On the outskirts of town, a band practices in the midst of a decrepit cellar. A sound combining Appalachian roots, vaudeville-style piano compositions, and slurred, soulful vocals fills the space. Cigarette butts and empty beer cans are scattered around the room. This cellar makes an ideal home for the songs of Wolf// Goat. Your first impression could offer any number of assumptions about what you’re getting yourself into. However, it isn’t until you get past the surface that you begin to uncover the beauty at the heart of it all. Since their song “Cellar Door” could be considered Wolf// Goat’s anthem, it makes perfect sense that ever since the beginning, all they’ve been trying to do is fuck around. The band formed as a creative outlet for housemates Tim Traverse, Brad Fulton, and Julius Delacruz. After acquiring an upright piano, they decided to start working on music. “Julius had set up his drum set in the living room. My piano was in the living room [and] could be heard throughout the whole house, while Brad was sitting in the stairway with his banjo,” Traverse recalls. “We had all been playing music in one way or another for a while; this started as this organic process,” Fulton explains. After a few months had passed, they determined it was necessary to move from their current residence to a proper practice space. “We were concerned that our practices were annoying one of our roommates, so it was time to find a place to really play,” Traverse says. “Another thing was that at the house, we would write quietly and try to be respectful,” Delacruz adds. “Once we had an actual place to go, we could really spend some time fleshing out what we were working on.” At this point, the band realized they were in need of a singer. Ben Woods was a close friend and an easy candidate for the role. “He was pretty much sleeping on our couch when we asked him to join the band,” Fulton recalls. “Also, he had been hanging around for a couple of our practice sessions. Perhaps it always had to be Ben.” Woods brought both guitars and a unique lyrical sensibility, which he has described as “spontaneous prose,” to Wolf//Goat. His devastating honesty and lucid tales of alcoholfueled nights reveal a tremendous amount about the human condition. Woods attempts to orchestrate a connection with listeners by revealing the darkness that surrounds him. “When Ben sings a song or writes down any words, it’s a cathartic moment for him,” Delacruz says. “There is never a moment of hesitation, and it’s that removal of inhibition that carries a strong weight in regards to how people look at our band,” Fulton adds. Traverse’s classical music background combined with the various contributions of the other members to bring a particular sensibility to many of Wolf//Goat’s early compositions. His skills on piano are such that he can play anything from an elegant classical arrangement to a piece with a carnival or vaudeville sound. His bandmates add a bright style of their own, full of plucked banjo and drums that can go from rapid fire to gentle and reserved. Placed in CHECK RVAMAG.COM DAILY
the midst of this musical evocation of childlike wonderment, Woods resembles a figure from a nightmare making its presence felt. His soulful revelation of his unique worldview has a deep effect, especially before live audiences. These elements help set Wolf//Goat apart from the rest of Richmond’s music scene. After an initial run of shows, the band acquired a reputation for the role alcohol played in these performances. “Those first shows were pretty sloppy compared to how we are now, but I don’t think we were any less determined to play the music we were happy with,” Fulton says. Friend of the band Kyle Flanagan reflects on how these experiences affected those in the local music community. “It was crazy how word would hit the street that Wolf//Goat were working on some new material and it became this party. People would crowd around them while Tim played piano and Ben was hunched over belting out words. It was like we all got to see them figure out how to become a band.” Asked about the role alcohol has played in regards to what they channel musically, Traverse responds, “I can’t help but say that yes, alcohol has played a strong role in some of the songs. But it’s not something that is preventing us from achieving what we are setting out to do.” “There are probably lyrics that I wouldn’t know how to reveal if it weren’t for alcohol,” Woods says. Their initial release, The//Day//Tripper// Demos, helped create a buzz, but it wasn’t until they entered Minimum Wage Studios that Wolf//Goat achieved an accurate recorded representation of their sound. “As soon as I saw the piano at the studio, I knew we had to record there,” Traverse recalls. “It is just such a great space. It felt like Lance Koehler was quick to understand our sound and it just fit immediately,” Delacruz adds. “I remember taking notes about things I thought could be worked on in post-production. [When] I brought my notes to Lance, he had already done all of that and more,” Traverse says. The sessions resulted in Wolf//Goat’s debut album, In Watermelon Sugar, released last year on cassette and CD by Bad Grrrl Records. The title is a reference to a book by Richard Brautigan, and helps explain Woods’ lyrical approach. “I was taking a bit of acid at the time and it definitely had an influence on how I wrote,” he explains. “The teacher [of a writing class I was taking] recommended that I check out Brautigan, because he saw a similarity in how we approached prose.” The record also contains a song called “Trout Fishing In America,” another Brautigan reference. The most straightforward rock tune on the album, it was yet another breakthrough for the band. It provided an opportunity for Wolf//Goat to approach violinist Maria Camia to play on that song, and eventually to become a full member of the band. “We felt like we would be fucking up if we didn’t try to keep her around,” Delacruz recalls. The other component that helped bring all of the elements together was the inclusion of Mallie Sanford. She had seen many of the early Wolf//Goat shows and was just blown away by
WOLF // GOAT By Shannon Cleary Photo by chelsea gingras
those experiences. “I remember Ben stripping down to nothing and just running out of this house show. We had no idea what was going on or where he had run off. It was really about how surreal and incredible the shows were. Even in the days of Ben screaming whatever was floating in his head. The pain he sang about felt real, and I couldn’t shake being moved by that,” Sanford says. She was asked to sing on the song “Purple Snow (Titanic 3)” and ended up joining the band as vocal accompaniment to Woods. “What was funny about learning how to sing with Ben was just being ready for anything. He would wake up and be like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to write lyrics for today.’ So you try to follow him as best you can, but you just have to be prepared to be spontaneous,” she explains. This year has seen In Watermelon Sugar receive several accolades. Wolf//Goat were invited to perform as part of this year’s WRIR Anniversary Party, Harrisonburg’s Macrock Festival, and as openers for Woods during one of their recent visits to Richmond. Despite Traverse now being located in Washington DC, Wolf//Goat sees no end in sight. “I think the only thing that could break us up is if maybe we split up internationally. Even that would be the perfect excuse to travel across the Atlantic,” Traverse says. While on the surface, a band like Wolf// Goat can be seen as relishing the darkness of humanity, what drives them at the core is the desire to channel energies that would typically scare off most individuals. Between their unique vocalist and his idiosyncratic approach to life, music, and lyrics, and the rest of the band’s creative ambition, www.facebook.com/Wolfgoat
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