INTERVIEW: Wolf Jaw

Talking about odd-shaped balls, their love of Black Sabbath and their new album.

It was a rainy evening in the fine city of Norwich when WOLF JAW vocalist Tom Leighton met me at The Waterfront venue. Poking his head out the side door to greet me while I looked like a drowned rat, we went upstairs to meet the rest of the band. Bassist Dale Tonks was glued to a retro pinball machine while drummer Karl Selickis was chilling on a leather sofa. Passing me a beer as we all sat down to chat, I was eager to hear about the guys’ year so far and plans for the future.

Q: WOLF JAW! Thanks for meeting me. You’ve just played Download, you’ve been signed to Listenable Records and you have your album out in the autumn, what has been your personal highlight of the year so far?

All: Definitely Download. 

Q: Did you play three times?

Tom: We did three sets yeah, we did a VIP one on the Thursday, acoustic on Friday and the Dogtooth stage on Sunday. So it was pretty hectic.

Karl: It was all very, very surreal. It was a massive highlight of the year and the career so far.

Tom: We don’t live too far from where Download is, about 45 minutes away so we’ve always gone as kids and grown-ups. Always gone to Donnington to see our favourite bands play and we got asked to play it. It was like “Jesus!” it really blew our minds a bit. I don’t think we really got it until we got on stage…

Karl: You know what, for me it didn’t really sink in until we came off stage on Sunday. 

Tom: Yeah I was standing there when we got off stage. We were on quite early Sunday, um…ten to twelve, when we got there and looked across it was completely empty. Looking at the mainstage and it was like…yeah this is really cool.  

Q: I guess playing Download would be the dream for every band! Download also premiered your Hear Me single, how was that received?

Dale: That was received really well. We’ve really been feeling now anticipation for this, because this is something we’re really excited about. Not that we weren’t about the first one, but this feels like it’s got something else about it, and that’s just us hearing the tracks over and over again and every time we listen to it, it’s like listening afresh and the guys at Download putting it on there is just incredible. This is like, it couldn’t have gone any better than having the video there and the three sets as well, it’s just incredible.

Tom: All the guys there at Download and the organisers were great, we got Instagram takeover for the day so we just messed around on there. And when they premiered the video it was like, this is cool yeah. It got good reviews and went really well.

Q: It is a good track! What I like about WOLF JAW and Hear Me in particular is how riffy you guys are. Do you have any kind of riff heroes? Or any favourite riffs?

Tom: Anything by BLACK SABBATH.

Karl: Just SABBATH, yeah!

Tom: Um…Jimmy Page, you know, all the original guys [laughs] so to speak when it comes to rock. Um yeah…I mean modern guys like CROBOT who we’re playing with tonight, and CLUTCH, all stuff like that we have on in the van. Just riff hounds [all laugh].

Dale: I was brought up on the same stuff, like SABBATH, bands like THIN LIZZY as well. We were very into that and WISHBONE ASH.

Tom: We bonded over THIN LIZZY didn’t we?

Dale: Yeah [laughs] worst day of my life that was [all laugh]. I mean, there are so many classic bands, even stuff like bands like TRAPEZE, that sort of funkier, groovier side of it.

Tom: They’re from our hometown, our neck of the woods.

Q: Where is your hometown?

Tom: Me and Dale are originally from Cannock in the Midlands, where Glen Hughes and Mel Galley [from TRAPEZE] and all that are from. So it’s in the heritage really, we were all brought up on that kind of thing. Karl’s from Rugby…so…

Karl: I like odd-shaped balls…[all laugh].

Tom: Use that in a quote! 

Q: I will! So with the singles Hear Me and I Lose My Mind, is that a good taste of what’s to come on the album? Or are there other surprises?

Tom: Um…there’s so much on this one. With Starting Gun, when we released that when we were the band formally known as THE BAD FLOWERS [laughs] we tried to be as varied as possible and put all sorts of different stuff on. But it was songs we worked with for years and years wasn’t it? [Dale agrees] You know, four or five years of writing. And this one, we wrote the songs in about two months.   

Karl: It was written and mostly recorded in the space of the two – two and a half months.

Tom: Yeah so we just absolutely went for it and like, it’s riffy, but there’s also some heartfelt stuff on there as well. From a songwriting point of view, there’s a lot of what’s gone on in my head, things that have happened like in the last couple of years, so it’s quite a personal record. Yeah it’s good. 

Q: Yeah, from the transformation of THE BAD FLOWERS to WOLF JAW, is there anything you want to talk about?

Dale: Just how well it’s been received by people. Like, we were honestly really concerned about it, ’cause we built that name up and had the followers. To that extent we thought, if we change the name do we lose everything? The way people have backed it and received it and got behind it as well…

Karl: It was nerve wracking wasn’t it.

Dale: It was very tense and it was like, is this the right thing to do? Looking back at it now – Download and rolling into the new album, it was.

Karl: One hundred percent…One hundred percent.

Tom: We changed the name and wanted to go a little heavier, I think the name reflects it. Not heavier as such it’s just…

Karl: A bit darker, a bit grittier.

Tom: Yeah, yeah. And then, like you say, we signed with Listenable which is good and they’ve been great so far to us. We’re really looking forward to working with them on the new record, and Download got confirmed when we changed the name. So…so far so good, definitely.

Q: Especially Listenable, they’re famed for signing GOJIRA and other techier metal bands, so are you excited to bring more of a rock aspect to their label?

Tom: Yeah definitely, I think the label itself is expanding a little bit, like they had JARED JAMES NICHOLS, I’m wearing his shirt right now, he’s a friend of ours, we’ve toured with him and played a lot of shows with him. I think that’s where a lot of this came from and they’ve signed AARON BUCHANAN AND THE CULT CLASSICS too, so I think it’s maybe showing a new a direction, broadening their horizons maybe. We’re just happy to be a part of it because I think we can crossover that boundary quite well.

Dale: I think it shows a change in the way people are listening to music and what music people are listening to. From people wanting to expand, wanting to dip their toes into something that’s being marketed to suit everybody.

Q: I agree from a personal point of view. But one question I did want to ask you, the name WOLF JAW in itself…were you thinking of animals and body parts? Where did the name come from? And were there any names which were Plan B?

Tom: Well, we had about four hundred different names didn’t we? And they were mostly all stupid [laughs]. Mostly all silly like, WOLF JAW was…I don’t really know…Me and my partner have got a five year old, and he likes Jaws, always singing Jaws. We’ve never let him watch it but he’s obsessed with sharks. The wolf thing came from…he just calls himself a little wolf cub or something and he was singing it…so er, [laughs] it’s probably not as rock n roll… ‘Cause we were racking our brains and we needed to sort something out and everyone said yes to it so…

Karl: It works. There was that many names floating around, it was like “that’s cool…that one’s cool”, that one was right down and it was like, yeah, that works.

Dale: It was all shooting backwards and forwards on Whatsapp and when you see it you think “oh yeah, that’s the one”…

Tom: We always had animal connections really, our famous tshirt, the best-selling one we ever did was a lion, a phoenix and a shark on it. ‘Cause Dale’s got a shark tattooed on him, Karl’s got a phoenix and I’ve got a lion. So we drew them into one thing and we’ve always had that I suppose.  

Q: I guess as you were changing your name there was more pressure as well…

Tom: Tonnes of pressure. It was like, we’ve got to get this right. Like what Dale said earlier, we didn’t want to lose any fans. It was mostly received really well, there were a few people who were a bit funny about it which I can understand ’cause they spent money on merch and everything, but all we’ve got to do now is do really well so it’s worth a lot of money for them [laughs] in a few years, you know.

Dale: The nice thing is, you [Karl] were saying you went out to a gig the other night there was someone still wearing a BAD FLOWERS tshirt and stuff…

Tom: Yeah we’re still the same band. 

Dale: Definitely.

Tom: A few letters different.

Q: So this is the first night of the tour [with CROBOT]. Is there anything you’re expecting or wanting to achieve on this tour?

Karl: Personally I don’t want to fall off my drum stool this time [all laugh], ’cause that kinda sucked. That was the what, first or second show of the last tour?

Tom: Yeah last tour we did in September, Karl fell off his drum stool on the first gig [laughs].

Karl: Properly damaged and really hurt my neck and my back and that really sucked for the next couple of days, but no…we just wanna go out and premiere some of our new stuff and maybe stuff people haven’t seen before. So we’ve got a mixture of old tracks, new tracks and it’s just a bit of a belter really.

Tom: We’ve got two stops in the whole set so we just go through and fit as much in as we can.

Dale: Just blow the roof off every night. That’s it, that’s my aim! Be as loud as possible and just rip the roof off of everywhere we play.

Tom: Yeah we’re really looking forward to it, we played with CROBOT three years ago, maybe longer?

Dale: It’s just coming up to four years.

Tom: Nearly four years ago yeah.

Dale: Both bands have changed.

Tom: Yeah, and we’ve stayed in touch with the guys and we’re excited to be back out with them for sure.

Thanks guys! I hope tonight and the rest of the tour goes well.

[Dale returns to the pinball machine]

Crobot/Wolf Jaw/Kamensko Live Review

Crobot/Wolf Jaw/Kamensko

The Waterfront Studio, Norwich. 20 July 2019.

A Saturday night in The Fine City is the perfect time for a night of hip-shaking rock. Kicking off the night was Norwich stoner rockers KAMENSKO. It was reassuring to see a good amount of the local music community had come down early to catch the band’s groovy riffage. Playing tracks from their forthcoming EP and their current material, KAMENSKO blitzed through their set with guitar solos aplenty. Clearly humbled by the turnout and crowd response, the band stumped up the good vibes which continued throughout the evening.

Up next were the Midlands rock n rollers WOLF JAW. Last month saw this loveable trio play three sets at Download no less, and they treated The Waterfront Studio like any stage at Donnington. Spoiling us with new tracks from their forthcoming debut album as WOLF JAW as well as gems from their time as THE BAD FLOWERS, the band were addictive to watch; dungaree-clad Dale Tonk’s bass face, drummer Karl Selickis’ energetic drumstick twiddling and flying hair and front man Tom Leighton’s distinct gritty vocals and raucous guitar playing made for a blistering live show. WOLF JAW sounded huge and would give any headliner a run for their money, proving three is the magic number when it comes to making a monstrous impact on the live stage. Playing at the barrier and getting the crowd involved got everyone on side and in the palm of their hands. If these chaps continue the rest of the tour in this manner, they will and truly cement themselves in the music world as WOLF JAW.

After the riotous second set, tonight’s headliners CROBOT had a hard task to top what we had just witnessed, but the American groove rockers absolutely smashed it. It was impossible to take your eyes off charismatic front man Brandon Yeagley. His bejewelled waistcoat, allure with his mic stand tricks, and most importantly his talent as a rock vocalist will surely make him a legendary rock star. The chemistry between all members was something special and any interaction between each other was comedic, yet real. However, they made sure the crowd felt part of the family, even inviting one young punter to play the last riffs of the night.

Treating fans to lots of new songs from their soon-to-be-released album Motherbrain, CROBOT also entertained the room with snippets of BLACK SABBATH, TOTO and…Ghostbusters. In an age of super serious bands, playing their super serious music with super serious stage presence, it is so refreshing to watch a band who are both professional yet visibly still having the time of their lives. This sense of fun is infectious and dominates the atmosphere. Guitar slinging, harmonica solos and clambering on top of monitors (and each other), CROBOT are full of tricks and mischief which is a dangerous combination when coupled with the grooviest riffs. Their energy didn’t dip for one second ensuring everyone left the venue a hot and sweaty mess and a massive smile on their face. An absolutely blinding evening, tonight will go down as one of the best Norwich gigs of the year.