Wolf Gets Ready For India
Wolf frontman Niklas StÃ¥lvind talks about old-school metal, their first India show at Harley Rock Riders and the hot sauce of the beast
No frills. No technical wizardry. No polyrhythms. No squeaky, shiny production. Just straight-up teeth-rattling, head-banging heavy metal the way they did it back in the good old days, Wolf will tell you. The Swedish heavy metal band have been the standard bearers of old school metal since their inception in 1995, through the metal purges of the grunge and hardcore eras, through insipid punk and manufactured pop, only to be vindicated when a tilt of the music wheel brought them back on top. Today, they’re among the frontrunners of the classic metal revival, leading the charge alongside comeback heroes like Accept, Saxon and Tankard. This month, Wolf will make their first ever India appearance headlining the third Harley Rock Riders finale in Bengaluru on November 24th.
Wolf landed their first record and released their self-titled debut in 2000 but it was really their fourth album The Black Flame in 2006 that earned them widespread recognition, finding admirers in artists like Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. “He was mad about the album. He played it on his radio show and he was telling people to come see our shows. He was really into the band and that’s very very cool for me,” says frontman and founding member Niklas StÃ¥lvind. Two more acclaimed albums followed, 2009’s Ravenous that saw guest spots by Danish metal band Mercyful Fate’s guitarist Hank Shermann and Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Mark Boals (both of who StÃ¥lvind cites as huge influences) and 2011’s Legions of Bastards that saw the band doing what they do best ”“ churning out huge, barreling riffs, scorching solos and catchy choruses that make you want to pull out your patchwork denim jacket and dust off that air guitar. StÃ¥lvind himself still seems to be taking it all in. “I wish I could go back in time to when I was 14,” he says with an audible grin in his voice, “and tell myself that in some years from now Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson are going to hear your music, your band, and they’re going to like it.”
This is going to be your first India show. Have you ever come to India before, personally or professionally?
No I haven’t. I’ve been wanting to, but I don’t really travel unless I play music so I’m really excited about this, to come toIndia.
You’ve interacted with some of your Indian fans on Facebook. Has that given you an idea of what to expect from the show?
Well, yeah, a little because I got the impression that the Indian fans are really into it, you know, really hungry for heavy metal and India is opening up for the metal industry right now. I get that feeling anyway. I try not to have too many expectations but I think it will be really great to meet the Indian fans.
What else are you looking forward to doing when you come to India?
I have to do some shopping for my wife; otherwise she’ll kill me when I get home [laughs]. She also lovesIndia and she likes stuff bought from India ”“ pieces of furniture, small things like that ”“ she’s very into that. She wants to come too but if I buy her something nice from India she will be okay.
But this isn’t your first association with India. You also collaborated with Indian metal band Albatross on their second EP The Kissing Flies. Tell me about that
Yes, I mixed the album. They recorded the album in India and then they sent the files to me and I mixed it in Viper studio here, which is my studio, and I did some vocals on it. And it was my first connection to India, so I think everything kinda started from there.
Coming back to the beginnings of the band, tell me how you guys decided you wanted to play “classic” heavy metal.
We just say heavy metal but classic metal is a good label for it. Well, actually, I grew up in the Eighties listening to all these great bands like Wasp, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and King Diamond ”“ I really love that music. And then in the Nineties, when I was in my Twenties, I really felt like an alien. I’d go to party with my friends and they’d play this new stuff that I really didn’t like, any of it. And I felt like I was born in the wrong time. All of a sudden classic metal in Sweden”¦ they were almost ashamed of it. It was considered to be not very cool any more and I was like, “But it’s great songs, it’s great music!” And I also tried to find people to form a band with, but it was kind of impossible. But then I met a guy, Michael [Goding, former bassist] and he felt exactly the same as me so we decided to form a band and just play the music that we like, no matter what people said. So we did and it was in the mid-Nineties that we began to play in bars. We had some songs that were our own and then we did some classic heavy metal songs and people were really laughing at us. But you know what, after a few beers they’d start to headbang and get really into it even if they wouldn’t admit it. So we felt like this music is still good and that people are going to come back to it. And in the year 2000 we got a record deal and all of a sudden metal started to be big again. The Nineties were over where it was all grunge and hardcore and stuff like that and all of a sudden there was room for heavy metal again. So that’s why we started the band. We just wanted to play music that we ourselves would like to go into a record store and buy.
Like you said, you guys started playing in the Nineties when metal had essentially hit its lowest point. What kept you going at that time?
We just didn’t care about the music scene at all. It was just something from inside that kept us going, the fire and the love for the music. That was it. It was hardly the money and it still isn’t; it’s not a lot of money in this kind of music. It was just pure love for the style and we really, really believed strongly in what we were doing, even if almost no one else did. We didn’t care. And that’s how we feel today. But luckily for us, since like a decade now, people are really into this kind of music again and I think this trend will keep going, and that feels good.
So do you find that there’s a sort of old-school metal resurgence happening across the world at the moment?
It’s been a couple of years now when it’s come back in a big way. I don’t think it would come and take over anything but it’s one of the many genres of metal and hard rock music that’s finding an audience today and I don’t think it will disappear again like in the Nineties. From 2000 on it’s more like people are a bit more open minded.
So what do you think of metal today? Modern metal, so to speak.
Some are good and some modern metal I really don’t care for at all, especially the kind where you think you have to make the fattest production ever and everything has got to be on 11 and it’s all about the mightiest sound you could ever accomplish but you forget the songs. If you took away the whole production you would have nothing, you know. That kind of metal wouldn’t interest me at all. I’m interested in good songs, good music and if it has really good production, that’s fine. But you don’t have to have a sound that’s coming at you like a brick wall, just hitting you in the face and you can’t go anywhere from there. I like it when it’s dynamic and interesting. There’s a band called Ghost, who came out with an album a couple of years ago. They didn’t give a shit about “new” production. It’s just all about the songs. They have a sound that leaves room for every instrument ”“ I like that.
Last year in India we saw this huge divide open up between old school metal fans and modern metal fans. Have you seen this sort of fragmentation in other places you’ve played, maybe at festivals?
No, I don’t. Of course we see a lot of old-school metal fans but we don’t make music just for the old-school metal fans, we just make music. I think we write songs that a lot of people could dig but we have our roots and we’re not forgetting that. But I don’t think there’s a fight between old-school and new school like it is in India maybe. I think that’s kinda stupid. Just listen to the music that you like. I like a lot of other music than metal too; I listen to classical music and movie soundtracks and I like Tom Waits… I mean, good music is good music and then you have music that is more like a commercial product that doesn’t have a heart. I don’t listen to that anyway so I don’t care.
Your last album Legions of Bastards came out in 2011. Have you guys started working on the next album?
Yeah, a bit. We’ve started collecting some riffs and some ideas. It’s a blank sheet right now but when we come back from India we’re going to sit down and really start working on new songs and see where it takes us. So the plan is to release or at least record a new album next year.
Among other things planned for the immediate future, I hear you have a Wolf’s Blood Hot Sauce coming out. Tell me about that.
Yeah we do! It just came out one or two weeks ago. I hope it’s okay for the Indian market, I know you have a lot of spicy Indian food. It has a heat rating of 666,000 Scovilles, that’s halfway to tear gas! It’s very very very hot and we just did it as a cool thing and a gimmick. It’s really hot.
How did this happen?
We were playing a tour with Firewind in Vienna where a guy came to me and said that he has a website and he makes all sorts of hot sauces. And he was just looking for a band to collaborate with. And I said, “Yeah, we’re that band, we’re gonna do it.” And then somehow through some correspondence and some brainstorming we collected some ideas on what we wanted to do and it happened. It’s such a cool thing especially with all the bands releasing their red wine and stuff. I mean, yeah that’s fine but it’s pretty lame compared to this hot sauce with a 666,000 Scoville rating. To open the bottle you should wear gloves, I think [Laughs]
So where is this going to be available?
It’s available on Mo Pepper website and also if you come to the Wolf shows you can buy it. I think maybe we’re going to take a shot and bring a bottle to India and have people try it.
Harley Rock Riders III will be held at Clarks Exotica in Bengaluru on November 24th. Gates open at 12 pm. Entry: Free