If you had to choose the most distinctive quality about Bernese’s Honshu Wolves, it would most likely be their musical diversity, something that’s widely on display throughout their brand new album Cosmic Creature Capture. Today just so happens to be the release date for their wide-ranging new studio effort, coming to you courtesy Voodoo Rhythm Records. Along with the record’s release, the group has unveiled the music video for their new single “Tell Me,” the latest slab of their distinctive Swiss blues-punk sound.
This is a subgenre unique to Honshu Wolves themselves, with one of the band’s greatest strengths their ability to experiment with different subgenres in each of their releases. Much of this experimental flair stems straight from singer, guitarist, and leader, Maryanne Shewolf. Ever since the group began to emerge, she has gone to every effort to not allow them to be pigeonholed within a certain sound or genre. Internally, the members maintain an anything goes point of view when it comes to songwriting, and that’s never been more apparent than on Cosmic Creature Capture, nine tracks that navigate between psychedelic rock, space rock, electric folk, and good old fashioned blues.
One of Honshu Wolves’ greatest supporters has been the widely revered Reverend Beat-Man, who also happens to be the owner of Voodoo Rhythm Records. Regarding the song and the video, Beat-Man said, “The song has a Chris Isaak feel and the guitar work from Maryanne Shewolf reminds me how Calvin Wilsey would play it. The song talks about a relationship and its unspoken words while the music takes you on a trip through different periods.”
Beat-Man continues, “Honshu Wolves recorded that song a year before they mixed it, they were never happy with the mix so they freshly remixed the song in Italy and that version you are now hearing. For the video clip, I needed moving images and happily, I’m constantly filming when I’m on tour. The footage you are seeing is from Tennessee when I was on tour with Izobel Garcia, then after a super drunken night in Bern, Switzerland when it snowed a lot and I walked by the Paul Klee Museum, and at the end there is footage from Spain where I was on tour with The Monsters. I think moving images worked very well for that song.”
Offering her own personal viewpoint on the song, Shewolf offered, “Tell me is a love song.
About two in love who are unreasonable but sharing beautiful and magic moments together and show their different worlds or views to each other. And it’s about men who don’t want to let you really look inside to come really close.. to let you go into deepness.. about men who are afraid to risk that somebody knows them really well.”
Along with the premiere of the new video, we recently had a lengthy chat with Shewolf about her inspiration to start Honshu Wolves, her early involvement in music, and the band’s post-pandemic plans.
Where were you in your life when you became inspired to start Honshu Wolves? Do you remember the moment where you made this decision?
Maryanne Shewolf: “Here’s the full story. The guitar is not my original instrument; I grew up playing piano as a young girl from age seven to 17 but never had any ambition to pursue the instrument professionally. It would not be until many years later I was around 26, I guess, that I would learn guitar from Emanuel (ex-Honshu Wolves guitarist) after asking him to teach me when he first moved into Zaffaraya. I decided to play in open tuning because it is easier for me, and I was very impatient. I ended lessons with him shortly (poor Emanuel) because I wanted to write my music, so I composed my first song, a Jessie Mae Hemphill-style song. I guess this is why my guitar skills are dilettantish because I never learned properly.
It was more important to me to play guitar through hearing and feeling instead of utilizing what I learned in music theory. And I just wanted to have an instrument to come along with my voice and to be able to write my songs and found a group. After our lessons ended, I asked him if he wanted to be a part of my group, and that is how the band formed. However, I have always loved to sing though; that part of me first developed while singing in choirs and school musicals when I was very young and further grew singing to myself and my sons. Singing is my ‘element,’ I think.
Music has always been a constant presence in my life in various forms. Some of my earliest memories as a teenager are often visiting my brother’s band in their rehearsal room and watching them practice. One of my first performances was a concert with three of my girlfriends that we put on for fun. It was a non-serious band contest with one cover song each group playing. That was a good starting experience, and I enjoyed myself for the one song we played live. I tried out once to be a vocalist in a band, but the experience flat out sucked; I felt like a decoration, which only reacted to what the band played and didn’t have a say in the songwriting. That experience made me realize that I want to play my music; the only problem was I did not have an instrument to write, play and comp my voice with at the time.
When I became a mother very young in my life, music was still around me even though my priorities shifted towards my new family. My partner and father of my sons is a longtime/founding member of the band Roy and The Devil’s Motorcycle, this was one of the most special groups going, and they are still one of my favourite bands; they are a vital influence on Honshu Wolves, and you can hear that influence in our music. He gave me a very different view on how to play music, a way that ended up working for me.
When our firstborn came into our lives, our family moved to Zaffaraya. I did not desire to play in a band; motherhood and the experimental lifestyle were already enough for me (laughs). I experienced a change within myself when my second son turned three years old; a new feeling inside me grew and urged me to focus on myself and develop my interests. This feeling pushed me to dance again, and I asked Emanuel to teach me how to play guitar. So yeah, Honshu Wolves formed this way, and with me being the boss, I decide how fast or slow the band evolves, what was the only way for me to have a band beside the family.”
Growing up, were you active in Bern’s music scene? How were you first exposed to the music you listened to and took influence?
“I grew up in the countryside just outside of Bern. Actually, Bern is also the countryside (laughs)! I went to many concerts with my brother and later with my partner Christian (Stähli) and his brothers. But not only in Bern venues, all venues across Switzerland, and we had a good network of friends that gave us recommendations in each city. My first concert was one of my brothers (laughs), the second was a Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle concert when I was about 13, because they lived very close to where I grew up. The coolest boys around. Around my mid-teens, I saw an incredible show by Spiritualized, which I still have not forgotten, and the following years, my brother would take his friends and me to see PJ Harvey, The Cure, Radiohead, etc. With Christian, we have seen countless great groups together like Royal Trux, Make Up, T-Model Ford, Alan Vega, Souled American, Twenty Miles, and many more.”
What was your early life like, and who can you credit in your life to become the person you are today and get you involved in music?
“Oh, a personal question! I was the youngest in my family and grew up with two older brothers in a dull village; luckily, they let me hang around with them and their friends as I grew, which made things a little less boring and refer to my answer in question one for why. Musically, my brother and his friends played a part in developing my musical interests. Then I had a time where I was totally interested in hippie music like Janis Joplin, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix.
Later, Christian and his brothers had the most significant impact on my musical taste. They showed me the most bands I still adore and influence me even today. My childhood was a happy and healthy one with plenty of nurturing in both nature and the arts. I went to pre-school in Bern, and because of this, I had developed an interest in the outside world early on when I was very young. I knew it was dangerous, of course, but I was still fascinated by what was going on. My mother is very important to me both as a person in my life and as a woman. She is a big reason for my held values, beliefs, and what is important to me, and how I parent my kids.”
Were you born in Zaffaraya, or do you live there now as a transplant?
“Nope, I am a transplant, and Zaffaraya has been my home for 20 years now! My children have lived their whole life here.”
How did you meet Mige and Fabu initially? Mige was there from the start, correct? When did Fabu come in, and what has he added to Honshu Wolves?
“Honshu Wolves initially began with Emanuel and me; Mige came in the picture through a recommendation from Emanuel’s friend; we didn’t know Mige from anywhere beforehand. After a few rehearsals, the chemistry between us three began to click, and we recorded the Shine On Me 10’ for the Moi J’ Connais label. I was nine months pregnant with my youngest back then, and two months after his birth, we finished the recordings and played some concerts with the newborn backstage!
Emanuel didn’t like performing live that much, however. He began studying in Lausanne after a few years once Shine on Me was released. So, he decided to leave the band but not before I could convince him to stay long enough to record some more songs we played together. We then searched for a guitar player once the Shine On Me sessions were completed. We met Fabian (Fabu for short) through friends, he just moved back to Switzerland after living in Latvia for two years. It is funny too because I actually still remember the day we met. Mige and I were playing a small concert as a duo and Fabu happened to be in the audience watching, because a friend told him that we are looking for a new guitarist, so he approached us after our set.
The two things I took away from that encounter, he was drunk but more importantly, he was straightforward when he told me he wanted to play with us and then asked if we were looking for a guitar player (laughs). It’s not every day a random guy asks me if he wants to play in MY band. I am a skeptic by heart, so I responded to his offer by asking how he planned to play our music. He thought about that a moment and answered wisely with, ‘I wouldn’t play much, just some notes in the right spot.’ That was a perfect answer to me, and he was in! Even though we had creative differences in song ideas at the start, we found each other more and more musically as we rehearsed together and also developed a strong friendship. We are a good combo; he is good at many things and supports my ideas; I am really grateful we met.”
When and how did the deal with Moi J’Connais Records come to Honshu Wolves?
“We have been good friends with Robin Girod and Cyril Yeterian from Mama Rosin already for a while. Both are great and lovely guys! Christian and I visited them in nearby Geneva, and they heard me singing and playing acoustic guitar in their kitchen. Robin and Cyril just started up the Moi J’Connais label and asked me if I would like to release a 10’ with them. The opportunity just presented itself right there, and of course, I agreed. Because we signed with Moi J’Connais, we played a lot in the French part of Switzerland, which I liked a lot. That’s how Shine On Me was released, and it was recorded close to Biel at the studio and rehearsal room of the Roy’s with Christian’s brothers, Markus and Matthias, engineering the production.”
Can you talk about the first tours for Honshu Wolves? What was the routing? How did you manage to undergo touring with your responsibilities for work and being a mother?
“We did our first extensive tour, ten days to be exact, when the kids were already grown up a bit, and I believe my youngest son was around five or six years old. Ten days is not a long touring time, I feel, but with my scheduling the routing around my holidays from teaching and fighting to get the time off, ten days was an effort in itself. Christian was touring a lot with Roy & The Devil’s Motorcycle, but we managed to make the Honshu Wolves tour work. It is one thing to tour and another to go directly back into family life once the tour wraps, no recovery time (laughs).”
Where was the Silver Ashes Line The Lane album recorded, and can you talk about the time in your life while you were writing this record?
“We recorded that album with Gabriele de Mario (Gabri for short) from the band Disco Doom at his studio in Zurich. Working with him was very good for me; this was right when Emanuel left the band after we recorded our songs, and I felt a bit alone doing all the overdubs and other production work by myself. Gabri liked my music and supported me a lot during the production process; that meant a lot because Silver Ashes Line The Lane was written after my beloved mum’s unexpected death. The songs on that album are related to that experience. With Emanuel leaving the band around then, the most important thing for me was to record the best songs we played together, basically to ‘save’ those songs from being lost down the road. That album has a lot of themes of death, loss, and sadness in the music.”
What are your plans with the band once the pandemic ends? Did you have any touring lined up that the pandemic halted?
“There is not a strategy or a concept with this band; everything we do and happens when it happens. We’re very relaxed with our activity. Also, I can’t be a full-time manager for Honshu Wolves. Still, I do not want anyone else managing my band either. Of course, we are longing to play live, but we will see when we can do; a tour is in discussion since we have a new album out. Touring is a big reason I have a band; I love that we meet friends and good, interesting people on our routes. Also, I am certain Voodoo Rhythm will expect us to play some shows once things are alright.”
What advice can you give to someone who wants to follow in your shoes?
“Stand for who you are, do what you want to do your own way, and be comfortable with the process of whatever it is you are doing. My way is to be passionate, have feeling, and carry a sense of urgency without outside pressure. Quality and soul are substantial to me. Another thing, don’t box yourself into one category of music and be pushed in one direction. That is a problem with the arts, people always want to categorize you, and that’s not what I wish for Honshu Wolves.”