It’s grim down south.
Next time a band you love announce a UK tour, take a map and mark with a pin each town they’re set to stop by. When you’re finished, turn your attention to the mass of land at the very bottom, the one that resembles an arm reaching out to be rescued. A fiver says it’s untouched.
Without trivialising the history of socioeconomic turmoil in Scotland, the north of England and much of the midlands, the likes of Glasgow, Leeds, Sheffield and countless others boast thriving hubs for live music. Hell, even Loughborough plays host to Ash and Example a couple of times a decade, a fact which if you’ve ever visited Loughborough will serve as a damning indictment of the state of Cornwall. Faced with this lack of a scene, the young did what the young will always do and made their own. Enter: Gnarwolves.
The trio are working through mainland Europe when we speak, days away from supporting Blink 182. It’s fitting, really. Although they confess to being “more like Green Day kids” than fans of Hoppus and DeLonge, late 90s America permeates the trio on multiple levels, from the pop punk riffs and acerbic lyrics, through to their anything goes attitude and love of skating. Beneath all of this, though, there’s something else at play; a rawer, grittier sound that reeks of the isolation and angst unique to small town England.
It seems really fucking odd to just decide you’ll pretend to be American while singing songs.
“I found this voice in my record collection,” says frontman Thom Weeks, quoting Million Dead’s ‘I Am The Party’. “Instrumentally our music is quite American, but you should be influenced by your surroundings and the way you’ve been brought up. It’s what you grew up listening to that shapes how you end up writing the songs you write, but I think we’ve always taken that English vibe into our songs too because it seems really fucking odd to just decide you’ll pretend to be American while singing songs. There weren’t American or even many UK groups coming down to Cornwall, so we grew up playing with a lot of local hardcore bands. For the exact reason that no one would ever visit we had this amazing micro scene.”
Their insular upbringing could so easily have worked against them, but in the sub100 capacity, low ceilinged bar venues of Truro and Penzance, the kids who’d form Gnarwolves found their calling. The early days of touring saw them meeting bands who they’d later coax down to the nether regions of the country, building both the culture of their hometowns and the musicians within.
“It made us not scared to travel, to literally just get out of Cornwall is a pain in the ass. We felt so much more confident as people as well when we found this scene, going up to random strangers and talking to them. We’re so used to everyone knowing each other. In a tight room, drinking a beer on your bloody chest cause you can’t move your arms, you make friends with the person next to you.”
This sort of self-sufficiency is seeing a resurgence in alternative music right now. While on a lower level the concept has always existed, as A&Rs take fewer risks and advances for the handful who do make it onto labels get smaller, DIY is becoming more important than ever for bands up and down the echelons of popularity. Although now signed to Big Scary Monsters with a booking agent and publicist behind them, Gnarwolves handle their tour driving, admin and daytoday business largely by themselves which, given the salaries more seasoned managers can command, suggests this isn’t the easiest feat.
“It’s not like do it yourself in an extreme way where we all have to be really good at everything obviously we’re not going to be that good at it because we’re fucking idiots. But in the sense of building people around you who you trust, it becomes a community and a family, us all putting our heads together and just doing it. Getting up in the morning, doing our shit, turning up on time, it’s taken a couple of years to work it all out but we’re on it a lot more now.”
Their relocation to Brighton wasn’t one of mere physicality, flying the nest a necessity for growth. The days of the Penzance Studio Bar have given way to Blink support slots and main stage shows at Reading and Leeds, so as they continue to ascend, I put it to the band that perhaps they’d enjoy having a major label to take care of everything but the music.
Singers who are more famous for talking about their underpants in Front magazine than their actual songs. It’s like, who gives a fuck?
“You mean someone wiping my ass and shit like that? I don’t think we’re playing the kind of music that world even acknowledges anymore. We don’t want to be a Kerrang! band. It’s this kind of microcelebrity thing which makes me feel a bit sick, these singers who are more famous for talking about their underpants in Front magazine than their actual songs. It’s like, who gives a fuck? And then you listen to it and it’s always middle of the road Foo Fighters rock, M25core. I think our music comes across as honest. There’s nothing honest about major labels.”
It’s hard to describe a punk band without falling into the don’tgiveafuck, justdoingourown-thing, whateverhappenshappens clichés trotted out by every emerging group of young noisemakers for the past 40 years. This is a shame, because Gnarwolves seem, objectively, to be the real deal. Early songs were written and recorded with the sole purpose of putting together a live show where they could drink and make noise for the sheer thrill of it. Unsurprisingly, their upcoming album was entirely incidental.
We never had any intention of writing an album in the first place. It wasn’t until the label told us to grow some balls and do it.
“We never had any intention of writing an album in the first place. It wasn’t until the label told us to grow some balls and do it, write 11 songs or whatever and see how it goes that we were like ‘might as well, we ain’t doing anything else are we?’” Gnarwolves took to the studio unfazed as the day they started out and found a new way to work, taking time to tinker with effects and experiment in ways their previous methods of writing solely for gigs had limited.
“When you’re recording a song you hear it six hundred times in a row so it takes a little bit of the thrill away the first time you hear it finished, like ‘Yeah, that sounds great but I literally cannot hear that song ever again now’. And then a week later, when you revisit it that’s when you get the ‘Oh fucking hell, Lewis has done such a good job of that, I can’t believe it’ moment. It isn’t until you listen back to it you’re so glad you did that. Actually sculpting the songs is fucking cool.”
The greater time and effort invested on their self-titled debut shines through, a remarkable step up which twists angry noise into beautiful melody, anthemic but uncontrived. It’s more than a collection of songs, though. Throughout the album, there’s an air of the culturally barren Cornish landscapes from which these men grew. It serves as a voice for every lost teen in a world so cruel, every disillusioned 20something returning jobless and worthless to their parents’ home, every last person collapsing onto their bed and thrusting their face into a pillow, not knowing whether to cry or to scream. Gnarwolves is an album of pain, fury and yet, ultimately, hope.
Catharsis this powerful saves lives. Of course, you’d never know it to speak to the creators. As our Skype chat draws to a close with a cheery “You’ve got a nice kitchen, man!”, I’m reminded that at their core Gnarwolves are just a bunch of guys. They’re slacker skaters, selfprofessed “fucking idiots” only here to have a good time. They argue, they complain, they fuck up, because like everyone they’re flawed. They lack the looks of magazine cover stars, the technical knowhow to impress the cool and the polished production of chart success, but still they exist. They get up, drive their van to the next town, play some songs, drink some beer, crash on the sofa of anyone willing to put them up and the next day they do it all over again. Not for money or for fame but because it’s all they really know.
Punk’s not dead, man. Punk’s not dead.