Vocalist Aidan Ellaz & guitarist Sabian Lynch of Melbourne mosh dogs, Alpha Wolf, discuss the ins & outs of their incredibly emotional & sonically heavy debut album, ‘Mono’.
Amid watching guitarist Scottie Simpson burn through a Rocket League session is where I hear from Alpha Wolf vocalist Aidan Ellaz and guitarist/band mastermind, Sabian Lynch.
After a rather quiet 2016 – with the only noteworthy moment being the announcement of Ellaz on vocals and the release of their ‘Nail Biter’ single – Melbourne’s Alpha Wolf have really taken 2017 by the balls.
First came their signing to Australian label, Greyscale Records. Following that news, a string of solid singles came, first arriving with ‘#104’, then the emotional ‘Golden Fate: Gut Ache’ and more recently the short but heavy punch of ‘Ward Of The State’; all songs that have been culled from their debut LP, ‘Mono’, which drops on Friday, July 14th. Then there are the live shows. Oh god, so many fuckin’ shows. After a handful of support shows in March and April, they spent last month touring the country with Aversions Crown and Boris The Blade. Later this month, they’ll be supporting Thy Art Is Murder on their ‘Death Sentence’ tour, with the band’s own album launch show going down on July 30th at Melbourne’s Wrangler Studios. In August, the five-piece will then support Deez Nuts down in Launceston, and then in September, they’ll open up for Make Them Suffer and Wage War for the Perth band’s headline run around Australia for the ‘Worlds Apart’ album tour.
Again, Alpha Wolf hasn’t backed down from any of this and that will all be coming to an emotional yet mosh-fueled head with ‘Mono’.
Prior to my interview with the nu-metal inclined metalcore band last week, I attended the caution:thieves headline show at Ding Dong in Melbourne a few days beforehand, where I ran into engineer/ex-Sentinel guitarist, Jamie Marinos. While he and I were talking, we got onto the topic of this forthcoming Alpha Wolf album and Marinos mentioned to me that the lyrics were written both by the band’s vocalist and Lynch himself. And this album’s lyrics are a prime focus for Alpha Wolf now and moving forward; more so than they have ever been in the band’s lifespan.
“Short of looking at the booklet myself to tell you how much of a percentage it was between us, Aidan and I both brought a lot of ideas and lyrics to the table”, says Lynch to me over the phone. “I think that it’s pretty even from memory. But it came down to the themes of the lyrics versus the actual songs. We had 12 songs musically written and we wanted each lyrical theme to fit with a certain song. So, angry lyrics would go with an angry song. We’d then both help each other out with our lyrics, and we made sure it all came out as best as possible.”
In putting their heads together, the two members have laced together a very heavy record with some very heavy lyrics. The dozen-song release is an incredibly emotional and cathartic listen, of which has taken root from much personal trauma in their personal lives. As such, ‘Mono’ tackles topics such as losing family members and the fallout from such loss, friends tragically taking their own lives, battling depression, moving on or at least trying to move on from heartache, and more. In fact, on the inside of this album’s lyric booklet, it reads that ‘Mono’ is dedicated to Bronwyn Lynch (Sabian’s mother) and Eli Wilson, as well as being dedicated to all “past love and old friends”. As for the specifics of these songs, the band hopes that everyone who journeys through ‘Mono’ can take their own meanings from these 12 songs.
“Different songs do have their own different answers”, states the guitarist. “Some of these songs were bottled up for a long time and we were actually scared to go ahead with them. But we thought that was the best way to go about it – to be as honest, as raw, and as emotional as possible. With my songs, I opened up to Aidan a lot so that he could understand where I was coming from lyrically and so that he knew how I wanted it all to come across. Some of these songs we haven’t quite come to peace with yet. And it’s scary to know that some individuals out there will hear those songs and we don’t know how they’ll react to them.”
“I agree with Sabian on that”, adds in Ellaz. “We’ve come to some peace with some of the songs here, but there is still a lot of work to do. It’s so hard to talk about some of these songs, as they’re so open lyrically for us. But time heals everything… and this album has sped that process up a bit for us.”
Interestingly enough, the album’s fourth song ‘Shinobi Naku’ is a Japanese phrase – “Shinobinaku” – relating to silent tears or “stealth cry”. Essentially meaning that you keep your feelings inwards and on not opening up to people. Which is something that the band was really able to move past with on ‘Mono’ – expunging some of their inner demons through this album’s creation process. Well, somewhat.
“To be completely honest with you man, with a lot of these songs, we thought that we would feel better after writing and releasing them, but I still feel like shit”, states Ellaz, followed by a slight chuckle.
Two key tracks found on this album that are interconnected by the same theme is ‘Golden Fate: Water Break’ and the recently released and highly emotional single, ‘Golden Fate: Gut Ache’. The latter of which is perhaps one of the most poignant tracks on the whole record, and even sees the group utilising an emotive clean vocal driven chorus for the first time in their brief history as a band.
“On ‘Golden Fate: Water Break’ and ‘Golden Fate: Gut Ache’, both of those songs are based on the same theme”, says Lynch, saying that it’s about a friend of his that sadly took his own life. “I actually got in touch with the sister of my friend who committed suicide to be involved with these songs, and that’s the voice you hear at the start and end of those two songs. She was so happy to be a part of it, and to just know that he isn’t forgotten, that there are these songs out there that will help other people as well was just so great. We all have our reasons behind these songs but we also want others to connect with them in their own way.”
At the risk of breaking my own fourth wall here, I ask the guitarist if it’s then difficult to discuss such topics with interviewers; people who are essentially strangers on the other end of the phone line asking away about such a personal record?
“Not really. To the present day, we haven’t really been this open before. Our close friends and family will know who and what these songs are about. I did have a few people message me when ‘Golden Fate: Gut Ache’ came out to ask me about it, but we keep it to ourselves for the most part so that others can interpret it.”
Similarly, when the band dropped ‘Ward Of The State’, the two-minute dissonant attack that begins this new record, Lynch stated over social media that this song was for his brother As for the why of that, he simply tells me that, “I sneakily put that in there, just for my own personal reasons. We have had a few people message us that have made their own personal connections with that song, so that’s great!”
However, while Alpha Wolf really do want their audience to make their own personal connections with these songs, the band are also quite direct with their lyrics at times. So, are they worried that maybe their goal of personal interpretability may be lost in translation, so to speak?
“No”, states Lynch.
“We could have been much more direct. With ‘Ward Of The State’, its just three paragraphs but with that story, I could write chapters and chapters on just that one story. But we’ve cut it down to those three paragraphs just so that fans can make our words into their own. With ‘Golden Fate: Gut Ache’, that song deals with suicide. One in two people in today’s youth can connect to that topic no doubt; whether it be a friend, a family member. As much as our personal touches are found on this album, we do want these songs to not just be ours.”
Lynch now passes the phone over to Ellaz for the vocalist to reinforce the band’s mission here, saying, “It is up for interpretation, all of it. It’s a bag of tricks in a way; there’s a lot going on in it and there’s a lot to take from it.”
Now, for those of you who don’t know, before joining Alpha Wolf, Ellaz fronted a ludicrously heavy downtempo-ish/deathcore band from Brisbane called Enfield, most commonly known for their brutal as fuck song, ‘Lyssa‘. Despite the small differences in his old and current band – namely in his vocal style, the guitar tunings, and the song lengths – the frontman fits Alpha Wolf’s sound and vibe perfectly and something tells me that what you find on ‘Mono’ couldn’t have been done with Enfield.
“To be honest, with Enfield, it was more about low and how high I could go; just talking about the most fucked up shit”, admits Ellaz. “Half of the reason why that band failed was that myself and it’s bass player, Ash, chose to leave because we didn’t want to take that route anymore. The lyrics that I was writing weren’t the lyrics that you’d see coming from a deathcore band.”
That much is indeed true: the lyrics of ‘Mono‘ would not fit the vocalist’s old band, at least not to the same level and impact as they do here.
Now, when ‘Nail Biter’ dropped last year, and before reading the PR sent through for that single, I immediately recognised old mate’s vocals from his time in Enfield. As it turns out, the vocalist says it was simply fate for him and Alpha Wolf.
“After that band ended, I left the music scene for a bit, and when Sabian hit me up about Alpha Wolf, it really was the kind of thing I’ve wanted to do from the start. It all just pulled together so well with this album and us. It worked too well. I guess it was meant to be!”
Without hopefully spilling the beans too much, the devastating final track you find on ‘Mono’ is called ‘Devon Street’ and it’s one one of the album’s key emotional and musical moments. The name, however, isn’t alluding to a street out near Ivanhoe and Eaglemont in Melbourne, but rather a street found in Burnie, Tasmania.
“I grew up there in my teenage years”, recalls Lynch. “My whole youth was spent there; from my first band practice to even losing my virginity there – everything. You hold onto those memories forever. It’s one of those places that I really wanted to touch on as that house got sold in the last year and I had to go through it all and pack it all up in boxes. It was a very hard thing for me to do, but it was then very cool to write a song about it.”
“That song was written as the intended last track of the record”, mentions Ellaz. “It’s even in a slightly different tuning to the other songs. It’s meant to be the end; as we’re all tired after this big release. As for this Devon Street, I’ve been to the house there myself once a long time ago. It was a home then and this song is a returning home metaphor for this album.”
And it is indeed a stroke of finality for this debut record… even if the vocalist decries on the very last lyric that “You haven’t heard the last of us”.
Despite the seriousness of their music, the band did have some fun with the lyrics and how they reference their other passions and interests. Lynch very kindly sent me the lyric booklet for ‘Mono’, regarding this interview and my forthcoming album review. In going over the lyrics in finer details, I noticed there’s a cool little shout out to The Plot In You on ‘Devon Street’ with the lyric, “the only thing stopping my dangling feet is having “Take Me Away” by Plot on repeat”. (And look, ‘Take Me Away‘ is easily Plot’s best song too). He also hinted that there’s an Eminem reference in there but I didn’t notice it.
There’s also a non-musical reference found in the record’s closing song and one that I myself am very keen on. “I’m massively obsessed with the Dark Souls games and I referenced something small from Dark Souls 3 in the album as I was playing that game heaps when we made this album” claims Alpha Wolf’s vocalist. Now, unless Ellaz was just talking a whole lot of smack, there’s indeed a line slipped into ‘Devon Street’ for From Software’s final entry into the Dark Souls series – “But this god shaped hole, found buried like the dark sigil within me”. That second half of the lyric is referencing the Dark Sigil items found in Dark Souls 3. (Londor for life, nerds).
However, these references also come in far less subtle forms, namely with ‘#104’. “‘#104’ is a reference to Cubone from Pokémon, who is called the Lonely Pokémon. So many people messaged me about that name, asking if it was a hotel number or something. But nope, it’s just Cubone’s Pokédex number!” exclaims Ellaz.
“I really took comfort in that title”, says Lynch. As for why exactly he found solace in that name, you have to know what that song is actually about. Which is in this case, about a deceased parent, specifically that of Lynch’s mother, who sadly passed away in 2016. The guitarist opens up about this incredibly close-to-home topic.
“My mum passed away a bit over a year ago, and it… struck me in a very bad. I touch on it a few times on ‘Mono’. I actually do the vocals on the song ‘My Untold Memoir’ [‘Shinobi Naku’ is done by John Arnold and the title track is Aidan as an FYI] and with me doing that song, I never thought I’d do it. It was so scary being so raw on that one, but it felt so right, you know? We’ve all dealt with hard things in our lives and we write about them as best we can, and that’s how we’ll continue writing in the future.”
Following this, he also talks about the nature of Alpha Wolf’s lyrics, what they were like before and how they exist now in the band’s creative process, saying, “In the past, lyrics were something that just passed me by and they were something that I never really cared about. For some reason, I don’t know why it took me this long to write these kinds of lyrics. I also wrote far more than I should have for this album so maybe they will make it onto future albums.”
Now, with such lyrics and song titles, I’ve noticed some small criticism online that lyrics like “I’m a ward of the state, motherfucker” or that using Cubone’s Pokedex number was a cringy move for some people. However, the band and Lynch aren’t phased by such comments.
“These songs, their lyrics, their titles, are for us firstly and we don’t feel like we need to impress anybody. With ‘#104’, I simply asked a friend how I could maybe incorporate it into the song and they just straight up said, “Dude, use the Pokedex number”. So for the people who get the reference, they get what the song is about and can go from there. If some find that cringy, that’s on them – we’re just doing it for us.”
In now writing music for themselves, that’s not actually something that Alpha Wolf did when they first started out; something I think is quite obvious when you compare their 2014 ‘Origin’ EP and 2015 two-track with ‘Mono’.
“That’s exactly right!” agrees Lynch. “In those days, we were pretty clueless. We just wanted to write heavy music with heaps of breakdowns and if 10 people moshed at the show, then that was sick. But we got over that very quickly, and we took it upon ourselves to evaluate what we were doing and change it up so we can keep on doing what we’re doing. We’re no longer being a band for the sake of being a band. We’re now trying to make something of ourselves and doing something that we all truly enjoy.”
“I’m probably the biggest fan of ‘Mono’”, he adds. “And I’ll stick by that for as long as possible. I mean, I haven’t stopped listening to the album since we got the masters back”.
Honestly, that’s something I don’t really hear from most bands. Usually, bands move on from their own record once the masters are back, the release date is set, and all of the launch shows and album tour dates are booked in. After all, they’ve already spent so long within their new music; from writing it, jamming it, tracking it, and then listening back to the many mixes and masters. Likewise, with such honesty, I tell him that I used to really, really dislike his band prior to this new record and that the difference between Alpha Wolf pre-‘Nail Biter’ and now in 2017 is almost night and day.
“I really appreciate that honesty. And if someone genuinely thinks that we suck, that’s totally cool with me. I myself will also be the first one to say that our older songs sucked. I honestly don’t know how we got any opportunities based on those releases, as they were atrocious. Our live set now is none of the older songs except for ‘Nail Biter’ and of course, the new ‘Mono’ material. I’m forever happy to play our newer stuff and never go back to the older songs, as they were just never enjoyable for us to play. Especially when you’re looking out to a crowd that also aren’t enjoying the songs. We spent two years releasing shit songs, and before that, we were a posi-hardcore band, and I hid all of that from the Internet, as I wanted to disown it. Maybe we’ll do that with the ‘Origin’ EP and the two-track as we want the modern day Alpha Wolf of ‘Mono’ and onwards to be known the most. As that is what we’re most proud of”.
While Alpha Wolf may have disowned their first two releases, the existence of those released does provide a wider context for this band’s growth; a growth whose first major step has been taken with ‘Mono’.