The Wolfe Brothers are a Tasmanian band who have used the Apple Isle as a springboard to the rest of Australia over the past few years, travelling constantly for their own shows as well as being Lee Kernaghan’s touring band. They have steadily built fans and accrued accolades, including ARIA nominations and Golden Guitar wins. That success has led them to a recently announced global recording deal with BMG, which will take the music of the Wolfe Brothers far beyond their island home.
‘It’s amazing,’ says Nick Wolfe. ‘There’s not too many deals like this that have been done, that’s a global umbrella of the company, coming from Australia. Usually the traditional path is that Australian country guys want to have a crack overseas and that involves moving there and mowing lawns for years. So we’re pinching ourselves that we’ve gotten this opportunity, and we just can’t wait to see where it takes us. We’re ready to work hard and make it happen.’
The Wolfe Brothers have never been afraid of working hard, but, of course, currently they can’t play any shows. Once they’re able, however, ‘we’d like to take our music to different parts of the world through this,’ says Nick. ‘We’d like to make an impact in the States and Canada. We were planning to tour Canada later this year but that’s been put on hold through what’s happening. But I’m sure we’ll get there. At the moment we’re just excited to have a new song out. While everyone’s at home isolating they can chuck that on and have a bit of fun.
‘The worst thing about it all is that no one really knows when things are going to get back to normal, so we’re just waiting to see the next move. But for now we’re just doing what we can online, writing a bunch of songs, shooting videos and keeping the ball rolling as much as you can.’
The extra time to write songs has meant they’ve been able to set up co-writes that might otherwise never have happened.
‘We always talk to different artists and writers,’ he says. ‘It’s so hard to get people in the one place at the one time, you know. In normal times, when corona’s not a thing, everyone says, “Oh yeah, we should do a Skype write sometime”, and it never happens. But now it’s finally happening. There’s definitely a few teething problems, and it’s not the same as being in the room, but in its own way it’s kinda good. If you need to work on something you can mute your microphone and go dark for a bit and get that crap idea out in your own room without sharing it with the rest of the group.
‘But it’s been really good. We’ve written four songs so far with different people, and hopefully we’ll do a lot more. It’s one of the things we can do, so we’ll just create as much material and content and songs and everything while we’re here, and hopefully we’ll strike some gold in there.’
Nick says that while it was initially devastating to have pretty much all of their shows for the rest of the year cancelled, ‘it’s actually really bloody nice to be home for a few weeks. It’s definitely the longest my wife and I have ever spent together. But we’re more than ready to get back into the gigs and enjoy all that.
‘I never thought I’d say this but I’m even missing the travel of it. We were planning Monopoly the other day and we’ve got the Australian version. I was landing on the airports saying, “Oh yeah, I remember Melbourne airport – that’s a good airport, that one. Sydney – yeah, great lounge”,’ he says with a laugh. ‘when that moment comes we’ll be more than ready to get out there and tour and hit it hard. And I think everyone will be ready to come out and party.’
The first song on the new BMG deal is ‘No Brakes’, which the band wrote with Lindsay Rimes, who’s an Australian songwriter who’s been living in the Nashville for the past few years.
‘He’s killing it over there,’ says Nick. ‘He’s had a Grammy nomination, he’s had a US number 1. I wrote something with Linds a few years ago. The few times we’ve been over to Nashville we’ve always tried to line one up with him but we could never make it work. Then last trip over there, I think it was the last day before we went home we managed to get a write together. Linds is like a master of making demos and tracks, almost instantly. He should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest track-building guy ever. A lot of the track was done on the day of writing. It was such a killer demo and everyone loved it, so we thought Lindsay’s really the only option to do this. He brought such a great vibe to it.
‘So the heart and soul of it is the demo, and we’ve gone back and retracked some things here then had some players do some stuff on it over there as well. That’s the great thing about this day and age, sending files back and forth and getting it done no matter what. We’re really stoked with how it’s come out. It’s a little more pushing the boundaries of what we’ve done. It’s always been a goal of hours to get some mainstream crossover and we hope that this can be the one.’
The track is a further evolution of the band’s sound – but as Nick says, ‘we’ve always been fans of so much different music. Pop, rock, country, metal even. It’s not like we started in deeply traditional country. So I don’t think it’s too much of an evolution.’
Nick says that it was probably their mother who was ‘responsible for putting the country deep in our DNA. It was that time when Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus were peaking and line dancing was a huge thing, and Mum was into that.
‘The first concert I ever went to was James Blundell. I’ve actually got a poster that he signed – To Nick, take care, James Bundell ’93. I’ve got him to sign it a few more times since then, when we’ve done gigs with him – 2005 and 2017. Whilst Mum doesn’t play an instrument or anything herself, she’s always been a great music fan, especially of country. Dad was more into his rock – Creedence, Rolling Stones, Beatles and stuff like that. So it all seeped in and we do what we do now because of what we were playing at a really young age.’
Nick’s own musical life started when he was six and his father gave him a guitar. ‘I started doing lessons. Dad was a drummer. Music’s always been a huge part of our family’s history. He didn’t force us to play instruments but it was strongly encouraged. I loved it. I was fortunate to have really good teachers growing up. When I think I started playing at six I should be so much better than I am,’ he says, laughing.
Family is, of course, still influential on Nick’s musical life because he plays with his brother Tom; as with The McClymonts and The Buckleys, the sibling band arrangement seems to work well when it comes to managing disagreements.
‘You can get it out and then get it over with,’ says Nick. ‘You can blow up at each other and if you did that to any other normal person you’d never speak to them again! But with Tom and me, we’ll have these huge blow-ups but literally two minutes later we’ll be laughing. And I think that’s good. You get it out and you laugh about how ridiculous it is. But honestly we don’t really argue that much.’
Indeed, Nick says of his brother, ‘Tom is a just a born showman. It’s my personal goal to work on that aspect of things. Had Tom not been a Wolfe brother I don’t know where we’d be. He has a natural knack.’
The Wolfe Brothers started as a four piece – and they still are, but now lead singer Nick Wolfe and bass-playing brother Tom are officially the core members of the band, with guitarist Brodie Rainbird leaving earlier this year after the departure of drummer Casey Kostiuk. Except those two didn’t really leave the band, as they still play live with Nick and Tom. While Nick says that it’s sad that Rainbird is no longer an official member, ‘he wants to pursue his own stuff and we’re 100 per cent behind him on that.’
While all members of the band sequestered at home in Tasmania for the foreseeable future, they also kicked off the year there, with the inaugural Wolfefest.
‘That’s something we want to make a yearly thing and keep growing,’ says Nick. ‘It wasn’t all country. We had the Bad Dad Orchestra, a nine-piece Tassie band – the prerequisite is you had to be a musician and a dad. They’re awesome – soul, rock. So the [festival] is something that spans genres. But who knows where we’ll go with it. The main thing is bigger, better, onwards and upwards with it. We’ll be looking at doing it again next year, for sure.’
The Wolfe Brothers developed their considerable live skills playing in Tasmania for years, and Wolfefest is a way to support the music scene in their home state. They know only too well that there are challenges for musical acts who want to make the transition to the bigger national stage.
‘The main thing with it was we were just out of sight, out of mind,’ says Nick. ‘Over a few years, in playing pubs and rodeos and things like that, we’d built up an amazing, extremely loyal following throughout Tassie. We could basically go anywhere and pack it out. But we just couldn’t get arrested on the mainland, as well call it down here. So that was the reason for going on Australia’s Got Talent. Honestly, none of us were thrilled at the idea of going on a reality show. But that was the catalyst that got us attention and people to start taking us seriously. It got us our management and our first record deal.
‘But it’s amazing what that bit of water can do. It’s an hour plane flight. But if you’re not there, in those circles, that’s one thing I’ve learnt – I’m not overly good at it, but the networking is everything. Constantly being on people’s minds. When you’re not going to the events and doing all that, they just don’t think of you.’
There is no danger now of anyone not thinking of the Wolfe Brothers. They have become one of the headline acts of each year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival, and fan and radio favourites. And while their physical horizons are limited for the time being, creatively they continue to expand – with no doubt more great music on the way.