly concludes with an almost psychotically calm Spanish guitar piece.
Jack: “I don’t think it’s been mentioned and I’m not sure if people noticed or not but that Spanish guitar at the end is actually the guitar solo that happens in the breakdown but its played on Spanish guitar. I though it was super clever. With that song it’s just that frenzy with that obsession. Again, that unhealthy nature. But for me, with that one in particular I was trying to capture that almost, beautiful, psychotic sentiment where it’s like there’s that angry element but it’s mixed with these loving feelings of ‘I’d do anything for you, there’s nothing that would get in my way’. But its mixed up with these dark mentalities, I was thinking of things like Jack The Ripper or just like these really dark things where you’d have people who are like ‘ if you can’t be with me then you can be with no one’ and it was just like loving them so much, we have to die together, that psychotic feeling. It’s just that mindset that the lead character has, that frenzied idea. Particularly with that intro with the spoken word thing I was really inspired by ‘The Shining’, Jack Nicholson, that kind of crazed unhinged nature.”
How does it feel to play it? Do you channel that sort of character through it?
Joe: “Yeah I just love to let loose during this one. Get down into the breakdowns and stuff like that. This one’s a workout. This one’s great fun.”
The EP has the extended cut of the single Repent. Jack, this is where I wondered whether you’d had a background in drama. In the opening monologue and throughout the track, you’ve captured the intensity and I guess, fanaticism of ‘The Preacher’, the centre character of this musical tale. By the end you feel like you’ve witnessed, or empathetically felt, someone go through an emotional breakdown both musically and vocally. Jack your ability to portray emotion vocally is fantastic.
“The first two songs are the accumulation of these ideas and that festering mindset developing and explaining the motives. Repent is more the switch has been flicked. It’s like, this is what’s going to happen and the formation of the cult following, this is how it’s going to go we’re going to get this crew together and we’re going to change the world. For me it’s the call to arms for the formation of the cult of ‘Wolf and Chain’. So the chorus is ‘ Save yourselves, for your fathers, for your mothers’, again explaining the purpose of it. But for me on the bottom line it’s just that call to arms for the cult to rise and the idea has finally been realised and it’s got a purpose now.”
Joe: “This one’s probably one of our most dynamic ones. Apart from Interlude, which has a pretty steady build throughout, this one has a lot of ducking in and out and that works with Jacks vocals to give that unsettling feeling a little bit, like with the bridge when it strips out a little bit, when your not really sure what’s going on. This ones got lots of textures in it with some acoustic guitar coming in and out.”
Jack: “What you’re saying about the bridge, because it’s a call to arms and it’s meant to rally the crowd and it’s meant to feel good. You’ve got a lot of gang vocals in the verses, you’ve got a group of claps, you’ve got a lot of crowd participation. You have these sorts of things that are painting the picture of coming together.”
How does it all come together? Is music first then lyrics or lyrics then music?
Jack: “I usually have a general idea of chords and melody and I usually do the lyrics because I have the idea for the concept. So I bring it to the guys as this mess of like ‘ I’ve got this melody and these chords and I want to make this song about this’ and they sort of put it together, we form it together. I feel like It’s very collaborative in the way the songs constructed. They all obviously think about the structure together and there’s a lot of input.”
Joe: “Quite often Jack brings a pretty close song structure to what we end up with all the way through and then we stack layers on top of that and make alterations where we need to. Just use Jack’s stuff for the basis of the rhythm guitars and everyone writes their own bits and builds on top of it. Jack’s the lyrical mastermind.”
What ever you’re doing it’s working. I absolutely love the album. Interlude is the next track and it’s my favourite on the EP. I feel like it’s the awakening in the Preacher. A realisation of the obsession, the toxicity of the person he has become. And again you’ve captured the emotional depths with the intensity of your vocals again with the music lining up perfectly. There’s a feeling of intensity and remorse, which you built up to perfectly. It’s like you’re listening to a tragic emo opera.
Jack: “Yeah. That’s exactly pretty much what it is. It’s that kind of realisation of what he’s become, what he’s done, how far he’s come from what he wanted to be. Originally I wanted to have that sung between me and a female vocal, just to sort of emphasise that loss of love and that partner realising that and leaving him because of what he’d become. Then I scrapped that idea because it became more of an internal monologue where he’s having this conversation with himself, and again plays to that sort of insanity aspect I guess. It’s just that internal realisation of ‘what have I become? What have I really turned into? I’ve always thought of it as the heartbreak song. He’s realised this and he’s devastated by it. Things spiral out of control at the end of the song and things get a bit hectic because, again it’s that slow realisation of that sadness and that melancholy feeling, almost denial you know, pack your shit up and go. And there’s no coming home because it’s like…..”
Jack: “Yeah. And it’s metaphorical as well because I can’t come home because it’s not a specific place. It’s like I’ve gone so far from who I am I can’t come back essentially.”
It captures that musically to.
Joe: “Thank you. This one I think I’m most proud about.”
Jack: “Yeah there’s lots of really cool guitar on that I really love that Joe’s done.”
Joe: “I love this one. There’re so many layers at the end of the song, we’ve go so much going on there. Our bass player Harry (Charles-Britton) was really influential. Harry wrote heaps of those parts there, and they came together real good. He’s a clever man.”
Yeah, like you said there are lots of layers and that can be done really well or it can be done really poorly, where it can disappear within itself but you seem to have found the formula to capture your own individuality within the music, so when you listen you’ve actually hear each instrument, it’s tell its own tale.
Joe: “We spent a long time in the mixing process like mostly during pre production picking and choosing. We had lots of parts and pulling them in and out where we had space cause you have to make room for them so it doesn’t become a huge mess and we want everyone’s contribution to be heard. There probably was just a wall of guitars there right at the end, we pulled out lots of stuff that we tracked. We argued about it a bit at the end, didn’t we Jack.”
Jack: “I was gonna say, that track nearly killed us because it was kind of like, I remember in pre-production particularly we were like, we were editing it and we were going through it and we were reassessing things and we were like ‘ I fucking hate this song, I don’t want to hear it anymore’. Even up to recording and mixing it was like that, there was so much work. We were just trying to figure out how it would all work because we were re-recording things and I did the vocals one day…..”
Joe: “Jack did the vocals so many times.”
Jack: “For me it wasn’t because it was like ‘that was pitchy or that was whatever’, it was like, not getting the emotion, you know what I mean. There was a part where I was like, I’m just not believing what I’m saying. I went and re-recorded stuff in my bedroom and I was like, this is not recorded in the studio but this is the emotion I wanted to portray. I think at that time I was having a bit of an emotional time and it just worked out that way. Even up to the first mix we weren’t happy until we heard it mixed and we were like, oh this song is actually pretty good. We actually really like this one.”
We’re at the closing track. When I first heard Killer the way it starts so upbeat with keys and vocals, my mind immediately went to classic Panic at the Disco. Then it opens up. The contrast musically, is like you’ve taken the Emo, punk and metal genre’s and thrown them into a mincer and come out with a closing track that only those genres could portray the true emotion of.
Joe: “This one is definitely the biggest amalgamation of our influences I think. Like getting the really heavy stuff in there from, like Harry, Sam and I all love metalcore and hardcore and stuff like that. And some pop influences from Jack and some of the other boys as well and then the core punk in the middle.”
Jack: “Yeah, there’s heaps of that stuff going on. I think that why I like that song a lot is because it goes through all those different influences and I think as well it’s one of my favourites because it’s my affinity for horror films and things like that. This is sort of the ‘scene’ in the EP where he’s confiding his pain that he feels and he wants to get rid of it and taking solace in this woman who emerges, who’s meant to be a female Frankenstein and she preys on him and experiments on him and turns him into this controllable monster but it doesn’t go quite right. The larger concept for that which is less explained on the EP is that, originally I wanted to have the lover, or partner die in the purge that Wolf and Chain created and her revenge is finding the Preacher when he’s down. And when she’s trying to forge her lover’s soul into his body through this crazy Frankenstein thing, it doesn’t go quite right, then he has two beings or souls flying around in his body and he’s like this torn monster and he just has to end it essentially. That’s kind of the larger concept for that song but on the whole it’s him turning into the monster he’s become. I really like that it goes through all of those phases because it really walks you through the tale as well, like when you get to the end you have the break down and that’s meant to be the peak of the chaos, like the lightning and he’s on the board. There’s art work for it that’s on the t-shirts (avaiable HERE ) which shows what’s happening as well.”
Joe: “We had lightening sounds, and thunder and sounds like he’s on the table getting pumped full of electricity. And during that breakdown there’s like a stupid dive bomb guitar part, which reappoints the craziness of it at that point. Like where she’s like imaginary pulling on a lever, it’s like the artwork we’ve got.”
Jack: “Yeah because we’ve got this lady looking over this body that‘s just like being zapped on the table. She’s got like a little Igor sort of character with the hood on hunched over pulling knobs and levers. So it’s kind of really portrays that vibe right, so I’m super proud of that song for the guys.”
You would think trying to fit so many different genre’s into one track would be risky, well it is risky, but you’ve done it perfectly. It’s almost like that song itself takes you through the emotions of the whole album. All the emotions are all combined in that one song. To put all your influences into one track is a spectacular achievement. And then to do it well.
Joe: “Thank you.”
Jack: “That’s the one I’m most proud of as well because it’s the one I had the least to do with, with instrumental structure writing, ‘cause obviously that intro’s very early Panic! At The Disco, that’s another band I love for their theatricality, the first album, you know, they’ve got the whole circusy vibes too, I loved that. That’s what I really loved about this track, the guys, you know, I couldn’t write breakdowns like that and I couldn’t write a lot of the stuff that’s on there so it’s like I just had sections and I was like ‘what do I do now’ and they’re just ‘just lets do this crazy breakdown’ and I was like ‘ah,ok’. It was like it felt too heavy or whatever but when I made sense of the breakdown in my head to the story it was like ‘its good this will be like part of the story, it’s like when the crazy experiment Frankenstein is happening’ and so I came around to it.”
Joe: “Yeah the really slow part at the end is like the rise up after the deeds were done.”
Jack: “Again I keep referencing Darth Vader, rising from the table and he’s just like ‘Nooooo’. It’s like that same kind of vibe.”
It would be amazing to see a series of video’s that all link up to tell the story of the album. That would be amazing.
Jack: “Oh yeah, I would love to do that. That would be the ultimate goal wouldn’t it? It’s just a matter of money.”
Joe: “Maybe for a second release. We would love to do that.”
Have you got any plans or anything in the works for touring soon?
Joe: “We would love to. We had loose plans before the Covid thing went down, to tour at the end of this year. At lease doing east coast, maybe more if we could. But I guess we’ll see once the boarders open up, what we can do. Yeah, we’re dead set, we want to tour this cd for sure.”
Purchase/Download/Listen to ‘An Honest Mistake’ HERE
With thanks to Kick Push PR