BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
“We were touring probably for about three-and-a-half-years straight and it got to that point where, first of all, there wasn’t a lot of down time because we were out getting these opportunities. Things like going out with The Pixies and playing with Black Sabbath. There was something really special about that. And now having a record, going on almost seven years of Reignwolf, it’s kept it really special.”
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada-bred and Seattle-based Reignwolf are certainly no strangers to rock festival fans worldwide. For years the trio – singer, guitarist Jordan Cook, bassist S.J. Kardash and drummer Joseph Braley – have shared stages with the alpha dogs of rock. All while never throwing fans the biggest bone of all – releasing a debut album – until now.
The group’s first full-length album Hear Me Out was released March 1, with the vinyl edition due April 12, just in time for Record Store Day. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Cook about the album, early influences, touring and their upcoming set at Woodstock 50. Here’s that conversation.
Let me start the conversation by going back to the beginning for you. What was your – what I call – proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment? Did a song come on the radio, or an album you heard or a concert you went to, where you said right afterward, yeah, that’s what I want to do?
I actually think it was my dad that really did that for me. He played music always in our basement with his friends. And he was a great musician, and just having his friends come over. And they just did it on the weekends for themselves, not like to go play shows. I just remember seeing them all have a good time and kinda going for it and jamming and stuff. I would say that was the moment that kinda forever changed me. And I saw that as a very little kid. I was probably one, two years old seeing my dad play music. And no joke, by about two I was stealing his Fender Stratocaster (laughs). I would just sit there and play five, six hours a day.
Let’s fast-forward. The debut album Hear Me Out is out. For folks who haven’t heard it yet, just give me a quick summary of what they’ll hear on the new record.
I would say that this record is us doing what we do. And also experimenting in the studio because you have that moment to kind of let the studio be what the studio is and let the live show be what the live show is. In the end, there’s quite a bit of energy on this record because, again, we didn’t try to make it a live record and in the end it felt like a good piece of music to call our first record. It’s definitely an energy-filled record.
I would agree with that. Definitely. Let’s talk about some specific songs. After listening to the album I said it was clear as black and white that the opening track “Black and Red” is certainly soaked with the Pacific Northwest sound. Nirvana and so forth, and the rest of the album includes echoes of Soundgarden, Black Sabbath and the Black Keys. All of which, I think, is a very good thing. Would you agree?
Well, thank you. That means a lot. All those bands obviously mean a lot to us. That song actually in particular is in a different time signature. It’s very simple, but at the same time it kinda makes it a twist to hear. Yeah, there’s something about that song. I know exactly what you mean about the Pacific Northwest thing. That’s the thing about Nirvana. A lot of time when you hear Nirvana they were so good at being heavy, but like not hard to hear. For some reason that recording of “Black and Red” kinda tipped on that a little bit and made me really excited to release it.
At just 3:39 “Black and Red” is the longest song on the album, while the last song, “Wolf River,” is the shortest. And that clocks in at just about 1:14.
Yeah. I was just gonna say that “Wolf River” is one of those things where it kinda felt like a “to be continued” thing to me, and it was a perfect way to end the record because it’s like, we ain’t done yet.
I took it that way, too. I thought, okay this is kind of a teaser.
(Laughs) Yeah, right on! That’s cool, man.
Was keeping the songs compact an intentional thing, or just the tracks you guys wrote and recorded?
I think it is just the way it was. And also, I find we live in a time right now where nobody really – or I shouldn’t say nobody – a lot of people don’t have the time to sit down and listen to a whole record or take that time. There’s just something about getting to the point to me that I even really enjoy. And also, the record is probably – I’m gonna guess – 30 minutes in all. It hits you and then it’s like one of those things to be continued. It felt like a good first moment for us.
Let me confess Jordan that I’m certainly no studio engineer or producer or anything of the sort. But, for lack of a more professional term or terms, there’s a lot of studio stuff (laughs) stacked onto some of these songs. Specifically, “Over and Over” and “Wanna Don’t Wanna” are two prime examples. I understand the studio team included folks who worked with everyone from Depeche Mode to Chris Stapleton, Beck to the Black Keys. How did that melting pot of musical minds sort of enhance the sound of the album?
I would say we were just really lucky to run into the right people at the right time. We were just really lucky that in the last couple weeks of this record we just started sending songs off to people we thought would have a good time with them and kinda help take them to another spot. And sure enough it worked out.
How long were you in the studio?
It’s one of those things where we’ve always kind of recorded and then we just ran with the version that was hitting us in the gut and felt right for this record. Yeah, something about these ones back-to-back – “Ritual” for instance and “Fools Gold” – those were only songs a week before the record came out.
So, the fact that those made it on and kinda tied it together really felt special to me.
Let me ask you specifically about “I Want You.” To me, that’s a standout track…
…and it sounds like it would be a solid addition to John Lennon’s solo catalog.
Oh, how cool is that! That means a lot to me because I love John Lennon so much.
You nailed it, yeah! I absolutely am crazy about John Lennon. I gotta say that song, “Wanna Don’t Wanna” and “I Want You” were both the only ones we played out live before the record was released. It just felt like one of those things where it was instant. Once we played it we all knew that that was gonna be an album track because people had already been singing the chorus back at us before it was even out in the world.
Of course, this won’t shock you, but I’m a confessed John Lennon freak as well.
Oh, that’s awesome!
You guys formed in 2012. Why the wait for your debut album, Jordan?
Yeah, exactly. I fully understand. We were touring for probably about three-and-a-half years straight. And it got to the point that first of all there wasn’t a lot of down time because we were out getting these opportunities. Things like going out with the Pixies and playing with Black Sabbath and getting all these opportunities before we had a record in the bag. It kinda felt special to me to not force the record. Have that upside down and backward feeling of going, look, we’re playing in arenas across North America with Black Sabbath and we have no record and we’re just out on a few singles. There was something really special about that. And now, having a record going on almost seven years of Reignwolf, it’s kept it really special. We’re so excited to be out playing on brand new music. And we’re kinda living on the edge again because these songs are so fresh for us.
I’d say that there’s a lot to be said about mystic, as well. We of course talked out our mutual love of John Lennon, so, speaking of legendary artists, you guys have tour dates running through August 18 at Woodstock 50. How does it feel to be associated in any way, shape or form with that historic festival?
Well, I just found out that we were playing on Sunday, and Jimi Hendrix played on the Sunday. And also Canned Heat is playing that day and those are both two artists I grew up listening to. And then also seeing any of the footage of even Santana back in the day. He was just killing it at Woodstock! And then also there is the set from the one I think in ’94. Nine Inch Nails did one that was just dangerous! Somebody had sent it to me when they heard we were playing Woodstock, and I watched a little bit of it and I was just like, man it feels so good to be a part of that, and again on the Sunday as well. On the last day. There’s just this energy to it. I’m really excited that we could be on a bill with JAY-Z and Canned Heat on the same day. It just seems so crazy to me. It’s gonna be an amazing day and festival. I’m really excited about it.
Oh, my goodness! That’s so hard! Well, Black Sabbath I gotta say because they were so good to us. But, also Reignwolf would not be a band if it wasn’t for Ben Shepherd from Soundgarden because he introduced me to Joseph, our drummer. And the fact is he was also the one that kinda invited me to go to Seattle in the first place and go check it out and hang out around there. So, he kinda gave us our start. So, today I’m gonna say Soundgarden, tomorrow I’m gonna say Black Sabbath and the next day I’m gonna say Nirvana (laughs). Because seeing Nirvana in that time – or hypothetically tomorrow – would be just unbelievable. They’re all so iconic and special. I love them all for the same reasons and different reasons.
Very cool, man. Alright, take care. Bye-bye.
Take care, man. Bye now.