With their unique blend of theatre and music, Wool Sucker chat to us about what it means to be a “supernatural art rock” band.
Russian water spirits, Shakespeare, The Little Mermaid and, of course, cats. These are just a few of the things Wool Sucker draw on for inspiration in their awesomely unique brand of folk-rock, and if that doesn’t intrigue you, then you’ve come to the wrong place. We spoke to vocalist Alex and co-songwriter and spoken-word performer Elizagrace about the mythological underpinnings of their music, and – we just had to know – the story behind their mystifying and innocently obscene name.
Could you introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about yourselves and the band?
Alex: There’s five of us total – me, Elizagrace, Andrew on keys, Jeff on guitar, and Cody on drums. Elizagrace and I are the songwriters, but every tune is really built by the band. Before Elizagrace and I started Wool Sucker the four of us had actually been playing together in various configurations for about three years, so we were able to really hit the ground running musically. We’re from all across the country and we all ended up in New York and met through school and music and happenstance. Then for this album our producer, Kevin Salem, was working with some friends of ours and (lucky for us) liked what we were doing – he was such a guiding force as we were trying to figure out how to bring this strange little thing into the world.
Elizagrace: Right, so I’m Elizagrace. Alex and I write all the tunes together, and when we do the live show we replace the usual between-tunes banter with some offbeat spoken performance and that’s my bit – I leave the singing and the playing of music to those better equipped. My background is in theater, rather than music – I’m actually mostly a playwright and a poet and writing as Wool Sucker is still a really special joy for me. After two years I still feel so lucky to be working with such a fabulous group of musicians who are excited to build out our strange world with us.
So, the name Wool Sucker is certainly interesting! Is there a particular story behind it?
Elizagrace: It sounds vaguely obscene, right? It’s actually the most innocent thing, but we both love that it makes people a bit uncomfortable.
Alex: Wool Sucker actually comes from our cat, Max. When he was a kitten he was infatuated with a fuzzy robe of mine and would always chew it and knead it. I later found this was called “wool sucking” – it’s such a gross and obscene-sounding term for something cute and harmless. I think those juxtapositions are rich and interesting. Also we want to horn in on the cat-obsessed culture of the internet and ride that wave to stardom!
Who would you say are your main influences? Do they differ between
Alex: They differ between members. They differ between songs. We listened to Soundgarden and Sturgill Simpson on the way up to the recording session if that gives any indication. Your assessment of the Radiohead and Wilco influences are spot on. There’s probably some Nick Cave in there, too. Maybe some other grunge.
Elizagrace: Yeah, I listened to a whole lot of Nick Cave when we were writing this album. And Tom Waits. And some Hozier. And PJ Harvey. Murder ballads and lullabies – they’ve got those delightfully visceral images. We’ve all got pretty wide-ranging musical taste, so plenty of random sounds tend to sneak in there.
In your Facebook bio, I noticed that you like to bring “magicalrealism, folk tales and mythology” to your music. What was the inspiration behind this idea? Do you feel that music should tell a story?
Alex: Hah – yes, when we were figuring out our genre we finally landed on “supernatural art rock.” We don’t know what it means and we like it that way. I don’t think all music needs to tell a story but we gave ourselves some specific rules for writing Wool Sucker songs. As for the magic and folk tales, they’re often stand-ins for things we don’t or can’t understand. By treating them as real we can let the metaphor grow and play, rather than try to contain it and harness it.
Elizagrace: I don’t think music should tell a story, but I think it usually does. I’m biased, admittedly, since I’m a playwright, but I think humans make stories out of anything you put in front of us. If you don’t give us details, we just fill them in ourselves. That’s why the simplest songs can make you just sob sometimes. For Wool Sucker, though, when Alex and I sat down to write together we were extremely sure that we didn’t want to add to the mass of sort of generic love songs out in the world.
I think people are drawn to the kind of heightened language of fairy tales or religion or magic when they’re trying to process things that feel larger than life. I also personally just like tiny, sidelong stories that happen in our peripheral vision, rather than grand epic
events. From my point of view, all of our tunes are sort of using thatlens to explore different corners of this strange, offset world we’re making.
Focusing on your new release ‘Rusalka (Drown With Me)’, it’s quite a melancholic, sombre track, what was the inspiration behind it?
Elizagrace: I think I probably have to take the blame for this one, and my slight obsession with Russian fairytales and myth. Rusalka are these Russian water spirits (possibly ghosts – opinions vary) that live in dark, isolated ponds and lure young men to their death. Uncomplicated evil, right? Except obviously, our song is from the point of view of the rusalka. I got really caught on what it would mean to be caught in this endless moment of drowning.
Russian stories have a dark & delicate sort of detailed richness that I can’t get enough of. I’m also really, really interested in flipping
stories around and looking at them through the point of view of the silent characters – who are so often women. I’m also pretty fond of having Alex sing songs written from the point of view of female characters. I always want more of those.
Alex: And I had a couple little seeds of musical ideas that fit in with what Elizagrace had without much manhandling. There were some small bits left to fill in to make it a real song, then we took it to the band; what I had originally envisioned as a small, nervous, twitchy track obviously changed into something very, very different once we got it in the room. Cody, Jeff, and Andrew have an incredible ability to tease out what a song needs from what I actually say.
What can we expect from the rest of your new album? Are there any
particular folk tales and/or mythology that you’ve drawn on?
Elizagrace: Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t get much more cheerful. We do like the darker colors. And watery moments – we’ve been joking that this is going to be our water and air album. There’s a few more-familiar fairytales, and a scattering of saints, named and unnamed – my mother was born Catholic and a certain amount of baroque ritual came down in the blood. A little bit of Shakespeare is hidden in there, and my personal favorite that’s rarely noticed is our own tiny lament for the Little Mermaid. It sounds so pretentious when I say it all out loud! Really, it’s all just a way to connect with a moment, and then we write from there.
Alex: Not to mention our own brand of magical realism cobbled together from various things we’ve stolen. It’s been a really rewarding challenge to genuinely address magic in a song and not tip over into Robert Plant yowling about The Lord of the Rings. Not that I don’t love Led Zeppelin, but it’s not our vibe.
When can we expect the album to drop?
Alex: January 19th, 2018!
Elizagrace: It’ll be up on our website, and on streaming services, and all of those online places that you listen to music. And everyone on our mailing list gets an early access heads up when it goes on sale (along with some special bonus material), so come to the site and sign up! (http://www.woolsucker.com)
Have you got any gigs lined up?
Elizagrace: We do! We’re around New York for the holidays, so if you’re also here for the winter, come have a warming whiskey with us.
Alex: November 30th, 10PM at Silvana, December 17th, 7PM at The Branded Saloon and January 19th, 7PM at Pianos.
Can we expect you in the UK any time soon?
Alex: We have no plans but high hopes. Got any ideas?
Elizagrace: Alex doesn’t have any plans. I’m plotting regularly. All of our band members actually make it over the Atlantic remarkably often, but we haven’t yet managed a tour. In my other career I’m also a huge fan of a number of UK theater companies, so I’m pushing pretty hard for an extended visit/tour sometime soon.
Wool Sucker’s debut album ‘Plastic Wings’ is available on January 19th, 2018.