Published Nov 14, 2017In 2015, veteran Detroit noise outfit Wolf Eyes announced plans to release a new album on Jack White's Third Man Records imprint. To celebrate the unlikely alliance, the group did a takeover of Third Man's Instagram account that ultimately ended in some chaotic shitposting. While it was a funny stunt to be sure, it was also merely a prediction for things to come. In 2017, the band's John Olson has become a top Instagram meme aggregator with his account @wolf_eyes_psychojazz.
Chances are you've stumbled across Olson's messy labyrinth of tongue-in-cheek meme reposts, which run the gamut from obscure techno jokes and deep movie references to photos of the man himself making an iconic claw hand in various "squad" group pics. (The hand has since been mimicked by his many adoring fans.) He delivers an unseemly dump of memes on a daily basis, and has undoubtedly developed a web following that usurps his successful and influential noise band.
We reached out to Olson to understand exactly what makes him tick on Instagram. At first he joked that he didn't need to speak to Exclaim! because he already had a jacket with our name on it (well, sorta). Fortunately, Olson eventually came through with some answers about what it's like to run the most esoteric music joke account on the web — and, ultimately, what memes really mean to him.
Read our interview with John Olson below, and hit that follow button on @wolf_eyes_psychojazz here.
When did you first become interested in memes? Do you remember the first meme that spoke to you?
Hah well... I took a long break from Facebook years ago and that's when I first heard of Instagram from my wife Tovah, who does social media for Gannet, and told me to peep this new app that "was just pictures." Figuring it was harmless I dove in in the dark ages of Insta and just begun like everyone else with fam pics, record pictures, shoes, etc. I don't remember the first meme I saw, but it was a stretch after that. If you would have mentioned "meme" in those caveman eras I would have thought you were talking about a "mime" or something like that. Like anything, it takes time to find a "voice." Tovah was who hit me with the first meaning of meme when ish started to get real. At the jump, I thought meme meant "words to an image" but the current meaning of "acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme" is waaaayyyy beyond the original simple meaning, or rather "meme-ing." Don't remember the first image that resonated, but "Anyway brother here's wonderwall" was the first one that got a chuckle. Being from the hardcore handbill era I always thought they looked like simple flyers done on desktop design. Now peeps got PHD's in meme social decoding. Things move fast, trends come and go, nearly daily. Fascinating to watch really.
You post an insane amount of memes. Do you queue them up with some sort of app, or do you just post them all in real time?
It's all formula: Mugs send me images, the funny ones go up. I don't search or lurk, I "like" the ones around the times the thumb hits "post." Lots of friends in there but it's a cold, unromantic process really. All people's choice. I empty my photo folders first thing in the morning and start from scratch. Try to do it Monday to Friday, 9 - 5 like a job. I do it more on the road because of gig time, etc. Cats send a lot of funny images. I really have zero idea how normal people use Instagram and try to interact with everyone who sends in stuff that is not sexist or racist: screw that. Slipped a couple of times because of LSD, etc., but hey it's a learning process. Nearly 90 percent of the time spent is from the inbox a.k.a. the window in the digital inzanity. Have never changed the process from the jump. Besides the Third Man takeover, the longest amount of time someone has lasted when I take over their account is 38 minutes. Mugs can't hang with the rabid spirit. Fine with me, move on always.
For you specifically, what makes for a good meme?
Edgy fun. Should be a ten second experience and forgotten. Should have a sting of some sort. Just anything to have a language to spread or commentary on the pop culture ending in a chuckle. FUN. It's the lunchroom of the mid-quarter of the 21st century. Juvenile AF really.
Do you find that people discover your Instagram page without knowing what Wolf Eyes is? Have you made some new fans through the discover feed?
Hard to tell, seems to be the case. Same with new fans: people are more aware of it, but the Wolf jams are super abstract so it's difficult for 'em to stay within the music. Again: here for the fun/squad pics and nonsense. We hit it hard with Trip Metal and then Psycho Jazz: we got moves planned but the disaster of the recent name change was gnarly. But the platform always has to be challenged and tested like genres themselves. It is a Frankenstein/Golem case, and again, fascinating in how it operates by itself.
There is some debate over ownership of images on the internet. Some people seem very excited to get posted on your page, while others have been critical in the past. How do you feel about memes? Do they belong to their creator, or to everyone?
It's images people send, I don't hunt 'em down. Watermarking seems to cure all bellyaches. I don't own 'em. If other people want to share 'em, go ahead and make other people laugh. There has been a lot of dorks super mad but whatever, it's a ten second or less experience. Like a pop rock pebble in a soda. Lite danger at best. I'm not a digital fighter. It's a total waste of energy compared to getting a laugh within a bottomless sea of narcissism. The "psy stance" hand thing is just a fun language symbol from the squad pics which started from goofing around and gathering people together to get loose. What's better than that?
Are memes art?
Lord no. They have a lifespan of about a day or less. Looking back at old ones is brutal. Social satire at best. Simple modern semantics, nothing else. Lonely peeps looking for a shared language — a family in a sense. Art is Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars, Philip Guston, Billie Holiday or a new instrument or canvas.
What else should we know about you, memes, or Wolf Eyes?
We are Wolf Eyes and our sonic universe sails from the winds of ceaseless lust.