In the Wolves’ Den with Kyle Burgess

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It’s been almost as week since the news broke that The White brothers would be leaving their posts as drummer and lead guitarist of We Came From Wolves. We caught up with frontman Kyle Burgess to find out how they dealt with the shock news and what they’ve been doing to get replacements in to pick up where they left off after finishing the year with an album release and a Best Alt/Rock award from 2015’s SAMAs. Kyle also gave us a little insight to his world and how music has helped shape him into the song-writer he is today.

So, the news has finally broken about the two new members of the band – Andy Donaldson on drums and Michael MacKay on lead guitar – who will be filling the void left by Taylor and Harrison. What kind of reaction has there been, more positive than first thought?

Aye, definitely. I didn’t think it would be negative but that’s easy for us to think. It also came a week before we’d originally planned to break the news.

Our old PR company really wanted to work with us with the vibes off this single and to help with that, they came to us and told us they’d need new photos to put out with the new single and video that’s due out next Friday (4th March) and it would’ve been stupid to wait one more week and have outlets distribute articles with old photos.

We had to make sure that the new photos and things were coming out so our manager Andrew suggested we break it this Thursday. That also gave us the opportunity to say that Taylor and Harrison had left, out of respect and to let people pass on their messages to them rather than go straight into revealing the new lineup.

Did that give you enough time to answer any questions that arose from the news that Taylor and Harrison were leaving?

I think we underestimated that. At the end of the statement we said there would be “a further update tomorrow” and assumed everyone would know what that meant. We ended up getting messages from people who would be coming to see us on this little Highland Tour we’re about to head on, asking if we’d be missing those shows and folk who are really into the band thinking we’d be out of action for a number of months. But I was like “no, no, no, no – there’s an announcement tomorrow. It has been a lot of hard work but this is the way we wanted it to be, to look seamless.

That gets people thinking, I wonder what’s coming next

Yeah, we’ve been doing a lot behind the scenes with these guys so that if we had to play tomorrow we’d be ready with the new lineup. A lot of folk are sad to see Taylor and Harrison leave but are also excited to see what these new guys will bring and I think they know us well enough to realise we’re not just going to bring in anyone. These guys were well vetted – they’re really good guys and cracking professionals.

In terms of what you were looking for and getting in touch with potential replacements, what was your process and what medium did you use to reach out?

As soon as we found out the guys were leaving I went home to Perth to chill and devote myself to sourcing applicants. I didn’t want to pick people just because they were good and settle. First off I contacted people I know but, without being a pessimist, these were guys who were great players who were already in great bands so I wasn’t too hopeful. It was completely prospective as I didn’t want to go splitting bands up either.

After that was asking people in the know like producers, managers as well as putting some adverts on Facebook groups and I created a fake profile with my two middle names – Charlie James – so I could put a Gumtree ad up as well. It wasn’t bullshitting what we were looking for but we wanted to protect the fact that We Came From Wolves were in need of a drummer and guitarist.

Makes sense not to make it obvious

Yeah, it could’ve been “Scottish Alt/Rock band with an album’s worth of material and a SAMA require drummer and guitarist.”

We got about forty to fifty responses and from those I asked for video demos and a sort of application form with questions about influences and what they like to do as well as questions around experience with recording and live shows.

When we last spoke, you touched on making sure the new guys would be comfortable in all aspects of being in a band

Yeah, we wanted them to be professional, but to also have a good attitude. There were people there who were great at playing the instruments but maybe just didn’t fit with the band on a more personal level.

From the video clips we got back we could see that some were good as maybe “garage artists” but let’s take them into a live setting so we booked out a studio for a couple of days and invited around twenty of these guys in to play for us. An hour each in a comfortable setting – beers, water and Haribos on the table – let’s just have a jam and a chat kind of thing.

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What did these guys have to learn before they appeared in the studio?

We asked them to learn album tracks with no help from us. I just said learn what you can or what you want to learn. Taylor’s parts are very intricate so they were difficult. The drums are the same to an extent but if you can play drums you can probably figure it out but guitar style is maybe a little harder.

Can you tell if a guy playing drums is playing something different to what he should be?

Aye, but it’s probably more groove and tightness that we’re looking for rather than note for note. They may be pure racing through it or slow and not doing the fills right. There was definitely room to move on our part. We were more looking for potential at first as we’d have three months of rehearsing to nail it. As long as I could see that they’d spent a couple of days practicing. If you want something, you’ll put the effort into learning it.

Once you’d seen and heard everyone in the studio what was next?

We’d already identified that Andy would be the drummer from pretty early on, but there were so many good drummers, so many. Any of them would’ve been fine but fine wasn’t what we wanted and with Andy it was like “YES”. He’s cracking, has a good personality, fits the look, just a nice guy and he was nailing it.

With the guitar, people were nailing it but were maybe not the right fit or they were the other way round. It just wasn’t happening so I wasn’t going to settle. After that we had a few rehearsals with just me, Rob (Bass) and Andy (new drummer) to start and I was beginning to think nothing was going to happen until out of the blue I got a message from a Michael MacKay. This guy was a guitar tutor, has his own website, good outlook and class. From as soon as we saw the audition video I think we all knew but we didn’t want to tell him this straight away.

From there we had Harrison and Taylor come down to a couple of jams, send a few videos of breakdown parts and stuff like that. I thank them for doing that, for sure. Once we agreed that this was the new lineup we wanted a commitment from the guys and they were a resounding yes, so here we are.

How is the chemistry in the new lineup now that you’ve had a few months together?

Really good man. After we announced to the guys that we wanted them in the band we all went out for pizza and beers and that was the first time we’d really all been able to relax outside of the rehearsals and practice rooms. The last month has been really busy with promo shots and making the video for ‘Ruiner’. That’s been three weekends of being here (in the flat) kipping about and playing Cards Against Humanity and Pro Evo. We’ve been like super busy and now we’re really tight but still having a good laugh.

Although you’re busy, does it feel like a weight’s been lifted now it’s all out in the open?

Of course, we went on a tour in October and we knew at that point the guys were leaving. Eventually, due to other commitments, Taylor didn’t come and we had to get a stand-in for that tour. There were so many parts of that tour where we had a great time because they’re all great guys. We had a laugh in the van, the promoters and other bands were great, we had such a good time but there were parts where it was like “what’s the fucking point in this?” and “I wish we’d just cancelled this” but you never do that.

At that point I just wanted to get the new guys in and I decided that I was going to sort it. It was still going to be a decision for myself, Rob and Andrew around who we’d bring in but I started this band so I really wanted to source them. So yeah, it’s been a massive stress trying to sort this whilst keeping an online and social presence without giving anything away. It’s a massive weight off the shoulders now and just looking forward to getting at it now.

In terms of ideas for the future, have you started penning anything yet?

I’ve been writing more lo-fi sounding stuff compared to the clean-cut sound of the album. I don’t mean fuzz vocals but more off-the-cuff ideas and having a bit more fun with it on the notes.

For me, the EPs and album all have a similar theme, in that they’re appear to be based on experience. Is that a driving factor in your writing style?

Yeah, with melody and that kind of stuff I just note them down on my voice memos but lyrics I usually leave until we’re in the studio and then ask for a bounce of the tracks and then I’ll add melodies and the stuff I want to speak about but it won’t be until right at the death that I commit those lyrics. I like to take some time to live and breathe with a song for a while. But yeah, I couldn’t write about anything other than feelings and truth, otherwise it would feel a bit false.

Do you feel that putting these emotional situations on paper help you resolve the things your singing about? ..and by all means tell me to piss off here

No, not at all. I mean I don’t think I’ve really documented any serious fractures with my family. We’re maybe a little disjointed but we had a great upbringing and you know. So I’m not really drawing on that kind of stuff other than maybe in ‘Bastard Son’.

I was thinking about how my own family would react to that being out there and I figured that would be quite difficult to hear. Was that the case for you?

I’ve always made sure that when I write a song, that’s it’s catchy and melodic and I understand that on first glance they might think it’s a pop song but lyrics are always really deep. No matter how punky or poppy they sound. So that song, yeah that definitely was a bit like “shit, it’s about my sisters and my Dad” and even my Mum to some extent. I didn’t meet my Dad until I was a wee bit older – around eight or nine – and those lyrics there about how my mother’s love could only go so far, I’m sure she was like – was that not enough – let alone talking about my sisters being strangers and finding it difficult to talk to my Dad. I do to a degree but we are closer now but there are still feelings there from when I was a good bit younger and feeling a bit of a loner, you know?

That was really the only song like that. Most of the songs are about love or going through almost a “break-up” with guys who I grew up with that were almost like brothers to me. Due to small town community things that went off the boil. I look back at that age and it may come down to how I wanted to drive my band instead of going on lads holidays, that kind of stuff and that became a divide between the group.

These were the guys who you’d go to the pub with, you’d argue over girls with and then you get to the point where you grow up a bit and start making different decisions. I was looking to be a bit more mature and get out of the darker periods in my life and they maybe saw that as me trying to get away from them. It’s weird because these songs are more about heartbreak over mates you’d shed blood for than they are over girls.

From there I made the conscious effort to move away from Perth and move to Glasgow to pursue the band and put my passion for music over friendship. The fact I spend my time with my band more than friends may be my undoing.

You could relate that to anything in life where responsibilities come along, you have to make a choice.

Exactly, but I think these fractures came along at an age where people weren’t mature enough to take it the way it was intended. I think if it happened now it would be a different reaction.

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There are two distinctive aspects to your songs. On the one side is that poppy, melodic sound and the other is lyrics describing things that everyday people can relate to like moving your life to Glasgow. What was the motivation behind that move?

I stayed in a small town in Perth and dealt with everything we’ve spoken about. I look back at old video blogs with my first band and think “you’re an obnoxious bastard” – I was so like, outgoing and loud and I can still be like that now and again but living in Perth with the kind of things that had happened made me get to the point where I was suffering with anxiety. I didn’t even want to walk down the high street on a Saturday because it’s a small place. It was the same with the pub because there would be who’d know me there, either for good or bad reasons and I just didn’t want to speak to anyone.

I remember first moving to Glasgow and sitting in Waxy O’Connors while Nic (Kyle’s long term girlfriend) was working. I sat there with a paper and a pint to watch the football. As I was sitting there looking around and thinking to myself, I’m alone here, nobody knows who I am. Nobody gives a fuck. That was great because you had to earn that respect from the folk here but you can also relax in the anonymity which is a relief and an incentive.

The Glasgow music scene has it all for the taking. I went to a Twilight Sad gig a short while after moving here, one of those secret shows that appeared on my Facebook feed. I ended up going along to that on my own, knew nobody but was able to get a pint and speak to folk in the crowd – at that point I was thinking “this is what it’s all about”. Other than when you’re in your teens and you don’t have many responsibilities, I’m happier here than I’ve ever been.

This is the start of a new chapter for WCFW, but what are you most proud of up until this point?

I’m most proud of when we put up news or something big where people who follow the band may be interested, just looking back on it and seeing how many people do actually connect with us. A lot of them will say this so I know, but they see how these things are heartfelt and true. I feel that a lot of people get what we’re about and without ever meeting us. We do meet a lot of people when we’re on tour all over England, France and Scotland. Before the gigs we’ll head out for coffees, food and just hang out – and we should. They think it’s nice of us to do that but I’m proud that we can have people who understand our songs come and just hang out with us.

I guess your songs can be inspiring for people, even if they’re not taking it in the way you intended it to be taken

I know what music does for me when I hear a track that I listened to as a teenager, or even now. If I’ve listened to it at a time where it’s resonated with me, it has an effect. So if I can have a song that affects anybody in a positive way, or connects a memory with a time in their lives then that’s great.

Yeah, music has the power to transport you back to a time and place in your life instantly.

I never really grew up in a musical household but when my aunty bought a car when I was around eight or nine years old and she would take us on long drives up North and these three songs just stick in my head from that time that I just love – I maybe didn’t realise it at the time. Kate Bush’s ‘Army Dreamers’, ‘Love Cats’ by The Cure and ‘Sultans of Swing’ by Dire Straits. If I listen to them now it takes me right back to that time in the car on trips with the family.

Can you imagine in twenty years time, that could be your song taking someone back to their childhood, it’s a cool thought…

Exactly, and as much as I could sit here and say that’s our number one goal for WCFW but it’s more than that. Being a full-time, touring band would be the pinnacle. To do that and we know we can when we look at other bands out there like Twins and Fatherson doing exactly that. But, that in itself isn’t enough – we want to have songs that resonate with the people who listen to them. If I was to die tomorrow without a full-time music contract then it’s all about leaving a legacy which can be passed on and our music is hopefully that. Music lives on longer than you will and that’s what drives me when I’m writing a song.

Alan Gray

Senior Writer and Editor at Musicscramble. Listens to a wide range of music. A sucker for a heavy bass line and a thundering guitar hook.

Loves getting his gig on but also loves to get behind a camera and capture music in the making. Check out akgphotos.com for more.

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