Get to Know | Wolfe Belkin


Wolfey_1.jpgI sit with my notes in an ornately detailed wooden chair. Oddly enough, the expertly carved ivy that I rest my left palm on top of fails to capture any of my prolonged contemplation as it stands in the shadow of the many other exquisite items of furniture, technology, and general intrigue that occupy the vertically endowed living room that I find myself contently admiring. It may also be that this chair is hidden by the literal darkness of a room illuminated modestly by a far from modest dimmer-switch-equipped chandelier. I hold the complacent gaze of a child-sized Virgin Mary statuette lurking in a shadow across the room. I can't help myself from furrowing my brow in disbelief - this is no student home. It is instead the den of Wolfe Belkin, musical wunderkind, industry mogul to-be, and some sort of genius, though he wouldn't say so himself. He's inexplicably cool, in that timeless sort of way, and although this aura and dwelling at first appear to be the product of either his effortless sensibility or a trusty little trust fund, I come to realize that hiding behind my host's superfluously adorned hand-crafted Italian sunglasses is a piercing gaze that reflects the true source of his lair's aforementioned swagger in it's entirety; his brain. Beneath his deceptive air of nonchalance hums a relentlessly contemplative mind, because ultimately, Wolfe Belkin is one strange mother-fucker.

"Were there any other specific people that influenced your coming into creativity?" I ask at one point. "In reality?" He replies. The subwoofer under his desk patters at my shins to the rhythm of Roy Ayer's classic, "Everybody Loves The Sunshine." In one graceful motion, my host reclines back in his chair whilst dragging on his ceramic pipe. A moment after removing the piece from his lips, a milky pillar slinks gracefully into his left nostril. He exhales as Mr. Ayer's background vocalists praise, "my life - my life - my life - my life - In the sunshine."

Wolfe is currently tying up the loose ends of his Undergraduate Degree at McGill University, having now successfully bared the academic weight of a double major in the particularly demanding fields of History and Philosophy for a full four years. His indifferent reaction to my question concerning his considerable workload makes it unclear as to whether or not he regrets his fresh-faced decision to pursue the University's coveted Honors program; a program widely considered by the general student body to be a guaranteed pain-in-the-ass. Nonetheless, his hands are all but clean of the experience now. Soon, if all goes accordingly, one cursively inclined, fountain pen wielding official will provide the final confirmation of this feat. In a tone that seems to alternate between shades of pride, modesty, and humor, he confesses that this was not the only degree that he completed in this time frame. Sporting the decal of Boston, Massachusetts' world-renowned Berklee School of Music, his first-ever acquired degree, a diploma in Electronic Music Production and Sound Design, hangs from a wall in his Vancouver home, waiting for company.

Parallel to his academic career is a budding, but equally impressive career in music. He has a four track acoustic EP titled Decadence on Saturday, that has received an esteemed reaction from the local Vancouver indie scene. Late 2011, his debut eletronic release, Sleep Country, put out on his own start up label, Blenheim & Celtic, garnered international attention.

So how exactly does a pipe-smoking, scholarly musican and creatively-inclined being find the time, or even the motivation to pursue so many lofty endeavours? Shannon, local and revered Vancouver artist, along with Wolfey's mother, helps to shed some light on his peculiar nature:

Long ago, when Wolfey was just a wee tike, still fumbling with activities like organized sport, his tee-ball team was having their season end barbecue. Now, he was already considered to be something of an odd duck amongst the team, but his actions that evening truly affirmed this notion. On top of his baseball uniform, Wolfey donned a full-length trench coat and matching floppy hat, making him look like a miniature noir-fiction detective. The team was apparently used to his excentricities by this point, so after his initial entrance, young Wolfe almost blended in. As the afternoon went on, the barbecue's attendees mulled about the back yard, enjoying their burgers and anecdotes. Shannon did a quick scan for her son, but couldn't spot his Sherlock-ian get up anywhere. But, just as she were about to utter her concern, a little voice demanded the attention of the party. From the host's roof stood a Wolfe-sized Batman, with his hands proudly stuck to his hips. "Hey everyone, look at me!" he shouted, before whisking away into the closest window, his cape billowing in the June wind.

Wolfe is a unique specimen indeed. He could very well have reclined into the comfort of his family's money, but in stark opposition to this notion he proves time and time again that he is one of the more driven individuals that I have ever met. He certainly disrupts the growing societal inclination raised by the recent Occupy movements that the wealthy are merely indulged misers. Wolfe is no such thing. He is a uniquely creative-entity and rare-intellect, and if you aspire to be anything of the sort, then I implore you to listen to his music and indulge in the thoughts that I picked from his brain (bellow), because his motivation surely reflects what one would hope to be their own.

He's currently in the process of re-releasing his acoustic material, so please enjoy this, his latest product, the Sleep Country EP, via the link below

Wolfey - Sleep Country

The Interview:

S: When did you start creating?

W: In my dorm room in my boarding school in Los Angeles.

S: Not younger?

W: That's when I started writing my own songs.

S: How old were you at the time?

W: 15...16

S: Some say art is all mimicry. At a young age, what were those first tracks you covered?

W: we can actually check that out...(laughs) some of these songs.... Some Elliott Smith, some Iggy Pop, some Simon and Garfunkel, some Belle and Sebastien, some Girls, some Bright Eyes, Devendra Banhart,

S: Was there any one specific influence that really...

W: ... Bob Dylan, white stripes....

S: ... held significance?

W: Actually, yeah. At the very beginning I'd probably say, uh, like the white stripes and the elephent record.

S: Yeah, you can hear it.

W: It made me want to write songs.. and I love singing those songs, like The Hardest Button to Button. I also loved the record before that too, White blood Cells. It had Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground on there and a few other awesome songs. But yeah, that's how I gota into those bluesy, sparse, pop-rock tunes... I would say.

S: Was being away at boarding school; being away from home... did that have any influence on your artistic realization, so to speak? Was it the environment, or just that time in your life?

W: It was probably a bit of both because I hadn't branched out and made friends with a lot of people. I just kindof made one really good friend who was really into music. But he was kind of an amateur. He had a guitar in his room that he occasionally picked up. And, I dunno, I was just sitting in my room and I had not a lot to do. And I remember I wrote that tune, Decadence on Saturday, and I have no idea why...

S: Was that the first one?

W: yeah, the first recognizable song. I dunno, yeah, I guess it was just because I had nothing else going on. I didn't really take it very seriously..

S: Until people started responding?

W: Well not even actually (laughs).

S: Obviously, Juan was one of them, but were there any other specific people that your coming into creativity?

W: In reality? (laughs)

S: Personally, yeah, from actually working with someone..

W: Well, my writing, not so much, but we got into playing with this guy, Al, who was like Charlie's gardner, and we did a lot of practices with him, and yeah, you know, music was always a really good time with them, but it didn't really influence my writing very much. I don't think so no. Maybe, actually Charlie is the only other person because he just writes so many songs, with really good hooks. I like good melodies and good lyrical hooks. And every once in a while he'd just come up with a golden line.

S: How'd you go about writing a song back then? Let's begin with the process specifically.

W: I'd usually pick up my guitar and start strumming chords until I found a 3 or 4 chord progression I liked and I would start humming on top of that, usually something in a minor key. Usually, like I said, I was doing a lot of blues songs, and a lot of them were in the minor pentatonic scale, and I'd just hum over top of it, noodling on the guitar until I found a melody that I liked, and I'd just stick in words as they came into my head, and eventually some sort of lyrical foundation would emerge from the mood that was happening with the rhythm and the chord progression and I'd just work around that mood; that atmosphere.

S: And is that how you go about things now?

W: I'm trying to be a little more... to have a little more of an idea, even if it changes, I wanna have more of a plan going into it and knowing exactly what kind of sound I wanna go for; what kind of artist it'd remind you of; what kind of record label you would want to be on; describe the type of people that would like to listen to your music? What other kinds of music do they listen to? And like, other considerations, like is your music made for chilling on an every day basis, or are you going to make dance tunes? I think these are all important considerations to make. Audience. Audience is really important... in any form writing.

S: I've heard you say that melody comes pretty naturally to you. Can you describe this process? Or does it simply materialize?

W: Well, Its kind of a mystery. I'd actually like to do some research in to it myself. Like, why the hell do some notes, in sequence, together, only those notes, excluding other notes, why do they sound good to us, and different combinations, like they're perfectly good notes, but for some reason they don't sound good to us, those paterns. There are certain patterns in melody, and in rhythm, that just sound fuckin' good.

S: 4/4...3/4....they're hardwired into us.

W: Yeah, I don't really know why they sound good, but they do, and I think that if any thing, being a music creator, is having an ear for what you like, and when you hear it - you can identify it, immedietley. Like when I'm going through my new music, well it'll sound like I'm not giving it a chance, but I'll get 16 bars into a tune, and I can kind of tell if I'm going to be interested or not, and eventually, I think that you just develop your ear, you hear what's missing, what could be there, and it's not always bang on, but it does feel as if it comes naturally to some extent. I mean, its probably to do with the fact that I just listen to a lot of music. I think that it also probably had something to with... I started playing violin when I was really young and I have this theory, I have no backing behind it, no substantial proof, but I figure that if you get a kid making music at a really young age that it can really imprint a sense of rhythm, and melody, and just over-all musicality.

There are some kids though, who are technically so much more skilled than I will ever be, at the piano, for instance, but a lot of people wouldn't necessarily describe them as being creative.

S: What are your lyrics about? Fiction? Non-fiction?

W; Both. Mostly, there's just kindof a combination of an atmosphere and an emotional feeling, and its just images that evoke that feeling, and sometimes some elements may have some inspiration from my personal experiences, but very loosely, like no song is about any one thing in particular.

S: You've recently been focusing on making electronic music. Why the switch?

I don't intend to stop making acoustic music, I may not be making songs in that style... but I might do songs with just my guitar and my voice I guess, but I found that it became really limiting. I was working in the same scales... I did like the songs... but I didn't have any flexibility with the sounds I could use. Basically, I just wanted to know how to produce. In the future, the producer has so much more flexibility to articulate their sounds. Like I said, you could be a pianist on stage in front of a bunch of rich people, but if you don't know how to produce, then that's the only sound you'll ever be able to make. I'm interested in so many different sounds. I wanted more than just my voice and my guitar through garage band, and not have to pay some studio producer to do it for me. That's bullshit. That's no way to go about creating something. I want to be able to just sit in my studio and just chill, just experiment. The thing is though, its like learning a new instrument, like if you compare it to learning how to play the guitar. I'm really not that far into producing. But.... I don't even know if that answered the question..

S: You're on track: Why the switch to electronic music?

W: Oh I don't even think I've been answering that question. Well, I want to use my voice in my productions... pretty soon, but I still havn't figured out what sound I want use... what I want to go for.

S: That's certainly a defining statement...

W: I feel that's one way.... It is one of my strong suits. I've never claimed to be a guitar player, but that's the one instrument that I'm actually comfortable using, my voice, but it's going to require some thought, some work. I've come realize: anyone who's making music these days, hey must have some knowledge of production, or at least have a friend who's a producer. How do these indie bands make records? They don't shell out and go in to a professional studio. How do they find these experimental sounds? You can only do this in an environment where you can actually experiment at leisure, and that's what affordable software and the internet has enabled any kid who's half interested in making beats....anyone who wants to make music can now conceivably do so. Especially with electronic music, which is not surprising. You can make huge dance tunes on Fruity Loops, which is free! Skream, to the best of my knowledge, still uses Fruity Loops to make his beats. It's a completely amature production work station, but he likes it because its so simple that he knows it like the back of his hand. Rusko uses Acid Pro, which is even simpler and with less capabilities. These are simpler equivalents to programmes like Ableton Live or Logic. But one thing that I've been hearing from a lot of producers and musicians is that all this technology, all these choices actually slow you down a tremendous amount, because you have too many avenues to fiddle around, too many instruments and you never actually connect with one of them. I think its important to not get lost in all the choices you have. I mean, all the synthesizers and sampled sounds... You need to make decisions and finish your songs; finish your work. That's something I'm still working on.

S: Thank you for your time and thoughts, Wolfe.

W: Thank you for yours.

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