Wolf – Swedish Shark Attack Part I

Sunday, 17th August 2014

When Wolf began in 1995, the traditional/true metal scene wasn’t exactly at a peak. Iron Maiden had Blaze Bayley as a front man and at least in North America had to downsize their arena show to small theaters. Judas Priest had lost the Metal God Rob Halford as a vocalist, and transformed their sound with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens into a more modern platform that met with mixed appeal to the old-timers. And we were a couple of years away from Hammerfall’s emergence through Glory to the Brave that reignited this particular scene across Europe- eventually reaching all corners of the globe.

But the passion those early British bands gave to heavy metal sparked a lot of musicians in the 1990’s through today to perform in the classic template: rich in harmonies, melodies, spirit, and texture – screaming for the cause. Wolf has been one of those acts you can rely on to spit out heavy metal, through seven studio albums they’ve successfully bridged the feel of the 1980’s to a current marketplace ready for the taking.

Preparing to release their latest album Devil Seed, guitarist/ vocalist Niklas Ståvlind and I talked for a solid 40 minutes regarding the state of heavy metal affairs, Dickinson vs Di’Anno era Iron Maiden, and where Wolf hope to go to over the next few years as well as band related matters, all the while being entertained by his lovable 3 year old son who couldn’t understand dear old dad doing all of these promotional interviews.

Dead Rhetoric: Wolf is closing in on celebrating your 20th year in existence as a band. Has the journey gone exactly as you’ve expected through the years, and what are some of the milestones/highlights that come to mind?

Niklas Stålvind: Yes. Well it hasn’t really gone as we expected it to be. We started the band when we were very young and didn’t understand anything really about the music industry. We were listening to our favorite bands and reading all the music magazines and developed a fantasy vision of what it would be like to be in a band. It really didn’t turn out that well, especially in the 1990’s when you couldn’t play this kind of music without being laughed at. We did it because we love it and we still feel the same way today, we will keep carrying on as long as we think it is worth it.

There have been many highlights too, I remember the first show in Sweden where people actually had heard the first album and sang along to the songs was in a big festival- it was not a metal festival but it was one of the biggest music festivals in Sweden. There was a small stage and the crowd was packed, it came as such a shock to us because the gig before that we had played in a bar in our hometown with some covers because we didn’t want the crowd to throw any rotten tomatoes at us (laughs). Here we are and people are singing along to our own material. A second highlight was a couple of years ago when we went to India to headline a big festival there and it was an amazing experience. I’ve always liked Indian music, and we have a song on the first record called “Electric Raga” where I play the sitar, and it was inspired by classic Indian music like Ravi Shankar and that kind of music. We got to play that live, and it gave us a real spark. The audience was incredible, especially when I explained that we wrote this song 15 years ago and the song was complete within that moment, it was amazing.

Dead Rhetoric: Your new album Devil Seed has a couple of newer dynamic elements in terms of adding flamenco guitar and spacey keyboards during “Skeleton Woman” as well as some Celtic/folk strains during “I Am Pain”. How do decide when to add spices and touches to the Wolf template, without forsaking the established style that people have come to know and love, is it a process that happens naturally or takes time to develop?

Stålvind: I think I’ve finally reached another level in my songwriting where I really don’t try to control the songs so much. It feels like the songs come to me and it’s my job to be really open and translate the songs into actually sounds that other people can hear. So these ideas came naturally while the songs developed. Some songs took a while to write because sometimes I still tried to write the songs, using my intellect too much and it doesn’t feel right when you do that. Let the song come to you and say this is what I want. You mention the flamenco guitars, I don’t know specifically what you mean by the spacey keyboards; I think you are talking about my voice. In “Skeleton Woman” I actually used a phaser guitar, that was the producer’s idea who added some more filtering to the guitar sound, we felt it was right, so it was a guitar. That’s how I like to experiment within my studio; I like to use real old analog equipment and mess around with it.

It has a life of its own, so sometimes the guitar doesn’t really sound like a real guitar or a keyboard either. We use a xylophone also on that song, if you listen to the middle part, I went by the corridor when they were working with the drums and I just took my fingers and did it, that was perfect for the song. It was just by chance, but after so many years of songwriting you develop that intuition where you know when it is going to work or not. We don’t take these unknown metal elements and try to be creative, we want to let the song be what it is supposed to be.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance the changing ways of studio recording with keeping the sound as real and pure as possible? Does it bother you when musicians take shortcuts instead of putting the time and effort in to perfect their craft?

Stålvind: It is a double edge sword with music technology. If you aren’t as good of a musician, the better producer you have to be. When you don’t really take the time to practice your instrument, it’s never going to be good anyway. You have to make something organic that speaks to other people, you can’t program the drums and edit the guitars, it’s like you edit away the soul of it. For me the balance isn’t hard, the way we work in Wolf we take the best digital technology and combine it with the best out of the analog. Of course you have to be a good musician, otherwise it would sound terrible.

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