Photo Credit: Taylore-Anne Scarabelli
A short while ago, we reported on a list of 13 tips that DJ Shadow offered to those looking to survive in the music industry. Number five says, “Keep yourself mysterious to fans.” Alexander Wolfe, or Wolfey (stylized W O L F E Y) is a college-educated electronic musician currently based in an old Montreal shoe factory. Among other things, he cites Shadow’s 1996 classic Endtroducing….., as an influence.
He recently released his first, three-track EP, Sleep Country, on his own label, Blenheim & Celtic–a name he came to (no pun) while sleepwalking–which you can download for free here. An interesting email exchange with Wolfey shined some light on the somewhat mysterious, albeit polite, artist, who will finish up his studies at McGill this spring. We talked the “sinister atmosphere” the 9/11 attacks left in their wake, his relationship with producer Jonwayne and being haunted by Radiohead and Miles Davis. Expect to hear more from Wolfey this year, as he hopes to play more shows after school ends, and as Sleep Country only marks the first release in a trilogy.
Your name is Alexander Wolfe, but you call yourself Wolfey. To you, what’s the difference between those two personas?
The former was given to me by stern superiors. My friends call me Wolfey.
You studied electronic music production at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. How far back does your interest in music—more specifically, electronic music—stretch?
Before, I was graduated to the violin, I played a sponge with a ruler stuck in it at the Orpheum, (the local concert hall in Vancouver).
Later, I belted clangourous blues songs in humid basements and dives packed with sweating, beaming, yelling pubescents. Some lo-fi cuts that I made in various bedrooms, at boarding school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, in Vancouver, and Montreal, are still floating around out there.
At some point later on, I was drawn into electronic music by sampled sounds, which I heard in records like Endtroducing…, and Burial’s first two LPs, Burial, and Untrue; as well as by the otherworldly sounds of analogue synthesizers, which I heard in records like Boards of Canada’s Geodaddi and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II. I decided that I wanted to learn how to make music using these sounds, and tools.
I read that you’re doing undergraduate work in Philosophy and History at McGill University in Montreal, where you are also currently based. Why do those fields of study interest you? Do you feel like your music is informed by your studies to a degree? If so, how?
I’m currently based in a managerial office of a defunct shoe factory floor in Montreal where I split my time between philosophizing, wiling out in my studio without shirts, and conspiring with a handful incorrigible low-lifes. I make music. I have a lot of questions. And I have theories. And I’m drawn in by stories. And I want to tell stories.
What would you say is the biggest difference between the music scenes in Montreal and Boston? Are they more similar than different? Have you grown to prefer one over the other?
I see more similarities than differences. Though live music is a special thrill, most of my interactions within music communities happen on the web. I grew up downloading music on Napster, following music blogs, and sharing music across various social media platforms. Last year, I watched Kanye and Arcade Fire at Coachella live from my studio in Montreal on YouTube. I carried out my studies through Berklee over the internet. I stream Gilles Peterson’s show online from BBC Radio 1 weekly. My point is that an interconnected music scene manifests itself on the Internet.
You released your first EP, Sleep Country, on Christmas Day your own start-up imprint, Blenheim & Celtic. Could you elaborate on the title of the release, the name of the label a bit?
Sleep Country is a state of mind characterized by ignorance, paranoia, delusion, and hostility. I’ve visited often. It’s also a mattress shop.
I’m a somnambulist. One time I woke up in the early hours of the morning to find myself under a street-lamp at Blenheim & Celtic, which is an intersection in South Vancouver; it’s the last one on Blenheim before you hit the banks of the Fraser River.
Are you trying to convey something specific with the three songs on Sleep? The Blenheim & Celtic website says you “aimed to capture the fear and uncertainty that hung quietly like a shadow over North America in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.” Is the music meant to evoke or reflect “fear and uncertainty,” or is it more idea-based than that?
I was eleven years old in 2001. For me, and probably others, it seemed that a distinctly sinister atmosphere set in since then. It’s still lingering.
Do you feel that there’s a challenge in making electronic music that doesn’t come with creating other styles? I feel like electronic music can attract the stigma of being cold or emotionless—that said, how do emotions play into Wolfey’s music? Are you looking to evoke emotional responses from your listeners?
For me, good music has got to have soul. In other words, it’s got to give you a feeling. And it’s got to make you forget about yourself. So, yes, I’m looking to affect my listeners in a certain way.
There was a fourth song almost put out on Sleep, but you were advised by a friend, producer-rapper Jonwayne, to leave it off and keep working on it. What about that track needed more development?
It’s difficult to put my finger on it. Jon recommended that I take another couple weeks to sit down with it and refine it. It may surface in the future.
I felt confident about the other three tracks, and I was eager to wrap up the project and share it, since I started it in the middle of the summer of 2011. Schoolwork distracted me from finishing up the record and putting out sooner than I did.
You’ve said your influences range from Burial and DJ Shadow to Radiohead and Miles Davis. Is there something different about each of those artists that appeals to you—perhaps something non-musical—or have they influenced you equally in most respects?
Each of them haunts me.
Should we expect a full-length release from Wolfey anytime soon? What’s the future hold for you—DJing, touring, working with other artists?
I’m planning on putting out two more EPs over the course of 2012. I’m thinking of Sleep Country as the first part of a three-part series.
After I finish up with school this spring, I’m hoping to play out a bit more. No collaborations in the works at the moment, but it could happen.
After you’ve worn out Sleep Country‘s three songs–and before he drops another release–check out this live DJ set. Wolfey recorded it himself and, later, gave it a bit of studio polish. Unless you were there to hear it in person, it’s something of a premiere, unreleased and unheard by most. You will, however, recognize plenty of the songs–from Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You” to Joy Orbison’s remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games.” Also tucked in is “Untitled,” a piece of music from Wolfey that you won’t find on his debut EP. The hour-long mix is available for stream and download below.