A Few Words With A. Wolf and Her Claws By Matt Beachey
Aby Wolf is no newcomer to the Minneapolis music scene. Aside from the solo album she released back in 2009, she’s worked with Dark Dark Dark, rapper Omaur Bliss, and (perhaps most notably) performed alongside Dessa both live and in the studio. But it wasn’t until last April, when A. Wolf and Her Claws released their eponymous debut, that she really started to hold the attention of her hometown. Aby’s debut album was folksy and sparse. On A. Wolf and Her Claws, her voice, layered upon itself indefinitely, takes up more space than all of the instrumentation combined in her solo album.
But creating this new, expansive sound wasn’t about Aby maximizing her efforts. It was an exercise in relinquishing that control, trusting her new bandmates and collaborators, and not being afraid to just throw everything out the window and start completely anew. Aby and Jesse Whitney, the band’s synth player and programming mastermind, sat down with me recently on a scorching summer day to talk about keeping your musical ego in check, serendipitous collaboration, and being musically polygamous.
“With a lot of bands, there’s one person in the group who’s got the vision and everyone else is essentially hired to fill a specific role that they designate, being essentially disposable. We made a point of not doing that from the get-go,” Aby said. Though their name might imply otherwise, A. Wolf and Her Claws is far more than Aby Wolf and a backing band. Nominally, Aby is the frontwoman, providing vocals and personality, but often her voice plays a wordless supporting role to a sea of synthesizers and beats provided by the rest of the band.
“Our songwriting process usually involves everybody throwing in their own parts—it’s like whoever puts their hand in the circle first pushes it one way, and somebody else puts their hand on top of that.” The result is something that’s familiar enough to dance to but disorienting enough to avoid synthpop clichés. It’s dark, but not brooding. It’s music in constant motion, driven by industrial rhythms that at first sound too rough for Aby’s pure, glossy voice, but like the image of her face among a table of vegetables on the album’s cover, the initially jarring combination only feels more right the more time you give it.
The Claws portion of the band is filled out by Jesse, who plays synths and programs a variety of electronic sounds; Joey Van Phillips on drums; and Linnea Mohn on keyboards and backing vocals. They originally got together for a single performance as part of a concert series at the Cedar Cultural Center that grouped musicians who’d never worked together into one-time bands.
“Since we started as a one-off project, we had a unique trial period before we decided we wanted to be a permanent band. We didn’t really make that call until we could tell all of the pieces were falling together, and it ended up being this effortless collaboration,” Jesse said.
Aby and Jesse credit the band’s success as an ensemble on the fact that every member is involved in their own side projects. “We’ve all got strong musical egos, but all of us have our own side projects, allowing us to be more flexible with this project, which none of us have total control over. [Having multiple projects] also provides a sense of creative release. Like, if I have an idea that just doesn't work out with this band, I can put it somewhere else,” Aby said.
The diverse nature of the members’ musical backgrounds and side projects is reflected in the wide variety of sounds they snuck into their debut. Drummer Joey Van Philips occasionally throws some vibraphone in the mix, Linnea Mohn tempers the dense electronics with ethereal piano lines when the mood strikes, and on the final track of the album, Aby harkens back to her solo show loop-pedal days, as the song is nothing but her layered voice.
“Sometimes you have to blindly trust the ability of other people you’re working with. Not knowing where something is going can yield the most interesting results, as long as you’re comfortable with the process of getting there.”
You can purchase music from A. Wolf and Her Claws here.