From May 10th to May 14th, an assortment of colourful characters made their way around L’Eglise Saint-Enfant-Jesus in the Montreal Plateau. Seeking an altogether different form of salvation, these were attendants of the Montreal DISTORSION Psych fest, taking part in the basement of the church. Headlining this festival were Montreal’s own We Are Wolves. Combining danceable beats, a punk energy and psychedelic textures, We Are Wolves stand at the forefront of the Montreal rock scene. In an overgrown parking lot, I caught lead vocalist as well as bassist Alex Ortiz, days before their performance at DISTORSION, to ask the tough, driving questions, guiding us all.
K.L (Kyle Lapointe) (me): How come you guys haven’t taken a photoshoot with live wolves yet?
A.O (Alex Ortiz): Maybe ‘cause it’s too obvious. There was this one time; we had this very important photoshoot in New York. We had just signed to a new label and this big magazine wanted pictures. They wanted us to wear wolf masks and be wolves. We refused. We found it too easy and silly. Because of that, they never put us on the magazine. It was like, “Oh yeah? You don’t want to be a wolf? Fuck you then.” Maybe we’ll change our name now to “We Are Not Wolves.”
K.L: (Laughs) No, we need We Are Wolves for DISTORSION fest! Have you ever played in a church before?
A.O: Man, I used to go to church all the time. My parents are Colombian Christians and I grew up with a very Christian perspective. I went to church, like, every Saturday and Sunday. But I’ve never played in a church. It’s gonna be weird.
K.L: Are you still religious?
A.O: No, I couldn’t say I’m religious… I’m confused. I think I’ve always been confused, even while going to church. It’s part of being human. Asking questions, doubting; not only blindly believing something.
K.L: What do you think about a church being converted into a place for a psychedelic festival?
A.O: It makes sense. Psychedelic music could be a religious experience. Anything could be a religious experience or a psychedelic experience. It’s all about perception and the way you perceive things.
K.L: Do you think people ever have religious experiences listening to your music?
A.O: I don’t know if it happens all the time but there have been a lot of people who’ve told me that! At our shows, but even weirder, some people listen to our music when they run and do sports. Apparently they get so into it, they just stop what they’re doing and listen to the end of the song. It gets too overwhelming.
K.L: Do you think that what might be resonating with people so much could be the constant dance-y pulse of your music? Maybe it hits people’s bodies in a really tangible way.
A.O: Oh ‘absoluement!’ The way we build our songs is very conscious. We use synthetic drum machines while using real drums. We try to build something very repetitive and constant, but also very primitive. We don’t put complex beats; it’s always very tribal and raw energy.
K.L: Although maintaining a constant underlying groove to a lot of your songs, you guys have gone through lots of different sounds, from electronic to rock. What’s one of the weirder influences to your music that people might not know about?
A.O: I would say Prince. Some elements from cheesy Prince songs like “Raspberry Beret” really inspired the way we do production. I remember, forming the bridge of a song, and instead of telling my bandmates, “Let’s make this bridge more ’77 punk,” saying, “Let’s take it in a Prince direction.” And they said that it made a lot of sense.
K.L: How do you combine the whole ’77 punk thing with Prince in a cohesive way?
A.O: There’s definitely something sensual about The Cramps just as there is about Prince, sensual and sexually primitive. I could see Prince driving his purple motorcycle with Glenn Danzig and Lux Interior in the back. That would be an amazing video. I should make a video about that.
(Points at my purple jacket)
A.O: You should play Prince in the video, man.
K.L: Thanks (laughs). With so many songs in all different styles, how do you come up with a cohesive setlist every night?
A.O: Honestly, it gets pretty stressful. We like to leave it until five minutes before the show. It’s hard to bring everything together. Sometimes onstage, we look at each other before playing a song on our setlist and we don’t feel it. We just say, “Fuck that song,” and start a different one.
K.L: Does it ever just fall apart?
A.O: It happens, of course. Sometimes people come with a lot of shots for us. One shot leads to another shot, which leads to a song I wasn’t expecting. I start something that doesn’t go with the beat. But, it’s all part of the show. We’re all human beings in the end.
K.L: Do you ever play an improvised version of a song live, and prefer that version to the original?
A.O: Absolutely, and sometimes it becomes the new version. With our song “Paloma,” one time I felt it differently and sang it differently. It’s the new version we play now. People who know the song well come see me afterwards about it all the time.
And sometimes we forget how we did our new versions. That’s usually on the nights with too many shots. It even happens that there are so many shots we stop the song and tell the audience, “Sorry, we’re a bit too drunk and the end is too complicated. This is our new version of the song. It’s a remix.”
K.L: Sounds like the pinnacle of professionalism.
A.O: I know, right? I don’t consider myself to be a musician. Everything can be musical. But when it comes to the art part of the band, I have a need for control, which can be annoying for others, I imagine.
K.L: Why don’t you consider yourself to be a musician?
A.O: That’s a big question. Now I can accept that I’m a musician, but I know I’m not a like, professional musician. I mean, I know my chords… a little bit.
K.L: You’re not a musician, you’re a rock star?
A.O: No, I’m definitely not a rock star. I’m a confused man, that’s what I am.
K.L: Well you’ve definitely travelled around the world like rock stars. Where are We Are Wolves headed next?
A.O: Hopefully, we’d like to play in Japan. We’ve been a lot to China and Asia, bot not Japan. We released one album officially on a Japanese label.
K.L: How was playing in China?
A.O: It was really weird. We played a festival and everybody was kind of stiff and seemed kind of controlled. By the end of the set though, they seemed kind of liberated. We played some really tiny places in China with maybe fifty people, and as soon as we started playing, they’d just go nuts. But you kind of feel that they’re not really going nuts for your music; they’re just going nuts because there’s music. That’s a weird feeling. They scream and jump but don’t really get into the beat, they just jump anytime in the song. It was a very anthropological, interesting experience.
K.L: What’s the most bizarre place you’ve ever performed?
A.O: We played once for a weird street festival. We played on a scaffold, suspended seventy feet above the ground. And there was a fire underneath us.
K.L: Wait, what? Fire?
A.O: It was a huge street performance with theatrical punks from the Netherlands. Their show was running around, burning scaffolds. We were above that, in a cage, attached to a chain on a truck.
K.L: So you were in a cage over a fire? Were you playing for the devil?
A.O: Sounds like that, eh? And now we’re playing in a church! Heave and Hell, the yin and the yang, man.
K.L: And as a band, how can you be ready for something like that?
A.O: We weren’t ready. We had no idea what we were doing. The festival had approached us asking if we wanted to do something unique and have a crazy experience. We said, “Fuck yeah.” It was great but freaky. I had vertigo at one point. It was kind of like Daredevil, seeing someone jumping over busses on fire. People thinking, “Maybe he’s gonna die!” Seeing danger is a weird exultation for human beings to be watching.
K.L: This is going to be your last show for a little while, won’t it?
A.O: Yes, until late July, I think. We want to work on new material. For our next album, I want to try working on some songs in French. It’s hard, because strangely enough my first language is Spanish, I sing in English and I always talk in French.
K.L: Why do you always go for English?
A.O: It feels easier to me to write in English. In French I feel so much pressure, from a philosophical point of view and ‘literairement’. It flows better, in a rock n’ roll perspective, to say word in English. ‘Come on, Baby” in French? “Allez, baby!” It feels fake rock n’ roll cheesy French from the ’70s.
Being young I read a lot of books in French, so now, writing in French is a lot of pressure. There’s something free about writing in English for me. I’m writing rock n’ roll. I had no intension of putting vocals with my music originally. But now, messing with words, the first words that come are those you hear in rock n’ roll songs.
K.L: And when’s the Spanish album coming out?
A.O: I’m working on that! It’s the net one. It feels a little cheesy though, to release an album with a little French, a little Spanish, a little English.
K.L: There must be a cheese-less way to do it.
A.O: I’m searching for that, man. I’m still searching. I guess you’ll hear whether I find it or not.
We Are Wolves played Distortion Fest which took place May 10-14. Info HERE.