Starting off the year with the release of their latest album No Matter How Narrow, The Republic Of Wolves are already off with a great start to 2014. Now with the positive reviews pouring in and a very bright future ahead of them, Substream talks to rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist, Mason Maggio, about all things Republic of Wolves.
Substream Magazine: Your latest album No Matter How Narrow has been out a few weeks now, how do you feel it has gone down with fans?
Mason Maggio: Almost everything we’ve heard has been very positive, which is incredibly exciting. We really weren’t sure how our existing fans would react to the shift in style, but it seems as though everyone’s been very accepting of it. Of course there are people who preferred our old sound and can’t really get into the new stuff, which I think is a necessary evil when you create something new and different. But we’ve heard a lot of people calling this album our best release yet, which is a really rewarding thing to hear. I think our audience is very open-minded, which enables us to grow and change without worrying so much about alienating people.
SM: Has the album exceeded all expectation you had at the beginning of the recording process?
MM: We really tried to go into this one with no expectations- but at the same time that means a thousand totally different expectations. But we’re certainly proud of what came out of that process. It’s really hard to look back so soon afterward and see the album from an external perspective, as a listener might perceive it; but as a cohesive piece of artwork it definitely feels complete and concise.
SM: How do you feel it differs from your debut, both musically and lyrically? You’ve been touring the new material recently, how has the tracks gone down live?
MM: Musically it’s definitely more accessible and a bit more light-hearted than our debut. It has its dark moments but I think they’re overshadowed by the brighter, catchier ones. Varuna in comparison is dreary and kind of exhausting- we’re proud of that album, but it’s definitely more work to listen to. In terms of production we’ve focused a lot more on building up and supporting the vocals, rather than burying them in layers of instrumentation, and a lot of the new songs favor simplicity over texture. Lyrically it’s much more personal and autobiographical, while still playing on a lot of the same overarching themes. With Varuna we had a really obvious narrative metaphor, and it was more or less a concept album. No Matter How Narrow has some connecting threads in terms of ideas and imagery, but the songs are more loosely associated. That allowed the individual songs to focus on a more intimate and personal subject matter. Playing the songs live has been a lot of fun so far, and the simplicity of the composition has really allowed us to recreate them in a live setting better than we ever could with our earlier music.
SM: Are there any tracks on NMHN which changed dramatically since the early album process (changing from acoustic to electric etc.)?
MM: For the most part we wrote and recorded these songs at the same time, so the production aspects were integral to the songwriting. There are a few songs that did change quite a bit, though. “Keep Clean” started out as a much darker song, until we decided that we wanted it to have a more uplifting and sentimental chorus. And “Pioneers” was originally written as a pretty low-key acoustic song, but after we started the recording process it evolved into one of the heaviest rock songs on the album.
SM: You’ve said in interviews that this album allowed you to harness your own unique sound as opposed to what others dictate you should sound like. Was there great emphasis on how you guys should sound like since your debut?
MM: Yeah, we’ve felt that kind of pressure ever since our debut EP, His Old Branches. The sudden outpouring of support and exposure was kind of shocking to us, and we definitely felt like we needed to maintain a delicate balance. So for a while we sort of played it safe by sticking with the dark, brooding style that had worked for us in the past. When we started writing for the new album back in 2012 we were still in that mindset, but at a certain point we realized that the pressure wasn’t really there anymore. We hadn’t released anything as The Republic Of Wolves in a while, so there wasn’t any pressure to maintain a momentum or anything like that. So we just let ourselves create, without setting any limitations.
SM: How did you come down to the decision of creating the sound as heard on NMHN?
MM: Well for the most part it wasn’t really a conscious decision, it was just the result of us following our instincts and letting all of our different influences converge and push us forward. We’ve always been influenced by pop music and fun, light-hearted stuff, but this time we really opened ourselves up to that. We knew that we wanted to make something on the more accessible side, to branch out and reach more people, but that was much more of a factor in the production aspects than in the songwriting itself.
SM: Were there any influences you guys, as artists, took on board during the recording process – whether that be from different artists, books, films etc?
MM: In terms of other artists I don’t think we were particularly inspired by anything new that we’d been listening to, but we definitely drew from some of the older stuff that’s kind of classic to us – the emo and indie albums that we grew up listening to. Aside from that, the artwork of Ben Kehoe (the artist who’s contributed to almost all of our album/EP covers) definitely helped to set a tone for some of the lyrical imagery that went into the album.
SM: With the amount of musical competition out there, why should new fans give you guys a chance?
MM: I think people should give us a chance because, among other things, we’ve got a lot to offer in terms of variety. We’re always worried that people will hear one of our songs and write us off, without ever realizing that we’ve got a lot of other songs that sound completely different. So I’d urge people to listen to at least a couple of our songs, because we really explore a lot of different styles and moods on our albums. I also think it’s significant that we’re a totally independent band – we record everything ourselves with minimal equipment, we mix and master everything on our own, we manage ourselves, and we self-produce our music videos. So we have a totally personal connection with our fans, since everything is coming directly from us.
SM: In this economy – especially in the music word – do you feel it’s becoming harder to purely keep afloat as a band [in all aspects]?
MM: I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but it’s definitely difficult for us. We all have other jobs or some other source of income, since right now it would be impossible to subsist on what we make through music. Especially since we’re independent, so we invest our own money in distribution and promotion- and it’s a pretty risky investment. But at the same time there are a lot of new opportunities for young bands, particularly through the internet. A lot of bands are using crowdfunding now, which is something we’ve never done but it’s definitely a viable option. Either way, we count ourselves lucky to have gotten as far as we have, and we owe everything to the internet and social media – and of course all the amazing fans that have helped to spread the word about us.
SM: Do you feel you’ve reached your full potential as a band, or do you feel as if you’ve got some more growing to do?
MM: We definitely haven’t reached our potential just yet. This new album was a step forward for us, but it still feels like a learning experience. We’ve got a lot of new ideas and perspectives to bring into the studio for our next release, and we look forward to seeing where that’ll take us.
SM: Have your begun writing any new material while on the road? If so, anything you can tell us about it?
MM: We’re taking a bit of a break from the writing process, although we do have a whole bunch of lyrical ideas and melodies kind of waiting to be developed into songs. As of now I have no idea what kind of shape they’ll take, which actually feels good.
SM: What’s on your guys 2014 bucket list?
MM: First and foremost we’re hoping to get some serious touring done. We’re already lining up some regional weekend runs (just in the Northeast as of now), but we’re hoping that by the summer we’ll be able to put together something bigger. East coast and Midwest at least. Beyond that we’d definitely like to get back in the studio with some new material before the year is through, but the biggest goal is getting our music out to as many new people as possible.
Interview by Nicole Tiernan