I confess that I make a lot of playlists, it used to be mixed tapes, now it’s playlists. I always need music to accompany me on any journey or situation. Sometimes I just put shuffle on a let the music go wherever it wants, but other times I will make a playlist based on a mood or a place.
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to the fantastic record To the Adventure by Lunatic Wolf while walking the dog. Walking the dog for me is a solitary pursuit, often a time when I slow down, take in the neighbourhood, and try to be in the present, so what I am listening to has to fit with that. The 11 songs here are expertly crafted, intelligent, catchy and can be described as lush and eloquent.
Lunatic Wolf is an indie folk band out of Johannesburg, South Africa and To the Adventure is a startling debut. I won’t get into a list of comparisons – the band mention them below, but I will say that the songwriting and musicianship here is spectacular. The first three songs alone are a strong hint that Lunatic Wolf have captured lightning in a bottle. This is a debut record overflowing with memorable and brilliant melodies played by a very talented 6 piece band.
Gavin van den Berg
Jacques du Plessis
People say we sound like…
Gavin: The Head and the Heart, Death Cab for Cutie, Mumford & Sons, Sufjan Stevens
We are originally from…
Gavin: Johannesburg, South Africa
How did you become Lunatic Wolf and what’s with the name?
Gavin: Lunatic Wolf started off as a studio project between myself and Richard. We spent just over two years writing extensively, sacrificing much of our spare time to bring this album to life. “To the Adventure” was completed in November of last year with the help of our good friends Jacques du Plessis who co-produced the album with us, and Gavin Flaks who recorded the drum and percussion parts.
Richard: Both Jacques and Gavin Flaks have since joined the band full time and will be performing with us going forward. We were still in need of more members in order to play all the elements on the album live and that’s where we were lucky enough to have our guitarist Adrian and bassist Dave come on board and complete Lunatic Wolf. The name Lunatic Wolf was the first name that we came up with that we all agreed on. We had many other possible band names but everything we came up with already existed – it would just take one Google search for us to have to go back to the drawing board.
What music has had an influence on your sound?
Richard: Gavin and I have been writing music together since high school and have experimented with a lot of the guitar-driven genres. We have also listened to music together and spent many hours talking about music, so our ideas and direction are very similar. We were both treated to bands like The Beatles, Donovan and Simon & Garfunkel growing up and many of these bands laid the foundation for us musically. During high school we listened to and played pop punk and from there moved on to a heavier sound. We have always tried to pay careful attention to song structure, melody and lyrics and I think with Lunatic Wolf we have found our sound.
Tell us about the scene in Johannesburg?
Richard: The South African music scene is small but very promising with artists in the country continuously raising the bar. We have a growing number of day festivals that are always so well attended by very passionate fans of music.
Tell us about your live show?
Gavin: Our songs may not sound complicated at face value, but there’s a lot going on when we play live. The studio afforded us endless possibilities and few limitations in terms of instrumentation and arrangement and for this reason we really needed to apply ourselves to make things work live. Right now we have four extra members that perform with us which makes for quite a complicated sound setup. We swap parts, we swap instruments. Organisers and sound engineers alike may cringe when they see our setup but it’s important that we give our fans the sound on the album and we like to think that it keeps our show interesting.
How does the city’s or country’s musical history or landscape influence your sound?
Gavin: There is in my opinion a great divide between traditional South African bands and South African bands that are influenced by western culture. We probably gravitate towards the latter and draw much of our influence from American and British bands.
Richard: Our surroundings certainly play a part in our creative direction. I have always lived in the same house which has kept the feelings of nostalgia and reflection close by and I am always in a place full of memories. The lyrics for “The Tallest Tree” were scribbled down minutes after descending the tallest tree in the garden that I grew up in. The themes of refection and nostalgia are very present in the album.
What influences your band lyrically?
Richard: We feel that we can best express ourselves lyrically. So if there is anything on our minds we always try to express it through music. It’s therapy in a way. So our ups and downs come through in our music.
If you could any time to travel back to for music, where would you go and what year would it be?
Gavin: I’ve always been in love with the 80s pop scene, the likes of Michael Jackson, Prince and Bon Jovi. It was an incredible decade with the emergence and split of so many genres and it shaped much of the music that I personally enjoy today.
Richard: London 1969, to listen to Ralph McTell play “Streets of London”.
Growing up, at home we listened to…
Gavin: Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Chris de Burgh, Foreigner, Fleetwood Mac.
Richard: Tom Paxton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ralph McTell, The Beatles, Leo Kottke, Donovan.
What tunes are on heavy rotation for you…?
Gavin: At the moment I’m still loving the album “Ledges” by Noah Gundersen. For a 25-year old that guy is way beyond his years.
Richard: Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain.
If you could open for any band right now who would that be and why?
Richard: Ben Howard because his style of music sums up elements from my favourite artists and influences.
Gavin: Ryan Adams. Because he’s Ryan Adams.
If you could only bring ONE record **(you can all answer if you like) in the tour van what would it be?
Richard: Bon Iver, self-titled.
Gavin: Foreigner, Agent Provocateur
The one thing we want you to remember while you’re listening to our music…
Richard: Remember to learn as much as you can about where you are and how you got there.
Gavin: We all share in similar experiences.