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Rock At Night chats with French alt-folk musician ‘Wooden Wolf’

Wooden Wolf and José Oliveira

By José Oliveira, Rock At Night Columnist and Alain Moreau, Photographer-Colmar, France

SEWEN – East of France – at his home!  21 March 2016

MUSIC LINE PRODUCTIONS and ED & N invited a young and talented artist to support MURRAY HEAD’s Concert in Sausheim. WOODEN WOLF is a real mystery. He didn’t steal the show from the man who became rich with only two world big hits: “A Night In Bangkok” and “Say It Ain’t So, Joe”– but when he began to sing, the hall became a Cathedral! His  sophisticated sense of  shady atmospheres and a perfectly bashed up and powerful voice, playing folk music melodies which seize Neil Young’s universe! His real name, ALEX KEILING.

We talked  with Murray Head backstage. He was so surprised to see Rock At Night coming to his show! He told us he had never  been in Florida but would like to go soon! We said that we asked for an interview and we never had an answer! He was really upset with that and asked to his Tour Manager the reasons of that proceeding.  He promised to phone us and  make  a phone interview. I have contacted Mercury,  his record Company in France. No answer till this day! The same old story, with managers and record companies not doing well their job!!

So, we decided some days after this great show, to drive 150 kms and listen to the Wooden Wolf! 

RAN-The other evening at the ED & N in Sausheim, people  were  completely fooled when they heard you. From your first words, there was  a silent communion in this room! Everybody did not expect this beautiful surprise! The Wooden Wolf! Who really are you? In what forest do you run? Can you tell us a little your route?

Wooden Wolf My name is Alex Keiling.  I was born in Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a small island of New Earth, in Canada, of a Mother born in Quebec and a  French Father born here in  Alsaace. We returned in Alsace very early, [which is] where I grew up!

RAN-How did you come to the music?

 WW- My parents  were music lovers. They made me listen to a lot of all kinds of music. My Mother sang at home. They  registered me to the Academy and I began playing Saxophone during  six years. At the age where we discover all the rock bands, I wanted rather to play guitar than sax. While my Parents  spoke to me rather about Leonard Cohen,  I made a lot of electric guitar, when Nirvana was in full explosion. But when we are young, love is all around! And then at 15,  the first loving break made me write my first song. Since then, I realized which good was  for me writing songs. And I’m here to stay!

RAN-Your  songs put me go back in time! I mean, they take me to the good moments of my youth. Camping time! Crazy long nights playing guitar on the beaches of my Country, Portugal!  Good times, wood fire, hair to the four winds, being passed around guitars. By the way, our souls of hypersensitive teenager!

RAN – Do you have the feeling that we can feel that by listening to your songs?

WW- I played last year in Portugal and you’re right, there’s something more exotic in the south! Well,  for sure,   I understand the young and spontaneous side of life, like to play around a campfire. I also made it with some friends, even if the times they’re changing! Well, if you play guitar is a good level to live and touch romantic situations!!

RAN- What were your musical influences?

WW-As I said before, my Father’s music listening  at home were really determined as a big influence on me.  They listened to much into classical music, to World Music and then, of course, to the Masters of the seventies as Cat Stevens or Pink Floyd!  And then, the influences which we find ourselves, by digging with  friends. From  Sixteen to my Twenty years old, I really discovered my mentors: Bonnie Prince Billy, Jason Molina or bands like The Dirty Three. Well, also Leonard Cohen or Neil Young. But I had more  a great deal with classical music. I grow up with. Is something that relaxes me a lot. It’s bewitching. Listening to all the time sung texts can bother me rather fast. In reality, I don’t  listen to many kinds of  music!

RAN- This sounds very strange ? No?

WW- Certainly not!  I also studied musicology and  working with classical music pleases me enormously. There is wealth in this approach.

RAN – I feel your music is a link between the blues and Neil Young on stage  …

WW-Wow! I can only say thank you so much! I’m very proud to hear that. Anyway what we call Folk, Country music or Blues– it is  a very old story. Both, they  tell the evil to be, to exorcise it and, yeah, it is what I’m doing and so many others artists  also–according to the branch of the tree that we choose!

RAN-After all, your compositions speak  about real life or imaginary things?

WW- Well, there is a little of everything. A little autobiography obviously exists but also is a way of exorcising what is personal. What is autobiographical– is to sublimate it. To transfigure things also. It allows to better exorcise our own troubles!

RAN- I also feel your songs  as a backdrop in the movie world. Would you see yourself doing a convergence on this direction?

WW– Very good question! Yeah.  Last year I made music for a short film and in a more important way, quite recently, I was contacted by a real international movie production, which has to go out this year.  Unfortunately, I cannot too much reveal the name. I hope you’ll understand. But it is something which I am delighted a lot!

RAN- With a French director?

WW- No. It’s an Irishwoman but the story will take place in the United States. I cannot say more but it is really a big international production! It’s  like a dream coming true. There will be five or six songs in this movie. That’s all I can say!

RAN-I read in your biography this sentence which pleases me a lot: “The Wooden Wolf may not howl or hum or  joke or  moan, but he’ ll do it in the moonlight, when the night is blue”. Your music has  a special link with the mysterious night world.

Can you describe us the universe of  Moonlight Serenades, your last work?

WW-I think the night  is the universe of all  artists! It ‘s also a shadow’s kingdom! When all other things fall asleep, the art can wake up. At night, we are much peaceful and everything resounds  better.  I swim in peaceful waters when heavy things come at night!

RAN-I don’t  like surrounding an artist in a label but how could you  define your music?

WW- Me too. Labels are not my “cup of tea” but  I can say I feel my music is very spontaneous and sincere, trying to be the simplest as possible and by this way, it also crosses the raw side. Sometimes it can be skinned, maybe also clumsy  but  this clumsiness  represents the human side of  music. I am not there to make music created in a studio too clean. I like hearing the breaths. Hear the parquet  creaking. I like when the rhythm is carried away or slows down–what we call “Robato” in the classical music. Today in studios we take much more care about the tempo. With that method people want to keep a perfect rhythm. I find that so absurd. It is an ineptitude in the fact. Given that, the music is only a reflection of the human being, ourselves, we are not regular. And it’s what makes us vibrate most. Then, to try to play on a right tempo, I find that terribly reduced!

RAN-You seem to refuse all the major record companies in this business. Are you completely independent?

WW-Yeah! Till this moment! I think that we can still be independent and still have one foot in the business.  Even if I consider that’s not my case. Without betraying itself too much either. I say that because I am certainly going to sign this year with an important label–but a label which will respect  my freedom, which is very hard to find nowadays.

RAN- A major record company?

WW- Not at all.  An independent one. People who are at first,  independent musicians at their roots,  and who understand better my fears and my desires. Well, it is true that I have never wanted to put my feet inside there.  Music today has a lot of  inhuman aspects. I try to remain rather human.  It’s exactly for that I want set traps and stay independent. At the moment I am on good terms myself. Thus, everything goes well!

RAN-Are you rather werewolf or solitary wolf?

WW- (a short moment of reflection) Well, nobody asked me that before! Werewolf?( Laughs ).  Finally both I think! Both, in a sense , that’s  at night when many things take place,.The solitary Wolf it’s little a myth!  In reality, the Wolf, is an animal which lives in pack, respects the real hierarchy, the real respect for others … The solitary Wolf is very rare! It’s an animal which was chased away by its caste. I think it’s much more  a human invention! But as I’m a “WOODEN WOLF”, I am also conscious not to be a real wolf!!! Well, we can say  I am a Solitary Wolf. Even if  long solitude’s moments, hurts me and link me to meet people! But inspiration comes better on this solitude times!

RAN-Well, I wish you have a dominant Wolf’s status!

WW-( laughs) Well, of course! I am going to remain the Alpha Wolf! It seems so obvious but it is true that a lot of people complies. It’s so  sad!

RAN- To play face to face with Murray Head’s audience should be an interesting experience for you.  How did this invitation as a support band for Murray Head happen?

WW-I just  made a request  to the local promoter,  explaining  that Murray Head rocked my youth and  I found that it was perfectly coherent to open the show. It took a longtime negotiation, because Murray Head is a big artist, who brews many intermediaries, producers and all that staff.  I am so delighted to have do it!

RAN-Are you touring  at present?

WW- Well,  I just finished some dates last February. After opening for Murray Head, my tour ended with a concert in the Basilica of Nancy! A great moment! A wonderful place with a sublime acoustics. It was kind of magic!  A beautiful and warm audience! Now, I will have some concerts next April and will be free in May! I’m thinking about to go to Canada this summer. It will be great to return on my native land! I will be 30 this year! So, I found my birthday’s present! (laughs)

RAN-What guitars do you have on stage?

WW-I play acoustic and electric guitar. Their brands are not very important for me. What is important  is the sound! I tried a lot of acoustic ones but I was seduced by an old Martin which has a smell of cigars boxes! There’s a special heat on this guitar! I have an amplifier  Marshall Island which I bought when I was 16 years old. He does perfectly the job. I am not a big fanatic of guitars brands, as most  musicians are. I also have a  Fender Jazz Master and a Fender Blues Deluxe which simply  respects the fat, grave and hot side. I like a heavy sound. My two guitars  go out of tune–a tone down completely.

RAN-What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

WW- I don’t love Mozart but I think there are some zests of melancholy on his Concerto for Piano Number 23. You know, the happiest people always make sad music! But it relaxes me a lot.

RAN- And what’s about modern music?

WW-When I am eaten up with envy, I like taking refuge with the Australian universe of The Dirty Three. Their charismatic leader  is  Nick Cave’s violinist and he’s really fantastic. Their wild and rough side pleases me a lot. All the artists I listen to, I noticed that  by chance, they are connected to a same studio or producer. In this case,  Steve Albini. I noticed that they had all made their  CDs with that Producer. Certainly a great coincidence! Bonnie Prince Billy and his former band Palace Brothers are my favourites ones. Also  Jason Molina, who died two years ago.

RAN-We are so happy  to come to your house and  discover the great environment where you live. Here in the border of a beautiful forest, at the foot of mountains, we have no doubt that  It will have a  big influence on your writing proceeding!

WW-Yeah! It’s really true! It allows me into a peaceful world. I need loneliness to find my inspiration. Silence is golden!

RAN – When we see all the draws on the cover of your second album “Moonlight Serenades, we feel a strange kind of thing! Something not in adequacy with a love serenade! You know what I mean?

WW-Strange? Well, It’s true that I illustrated the other two albums but not this one. That one was illustrated by someone else.  But why do you see it so strange?

RAN Well, we see cute bodies, a girl with a male head under the arm … There is an imaging set completely as far from a  serenade …

WW-It’s a serenade of twilight, in the light of the moon … The main intention of the girl who made these draws was to show that love can also destroy ourselves!. I only spoke to her about. I like very much the woman who cries and who has the son in his arm. The body cut represents  the disappeared. Well, I discover that  is so strange and difficult to defend the intentions of somebody else!

RAN Now, I hope you better understand  that we can find an antagonism between the beauty of your compositions and the aggressiveness exposed in these drawings.

WW You know, This is love! The mixture of the confrontation of the sweetness and the aggressiveness. A perpetual conflict! That moves! That tears. That calms down. As tides! I find that very coherent! This person who fires at the Heart! Which(who) explodes. Which(who) implodes!

RAN – “Slow Dance Moving Dreams”

WW-This title, which for you evokes the sweetness is much more violent than “Fuck Me Tender”, which is much funnier and it is a wink of eye obvious for the King Presley. Because at that  time we said ” Coil Me Tender ” but we were completely dishonest. I wanted to make a more modern but honest text which is called ” Fuck Me Tender, Fuck Me True, Fuck Me Sweet” that does not mean that we do not respect the person. On the other hand “Slow dance Moving Dreams”, it’s very violent. An allegory for a person who is given drugs, who takes heroin. I think that it is the most saddest piece on the album.

RAN – And “LOUISE”? Who is Louise? One of your lovers?

WW –  Not exactly! Someone  I don’t know! But  someone who exists! A fabulous story. On stage, I always tell the story about this song  but yesterday evening, I didn’t  have time to talk about on the concert. A crazy story for a movie!

I was looking at a  TV movie one  Sunday evening and the telephone ringed. I drop out and even before I could say “Hello” a voice on the phone (at the end of the thread) had assaulted me almost and  says ” Louise? Louise? Louise, I know  you are there! Louise please answer me. ” Unfortunately , it was not Louise. It was me! But I couldn’t say anything. I became curious and at the same time having great expectation. The guy on the line calmed down just a little but he continued. And he emptied his bag (got it off his/her chest)! ” Louise! Listening, I am sorry. I am alone here in the apartment. Well, baby, I  realize that’s all my fault. ”  I listened to that and voila, I switched off the movie close by. So much it was rotten. It was brilliant but at the same time I realized whom I was spying on the life of someone else,  who believed to speak to Louise … Then I tried to hang up. I hadn’t no strength to say him, he made a mistake about number. I tried to hang up and unconsciously I sighed in the telephone. As to tell him(her) unconsciously somebody…

RAN-Jesus! What a beautiful story! Are there projects for a new CD?

WW-There are so many  records  waiting in some drawers. The problem  is I have already made three CD’s. That makes a lot. One every year.  I have to calm down just a little. At the marketing level we rap over the knuckles to me and  in this new label, things will be more  spaced out and worked a lot because these people  likes what I’m doing and it will be necessary to create a need.

RAN-Thank you for having welcomed us at your sweet  home.  Let me wish you beautiful adventures for the next future!

WW-It was my pleasure!

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Jose Oliveira

Jose Oliveira

France, Germany and Portugal Correspondent

I was born in Portugal and lived the Sixties exploring the great UK Rock magazines: "The New Musical Express" and "Melody Maker". Ray Charles and Pat Boone were my father’s fav. I became “The Great Pretender”. Cliff Richard was our Elvis Presley. As a beach boy, with my first guitar, I met a beautiful French girl on the beach! It was the Summer of 69!! We got married and rock music was our dowry. In France, I became a Wine Genetic Research Scientist. One of my works contributed to the decoding of the genome of the vine! As a rock journalist, I’ve worked twenty years for the Portuguese and Brazilian Rock Press. I ‘ve interviewed so many great artists. Then, one day I met FRANK ZAPPA! I got into trouble for introducing my wife to "Uncle Meat"!
Jose Oliveira
About Jose Oliveira (35 Articles)
France, Germany and Portugal Correspondent I was born in Portugal and lived the Sixties exploring the great UK Rock magazines: "The New Musical Express" and "Melody Maker". Ray Charles and Pat Boone were my father’s fav. I became “The Great Pretender”. Cliff Richard was our Elvis Presley. As a beach boy, with my first guitar, I met a beautiful French girl on the beach! It was the Summer of 69!! We got married and rock music was our dowry. In France, I became a Wine Genetic Research Scientist. One of my works contributed to the decoding of the genome of the vine! As a rock journalist, I’ve worked twenty years for the Portuguese and Brazilian Rock Press. I ‘ve interviewed so many great artists. Then, one day I met FRANK ZAPPA! I got into trouble for introducing my wife to "Uncle Meat"!

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