UTG EXCLUSIVE TRACK-BY-TRACK: The Republic Of Wolves – ‘No Matter How Narrow’

republic wolves

Following 2010’s Varuna and the following year’s EP, The Cartographer, Long Island’s own The Republic Of Wolves quickly became a name worth knowing in the ranks of the indie rock scene. Upon its announcement, the band’s second full-length studio album, No Matter How Narrow, shot up the list of our most anticipated albums of 2013, even despite having to wait until the final weeks of 2013 to experience it in full. However, the wait was worth it, as we had hoped it would be.

Frontman Mason Maggio recently took the time to go in depth with each of the album’s eleven tracks to give us some insight and background on them individually, so to learn of how No Matter How Narrow came together conceptually and creatively piece by piece, read through this exclusive track-by-track breakdown from The Republic Of Wolves.

 

“Frozen Feet”

“Frozen Feet” was always intended to be the first song on the album, ever since we came up with the opening riff. Like a lot of songs on this record, the writing and recording process happened pretty much simultaneously, and it immediately stood out to us as something that could sweep people into the album without overwhelming them. I feel like it accurately represents the sound of the album, since it’s kind of catchy and fun while still being emotionally heavy, and certain parts definitely retain the darkness of our traditional sound. Lyrically it’s definitely one of the most personal and intimate songs I’ve written (although everything’s pretty deeply embedded in metaphor), and it kind of sets the stage for the lyrical themes of the record.


“Stray(s)”

“Stray(s)” started out as a really dark, dreary song that kind of came to life as we kept building onto it. I think it’s really reminiscent of a lot of the emo stuff that we grew up listening to, and it’s kind of a melting pot of different ideas inspired by that music. For one thing, we’ve always wanted to do a really prominent back-and-forth vocal pattern in a song without having it sound forced, but it’s never quite panned out in the past. With this song it just came about naturally for the chorus, and it was kind of like an exciting discovery. Interestingly enough, the ending was actually inspired by Michael Jackson’s song “Man In The Mirror” – it ends by just hanging on one suspended chord for a long time, and it kind of retains this tension that never actually resolves, but it’s oddly satisfying.


“Spare Key”

As we’ve said elsewhere, writing and recording this song was a unique experience for us; it was the first time that we really let go of our expectations for what our music should sound like, and just let our inspiration take us wherever it wanted to go. We started out with just this fun, strange, jangly guitar riff with a time signature that none of us had ever heard before. When it came time to lay down a chord progression, we tried something really fun and poppy, almost as a joke- we loved the way it sounded, and decided to ignore the fact that it didn’t really fit with our “sound.” Conceptually that meshes really well with the lyrics, which are more or less about the challenge of creating art that’s new and different, especially when you’re always looking back at what you’ve created in the past. As most people noticed, there’s a lyrical callback to “Cardinals” (the first song we wrote as a band), which is kind of ironically opposed to the chorus lyrics about the fear of repetition. The title of the song is also a direct reference to the first lyric of the original “Cardinals” demo.


“Greenville, MO”

This song was the most collaborative of the record, mainly because it was initially written by Billy (keyboards) and Christian (lead guitar). It’s the only song on the album that wasn’t written by myself, although we did all work together on a lot of the lyrics. As the primary songwriter, Billy also does some lead vocals in the chorus, which is something new for us- there are actually three different singers taking the lead at different times throughout the song. It has a distinct musical vibe that once again really reflects the emo/post-hardcore influences, but it also has a kind of bizarre structure that builds tension but never hits a boiling point. Introducing the banjo into this song was an experiment that we think ended up working really well, and it makes the song even more unique production-wise. The title is actually a callback to the original working title of the song “Spill,” off of our first EP. It was an obscure reference that had some forgotten meaning back then, but means something totally different now.


“Pioneers”

We knew we wanted to try starting off a song with a really hard-hitting but memorable guitar riff, and “Pioneers” was our attempt at that. This is one of the most dynamic songs of the album I think, since the intensity kind of jumps up and down- especially with that moment of tense silence right before the big ending. Our music has always been really layered and richly textured, but on this album we tried to experiment a bit more with simplicity, cutting the music down to the bare necessities. The last verse of this song was one of the moments where we embraced that aesthetic, since it’s really just drums, bass, and a bare vocal melody. The key lyric of this song (“but everyone’s a pioneer”), although it’s said in an almost sarcastic context, kind of sums up the overarching theme of the album. I’m also proud that we managed to fit the word “Reconquista” into a song.


“Keep Clean”

This was another song that started off really dark, until we decided that the chorus should be something kind of sentimental and uplifting. It had kind of a poppy sound to it but we didn’t want it to follow a traditional pop structure, so instead of coming back to a big finale at the end, we just kind of let it dwindle both musically and lyrically- it kind of ends on a note of resignation that gives it a sad sense of closure and serves as a bridge to the next song. For this song we were lucky enough to have Will Noon (of fun. and Straylight Run) play drums. He offered us a free e-session so we sent him the half-finished song, along with our percussion ideas, and he did some amazing stuff and really gave the song a lot of its character. We’ve always been big fans of his projects so it was an honor to be able to work with him musically.


“Arithmetic On The Frontier”

This song was kind of constructed out of a couple of old ideas, so most of it was written around the time of our previous album. We knew we wanted a really short song on the album that would almost serve as a transition track, but could still be substantial enough to be seen as a finished piece. We wanted it to be a successor to earlier songs like “Done Haunting Houses” and “Tuez Les Tous, Dieu Reconnaitra Les Siens,” but both of those songs served as introductions that built up into heavier songs. We wanted to make this one different by having it reach its own climax, rather than just building up to the next track. Lyrically it’s mostly inspired by a poem of the same name by Rudyard Kipling- this was both a serious homage to Rudyard Kipling’s poetry, and a kind of tongue-in-cheek homage to Brand New’s earlier borrowing of Kipling’s verses.


“Turning Lane”

We originally wrote the acoustic version of “Turning Lane” for a Hurricane Sandy benefit compilation with Collective Confusion Records. Early in 2013 we were asked to participate in the project, and by that point we had only written a couple of the songs for the new album. None of them were particularly accessible at that point, and we wanted to try and use something a little more immediate and catchy for the compilation. So the song was actually written very quickly, with a particular goal in mind. It’s one of those songs where the upbeat mood kind of contrasts with the sadness in the lyrics.


“Vinedresser”

This song was one of our earliest ideas for the album, and it sat on the back burner for a long time. It was always supposed to be on the softer side, but it wasn’t until we started recording that we decided to make it fully acoustic. We’ve always loved doing acoustic versions of songs, but we realized that we had never really had a straight acoustic song on a record before. We decided that it would add to the dynamic nature of the album to have an entire track that was really stripped down and raw, but we also didn’t want it to come across as a generic folk song- so we were careful about keeping the chord progressions and rhythms distinct. Lyrically it’s kind of a thematic continuation of “Turning Lane,” although there’s an obvious metaphorical connection to “Frozen Feet” as well.


“Orange Empire”

“Orange Empire” was another early idea, one that we actually started recording in the summer of 2012. We wanted it to be kind of a bipolar song, contrasting between really driving rock sections and very loose, soft, ethereal parts. This one was definitely influenced by bands like Manchester Orchestra and Colour Revolt, although we’ve also heard people compare it to The Killers, which is awesome. Structurally it mimics the first track, and lyrically the subject is the same- but with a darker tone this time around. We thought it would be really interesting to have the heaviest song directly following the softest song on the album, especially because I think a lot of people start to lose their bearings when they get toward the end of an album, and songs can start to bleed together if they’re not distinct enough from one another. We really wanted this song to be distinguished as the climax of the album in terms of musical intensity, and also as the deepest moment of darkness before it gives way to the final track.


“Through Empty Vessels”

This song was written very slowly, over the course of a year or so. We always put a lot of thought into the closing track of an album, because we feel like it should sum up the entire experience and really give a sense of emotional catharsis. Some of the lyrics in the first verse of this song reflect the metaphors in “Frozen Feet” – “What a criminal thought, that you gave so much room to multiply” / “There’s a flock that I must tend, grazing inside of my head.” This song also has (I believe) the only instances of nautical/oceanic symbolism on the whole record. We felt like we really bled that dry on our last two releases, and we strayed away from those sorts of references for this album. Using them here was kind of a subtle but deliberate callback to our previous music, and adds a second, self-referential meaning to the line “Everything washes up again.” The title of the song refers to a metaphor that doesn’t appear explicitly in the lyrics, but is fleshed out a lot more in the B-side “Panicked Leaps” – it’s also another callback to our first EP, which has “Through Windows” as its last track. Musically we wanted to end this song with a purely vocal part, to highlight the intimate, personal element of the album.

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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