By Jake Richardson
Thom Weeks couldn’t give a fuck about his band being successful. The Gnarwolves vocalist/guitarist and his bandmates (brother/drummer Max and bassist Charlie Piper) started a punk group out of sheer boredom.
“Me and Max were in a hardcore band, but we weren’t playing shows anymore,” Thom begins. “We wanted to start another band, and do a punk-rock thing, and Charlie put a post on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to make a band that sounded like Weezer. We replied, got together, jammed loads and wrote loads of tunes.”
It sounds like a pretty normal origin story (and in many ways it is), but the difference with Gnarwolves – and one of the reasons why they connect with so many in the punk community – is their no-shits-given attitude towards fame, the ‘industry’ or any scene. “[The reason] we started the band in the first place is that we’re all fucked-up weirdos and we needed something to do instead of drugs… I’ve been making music since I was a little boy, and when Gnarwolves ends I’m not going to stop making music, and I’ll be just as happy making it.”
And so without a care in the world, Thom, Max and Charlie took Gnarwolves out on the road, just like they always had in previous bands. Except this time, people seemed to actually care.
Rather than chasing shows, the gigs were starting to come to them. Word was spreading fast about a punk trio with a legitimate desire to do things on their own terms, and Thom quickly noticed how Gnarwolves was different to his earlier band experiences.
“We first started noticing things just after we toured with The Story So Far,” he remembers. “We did this tour on our own – and I remember it so well – we played Leicester at this little bar, and there were 100 people there, and we got to the end of the night and looked at the merch take and we were like, ‘there’s 200 quid here!’ We don’t need loads of money to get on and do a tour, but that was the first moment where we thought, ‘oh shit, we’re not spending our money anymore! This is going into our pockets, and this is becoming something that works on a level beyond our own passion for it.’”
Spurred on by nothing more than hard graft and great songs – songs with no frills, no bullshit and no agenda – the members of Gnarwolves found themselves with a serious band on their hands. They’d done it all their own way: DIY and surrounded by people they could trust. But Thom is keen to put right some of the misconceptions that arise from being labelled ‘DIY’. Like any band of note needs these days, Gnarwolves have a booking agent and a press officer; without these people in place, Thom argues, the band wouldn’t be able to reach its potential.
“Whatever I think of as being DIY will be interpreted as not being DIY by other people,” he says. “I’d like to rectify [this perception], as some things have gone out of our control over the years, but that’s part of our journey and process. It’s about self-propulsion, and working within a community of people who are also self-propelled.”
“We try to retain as much control as we can, but there are certain things that we simply aren’t that great at, like booking festivals. I’d always wanted to play Reading and Leeds, but I wouldn’t have known who to ask! [But] we have all the creative control. I’d cut off my dick for creative control, it’s really important. That’s DIY to me.”
That freedom of expression through music – the ability to write about whatever you want and however you’re feeling – is at the heart of Gnarwolves’ DIY ethic. So it’s apt that the band’s new album, Outsiders, is about “people being allowed to express how they feel, and their thinking processes, and how they got there as openly as possible, and not feel that having those feelings are either unusual, or things that you shouldn’t be able to express.”
“The record was a way of channelling things; it’s about me trying to work out who the fuck I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do,” he outlines. “Some of the lyrics are socio-political, but they all revolve around how I am basically the centre-piece to my own miserable life, and I’ve made this very narcissistic, self-offensive record to go along with it!”
It sounds like heavy stuff, and at times Outsiders is much lyrically darker than Gnarwolves’ previous output. It’s also the largest collection of songs the band have written which break the three minute barrier. Musically, however, Thom decided to get back to basics for this record, with many of the songs featuring a much simpler structure than anything Gnarwolves have released before.
“I used to have this really big issue with things repeating themselves, and I’ve really gotten over that now,” Thom reveals. “Simple songs are really peaceful. We’ve missed that occasionally; how things can be simple, and work better for their simplicity. That pushed the songs over the 3-minute mark, because we were thinking, ‘this song needs a chorus here,’ or ‘this needs a middle-8 here.’ It’s weird, because the songs are mostly still really fast; Max isn’t going to reign it in!”
Outsiders also sees the band finally realising their founding ‘sound like Weezer’ ambition on ‘Talking To Your Ghost’, a wonderfully simplistic punk-rock jam that Rivers Cuomo would be very proud of.
“We’ve finally done it; we’ve achieved our first goal! We forced Gnarwolves into a Weezer song!” Thom laughs. “I had the bass line rattling around my head for 2 weeks, and I thought, ‘That sounds like a song on its own!’ It was a friend of mine [that gave me the idea]. He just said, ‘give me a chord sequence, and I’ll write a song,’ and I was like, ‘Really? Just one chord sequence?!’ That changed my perception of song-writing quite a lot. I was like, ‘is that all you have to do?! Your songs are better than mine!’”
Outsiders is comfortably Gnarwolves’ best work to date. By reigning things in and thinking more deeply about how they can write the best songs, they’ve produced a record with the potential to transcend the punk scene. 2017 could well be the year where Gnarwolves are considered outsiders no more – not that that’s something Thom is particularly bothered about.
“I don’t want to be a rockstar – rockstars are dickheads! Kill ‘em, man! Obviously we’re having a conversation for an article, so there’s at least a part of me that wants things to go well and be a bit successful, but I don’t want to be Green Day! I imagine that if things were to grow any bigger than they are, people would start to have an opinion of me before I’d said a word. Fuck that, that’s stupid.”
Gnarwolves are on an apathetic mission to kill rockstar culture, and whether or not that attitude leaves them stranded on the outside of the industry is something the band couldn’t give less of a fuck about.