Few young bands would turn down the opening spot on Coldplay’s U.S. tour. Certainly not Wolf Gang, the alternative orchestral pop-rock group that opened for the fellow Brits at the nearly sold-out concert at Time Warner Cable Arena in July.
Aside from the Coachella Festival in May and shows in L.A. and New York, the Coldplay tour was Wolf Gang’s first in the U.S. Between that prime slot and ample play on satellite and college radio stations, the group is quickly making a name for itself stateside. Its concert Saturday, originally scheduled for Stage Door Theater, had to be moved to the larger Booth Playhouse.
“There’s something romantic about trying to come to America. Because of recording the album here (in upstate New York with producer Dave Fridmann), the tour with Coldplay, and we’ve been lucky with indie radio stations, there’s a bit of a chance for us if we invest the time to come back to America,” says founder and frontman Max McElligott.
“It is such a vast country with different people, different cultures and backdrops, mountains, deserts, forest – that makes it exciting, too. There’s something special about it.”
That kind of romanticism colors Wolf Gang’s songs.
Although England’s New Romantic movement in the ’70s and early ’80s was more about fashion than romance, there’s certainly a through-line between the new wave pop of English bands like Duran Duran, ABC, and Spandau Ballet and the swelling synthesizers, musical layers, and playful, infectious pop hooks of Wolf Gang singles like “The King and All of His Men” and “Lions in Cages.”
McElligott wrote the debut album alone before recruiting Fridmann, who has worked with Flaming Lips and MGMT. The American producer brought “an incredibly clean sound” and “sheen” to the project. Now working on its follow-up as a full band, Wolf Gang’s debut, “Suego Faults,” features tracks that are pop songs on the surface. But McElligott created maps of layers within the music.
“It really excites me narrating these parts and the parts weaving in with each other. I think my mother being a violinist and going to classical concerts as a child, I got a taste for grand orchestration,” says McElligott.
“It’s nice to have that going on – nice silences and juxtaposition. So many songs I was writing when I was still studying (social anthropology). I was putting a song together in my head while I was listening to lectures. Songwriting to me is quite romantic.” (He’d actually planned a dissertation on the idea of romance being a Western construct, before dropping out to focus on music).
Although its origins can be traced as much to British new wave and rock as to the symphony, Wolf Gang doesn’t necessarily sound blatantly British thanks to McElligott’s singing.
“I sing the way that I find pleasant,” he says. “It sounds quite trans-Atlantic. It doesn’t sound like you’re singing in a totally English accent. It’s more singing words and rounding off harsh edges. There are English singers – David Bowie or Elton John or even Chris Martin and Coldplay or U2 – so many classic bands that the singer sings in a way that isn’t that American or that English.”