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Mapping Mt. Wolf’s Dream Folk Landscape

Mapping Mt. Wolf’s Dream Folk Landscape
Photo courtesy of the artist/Credit: Paul Bence

Enter a land of electro acoustic enchantment

By Beverly Bryan
December 13, 2012

New UK band Mt. Wolf is kind of like one of those monsters in Medieval illuminated manuscripts, the fabled beasts with the tails of scorpions and the heads of lions. Combining electronic elements with rock instrumentation, their hybrid pop music is a modern chimera, though this one has a gentle nature. Or would it be more like a beautiful cyborg?

Members Kate Sproule, Stevie McMinn, Sebastian Fox and Al Mitchell like to describe their music as dream folk. “Life Size Ghosts,” the song that initially garnered them some attention, comes off like a collaboration between Bat For Lashes and James Blake. It’s an ethereal pop song where Sproule’s voice, sub bass, synth, lightly tripping beats and sparkling strings pile up and melt into each other like snowdrifts. It feels like something from the distant past and the very near future at the same time. Dubstep made by space fairies?

To get a better idea of where the heck this stuff is coming from, we got the band’s guitarist and producer Sebastian Fox on the phone to trace their origins and inspirations. He helped us as much as he could, but thankfully the haunting songs on the Life Size Ghosts EP remain just a little bit mysterious.

So, how is it going over there?

Quite well. We just had our first EP launched and we’re currently working on another one. I’ve temporarily moved my studio down to Dorset, which is in the countryside and we’re just sending ideas back and forth. Working on a couple of tracks at this time, two or three for the next EP, which is hopefully going to come out in February.

How does the songwriting partnership with Kate Sproule work? She’s the principle songwriter but you do a lot of the producing. You mentioned you were sending tracks back and forth.

It works quite well. It’s a bit of an evolutionary thing, occasionally it will come from jamming but more often one of us will come up with a musical idea. Say, Stephen will come up with a guitar part in my studio, then I’ll do some basic production, like put a drum beat in there, start to create a musical atmosphere. Then Kate will come into the studio and she’ll come up with some initial vocal parts, which are usually pretty spot-on right away, and then some lyrics and we record the rough version. And then I’ll go back into the studio and chop them up and do some more production. It kind of grows from there.

You know, when we’re doing the beat we’ll get Al to talk about the drumming. We haven’t recorded live drums yet because of studio cost and time. They’re all programmed but Al comes in and gives me his advice and opinion as an actual drummer.  It’s quite organic really even though it sounds like a to and fro thing. It’s actually been working quite well like that.

It really doesn’t sound organic. Do you just have really good chemistry as a band?

We’re all kind of on the same page in terms of what we want to do. It doesn’t feel contrived at all. I guess you might think that if you’re in a band you’ve got to change your musical output to suit the others. You know, what you do the others might not quite like, but generally it all kind of works. Everyone’s happy with what the others are doing.

Do you all come from similar musical backgrounds?

We all started instruments at a fairly young age and just gradually did different things with it I suppose. I think we all started instruments at the age of five or six. Kate for example comes from a musical family and she went to kind of a musical school so she plays violin and piano, things like that. And then Stevie, Al, and I all started piano at the age of six. And then, well, personally I got into electric guitar quite heavily, got a bit obsessed with it and being the fastest guitar player in the world.

I soon realized that’s not going to get me anywhere and then I got into songwriting, did a bit of singer-songwriting and eventually found production. And that’s what I have been obsessed with the last few years, really.

Do you mean electronic music production or studio production?

Both, really. When I found electronic music I was like “Wow, how did that work? What are these sounds I’m hearing?” I then went into that and flirted with the idea of making some techno or dubstep but then I was missing the acoustic element of music I listened to when I was growing up. Mt. Wolf is kind of marrying the two, really, acoustic and electronic. That’s why it works well as a band because that’s what we all want to do.

How did you get together?

Stevie and I met at music college and we started writing together. We weren’t Mt. Wolf. He’s done some production as well and we both sort of enjoyed that. And then Stevie introduced me to his friend Kate from back home in Guernsey. They’re friends from there, which is a little island off the coast of England.

Stevie and I were going to do the bulk of the singing together but then we heard Kate sing and we were like “Wow, okay. She should probably sing.” And then we were recording mostly acoustic stuff and Stevie knew Al for a long time before as a mate. We thought we needed some live drums, so we got him on board. He’s a brilliant drummer and adds a lot to the live set, basically.

So, when did you realize that a lot of people were noticing your music?

Quite recently, really. I think when we put our tracks up on Soundcloud we noticed. There was a period quite recently when the hits on “Life Size Ghosts” were going up pretty rapidly. Also, Catching Flies did a remix and that got a lot of hits on YouTube. That’s an amazing remix. That was a couple of months ago I suppose.

What’s your favorite thing that has happened since people started picking up on your music?

Just that people are enjoying it, really. The best is the comments that people leave on Soundcloud and YouTube.

What’s the best so far?

We’ve got a follower on Twitter. I don’t use Twitter myself. The others do that stuff. I think she’s called Bethan. I think she’s quite young, about fourteen, fifteen. And there’s pretty much a tweet from her every day saying “I can’t go a day without listening to Mt. Wolf” and stuff like this. It’s just really sweet. I think we sent her a Mt. Wolf t-shirt and things like that.

How did the cover of Usher’s “Climax” come about?

I hadn’t heard it. I think Al and Stevie were listening to it or it came on the radio. Someone had said “you guys should do a cover.” I think Al said “Stevie  why don’t we do Usher and “Climax” and everybody said yes. I purposely didn’t listen to it because when you do a cover you want to have your own take on it. After we were done I listened to it and I was like “oh, this is a really cool track.”

If your EP told a story would it be a story about the past or the future?

I think it would be a little bit of both, really.

So, time travel?

The aim is, well, the subconscious aim is to mix the acoustic with the electronic but also the past with the present and future, so we don’t want to be just a futuristic sounding band we want to hark back to old influences, musical and otherwise. And so if we were telling a story I think it would possibly reflect that.

Mt. Wolf and especially “Life Size Ghosts” is trying to encapsulate a feeling of loneliness and a feeling that other people have been in similar situations. That could reflect the past or the future I guess.

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