Throwaway Style: The Dreaded Confessions of Wolftone

Throwaway Style, Features, Local Music
06/06/2019
Martin Douglas

Throwaway Style is a monthly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.


 

A few weeks ago, Wolftone quit his job. As a line item on the barrage of information/opinion/rumor which fills anyone's Twitter timeline at any given moment, the story could have gone down any road. My initial guess was that the producer – a remarkably talented musician in a city where it is my duty and privilege to document as an embarrassment of riches as far as remarkably talented musicians go – was getting more lucrative work as a producer.

"I was working for an independent contractor doing maintenance and remodels of apartments around town," the man born Devin Wolf explains to me via email correspondence. "The details of what happened aren't very significant, I was just past the point of putting up with it. [The job] made me unhappy, so it was time to move on."

With the run Wolf has been on over the past few years – his musically daring work with the 69/50 Collective, featuring the best and brightest young members of Seattle's hip-hop scene, his status as one of the most sought-after producers in town – it's easy to wrongfully assume his star was rising to the point where he could make a sustainable living from making music.

It's safe to say this art form will be a part of his life whether he has a day job or not.

Born and raised in the Seattle area, Wolf spent his entire life immersed in music. His parents (father from Los Angeles, mother from Long Island, New York) introduced him to a wide array of music throughout childhood; his mother would periodically quiz him about the artists they heard on the radio in the car. He listened to Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and other jazz artists while he did homework ("It helped me focus," he says); he was a multi-instrumentalist (taught in music theory and taught in piano and viola) before he reached middle school.

When discussing what music he listened to when he first felt the pull of being a musician, Wolf explained, "I had been a musician for years before I joined my first band. Once I heard punk music though, that was what really pushed me to pursue music even more. Punk specifically was the reason I gained the ambition to even pick up the guitar and be in a band." By fourteen, he practiced guitar every day, diving into the work of Dead Kennedys, the Germs, X, Ramones, Adolescents, Black Flag, Bad Religion, and Circle Jerks, just to name a few.

By 15, Wolf joined his first band, an outfit called Delusional. ("We lasted about seven years. Had three different drummers during that time," he halfway quips.) Delusional ended up being a well-traveled band, playing all corners of Washington State and even venturing out to the Bay Area of California, playing with a vast network of bands. In the years since, Wolf has logged in hours with a multitude of bands such as No Bullshit, Mind Seduction Aftermath, and the Lindseys (the latter of which he has been a member of since 2010). "There hasn't been a time I haven't been in bands since I [first] started playing in bands," he says.

"Honestly," Wolf admits, "I only started taking beatmaking seriously in 2015. I had dabbled with making beats since high school starting off with [music software program] Acid Pro, but I never really took the time to sit down and learn since playing in bands took up most of my time." It was two years after working with Brakebill – one of a small handful of producers in Seattle able to match Wolf in terms of vision and talent – for the first time that spurred him on to bring his talents behind the mixing boards. Their immersive 2015 collaborative album, Introvert Exhibition, featured Brakebill on production and Wolftone with the bars and served as a somewhat unwitting catalyst for Wolf to ply his craft in beatmaking.

"He was the first person I ever knew to have Ableton," Wolf says of Brakebill. "I watched him make beats so many times, I decided I wanted to get Ableton too and try it on my own. I picked it up pretty quickly since I had him to watch and learn from." Mario Casalini and Sendai Mike were also formative mentors as Wolftone cites his friends in Seattle's hip-hop scene as his primary influences because of their collective ability to get together and collaborate.

"There's no one in my circle trying to sound like anything besides themselves," he says. "It helps me to be myself as a producer because they trust in my ability to create soundtracks for them without having too many outside influences."

The beats Wolftone creates contain a breadth and personality startling for someone who has only been crafting instrumentals on a serious level for about four years now. Gothic trap, ambient boom-bap, vocal samples from several continents away, rainy-day jazz loops swollen from the punch of 808s, gnashing guitars, and basslines with no drums at all. 

In his deft juggling act of musical duties, Wolf also plays in the metalcore band Tax Evader. Formed in 2016 as a reboot of an earlier project that fizzled out with a name borne from a conversation about people from all stations of financial wealth ducking the taxman, most of the band's sludgy, ear-splitting songs have been the complete product of improvisation, an art Wolf has been working on since his days as a teenage violist.

"The best way I could describe the lyrics is catharsis," Wolf says about the band's approach. "We touch on the ills of society, politics, economics, the military-industrial complex, existentialism, and capitalism to name a few subjects. Even still, we don't like to take ourselves too seriously; we're always finding funny samples to put in between songs and often come up with ridiculous song titles. Also [there's] a lot of booze and weed involved in the songwriting process."

Each artist Wolftone has worked with has served as a creative breakthrough for him; it is a testament to his versatility as an artist that he finds new things to learn from every person on his growing list of collaborators. But he did have some effusive things to say about two of his 69/50 compatriots.

"I give credit to Raven Hollywood as he's probably the most experimental artist I've ever worked with. If you listen to all the songs I've produced for him, they all sound wildly different. He's an artist that has influenced me to think outside of the box. Since we have a wide array of influences beyond hip-hop, it comes out very naturally."

Wolftone and Raven Hollywood's chemistry and desire to color outside of the lines are both evident in songs like "Liquids and Solids" and "It Wasn't Always This Way." The former is guided by a proggy, Moog-like synth made to sound like bass clef brass and a blinding, scattered keyboard accompaniment (sounding like it could be found somewhere on Ariel Pink's messy cutting room floor), and the latter a rock track evoking getting stoned at the skate park on the most gorgeous day of the year, sun-baked and lightly psychedelic.

Arguably the best work of Wolftone's beatmaking career came from when a promising rapper from the East Coast crashed on his couch for five months and decided to remain in Seattle indefinitely. AJ Suede has been the primary benefactor of Wolf's levelling up, with the producer contributing the lion's share of beats for his excellent 2017 full-length Gotham Fortress and blessing him with heat throughout the past two years (including his now-traditional bonus tracks on the entirely Suede-produced installments of the Darth Sueder series, volumes 2-4 to be exact).

"I also give credit to AJ Suede since I collaborate with him the most. In just a little over two years, I've grown immensely as a producer having worked with him on a number of projects. His consistency and diligence are unmatched, and he really showed me how much you can get done in a short amount of time if you put in the work." Wolf commends Suede for being another artist who sees the benefit of musical experimentation and points to the heavy load of unreleased material in their possession, "some of which should see the light of day at some point."

Dreaded Confessions, Wolftone's solo debut, finds the artist weaving his back alley growl over boom-bap slaps grounding esoteric samples; somewhere after dusk in the space between the work of hip-hop production legend the Alchemist and loop-wielding Buffalo beatmaker Daringer. The EP finds Wolf furious with the oversaturation of the media, surveying the waste of Baby Boomers coming home to roost for successive generation, following Polaris (the North Star, not the band of The Adventures of Pete and Pete fame) and questioning if the direction he's going is equivalent to moving upward. Between the kicks of hard drums, people die from taking pills, the rich eat the poor unless they show their fangs and bite back. On "I Don't Pray," the songwriting highlight of the release, Wolf ponders if his life would be more fulfilling if he believed in the traditional, biblical God.

He surveys his city with a very skeptical eye toward its billionaires driving the rapid and stressful change, he's "lethargic from the garbage [he's] ingesting."

Wolftone started recording Dreaded Confessions in December 2018 and finished in late March, around a week before the album was released. "I made the videos for 'Meltdown' and 'I Don't Pray' within a week of each of those songs [being recorded]," he says about the eight-track project's quick creative turnaround. "Really, I was sick of not having a new body of work and I had struggled to put together an album for years at that point. I went into it by starting from scratch and trying my hardest not to overthink it." With the exception of one verse – "Check Out," also featuring the breezy introspection of Aki -- every bar was written in Wolf's head, the time-honored tradition of countless rappers throughout the genre's history.

"My depression was hitting me hard during this time, so I definitely tapped into that and broke through by creating these songs," he says. "I talked on subjects I normally wouldn't talk about with just anyone, such as the emotional abuse I received from my father; an emotionally abusive relationship I was in; my relationship to religion; my feelings toward propaganda, the media, and the system; my thoughts toward life and death and my depression." In the song, he wakes up in mid-afternoon, he notices his dilated pupils from taking shrooms. He smokes blunt after blunt after blunt, but not in the fun, debaucherous way Danny Brown famously documented nearly a decade ago.

Wolf chronicles smoking weed as a means of self-medication in the face of debilitating stress, a way to float in the clouds when the weight on his shoulders should only be pushed across a steel bridge. His means of therapy and relief – whether it's through writing lyrics, making music, or old-fashioned intoxication – has ferried him through a lifetime of structural fuckery in power structures and personal pain. And there is a protruding belief that music will always be a means for the man known as Wolftone to heal his soul, as if history is any indication, he still has decades ahead of him as a musician.

New and News

There is Not Much Time Left to Take Artist Trust's Artist Survey

Artist Trust, if you haven't heard of it, is a non-profit organization geared toward supporting artists working in Washington State, no matter the field. They provide a bunch of different services for artists and their dedication to the culture of artistry in our state is immense and humbling. Artist Trust has a survey they would like you to take to help them assess the tenor on how we as a community are treating our artists and what we as a community can do to help. If you're reading this column, chances are you care about arts culture in our state, so please take a few minutes to fill out the survey. It closes tomorrow night, June 7th, at 11:59pm, so time is almost up. You can take the survey here.

Live and Loud: This Month's Recommended Shows

June 7: Perry Porter, LIV, and Terrance Brown at Barboza

June 7: Spirit Award, Mirrorgloss, and Modern Daze at Alma Mater Tacoma

June 8: Tacocat, Nightrain, and Beverly Crusher at The Showbox

June 8: Flipper, David Yow, the Derelicts, and Thee Deception

June 11: The Paranoyds and Monsterwatch at Belltown Yacht Club

June 14: WIld Powwers, Powers, and Trash Fire at Belltown Yacht Club

June 27: Julia Shapiro and John Atkins (of Sun Breaks) at Barboza

June 30: Ivy Sole, Blossom, and Parisalexa at The Crocodile

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