Published Sep 26, 2009At this point it's passed by funny and verges on absurd. When I mention to Alexander Ortiz that there is a We Were Wolves in Beaumont, TX and a We're Wolves (get it... werewolves?) from Belgium he can only chuckle. When his thrashy synth rock trio from Montreal named themselves nearly a decade ago (after a t-shirt he designed with a skull smashing through a keyboard) there wasn't also a Wolf Parade or an AIDS Wolf sharing the island.
Because we're not commercially a big band we don't exist [in the same way] for the world. Our name came around 2000, but in 2005 we were doing a show in Portland and a drunk kid comes up saying 'What's up with you fuckers, using the same name as everybody else,' and he mentions Wolfmother."
Once you get past the nomenclature, any resemblance to Australian faux classic rock melts away. Their debut on Fat Possum records, Non-Stop Je Te Plie en Deux, was a visceral blend of grimy guitar over hypno-synths with percussion both live and electronic. It got them compared to everyone from the Cramps to Suicide to Devo. Now on their third album, and second for Canadian indie label Dare to Care, the sound hasn't changed so much as been refined.
The last two albums were hard to record. We had problems with the schedule and not a lot of money. On Total Magique we'd sometimes get a [last minute] call from the guy in studio saying 'OK, you can come in from one a.m. to five a.m.'" This time, recording with Radwan Moumneh (of Cursed) at Montreal's Hotel2Tango, the atmosphere was a little more relaxed and that contributed to their creativity. "Radwan was just insane and so good in the way he works, wanting to push everything further. We discovered old ARP synthesizers and even acoustic guitar... and we've never used acoustic guitar in our songs."
Keyboard player and album graphic designer Vincent Levesque has to turn down the Giorgio Moroder album he's listening to when I call. Surprisingly it's a record from the '70s that sounds more Monkees than Metropolis. Apart from listening to less arcane Moroder and even Tangerine Dream for new ideas on layering and arranging sound, Levesque feels they achieved another goal on this album. "It really is something else to record music than it is to play it live, to have the energy come across. Before, because we were still learning, the albums sounded a little dark. But with this album we reached another level of being able to get across what we had in our heads and put it onto plastic." For Levesque, "being in a rock band was mainly about 'rocking out' but it makes me really proud that we can also find emotion. I think it's a little deeper."
Ortiz also volunteers a recent group obsession with David Bowie's Low that subliminally seeped into their sound, even to the point where producer Moumneh mentioned it during recording. When I ask about the subtle change at the album's centre from a hot energy to a cooler one, the idea of the two-sided album format comes up. "I have pretty much all the vinyls of David Bowie, but I'd been listening to them mainly on my iPod on tour. So I didn't have that weird way of receiving B side and A side, but maybe subconsciously that's why it came out that way."
According to Ortiz the title of their third album, Invisible Violence, was chosen, "because it's visually very interesting, but also it works the same way in French as in English." This raises the issue of language. Ortiz, Levesque and drummer Antonin Marquis are all native Quebecois and on a label that is also home to two-time Polaris Prize nominees Malajube, a band that wears its Franco badge with pride. For their part, We Are Wolves are actually tri-lingual - Ortiz's Colombian heritage adds some Spanish to the mix - but he insists "we never say, 'oh, we need to do this in French or say this in English.'" On the subject of recent controversy surrounding festival organizers' inclusion of an Anglophone act, Montreal fixture Bloodshot Bill, at a Fête Nationale celebration Levesque offers "it's exactly the kind of stuff the media loves. I think the music should speak for itself. I don't think language should ever be a barrier."
Only after ten years as Wolves have the group realized music is a main focus and not a sideline to their art projects. "I never wanted to be a musician," says Ortiz. "I always wanted to work in the contemporary art world, but at one point I realized, finally, I am a musician, that's what I'm doing!" This realization is another fact that's driven the band to push harder and in different directions with this album. "You start listening to music and structuring music in a different way," says Ortiz.
With tours looming, Levesque is taking comfort in the design end of things rather than worry about the many surprises to come. "I try not to look at the calendar, which our manager doesn't like. Right now I have to come up with tons of posters and stickers and web fliers and shit like that. Once that's done I'll be all about touring." Fans of non-traditional venues like galleries and lofts, the band has gotten into areas of technical havoc. "It sometimes is a lot more work because the infrastructure isn't there for a rock band... but those shows usually create good memories for the band and the public both."
For his part Ortiz prefers "small towns where the kids are really into it, into the energy, that's the best." But his heart still beats for the art world too. "If we could have opportunities to mix music and art, like playing at the Biennale in Venice or in Miami for the Art Fair, that, for me, would be a great accomplishment."