Posted by: Necci – Apr 13, 2012
“Fuji Descent” – the opening track from Atlas Nation, the 2011 album released by High Wolf – imbues the listener with a sense of journey from it’s opening seconds, carried through in the song’s following seven minutes that seem to pass in the blink of an eye. It is that very sense of a journey – of meditative movement, of progress and pilgrimage adjoined as one – that keeps us returning, again and again, to the music of High Wolf. Through a wide range of releases and collaborations, High Wolf has, for us, come to represent the current high-water mark for conscientious, cosmic drone. The music invites – nearly demands – the listener to submit to and be cleansed by the power of sonic somnambulism. Yet under the sign of the Wolf, the journey never sacrifices lucidity. It’s a masterful trick. We tracked down the magician in question to ask him more about the music of High Wolf, Austin Psych Fest 2012 and our relationship with the cosmos. You know – normal stuff. Enjoy.
The wolf has a prominent presence in a variety of cultural and social mythologies – present in Hindu, Norse and Indian histories, admired as a hunter by some, feared as a predator by more, and revered as a basketball playing teenager by all. What do you remember as your first personal connection to the wolf? Did you ever have, or remain to have any personal or spiritual fascination with the wolf?
The wolf is, surprisingly, not an animal that I really have a fascination for. But it’s most of all an image of man – man is a wolf for man. And it looks great on t-shirts! I’ve seen some wolves lately, and I was like “It’s not that scary… what’s the big deal – it’s like a dog,” until it started to bark and show teeth – then I was more respectful!
From a musical perspective, what led you to decide to use the name High Wolf? Does it reflect in some ways what we sometimes consider a solitary thread running through High Wolf’s music? Or are you actually just paying tribute to Howlin’ Wolf in your own unique way?
With all due respect, I don’t give a fuck about Howlin’ Wolf – I don’t even know it. The name came accidentally. It was just there. It hit me one day I was looking for a name. So that’s it, for better or worse. Now being “high” and “wolf,” solitary while doing this music, is not far from the truth, actually. So maybe it means something that I didn’t realize at first, but my subconscious said, “That’s it.”
What experiences did you have musically preceding High Wolf that compelled you to commit to making music by yourself? How does playing music with other artists – playing with Gnod, with Sun Araw, with Chicaloyoh as Voodoo Mount Sister – ultimately impact your creativity when working alone?
Well, the factors that lead me to solo music are extra-musical. I started music with high school friends but I was the one who was the more motivated, I guess, so we didn’t go very far. So I learnt that if I wanted to do things I needed to control everything and to rely only on myself. It is a huge aspect of my personality, but as I like people after all, and I think playing music with friends is a beautiful thing to do, I have many collaborations. But those are free, in the sense that I have my thing as a primary project, and I don’t have to expect anything with collaborations. Meaning I don’t care about what label, what format, what conditions, what success… No expectation equals no frustration. And if you are frustrated with a project you do with other people then it becomes difficult. So, for instance, Voodoo Mount Sister, my duo with Chicaloyoh, has done two records so far. And each record comes from one single improvised session. We’re very good friends but when we meet we have dinner, we talk, we drink, whatever. And once a year we make music! So it puts things in perspective. It says, “You are my friend first, and you’re sometimes a musical collaborator, when we feel it’s what we want to do.” And it’s not because you’re a good guitarist or drummer that I want to make music with you.
I don’t know how that had an impact on my creativity… hard to say, honestly. But I know I learned a lot playing with Gnod or Astral Social Club, hanging out with Sun Araw and many other people.
Do you feel you could ever dedicate yourself to playing either by yourself or with others exclusively – though the real question may be, why would you? Is the separation between working alone and working with others something you need? Is a separation from music itself something you need? What are your favorite guitar solos of all time? Drum solos?
Wow, so many questions… I think I did answer a bit already, but if I had to choose I’d choose solo work. Because it’s deep down some kind of metaphysical quest that only I can exercise. And if not in music, it would be through a different media of expression. I can see myself switching to another art at some point, even if I don’t feel it at all now. But what I mean is that it’s something that is very deep inside of me and that will never stop, whether it’s in music or not. I hope I don’t have to choose, though, because it’s nice thing to do music with people, to let go of that ego and share with people, to learn (and I’ve learned everything through others).
Separation from music? Don’t really know what that means… but one thing I can tell you is that for a year or so I listen to way less music, especially way less new things. Too many new bands, new labels, new blogs… I’m lost. I feel like I can’t compete with the internet strength, live in the internet redefinition of time. It goes too fast. I do read a lot, listen to a lot of national radio programs podcasts – that’s my primary use of my solo free time. I still enjoy listening to good music, for sure, to see good bands perform, but I’m not looking for the new thing as much as I've done in the past.
My favorite guitar solos?? Good question. I think it’d be solo guitar albums more than solos in a regular band piece. So that’d be Sir Richard Bishop, Steven R. Smith, Michael Flower, Ignatz as well. And a lot of Mali/Niger desert blues guitarists. I’d like to play better so I could do some piece based on guitar only. It’s in my mind.
About drum solos… free jazz drummers like Milford Graves, Ed Blackwell, Rashied Ali, Hamid Drake, and so many others, have tons of amazing solos. Not to forget our modern superhero Chris Corsano.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that you will soon take a break from releasing recorded music and instead release a line of snack foods called, “Affamé Comme le Loup Haute”? [roughly, "Hungry Like The High Wolf" -ed.]
What a nice rumor. But it’s wrong. The truth is I’m gonna become an astronaut. But to talk about food, I don’t eat meat, but I recommend wolf meat – that’s the best for snack. And the name you use is another proof if needed that Google Translate is not ready yet!
What is your favorite atmosphere for performing under the name High Wolf, and does that differ from what you like when improving live with others? What music have you seen live in the past year or so that continues to stick with you? What would be the ultimate High Wolf show for you, real or imagined?
My favorite atmosphere is of course a packed room, not too big, kinda intimate, 80 people maybe. But packed, like no one can move. And you’re alone on stage, seated on the floor, and you use this intensity to concentrate your relaxation and emancipation. And you feel the attention, like people care and don’t have their iPhone in their hand. Then you can really take time – you’re not in a struggle to win attention. That’s what I like the most on stage. When I improvise with others, I don’t have the same feeling of control because I never know how it’s gonna evolve. While alone, if I grab the attention, then it’s nothing to worry about.
The ultimate live show… so many variables. It could be a location. Considering High Wolf “mythology” it would be in the Amazon forest. Space is tempting, but sound doesn't exist there so no point. It could be a matter of people present, on stage or in the audience. It could be a matter of context, like the last show ever. Before my own end or the end of the world… melancholia situation. I don’t know – anything ultimate is like something you need to think for more than a minute.
How did you first become aware of Austin Psych Fest? Are there any other artists in particular that you hope to see while there?
Well, last year the APF guys contacted me but I left the USA after playing SXSW so that couldn’t happen, but I guess that’d be the first time I heard about the festival.
When I saw the first line up announced a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t believe the names. I’m excited to meet with my good buddies from Sun Araw for a start, and see the new set they’re gonna play. A lot of bands are not to be missed – Psychic Ills, Peaking Lights, Prince Rama, Woods, Moon Duo… and I think there might be new bands announced later. It’s gonna be crazy.
In the introduction to his book 2001: A Space Odyssey, author Arthur C. “You In Hell” Clarke says:
“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.
Now, this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this Universe there shines a star.”
That’s beautiful. One track from Atlas Nation is named “The Dawn of Man,” after the opening sequence from the 2001 movie by Kubrick. This movie/book develops so many essential metaphysical topics, it’s perfect. Don’t start to talk to me about the billions of stars in the galaxy, the billions of galaxies and possibly the billions of universes, because it gonna take hours. That’s like my favorite topic, together with human soul and human brain.
I care about the thirty ghosts idea, although now it’d be thirty-two, maybe, since the book came out. But I see it more like the fact that humanity grew for so many hundreds of thousands of years, and that we have a storage room – a hard drive we can use – that the first men couldn’t. We have countless mythologies and religions that can help us understand who we are and what’s in our psyche. We do have books from ancient Greek philosophers, ancient Roman poets, middle-age theologists, 17th-century moralists, 18th-century “philosophes des lumières,” 19th-century has so many great philosophers and writers, it’s ridiculous, etc., etc.… Science has exploded in every subject: Physics, Medicine, Geology, Astrophysics…
I mean, that’s how our thirty ghosts can talk to us and help us to understand and to live better. And so many people don’t give a shit about it – it’s depressing in a way. But I do have the best ghosts behind me. They’re Socrates, Montaigne, Nietzsche, Levi-Strauss, Emerson, Newton, Einstein, Planck …
Now about the idea that every star in the galaxy symbolizes every human being that existed, I’d disagree – it’s way too anthropocentric to me. The universe couldn’t care less about us. And you can’t stop at the galaxy – the universe has to be considered in its entirety to make such calculation and propositions.
Clark writes “curious coincidence.” It implies that it might not be a coincidence. We’re insignificant, I think. Believing we’re part of a plan, even more an important part of such a hypothetical plan, seems untrue to me. But in the end, who knows?
What’s next for High Wolf?
I’m not sure. Life will tell.
By Ryan Muldoon/originally appeared at revoltoftheapes.com