Interview: Tom Wolfe of the Wolfe Brothers

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Even though it seems like the Wolfe Brothers have been touring nonstop all year (mostly with Lee Kernaghan) they found the time to record a new album, Nothin’ But Trouble, and then they got straight back on the road. Even if country rock isn’t your thing, the Wolfe Brothers are definitely worth your time – they are  a fantastic live act who have managed to capture that live sound on their new album. Plus they’re great guys. I spoke to one of those great guys, Tom Wolfe, recently.


So, Tom, it’salways a pleasure to support the Wolfe Brothers, I think you guys are terrific. But one thing I don’t think you are is trouble.  And I know the album title is Nothin’ But Trouble, but I don’t buy it because you guys work pretty hard and you’re very professional.  So is it a little bit of smoke and mirrors, that title?
It is a little bit of smoke and mirrors.  No, look, it’s all a bit of tongue in cheek. The song is a true story and it’s just about the first cars we’veowned and some of the girls we’ve met over the years, you know, and it’s just a bit of funk and soul.  And then we’ve thought that’s a great album title, you know, we thought that’ll turn a few heads and get people talking and people will be doing just that [laughter].
Well, exactly, becauseit made me immediately think that doesn’t really fit with anything I know about these guys [laughs].
Exactly, exactly.  No, it’sgreat, we’re really happy with it.
Now, I know that the relationship with [album producer] Luke Wooten goes back a few months before you actually recorded with him, becauseI remember talking to Brodie and he said you’d been in Nashville and met him there. So Luke came out here to record with you?  BecauseI know the first album was done either in your living room or Nick’s living room.
Yeah, we did it in my bedroom.
So how did you find the conventional recording process this time?
Oh, look, they were probably some of the best weeks of my life.  We lived in the house next to the studio, there was a pool next to the other part of the studio and we just recorded music and just focused on it for two weeks.  No-one wanted to leave by the end of it.  And it was just so nice that we could just take the time, really focus on getting good sound and then just go out and just play the songs most of the time, to get it feeling right, you know?  It was just all about capturing that good take, that one song that just feels really good, that just has that sort of energy to it.
So did you record these tracks live or did you do a track-by-track recording?
We do it live, the four of us jammed out the room and recorded all the rhythm and everything together, drums, base and guitars together.  We tracked the whole album in two days, two or three days, so it was relatively quick but we had the time and we didn’t want to rush it.  We just wanted to take the time to get it right in every song.
And the reason why I asked about how you recorded it is that your live energy is so strong and so tight that it would seem, even though I know sometimes albums are recorded drums first, guitars next, whatever, it would’ve made total sense to record you playing together.
Yeah, it did, and I think that’s one thing we just really wanted to focus on with this album is getting that live energy.  I don’t know if we quite got it in the first album so we just really wanted to focus on getting that on the second album.  And I think we’ve captured what we do a lot better on this one.
And given that you are such a tight unit, you work together a lot, you’ve been touring for ages now and playing with Lee Kernaghan, so you have your own way of working things, I would guess.  But then to essentially hand it over to an outsider, was it difficult to have someone else telling you what to do?
Well, it was interesting, you know, Luke became the fifth member and it wasn’t so much him telling us what to do, it was very much like, well, here’s what I think and then it’d be, like, well, here’s what we think.  And then we’d just work out what would be the best way to approach it.  There was no set “he wants to do it like this”, and he basically worked with us, as comfortable as he could get, just to get the best playing that it takes out of us.  And that’s exactly what we wanted to do. I’m really, really happy with it.  I think we approached it really well and it was just a joy to just record it.  Our manager, Steve White, he did all this for 40 years working with Dragon and all Rose Tattoo, Lee Kernaghan, all these different people over the years.  And he was up there for the two weeks while we recorded the album and he said to us, he said, “That was the easiest album I’ve ever had to work on to record” [laughter] so there you go.  He goes, “It’s the easiest project to be a part of ever.”,
Well, I guess you guys, you know, you communicate well with other otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tour as much as you do – for one thing, it would’ve ended in fisticuffs a while ago. 
Yeah, pretty much [laughter].  No, but the great thing about it is we know what we wanted.  You know, the four of us have got the same goals and everyone pushed for them.  So we’re all on the same page with that, which makes it so much easier.
There’s often a failure of imagination to make something big, to make it sound like it’s for a big audience. Listening to this album of yours, I thought this is really stadium-size sound. There’snot an arrogance in the ambition, itactually just sounds like you’re playing to a big crowd and it’s really exciting to hear a local act doing that.
Well, that’s really nice of you to say that [laughs]. That was really what we set out to do.  Well, we had some templates, you know, I suppose you’d say reference albums and songs and sounds and certain drum sounds, and certain guitar sounds that we like.  We love how big this is and I guess, also, we wanted it to not be too dated to a certain period.  I wanted it to be that you don’t want to listen back in five years ago, “oh, that drum sound is so that era” or something, you know?  Just a good live band playing together, not too much production but just a good sound.
And I think, also, that you understand that you are playing to someone.  Sometimes with creative work people are either in the studio or in their room or whatever and they fail to appreciate that there’s an audience.  But I guess your experience, particularly with Lee over the past few months, means that you’re quite aware of who is out there and who you’re playing to.
Absolutely. My biggest kick in playing live is I’m always thinking about what’s going to be the best live, how it’s going to feel live.  I’m always in that headspace which is great, that’s just my role in the whole team.
Given everything you’ve been doing over the last – oh, well over a year now, how on earth did you fit this in?  Because it seems it was like a stealth album recording.  You’re on the road, you’re on the road, maybe you were writing, somewhere there’s an album [laughs].
[Laughs] Yeah. We’ve been demoing this since … we wanted to get it out earlier but we’ve just been so busy on the road we haven’t had a chance.  We were hoping for July this year but it got pushed back to September.  But we’ve pretty much come off the road from about three months of touring and went straight to the studio for two weeks. In the middle of this year we had three weeks off but it wasn’t really three weeks off, it was three weeks at home without touring.  And every day I was in interviews and we were listening to mixes and we were recording, and every day there was stuff happening.  So we never really stopped, but I think in this industry and how fast paced everything is now, you just can’t afford to, you’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing it while we’re young.  And we’re on a bit of a roll and things are going good, we’ve just got to keep going and keep going and keep going.  And it’s funny, you know, I laughed when we were on Australia’s Got Talent and we were standing backstage with the guy who won it, it was the top two and they were about to walk us out and we said to each other, “Oh, well, whatever happens, boys, whether we win or not, we’re not going to have a holiday for 15 years” [laughter].  It’s looking like it’s happening.
Careful what you wish for.
It was 15 years and then we might get a month off [laughter].
Well, maybe by that stage you can afford a better time of a month off, I don’t know.  Because it seems like you’re just going from success to success.
Well, we hope so, you know?  We’re really proud of this new album but we’re getting some great feedback on it so far from it.  Who knows what the future can hold, and hopefully we can, yeah, keep kicking goals and keep kicking some bigger and better goals, that’s the plan for us.
I think, also, the country music audience is definitely shifting or growing to accommodate country rock.  And that hasn’t been a big part of the Australian country sound until guys like McAlister Kemp started getting a bit more attention.  And now, you guys are firmly country rock, and that’s a great thing, because that’s a very entertaining side of country. 
Absolutely.  But I think what we do is not contrived in any way, shape or form. We never sat down and went, “Oh, let’s make a country rock band because it’s not there, it’s not in the market or anything like that.” This is us, this is the songs we write, this is how we play and this is how we perform it.” It’s just us being us and I think that’s the beauty of it.  Nothing is contrived, nothing is forced and that’s maybe why it’s going well for us.  I think people are maybe connecting with it on that sort of level, you know?
I absolutely agree.  The other thing I’m curious about is who organises your time, because you’ve got all this stuff.
Well, our manager is great, he keeps us really busy, and there’s a real team thing, you know?  I’ve been nominated as the main communicator with our manager, just so he doesn’t have to ring and make four phone calls to tell all four of us one thing.  He can just tell me and I try to sort things out from there.  And, yes, we’re just kept really busy, it’s how we like we like to be.  We were so used to touring, now we can be at home for two weeks and, I mean, we’re all ready to go again.  So we’re just in that zone of it now so while we’re there we may as well just keep it going as long as we can.
And I guess you might allow yourselves a week off over Christmas and New Year before you hit Tamworth.
I think we’ve already got a show planned in Tamworth.  We’re looking forward to that and, yeah, Tamworth is always hectic-hectic but it’s always a good fun hectic, you know [laughs]?
Well, if that show is in Blazer, which I presume it is —
Yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s a Wednesday night at Blazers.
I reckon you guys might have to end up adding another show, just quietly; I’ve just got a feeling [laughs].
Oh, well, good, I hope so, let’s hope we sell it out.  Let’s put that out to the universe right now [laughter].
I do get the sense there’s a certain trajectory going on here and I think it is that.  It never comes from nowhere, this kind of attention and success.  I think if you’ve got the talent there, you’ve got the material, when you work consistently and professionally, the way you guys have, it’s not that it’s inevitable but you can see it happening, and I can certainly see for you guys that the trajectories are a very sharp angle up.
Well, I really hope so [laughter].  But I think everything you’ve said is definitely right.  I think the reality is when you love doing it, you just have that extra level of passion for it.  I think that it’s interesting, just before this album came out we were all a little bit burnt out, we hadn’t stopped for two years.  But now the album is out we all feel completely re-energised.  We’ve got something new to push, we’ve got new songs out.  It’s really good, you know, so we’re all in a really good place now, we’re all feeling really fresh and ready to go.  And, yes, bring on the next two years and who knows what the next couple of years will bring?  Hopefully, pretty exciting stuff.
I don’t know that Australia is going to be big enough to contain you within a couple of years’ time.  And that’s also a consideration that others have gone through – because taking on Nashville is a big consideration, that’s an investment of time and it’s repeated business.
It’s a funny one, our initial goal has always to be Australia’s – we’re always talking about Australia’s number one country rock band.  There’s a lot of rock bands, there’s a lot of country acts but there’s never really been a lot that combined the two. I guess we grow up loving bands.  You know, we loved ACDC, we love the [Rolling] Stones.  And I love the Beatles, they’re four personalities and all their different identities in the band.  And that’s our big goal, to be Australia’s number one country rock band.  And we’d love to go up to the States and take that on and show them that we can keep up with them but, you know, what will be will be. You never know what the future holds.
And I also reckon Troy Kemp might still try to arm wrestle you for some kind of country rock title.  He’s big enough to do it.
[Laughs] He’d probably win though, too, I reckon [laughter].
I’m also having a thought – I reckon a dream kind of country rock/pop tour would be you guys and the McClymonts.
I think that’d be fantastic.  We love the girls. I saw their last Tamworth show last year.  Geez they can sing, they’re just so talented and it just looked so effortless for them, you know?
Well, it looks pretty effortless for you guys as well and, obviously, there’s two of you who are brothers and that helps.  But it seems like you’re all as close as brothers and that free-flowing communication helps.
We’re all very close. We’ve all known each other for 20 years and grown up together.  We always say Brodie and Casey had enough dinners at Mum and Dad’s so they pretty much are brothers anyway [laughter].
Now, in terms of you talking about getting the spark back earlier, and feeling re-energised, I guess that’s to do with the new work.  But also people tend to need something to come from outside to inspire them and fill the well, so to speak.  So are you guys listening to other music, do you have time to keep up with what’s being released?
We’re trying to and it’s always very hard when you’ve got so much going on, but definitely try to.  And there’s been a lot of albums released of late so I’ve bought a heap of stuff but I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.  But it’s the great thing about this band, we’re always introducing ourselves to new stuff and it’s not necessarily country, sometimes it can be anything from heavy metal through to pop.  But we recently did a heap of shows – we did a show in WA with Potbelleez, which is a really bizarre team.
I’ll just ask you one last question and it’s just to do with some of the songs.  There seems to be the odd romantic song on the album, so who is the big softie in the Wolfe Brothers?
Honestly, we’re probably all big softies. When you hear the ballads and stuff like that there’s always a bit of truth in them [laughter].  But it wouldn’t be country music without that, I guess. We’re known as a big country rock band and if you take the time to really listen to our album there’s a lot of light and shade in it.  There’s some big rock songs and there’s all sorts of really big country songs, big ballads and stuff like that.  So I guess we’ve got a bit of a hard exterior but we’re all big softies on the inside [laughter].
Nothin’ But Trouble is out now through Universal Music Australia.


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