Interview Wolf Gang: ‘Everyone In London Wants To Be A Musician’

Max tells us why he’s determined to make it big.

Never formally trained as a musician, Max McElligott is about to find himself thrust into the big time. With a debut album imminent, the man better known as Wolf Gang tells us why he’s determined to make it big. Photography: Adrian Nettleship

“I was in my third year of university. I came down to London to study, got three years down the way, and dropped out because I wanted to do music,” Max McElligott begins, leaning casually back into the swanky sofas on the Atlantic Records roof terrace. With his confident manner and assertive tone, you almost find yourself agreeing with his logic.

“I didn’t tell my parents until after I’d done it,” he smiles. “My mum was really upset and everyone was saying, ‘Max, you know, everyone in London wants to be a musician.’ But I was really serious about it and worked really hard.”

These days, more commonly known as Wolf Gang, our protagonist is a major label contract away from his past conundrum, and with the release of his debut album on the horizon, it looks like McElligott’s gamble has paid off.

After being tracked down and transported to North America by established producer Dave Fridmann (MGMT, Flaming Lips), Wolf Gang found himself holed up in a woodland studio. “It was very low key,” he says. “It was just me and him and no one else. Most big producers will have engineers to do all of their dirty work, and they just come in to say ‘turn that up’ or ‘turn that down,’ but he’s very hands on.

“It was really intense, just me and him,” Max fidgets, “But we got on really well and worked really fast together.” And the wooden landscape turned out to be a familiar backdrop for the self-taught musician.

“Growing up in a village, surrounded by mountains and the sea, definitely has had an effect in terms of the soundscape of my music. Maybe if I’d lived in a city all of my life the music would mirror that, but I think because there was all this space around me, there’s a lot of space in the music.”

Never receiving any formal music tuition, McElligott prefers to opt for what feels right when writing new material. “I usually just start with the piano or a guitar, and I stumble across some chord progression or melody which might become a chorus or just a verse. Then I build on that, add other instruments, start to get more of a feel for it and think about lyrics. It’s a very natural process,” he explains. “It’s all by ear and just recording and feeling my way forwards.”

In order to take his musical creation on the road, Max is joined by a live band on tour, all of which emulate his by-ear approach when learning the material. With a recently acquired pianist freeing up the frontman from behind the keys, Wolf Gang have not long finished a pre-release tour. “People always say that it sounds quite a bit heavier than the record,”he grins excitedly.“I think the record’s like a pristine example of these songs: it’s all very clear and sparkly almost with weird elements to it but the band thing is definitely a different beast, it’s got more of a swagger.

“I was stuck behind this piano for most of last year, singing and trying to be a front- man as well. It was very difficult to juggle all of that without hitting the wrong notes.”

But what is he making of his new found freedom? “I was a bit worried at first! I was a bit like, ‘Oh, my moves, will they cut the mustard?!’ but I’m really enjoying it.

“I don’t think about it too much,” he concludes. “But I do enjoy it. You can express more with your voice when you’re not having to worry about other things as well.”

Wolf Gang’s debut album ‘Suego Faults’ is out now via Atlantic Records.

Taken from the Summer 2011 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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