Austin, Texas duo The Ghost Wolves deliver a rabid and raw sound that draws inspiration from across the musical spectrum. Blending blues, punk, ’60s garage, glam and rockabilly, Carley and Jonny Wolf have been touring the country since releasing their debut in mid-2011. And despite their young ages – mid-20s – both have been lifelong devotees of the rock lifestyle. Multi-instrumentalist Carley Wolf fronted her first rockabilly group at age 14 and has performed internationally as a backing musician with several groups, and as bassist for Johnny Falstaff. Similarly, husband Jonny Wolf has toured and recorded with everyone from Gregg Ginn to Junior Brown.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Jonny Wolf before their summer tour to discuss their sound, collaboration with Bushwick Bill and more.
Austin is a well-known mecca for live music and I imagine that there is a lot of competition for attention in that scene. What has The Ghost Wolves done to set yourselves apart?
There indeed are a bunch of bands in Austin. We don’t know of anyone who’s doing exactly what we’re doing – female fronted slide-guitar-heavy-swamp-punk rock and roll. The band next door is maybe doing ‘80s-influenced bubble gum synth-pop, and their buddies up the block are in a devil worshiping gutter-kid string band where everyone dresses like a pirate. It’s all over the map and we like that. We also try to bring as much energy as possible to our live show and make sure that everyone has a great time. A lot of bands don’t necessarily do that.
Since your debut release in 2011 you’ve been road warriors, and even managed to get over to Austria, Italy, Brazil, the UK, and Germany. What have your favorite places been?
We’ve actually only been touring in the states, but that’s been pretty constant. We’ve had some press overseas, so we are planning on going to those places soon. We’re probably close to having done 450+ shows in the USA since we started two years ago, the majority of that east of the Mississippi. We love touring through towns like Asheville, NC, Knoxville, TN, Dover, NH, Columbus, and Dayton has also been a really memorable stop since we starting coming through.
Have you learned any hard lessons about what a touring band can expect on the road?
We’ve been lucky so far, and also have both had pretty extensive touring experience before this band came to be. All the promoters and venue owners we’ve dealt with have been pretty cool, 99 percent of them at least. A few lessons we’d impart on a new touring band: get everything in writing, for every show. Eat healthy, don’t drink too much, and chill out with the smokes. Just because you can have unlimited free booze at a show doesn’t mean you always should. It can be a kid in the candy store kind of thing for some people, which isn’t healthy and a big reason why a lot of professional musicians turn into drunks. Also, you need to maintain your vehicle 100 percent – no slacking on repairs, oil changes, any of that. It is your chariot and it needs attention too.
This isn’t either of your first rodeo. What is it about performing together that makes this collaboration so rewarding?
We were dating when we started the band and were recently married. We already had a very strong connection outside of the band, but rocking out together on a nightly basis can definitely deepen a relationship, if you let it. We also find a lot of reward in making fans out of musicians and artists who we admire – which is probably more important to us than most things in the business.
Does the band ever plan to call in favors with past collaborators for a future release?
Bushwick Bill (from The Geto Boys) rapped on a track during the sessions for our new album. Not sure how we will release that one yet, maybe as a limited edition single. But he is a new collaborator, we met him through Gordy Johnson (from Big Sugar). A lot of our previous musical connections were in genres we don’t feel very strongly about anymore, but we definitely have a short list of people we’d absolutely love to coerce into the studio or onto the stage at some point.
Was Bushwick Bill intimidating or cool? Did he have any funny stories about Geto Boys to share?
We haven’t had a proper hang with Bushwick Bill yet. We had already left for tour when he came to the studio late one night and Gordy Johnson, the producer, showed him the album. Apparently, he dug it, and decided to lay down some of his sweet goodness on one of our tracks, for fun. They sent it to us, and we liked it so much, we decided to hang on to it. Might make an interesting side to a single at some point. We heard he had a whole crew with him in the studio and he was just smoking and drinking the whole time he was rapping.
We did see him perform one night at The Continental Club, in Austin, with Gordy’s drum/guitar duo Sit Down Servant. It was a very late weekday set, like 1am or something. He had everyone in the room in the palm of his hand, just vibing along with him. He’s magnetic – cheerful – honest – in the moment. With the duo behind him, Gordy on foot bass synthesizer and slide guitar, and the drummer laying it down, it sounded like some incredible music from the future. 2023 AD. I haven’t ever heard anything like it before or since.
There are some significant influences present in your music – Iggy, Guitar Wolf, The Cramps. How have these and other influences shaped how you’ve approached writing and performing?
All of those bands come at their music with the throttles all the way open – nothing held back. That’s how we see it too – all in, or forget it. Every day, we’re at this, 150 percent, in one way or another. We learned a lot of that from digging on stuff like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Jeff The Brotherhood, Iggy and The Stooges, Tom Waits, R.L. Burnside, Guitar Wolf, The Cramps, Hasil Adkins; great musicians seem to be completely consumed by what they do. We love that.
The “Getchya Hip Thrust” 7-inch was the second release for Pau Wau Records, right? How did your relationship with them develop?
Pau Wau is a small vinyl-only label run out of a house on the east side of Austin. We have put out both of our releases on vinyl with them so far – “In Ya Neck” EP and the “Getchya Hip Thrust” single. It’s a musician-run label, and they’re great to work with. Nick, the main guy, saw us at a show in Knoxville, TN when his band also played on the bill. He dug it and approached us about releasing a vinyl run of the EP we already had on CD. A lot of our fans are vinyl listening types, and we really dug his band, so we immediately said yes!
Now with Carley’s background in audio production, did she produce the records?
We co-produced it with whomever we were recording with, but she wasn’t at the console turning knobs. We work with people who we can trust to take care of that, so we can concentrate on the music being made. But her knowledge of audio engineering does come in handy. We used to do a job where we would be the “guinea pig” band for a live sound engineering school in Austin. We’d come in, set up in a rehearsal room, and they would learn to mic the drums, amps, vocals and run the board. The teacher, Mac, used to LOVE to make a big deal to these mostly male students that Carley, this beautiful girl, supposedly there to just play guitar and sing, could probably do all of their jobs at once, backwards and forwards.
Are you working on or writing for a sophomore full-length? If so, how are those sessions progressing?
We have a sophomore release finished and ready to go. Really, it’s our first full length, since the two previous to this one have been short format. We recorded it earlier this year in Austin at Arlyn Studios, where a bunch of incredible records had been made over the years. We’re really stoked about, and are working on getting it released in the next six months or so.
Is that an actual wolf in your promo shots? If so, it isn’t also an actual ghost right? Who does it belong to?
It’s a Gibler Dog, the breed Carley’s family has been developing for the last 30 years in Texas, for their personal pets and also occasionally friends would get them too. Her dad is a true animal whisperer and would rescue dogs from people who couldn’t handle them. Some of those may have been wolf or wolf hybrids, so they have that wolf look from way back, many generations ago, like a lot of northern breeds. But they are all dog at this point, likely with some Malamute and Akita in them. They are incredible animals – gentle, loyal, and very sweet. We named the band after Ice, our oldest male, died at 15 years old in 2011.
Will one of them be on the road with you when you head out on the current tour?
You gotta come out to the show to find out! Sometimes we travel with two or more of them!
I read that some of Carley’s dad’s animals were in a Disturbed video. Were the animals bummed to be working with such a lackluster radio rock act?
I don’t think they cared about the music one way or another, and the Disturbed guys were very nice to them. They were just really stoked to be bringing home some bacon!