The Ghost Wolves are a high-energy, genre-defying duo out of Austin, TX.
Recording and touring together since 2011, the band describes themselves as “BLISTERING TEXAS ROCK N’ ROLL”, and “THE CRAMPS FROM THE CRYPT MEET UP WITH THE RAMONES AND TAKE ALL THE COCAINE HASIL ADKINS LEFT ON THE FLOOR”. Their sound varies from straight up punk, through gritty psycho-blues, and into spacey garage-rock psychedelia without ever compromising their style. The Ghost Wolves would be a fantastic fit on just about any rock-friendly bill. They have spent most of the past few years touring, and recently wrapped up a 12-date run supporting legendary Cleveland punk band the Dead Boys.
I caught up with the band earlier this year in Pittsburgh, on a stop supporting fellow Austin rocker Lincoln Durham. For this tour, they played a stripped-down “Gutbucket” set on just a 4-string cigar box guitar and a drum kit made of buckets and dishes. Although this was not their usual sound, their recordings are just as raw and energetic as their live performance.
Carley Wolf (guitar, vocals) and Jonny Wolf (drums, synth, vocals) were kind enough to answer a bunch of questions I had via email. Enjoy!
D@7: How did the Ghost Wolves get together, and how long have you been playing together? Where does the name come from?
J: We named the band after Carley’s family’s wolf dogs. They had a pack of 11 out on their family ranch when I met her, and one of the males lived with her. Two of them used to come on tour with us. We haven’t had any lately with us on the road because the ones who were really well trained died and the younger ones aren’t really ready to come with us yet.
C: I was raised among wolf hybrid dogs. As we were forming our band my family’s alpha male Ice passed away in his sleep from old age. I saw his ghost in a patch of fog up on the hill shortly after we buried him. The wind was blowing, the horses were bucking, kicking, running around and neighing. The dogs were howling and there he was plain as day standing in the fog. It was a wild experience. Ice goes with us everywhere and makes sure no one fucks with us.
How long has each of you been a musician on your own?
J: I started on violin in third grade, and then picked up drums in the 6th grade. I played music continuously throughout public school and into college. I really loved playing music in school, and was good at it, so I was in every concert band, marching band, orchestra, ensemble, jazz band and other things that I could do. It got me a scholarship to college, that was cool. I also had a garage rock band with my best friends, we’d play gigs on the weekends. I owe a lot to my parents for supporting me and encouraging me to keep doing music.
C: Since I was a child. My dad taught me piano and guitar. I started performing at the age of 3 in dance classes. I have always had a love of the stage. I formed my first band in middle school and have been in bands ever since. It brings me a lot of joy.
Who writes the songs, and what is your main inspiration? How do you describe your music?
J: We cowrite all of our songs. I am both subconsciously and consciously inspired by everything that happens to me on a daily basis. Also I get vibes from books, movies, other bands and musicians, people we know, stories I have heard. Events in my life. But my biggest inspiration is from Carley, who keeps me constantly energized with her effervescence and positivity.
C: I would describe our music as Ghost Wolves. I play slide on a six string electric guitar and sometimes on a cigar box guitar. I often play a one string electric guitar and sometimes I play the banjo. Jonny bangs on things and makes beats, he also throws a synthesizer in the mix from time to time. We both sing. While our sonic sound changes with each album, song, or show, the thing that stays the same is our attitude and energy. People have called it punk, metal, rock and roll, blues, noise, hillbilly punk, swamp rock, and I’m sure many other things. I call it art. I am inspired by the challenge of making music that doesn’t sound like anyone else and by being myself.
Have you always been a two piece? Would you ever add people to the band in the future? If so, what would you be looking for in a new band mate? If not, why not?
J: We’ve always been a two piece, and I don’t anticipate us adding anybody to the band. We like the simplicity of working with each other only, the sonic space it gives us, the freedom from other personalities.
C: Before The Ghost Wolves Jonny and I were in other bands with more members. He even played in my band before the Ghost Wolves for a bit, which was a four piece. When we decided to quit all the other projects and make our own band we started jamming as a two piece. It was freeing to be able to play anything without having the structure of a song arranged for other harmonic instruments. It was also a challenge to fill the space with just guitar and drums. We both embraced and enjoyed the challenge and decided to proceeded as a two piece. At this point if we were going to add other members we would probably start another band and keep Ghost Wolves as it is. It would be hard to let anyone else in at this point. It has been working for over six years now so no sense in changing it.
What have been some surprising perks of being a two piece band? Have there been any drawbacks?
J: The perks are practical, economical, musical, personal…First, you don’t have to schedule another person for anything, or deal with their personal baggage. You don’t have to listen to their ideas or put up with their attitude. Our music is ours, nobody else’s. When we’re on the road, it’s usually just the two of us traveling together, and we like that. The drawback is that you are really just left to do everything yourself. Where a band of 4 or 5 people can divide tasks, we’re left to take care of things on our own, at least the daily tasks. Driving the van, booking the hotel, loading the gear, finding dinner, getting paid, selling the merchandise. I used to be in a six piece band and all I had to do was play drums, then I could hang out the rest of the time for the most part. It’s a lot more work to just be two people. We do have a wonderful team of people who don’t travel with us who help handle our business side of things, so in that way there’s really probably 10 of us on the team, but just two who do the live stuff.
C: Being a two piece has allowed us to branch out farther than we may have working with other musicians. We can both stretch out a bit more musically. I can get away with playing a massive guitar tone that covers the low end, mid range, and high frequencies. I get them all! He can do more crazy drum fills because there is the space to do them. He is not competing with a bass player trying to play a fill on the same measure. We can also decide on a dime if we want to do an acoustic song or a country blues style song. We don’t have to worry about a third or fourth member not liking an idea. Our decisions on the direction of an idea tends to be pretty quick. We get more done because we are always together and can read each others minds.
There are a few drawbacks though. The main one is that we are only two people when it comes to getting the word out about The Ghost Wolves. When you have a six piece band you have six people telling all of their friends and family about what is going on. We have to rely on our fans, who are truly the best, and people like you to help us get the word out about everyone’s new favorite band.
Also, it can get a little lonely on the road with just Jonny and me. That’s why it’s so good to see familiar faces when we get to where we are going. It makes such a difference to have our road family in each city we tour to. We appreciate everyone who comes to see us so much.
How did you come to play handmade instruments on this recent tour? Did you build your gear yourselves? Was the Gutbucket set-up ever part of your regular set, or will it be in the future?
J: It’s always been in the back of our heads to do the Gutbucket thing, because we are both big fans of John and Alan Lomax’s work, early American, Appalachian music, early country, Delta blues, that kind of thing. We like the type of music that people played on their front porches, around camp fires, in the back of a wagon, in back yards, where they didn’t have nice instruments or a P.A. system, but it didn’t matter. We also have a reputation as an excessively loud band, which we don’t mind, but it seemed like a nice challenge to try to break that, to get some gigs in venues who can’t have loud bands, but to bring the same energy we have with the half stacks and full show. Thats the idea of Gutbucket. So we thought, lets get some smaller amps, some different instruments, see if we can strip it all down a bit, just to try it, maybe a few gigs, explore that sound a bit. We also wanted to concentrate on our singing and letting people hear all the lyrics in our songs, which are sometimes lost when we’re really cranked up. So Carley got a cigar box guitar, then a banjo, and those instruments really lent themselves to that sound. She got rid of a bunch of her guitar pedals, just played mostly straight into the amp. I started messing with more percussion instead of drums, first with an old wooden framed washboard, a crystal bowl, metal cutlery instead of drum sticks. Then I’ve moved on to flower pots, watering cans, more trashy metal, whatever I could find. I looked in junk yards, trash bins, those kinds of places. We really enjoyed it, because it gave us a new sonic palette to explore, and we did a few fun gigs around Austin, taped a KUTX live session, had a few laughs with it. The real kicker came when Lincoln Durham heard us doing it in town and asked us to go on tour with him for two months across the entire USA as his opener…and we had to say yes, because first, he’s amazing and we were fans, and secondly it was a great opportunity for us to play to large audiences in towns where people don’t know us, because he draws really well and the people who show up are music lovers. We did about 40 shows, and just had the finale in Austin at Stubbs this weekend. Overall, we had a blast and made a ton of new fans. The funny thing is we ended up being pretty loud by the end, I guess we just aren’t really able to turn all the way off, we’re just not built like that, as people. But at least we tried it. Later this year we’re playing one of the big alternative-roots type festivals, Muddy Roots, which should be awesome. We might do some elements of the gutbucket thing there. But we’re going back to our more full electric show this summer and fall. We’re opening for The Dead Boys in September for a few weeks, who are a legendary 1970’s punk band, so we’ll be fully equipped at those shows. We like the change, and having the ability to do both. I wouldn’t rule out doing more Gutbucket stuff down the line sometime.
C: The future holds all sorts of surprises from The Ghost Wolves!! We came across my cigar box guitar at a flea market in Springfield, MO when we were on tour there. A man called Wichita Sam had a little booth with all sorts of cigar box instruments. They were beautiful and sounded so cool. Some were three string, some four, all different size boxes and some with pick ups and some without. I wanted several of them but had to decide on just one. We mostly got it to just play in the van, but when I plugged it in it really rocked, so we started incorporating it into our set here and there. We wanted to develop a set where we could play in any setting without all of our equipment and the cigar box guitar was the perfect centerpiece for that. I just love the thing. I want to learn how to make them. I need to find time to do that.
Do you have “regular” jobs back in Austin? If not, when did you start supporting yourselves with your art? Are there creative projects that each of you does in addition to the band?
J: I play drums for other people, lately with country music or western swing dance bands. I do gigs in dance halls and honkytonks in Texas mostly. I really like the difference between those jobs and my work with Ghost Wolves. It’s totally different music. I’ve been playing drums for money since I dropped out of college 11 years ago… I am a better drummer than I was a student.
C: When we are not touring I am sewing or making art. My mom and I have a clothing line called Starwolf where we make everything ourselves by hand. Lately we have been making applique tee shirts, capes, purses, dresses, and skirts. I put a rack up at our shows next to the Ghost Wolves merch and sell on Instagram. Our goal is to launch it in a big way and see where it takes us. Right now we are saving money to get a sewing studio so we have the space to work in a larger capacity. Please check out our site and share it with your friends to help us get the word out!!
How many tours have you done? How did you get together with Lincoln Durham? When and where will your next tour be?
J: We’ve been touring since we started about 7 years ago and put out our first EP “In Ya Neck!”. I think we’re almost at 1000 shows in 20 countries around the world at this point. We’ve known Lincoln around Austin for a while, he heard our Gutbucket set and asked us to join him. Our next tour is this summer in Europe. We’re going over to play Fusion festival, which is a gigantic alternative music festival in Germany, then we’ll head to Italy for some more gigs. After that we’re opening for the Dead Boys this September in the USA, doing our full electric show.
C: I lost count on the number of tours we have done. I’m not even sure what day it is today. I do have a bunch of great stories and memories from the adventures we have had on all our tours though. We played a show with Lincoln in Austin a couple years ago and loved his show. Then I curated a book called Seduced by Sound; Austin 100 Musicians on Why They Make Music. I asked Lincoln to be in the book. He answered my questions beautifully and included one of his songs in the downloadable compilation that comes with the book. He came to a couple book signing events and we became friends. Around that time is when he heard us do the early version of our gutbucket set. It was so cool of him to ask us to join him on tour through the entire United States. We had a blast. Check out the book here: www.seducedbysound.com
Carley, are there situations in your life, good or bad, that you feel are specific to being a woman fronting a band? Things that your male contemporaries or even Jonny may not have to deal with?
C: We have dealt with idiots before out in the crowd who yell out sexist remarks. I don’t think that happens to guys or if it does they probably like it. It happens too often to women. People say all sorts of stupid shit. It’s important to develop thick skin. Men love to promise female musicians the world and talk about all the things they can do for them and their careers. They just want the face time to make empty promises. Certain losers get something out of that. You have to watch out for those types and kick them in the balls. In general, meetings are a giant waste of time. Again, people just want your time and energy and have little to nothing of substance to give back. It’s better to do business through email. That way there is a record of what is going on and it doesn’t rob you of your time. Not to say a rambling email is much better but at least you can deal with it from the comfort of your hot tub or beach side veranda. The music business is a men’s club for the most part. Men want to do business with men. That is as old as time itself. We have awesome ladies on our team, but unfortunately they also experience this bias I am sure. After all it’s 2018. It’s not like we are in the 2050’s where women have totally taken over the world and fixed all the problems.
J: I’m just going to chime in here and say that we have definitely dealt with dumbasses in the crowd who think they’re at a strip club or something. I don’t know what’s wrong with some men, it’s really disappointing to see that happen.
What’s your favorite hometown club to play? What’s your favorite city/club to play besides home?
J: I really love Stubb’s Jr. and Continental Club. My favorite city we’ve ever played was Tokyo. London was a close second.
C : I love Stubb’s Jr in Austin and Tokyo was the best. We had so much fun in Japan and want to go back asap!! Know anyone in Japan in the music business?
Photo by David Jackson / Courtesy of The Ghost Wolves
Visit their website HERE