Wolf Eyes' John Olson Talks About the Importance of Music Communities
Wolf Eyes is among the most well-known bands to have come out of the world of noise music. But the act was never strictly noise; its music, even early on, included experiments in texture and atmosphere that could terrify and inspire. What started as Nate Young's solo project now also includes John Olson and Jim Baljo. In recent years, Wolf Eyes has taken a more coherent and focused approach to writing music, and its 2013 album, No Answer: Lower Floors, has more in common with industrial music, punk and metal than noise.
We spoke with Olson before the band's set this weekend at the Goldrush Music Festival about his affinity for local and regional music and the value of playing for no one.
Tom Murphy: Why do you think local influence is a good thing for music?
John Olson: Imagine if every suburb completely shut its borders down and became a completely self-sufficient musical entity, with no outside influence, and they had their own tape labels and gigs. Imagine what it would do to music. It would completely change its world. There would be a new punk, and all this new stuff that no one would ever really come up with otherwise. They would be forced within these tiny aesthetic perimeters to come up with their own vernacular. It would be amazing.
I was watching Jodorowsky's Dune, and he was saying how it wasn't important for stuff to succeed, but that you just had to plan it and try. Mark E. Smith said the worst thing a band could do was sound like they could be from anywhere.
When you were coming up, who were the artists who had the biggest impact on you, and who does now?
When I was growing up, it was the Jesus Figs and Violent Apathy. I saw the Laughing Hyenas a lot, and that was pretty mind-blowing. Not a lot of people came through Lansing [Michigan]. When I was in high school, I was playing drums with older people, and seeing people coming through and trying to develop a local scene was a lot of fun. Playing with the same local bands almost every weekend was great, because eventually a local sound would come out of that.
The punk scene around then was amazing. Then, in the early '90s, there was an art gallery called the Otherwise Gallery that would pretty much let you have any gig you wanted, so we were able to really start jamming and doing improvised bands. That was amazing, to get your live chops down and try a bunch of stuff. We played there under a million different names, and noise bands came through. The only gig where no one came, I did with two bands, and I was in both bands, and not a single person came. When you're able to do that, you can only get better. It's always amazing to see rock bottom. You know -- when the doors opened at seven and closed at nine, and between then not a single person came. We played for no one, and that's a really liberating experience. Everyone should do that and get used to it, because that could be the norm.
Now I read a lot about new metal and punk and hardcore bands. There's this scene in New York with the Toxic State Crew and Crazy Spirit and Hank Wood & the Hammerheads. St. Louis is starting to pop up. Austin's really good with Glue and Institute and all this stuff. There are all these pockets of stuff...that's super-inspiring.
What role did DIY venues play in your development as an artist, and do they play any role now in your creative life?
Totally. We did our own DIY place in Detroit called the Michigan Underground Group. We played so many of those places forever. The decline of them is totally sad. What is even worse is the decline of the house show. We had so many years of insane house shows. An insane house or basement show -- nothing compares to that. It chills me to the bone to think that there's a whole generation of kids growing up that will have not known what it's like to rock an out-of-control house show.
Why was that important to you?
Seeing the Hyenas play a house show in '88 is one of the most insane things I've ever seen in my life. They did that all the time. We've done tours for years of just house shows. There's no rules, and you're right there in front of everyone. The sound is amazing, and the energy is just right there. You can deejay, and it's just fun. There's fights and the cops are gonna come. It's just amazing. Anything could happen. And it's not based on beer or alcohol sales. If what you're doing is not good, you'll know instantly.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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