Name: Nate Young and John Olson / Wolf Eyes
Occupation: Sound Artists
Current Release: Nate Young's solo album 'Volume One: Dilemmas of Identity' is out now on Lower Floor Music. An exclusive Bundle with forthcoming cassette 'Volume Two: Nightshade' is available via Bleep
Recommendations: JRO- Roberto Bolano = 2666 book
Doris Piserchia = Doomtime book
Mike Rep & the Quotas "Rocket To Nowhere" single
Desperate Bicycles "Smokescreen" single
Skeletal Bones "Lizard Life Boredom" single
If you enjoyed this interview with Wolf Eyes' Nate Young and John Olson, visit their website for background information and news. They also have a facebook page and a bandcamp profile with many of their releases.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
NGY- The gap between playing music and recording music was strange for me. I was interested in playing music but was always shy about not knowing how. My group of highschool drop out friends would just hang around the streets of Ann Arbor and fuck around. We would Ollie trash and do whatever teens do, just hanging. Mainly what we did was draw and skateboard, but I was interested in the idea of a band. We had a small crew consisting of weirdo skate punks around my age, and you know, we would jam on anything. We would skate a heating duct and then drag it into our basement and bang on it for hours. It's just what we did. Music was a natural extension of our curiosity, I mean, we would spend years trying to make a piece of wood flip around 360, making noise was just another way to make something from nothing. It all seemed so natural, we would just make art, skateboard and play shows. It all seemed like the same thing, still does.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
NGY- My early process was always chaotic, uncertain and energetic. I got into modifying electronic instruments that I would find in the trash or at thrift stores. The entire homemade instrument or circuit bending thing was sort of a metaphor about developing "new rules" for a pre-existing instrument. Most of the "rules" were just chaotic nonsense and the instruments would short circuit and fry. I was influenced by the result of the process and would try to emulate the metaphor. If that makes sense.
JRO- I was lucky enough to be around artists that always stressed individualism. See what's around you and be yourself. Have the discipline to refine your own aesthetic language in an economic way that others can somewhat understand. If they don't, fine: more freedom.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
NGY- The first Wolf Eyes tape was made by putting scotch tape of the erase head on a cassette recorder. Since then I have gone down the rabbit hole of electronic music production. Uher to Hiwatt, iPad to Ableton. You name it, I am interested in it or will be, I love all this shit.
JRO- To be a good self / group editor is always a challenge, and a good tool to be aware of. Learning an instrument to only unlearn it is tough / pleasing as well. Finding out how to build a car, then self-drive it off a cliff, amazing.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
NGY- The first time I rented a studio space that was not my home was in Ypsilanti Michigan. It was an old Blood Bank that my buddy had a screen shop under. The space I had was the old break room, it had a giant ionizer or smoke eater within the tobacco stained drop-ceiling. I would set up in the conference room that was attached and use the break room as a recording control room. I only had pro-tools, a couple mics and a few cables. This worked great, I could track at my own pace and take the digital files to a studio for mixing and post production. Things haven't changed much. My current studio is only upgraded from the original by the addition of 15" powered monitors. The powered monitors help provide me with an accurate representation of what it will sound like from stage one. They are monitor wedges just like you'd find in any club. I have found that these monitors help give me a transparent relationship with the writing, composing, recording and performing process. Nerd alert.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
NGY- The influence of technology comes from a creative place. I tend to forget how creative computer coders are … I think problem solving is what we do with music, it is a battle of maths ... Not that this high-school dropout is an expert on coding, maths or problem solving, fuck me, I just try and count to ten and breathe deeply, but yeah … machines … as instruments … if you live under the shadow of the singularity it can be dark. I tend to lean towards cyborg shit vs straight A.I. BUT SERIOUSLY, Fuck a clock, I am off grid as much as I can be without getting fired.
JRO- Almost every Wolf gig and nearly every practice there is a new device involved. Not being open to new tech / advancements does not really play out in the modern arena. If abstract sound is your gas, the fuels are everywhere. The lust for new sounds and approaches will never cease. Never.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
NGY- Tools are good, but knowing what tool to use, is really what’s up. For years I have been trying to find my perfect instrument. At first through circuit bending and tape manipulation, now with modular synthesis and computer software. The need to change, adapt and try new things is what keeps me looking, also what keeps me from finding it. In some way, having so many options to create sound can be a problem. When I first stepped to my MPC it was crazy, I could sample any sound and make any sequence. At first I froze, the ability to sample and manipulate any sound was a bit too much. I think I started sampling my Casio RZ-1 just to chill out.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
NGY- In 2018 Johnny and I did over 50 live improvised collaborations. Some amazing, some better read about years later. The idea of collaboration comes from a need to expand our vernacular, I mean … I think that's what live music celebrates.
JRO- Collaborations are not only amazing for the community but the results are staggering. Working with others widens your sound universe while making your own playing strong. If you have a solid vernacular base to offer, the jumping spring board into new audio worlds is bottomless. There is really not a single negative aspect to collaborations. As Nate said, 2018 was jammed pack with them and one if not thee best Wolf year yet.