In the nearly 17 years that comically prolific Ann Arbor, Michigan-based noise institution Wolf Eyes has been a concern for Nate Young, he's traversed some strange ground: two albums of languorous ooze for Sub Pop, a string of tour dates opening for Sonic Youth, a sludgy slot on Lollapalooza, and part of a SPIN trend piece back in the days when we were putting Franz Ferdinand on the cover. Though we're nearly 10 years removed from the project's critical heyday, Young has continued to plug away at the heart of the constantly evolving trio. Young's last several years have seen Wolf Eyes take a back seat in deference his similarly bleary Nate Young Regression project, but in February, the return of the trio was announced, with Jim Baljo taking over the reins in the guitarist slot from Mike Connelly. A new album, No Answer : Lower Floors (out now via De Stijl), just surfaced, featuring contributions from all current and former Wolves (including founding member Aaron Dilloway, the recently departed Connelly, and longtime member John Olsen). It's a more focused and controlled effort from a group often known for deranged ravings, one described by the band as "tight, simplified, steady." SPIN caught up with Young and Baljo during their European tour to talk about the new, streamlined band.
After a bit of a break doing your solo material, what was the impetus for a new Wolf Eyes record?
Young: It came to me in my sleep. I was envisioning making Wolf Eyes a bit more— adding a member or reusing past members. I was just really curious about moving forward with everything. The first thing I did is ask [Aaron Dilloway, former Wolf Eyes member] to come out to Michigan and record for a day or so. That was almost a year and a half ago, maybe even two. We all got pretty busy with our own lives and I was doing a lot of solo stuff at the time, so that kind of got pushed onto the back burne.r It became clear that Connelly was gonna take a break and just wasn't really interested in doing live shows or touring at all. So we asked Crazy Jim [Baljo to take over his spot], and it all started to make sense, to have everyone who had been involved still be involved in some way or another. We're all such close friends too. It never seemed like [our relationship] ended with Dilloway, and I don't feel like it's ending with Connelly either. [This record] is about keeping the crew together, keeping all of our ties. That's the way it's always been.
With all the movement of members, does it feel like the dynamic of the group is in flux?
Young:I don't think it's changing so much, but I think it's going full circle. We've developed aesthetics and techniques for years and we keep developing, but we're also looking back. Being able to utilize all these old ideas a bit in the process. I don't think it's a rehash or any sort of drastic change as much as it's a compliment of the full body of work.
What are some of those old ideas?
Young:The simplicity and the dread. It's extremely simple. It comes down to the programming as well, and taking back the simplicity of using multiple drum machines. Those were all such primitive ideas. When we originally formed the band and I learned to program and use drum machines. I really had no idea what I was doing. So it gave a unique tone and sound to the whole thing. I'm trying to capture that on the new record too, primitive, but it's getting somewhat refined.
How did these new tracks come together?
Baljo: Well they starved me. They didn't let me eat any food and they made me split a bunch of wood before I could even touch my guitar to make any sound. They filled the room up with a bunch of weed and cigarette smoke to the point that I felt like I was choking — thus the title of "Choking Flies." It was almost self-abuse sitting there in the same spot just meticulously dialing in one tone or beat. The place is plastered in cement blocks, which doesn't fit in with the peace, love, and nature vibe that I have going on. It's discipline that I like.
Young:It's really important that we record at our clubhouse, our shared rehearsal space. It's called MUG, and that's in Detroit. It's a communal space so there's people coming and going all the time. There's no real privacy for rehearsal or composing. That lent a lot to the writing of this record because you constantly had a live audience witnessing your rehearsal. You had someone to critique what you were doing instantly.
So did that result in more live takes or was it still a composed process?
Young:I would spend 12-hour days there composing and it'd just become this 12-hour performance for people that would come and go.
If you put this on the back burner after working with Dilloway, when did you work on the majority of the record in earnest?
Young: December of 2012 is pretty much when we started. One of the reasons we were trying to get it done at all was for a festival we're playing in Paris where we're playing in all of our different solo projects and Wolf Eyes. We've gotten to the part [of our career] where this is kind of relaxed. Wolf Eyes has gone on tour without me... It can be looked at as something little broader.
What is Wolf Eyes as an entity then?
Young: Well, it's definitely a vibe. It's this sense of being free enough within ourselves to find things that absolutely scare us, and [things] we find completely hilarious and abstract. It's about pushing yourself to the point where you do freak yourself out, so much so that you laugh at it. It is scary, but it's also kind of funny. We've been calling it "audio horror" and that's kind of ridiculous! But it also has a very specific visual aesthetic with the artwork. If you step away Wolf Eyes looks more like a small art collective or something than it looks like a band, but it's difficult the way magazines and the music industry works. We spent most of our time painting and drawing and creating handmade one-of-a-kind objects to sell at art shows and regular shows. I think that escapes the media a lot of the time. They just see us as three rough rockers from Michigan playing ridiculous noise.