by Ben Shine
Sometimes you go to a show in town, and it feels like a regular old show. You stand around a room talking to your friends until the band starts playing, and then you wait patiently while they perform so you can go back to the conversation with your buddies.
And other times it feels like it’s vital that you’re there, like being at this particular show is important, not only for the attendees, but for the city as a whole. It’s a different energy than normal, and it feels like the entire room is collectively witnessing something on the verge of being really special, something ready to break out.
In more than a quarter century of seeing live shows in Indy, I can count on my hand the number of times that while listening to a local band, I heard the glimmer of potential for something to be really bigger than we all knew or had known as a community. Sardina. Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos. Split Lip. Mysteries of Life. The Pieces.
But on Saturday, Nov. 7th, S.M. Wolf joined my list at their album release party forNeon Debris (available on gorgeous green vinyl too!), their first full-length album, at Fountain Square’s newest restaurant/venue, The Pioneer.
Throughout the show I kept thinking, “Why didn’t I write about this before it happened? I wish so many more people were packed into this room with me to see it.” So, the next morning I reached out to singer/guitarist/bandleader Adam Gross, to talk about the band’s first full-length album, its influences, and the realities of being a psych-pop-fun group in our city.
Sky Blue Window : Who is S.M. Wolf? Who’s who in the band, and how long have you been a band?
Adam Gross: S.M. Wolf is Adam Gross, Melanie Rau, Ben Leslie and Rachel Enneking. We’ve been playing these songs in some form or another since March of 2013, but we’ve been playing as this current lineup since November of that year.
SBW : What does each player bring to the band? What music informs your playing? What’s the dynamic inside the band? Is someone more psych-y and someone else more pop-y and together the magic is made?
AG: We all have a common thread of bands we love and types of music we love, but we also have a lot of diversity in our tastes and have been in several different genres of bands, both together and independently, so I think that helps to make things unique.
We’ve gone through a few different processes of writing songs and putting parts together. At the beginning I wrote all of the song parts and the band played those parts fairly closely to the recordings while still putting their own spin on things.
Now, I’ll generally get an idea and demo it, occasionally with drums and bass added, but those are more of a rough sketch just to convey the feel of the song then the rest band will write their own parts and we work together on the structure and arrangement. Discovering the overlap in our tastes and styles while bringing out the diverse tastes has led to a great feeling of cohesive creativity.
SBW : How do the songs come together on Neon Debris? Is there a narrative arc or message to the album?
AG: I started writing some of the songs on Neon Debris over 5 years before S.M. Wolf was even a band, yet some were written a couple of weeks before recording began. Though they were written at different times in my life, they still retain some kind of consistency. A lot of it is a comment on my experiences playing in bands, writing songs and telling myself to not be too discouraged about the progress that I’ve made compared to what I want to accomplish.
Some of the songs also deal with my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana, and the plight of the artistic people who get stuck there. Amongst those themes there’s probably a line in every song referring to lost youth in some way or another...
SBW : Tell me about your collaborations with Brain Twins on videos and the design of Neon Debris.
AG: We met Brain Twins when they were doing stage sets for the MFT concerts in the park series a few years ago. They’re amazing animators, and I think their visual style works really well with S.M. Wolf. It’s kind of playful and childlike, but at the same time there’s a dark element to it that’s not entirely overt but you can still sense it.
SBW : How do the visuals they create add to the listener’s experience?
AG: We all grew up watching music videos and appreciating the physical aspects of a music release. I love holding a record, looking at the artwork and reading the liner notes while I listen to it. It makes music listening more of an engaging experience as opposed to a passive one. The creativity and exploration that Brain Twins bring in these collaborations really energizes and informs us as musicians.
SBW : During your record release party, you played to a packed room in a brand new venue in Fountain Square (The Pioneer). How does the community you live in help you create your work? Would it sound the same if you lived somewhere else?
AG: I feel like our music is a good combination of what’s happening in the city right now. It’s not extremely garage-y or punk-y, but there’s some of that there. It’s also not overtly psych-ey, but there’s that element as well.
Between the four of us we’ve been in so many different kinds of bands (punk, psych, garage, experimental, alt-country, folk, soul, indie-pop, the list goes on...),and we’ve absorbed a lot from those experiences and our surroundings. Because of that, if we lived in a different city, I think our music wouldn’t be quite the same as it is now.
And without the support we’ve had from the community, S.M. Wolf probably would have never started, let alone grown to the band we are now. We all love connecting through being in S.M. Wolf. Connecting with each other, with Brain Twins, other bands, listeners ... we even connect with our own families more through S.M. Wolf.
SBW : I normally ask people to name their top-three all-time life-changing albums. Not the best albums, but the personally most important records. What are those three for S.M. Wolf?
AG:That’s really tough… I can really only speak for myself, but I think these are crucially important to S.M. Wolf and have helped sculpt our overall sound:
1. Pink Floyd- Piper at the Gates of Dawn
2. Weezer - Pinkerton
3. The Beatles - White Album.