Sunday, January 20, 2013

Interview: Tom Wolfe of The Wolfe Brothers

A show at the TRECC at this year's Tamworth Country Music Festival is just the latest in a string of achievements for The Wolfe Brothers, a four-piece band from southern Tasmania, who were also finalists in a little show called Australia's Got Talent. The Wolfe Brothers have also just released their debut album, It's On (ABC Music/Universal). I spoke to Tom Wolfe late last year to find out more about the band and how they're preparing for Tamworth. 

The Wolfe Brothers appear at the Tamworth Regional Entertainment and Conference Centre on 24 January 2013 at 12.30 p.m. in a show to benefit bushfire relief efforts in Tasmania. For more information, please visit the Wolfe Brothers' website.

So January 2013 is going to be a big month for you and the band because you've got an album and a Tamworth headlining show.  So I was wondering if you're getting some rest ahead of this?
Are we getting some rest?

What's that mean? [Laughs] No, we've been flat out.  We've been busier than we've ever been, mate.  We've been working on a new album and since we finished it off we've just done a new film clip, which is for the new single.  Of course, we've been playing as well.  We've been flat out.  We're just getting ready.  We're actually out on the road with [Lee] Kernaghan and then Dwight Yoakam.

A lot of people might think that if you're a band trying to start out in Tasmania that it might difficult, because there's not a lot of population and it's a small land mass.  There wouldn't necessarily be a lot of places to play gigs. But it certainly seems like it might have actually been the opposite for you.  That there's been this support within the community for you that's really moved the four of you along.
I think you're right.  I think we're really lucky in the fact that it kind of worked in our favour.  Because, I mean, down here, there's not really much of a country music scene at all.  Even some of the music scenes, just in general.  There's good live music venues but it's not as big as anywhere else.  So we've kind of had to make our own scene.  I know that sounds stupid.  We'd find a venue and we work it.  We'd find a venue and we pulled our own sort of show on and after about a year, we’d have a really good thing going.  That's how we'd go to all different parts of the state.  We'd find a pub or a venue that was good and we do our thing there, and we'd start with 50 people and then all of a sudden there'd be a hundred people and then it'd be 200 and then we'd be able to sell them out.  So it's kind of really worked in our favour in a way.  Also, mate, I think it made us a little bit different.  I think that's important, you've got to be a little bit different to what everyone else is doing.

Have the four of you been doing this on top of your day jobs?
We have.  We've been working our guts out for years [laughs].  We all worked full time.  I was a builder; Nick was a postman and a farmer.  Brodie is a refrigeration mechanic, Casey is a dental technician.  So we did all these days jobs but just we've been able to pull the reins up on them.  Now, we can do our job now.  So we're very lucky.

Well, I think to an extent you make your own luck.  What you've just described is a lot of years of being really consistent.  Some people would kind of play a gig here, play a gig there and think, oh well, maybe that's not working for me, I'll give it away.  But it seems like you guys have turned up, you've continued to turn up, you've kept playing your music, you've stayed together like as a group and so you've made your own luck there. 
Well, I guess.  All this stuff that is happening, it's not that this has happened overnight.  With the TV show [the band appeared on Australia’s Got Talent], it definitely sped things along a bit.  It kicked everything into gear.  But, I mean, we've been writing songs and playing gigs and putting on shows for years.  It's definitely something that's been happening in a long time.  And I think you're right: we've put the hard yards in as we look at it, we've all had day jobs where we've had to work extremely hard.  So we know - I mean, if a builder runs his own business and he wants to be successful, he's got to work really hard.  He's got to work harder than anyone else.  It's kind of the same thing really.  If you want to make something of yourself in music, you've got to work a bit harder than everyone else.

It seems like the four of you have known each other for a really long time.  And, obviously, two of you are related.  So I was wondering is it a democratic outfit or does someone get to be the boss.
No, I think as a group we work – we're very lucky how well we work together.  I mean, we all kind of have roles within the band of what we probably do.  I kind of handle a lot of this stuff, like interviews and all that sort of stuff.  Nick is probably the predominant songwriter, I'd say, in the group.  He's probably the main one at that.  But in saying that, we all write as well.  It's not just one person's role.  I think the great thing is we've been playing so long. We’ve been doing the Wolfe Brothers for probably six or seven years, but before that I was playing in bands with Casey in school.  I remember the first band I ever had was with Casey and I think he was in Grade 4 and I was in Grade 5 or something like that. We used to play Metallica together.  I played bass, he played drums.  So we've doing it for years.  I think it's really cool that we know what the best decision for the group is, if that makes sense.  We can kind of comment on things and say okay, that's not working – what you're doing there is not working.  That sort of worked better for this song or for the band or whatever.  We're pretty lucky in that respect.

I just love the idea of a kid in primary school getting his hands on a bass guitar.  You are parents must have been very supportive [laughs].
Well, our dad's a muso.  My dad's a drummer and he's been playing for years.  He almost forced a guitar into our hands [laughs].  He wanted us to play.  But we’re so glad he did. And it’s not just me and Nick – because me and Nick are brothers – but the other two guys, we grew up surrounded by music.  Constantly just music going and then being played. I remember I was six years old, I used to watch all the Beatles movies.  I didn't watch kids’ shows, I'd watch the Beatles movies and all that sort of stuff.  Just constantly surrounded by it, so it was kind of inevitable that this was what we're going to do.

Given that you were a Metallica fan at primary school, at what point did the transition to country music happen?
Look, it's always been there.  Some people say how can you like Metallica and Iron Maiden but play country music.  Well, we've always listened to country music.  Pop, of course, would have Slim Dusty and all that sort of stuff, like most people did.  Mum was probably the real the country music push.  She liked James Blundell in the early ’90s and Lee Kernaghan stuff as well.  We've got a lot of that.  So that was always on.  Garth Brooks, that sort of stuff.  But Dad was always more of a rock ’n’ roller so he had Beatles, the Stones.  He'd have Creedence [Clearwater Revival].  That was all happening but there was always country music happening.  We went to high school, we started playing guitar and you'd want to try to push yourself as a guitarist and a muso.  So we were learning Metallica and Gun N' Roses, all these heavy metal and metal [bands].  I'm really glad we did because it made us a lot better players and we can play all that sort of stuff.  And I think we started transitioning back [when] we started playing in bands, four of us together again and we started playing – I think one of the first songs we ever learnt was ‘Country Crowd’, Lee Kernaghan.  Keith Urban, Golden Road album – that was a big turning point.  I think that came out about 10 years ago.  I think I was reading something the other day.  So we heard that and that was kind of the turning point – we went, oh, yeah, now, that I like.  It was from that, we all got these records that we've had at home for years and we got them all out again and started listening to them.  Yeah, just been in love with it ever since.

So Keith Urban's Golden Road. Keith wasn't that well known here – well, I still think he's only just recently become very widely known because of The Voice.  But Golden Road wasn't necessarily a hit record here.  So you must have been exploring around the country genre to even pick up on that record at the time.
Yeah, absolutely. We always were. Every time a Lee Kernaghan album would come out, Mum would have it.  We'd always hear it and we'd always have a listen to it.  It probably wasn't our main listening point, if that makes sense?

But it was always on and we were always being exposed to it.  And then I remember listening to [Golden Road] with my brother and we're just going, now, that's cool.  Just had some different elements that I hadn't heard in country before but still really cool.  So, yeah, it just got us really excited.  And the other thing is when we write songs, we don't sit down [thinking] we've got to write country songs.  We just sit down and write songs.  The songs that come out are what they are … and I think that's another interesting thing. We were brought up on a farm and all that sort of stuff.  So we're all country boys.  So when we write songs, it just comes out like that.

Have you played at Tamworth before?
You know what, we've gone down for holidays and things like that.  Last year [2011] we drove up together, the four of us.  We drove up – the trip from hell: the car broke, the trailer drawbar snapped off and anything that went wrong could have went wrong.  We went up there and we just took it in.  We did four gigs in a few pubs and we shook as many hands as we could and we just met as many people as we could.  We really took the whole experience in and we really loved it, just loved it.  I could live there.  We absolutely loved it.  It was such our thing to be there.  It was funny, we were having a laugh the other day because our trailer – we bought a trailer to drive to Tamworth to take all our gear up, and I think it broke halfway on the way up there.  So we had to pay to get it fixed.  So when we got to Tamworth, we only had enough money between the four of us to buy one pizza.  We bought one pizza; we sat on the steps of a bank – I think it was the Commonwealth Bank – and just watched everything happen for a few hours.  It's all the money we had, all we could scramble together. [Laughs]

Well, that's a good hardship story but, of course, the story will be very different in 2013 because you'll be headlining a show. -
I know and you've got to do those things.  On the way back I think the trailer broke again and we had to get it fixed.  We nearly missed the boat [to Tasmania].  So I'm so glad all that stuff happened because it bonded us so much closer, the band, you know?  It just made us such a tight unit.  If you can get through that, you can get through anything, you know?

And, so, given how long you've all been playing together and how bonded it sounds you are, do you still do rehearsals or you just play so often you don't need to do them?
We're in rehearsals all the time. We've had a lot of rehearsals lately.  It's actually been great since we had to leave our jobs.  We've actually got time to rehearse again.  Just when we were working full time, we had enough time to run the band, do the gigs, do all that stuff, but we didn't have time to rehearse.  So, now, we can usually get one or two days a week where we can practise.  That's really great and it's just making us so much better as a band.  But, yet again, we're loving it.  We're loving to be able to sit down and focus on these songs and really analyse them and say what needs to be a bit better there.  We just had to learn a few new songs as well. So that's been really cool as well because it's given us a whole new another level of learning songs and this new material.  We're getting better as a band.

It says on your website that you're a very successful covers band.  But I would imagine that you're actually doing original material in Tamworth?
Oh, mate, yeah.  That's how it all started out.  We coped with covers and we did everything.  We did the weddings, we did the birthdays. And anywhere that anyone would have us, we played there.  I think that's really important to do that because it just teaches you how to deal with crowds and situations and stuff.  Yeah, mate, we going to be playing a lot of stuff off our new album, It's On.  We’re really excited for that.  It's really cool.  We've done the cover gigs and we've done that but now we can promote our own stuff, we play our own music.  I mean, sure there'll be a couple of covers there.  There'll be a couple of songs people will know.  But it’s our music and showing off what we do.

So are there any other people's songs that you just always love to play because you personally love them, not because you think the crowd will love them?
There's lots of things.  I mean, it changes from time to time. We're all kind of, quietly, we're a little bit of John Farnham fans.  So I do like playing ‘That's Freedom’ every now and then.  And playing a good Police song.  They're just songs that have sort of always played, they’ve always been with us.  But, yeah, we're really excited just to be playing our stuff and getting that out there now.  It's been a lot of fun.

I've seen John Farnham play live and he has one of the most incredible voices.  If you've seen him play live, you understand the magic of Farnsey.
Absolutely, mate.  There's so much power.  We saw his live tours down here in Hobart and he can project.  He'll stand at the back of the stage, three metres away from the microphone.  He's still the loudest thing in the room. It's amazing.  He's amazing to watch and he's just an amazing performer and just gives everything he's got to give.

So do you, personally, like performing and do the other band members like performing – because not everyone loves it?
I love it.  Performing is – personally – my favourite part of it.  I love the buzz you get when you’re on the crowd and the feeling you get from doing nothing else.  It's just an amazing thing.  But I think we all love it, we love performing.  I think the thing is it's got a lot of energy, a lot of energy to give and we love jumping around and [laughs] sort of rocking out and all that sort of stuff.  And I think that shows when we play.  We're honestly just having a ball and we know how lucky we are.  We've worked these mundane jobs [laughs] during our lives and had to do that.  So we know how lucky we are now that we get to play our music.  So we never take it for granted.

And you've got three other people on the bill with you in Tamworth.  So was it a band choice as to who joined you on that bill or were you told?
Yeah, well, it's kind of a bit of a collective between us and the management.  But we really like – all them guys are doing some really cool things and they've got that sort of energy and stuff that we have and we know Markus [Meier}.  We've done a few shows with him, with Lee [Kernaghan] when he plays with Lee.  He's a great guy and I love to see a bit of Adam's [Eckersley] stuff and really excited to hear more from him as well.  So it's going to be a fun show.  It’s going to be a lot of energy and, yeah, I think that's what it's all about - new, fresh energy and I hope people really enjoy it.

And this is your only Tamworth show, right?  So if people want to see you, they have to get to the TREC on the 24th of January?
They do.  You have to come along and party with us and have a really good time.  So, yeah, come along, folks, and I'll guarantee they'll have a good time.

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