Visiting the U.S. for a cross-country house show tour, French singer-songwriter Wølf joins us for delicious pastries at Paris Baguette in Encino, CA to discuss his tour adventures, his music process, and any music related differences between the U.S. and Europe.
So to start us off, how did you decide on the name Wølf for your music project?
Wølf: I started this music project about six or seven years ago now, and for the longest time I was looking for a name because I just wasn’t sure what I wanted it to be. One day I met this girl from Poland, and she told me that my last name ‘Wilk’ meant ‘wolf’ in Polish.
Wølf: Yeah! I’ve never searched my family history or anything, and it was so cool when she told me that, because I always felt a close connection to this animal. So I decided to keep it as a name, but I use a different ‘O,’ the one with the bar through it, (Scandinavian vowel). I chose to use that because it reminded me of a wolf with a scar on its eye. And in mathematics, it’s not an ‘O,’ but a barred circle called the ‘empty set,’ so I found that idea to be interesting also.
So many more aspects go into a name than you would think.
Wølf: You’re right! And it kind of made more sense over time. I don’t think I would change it. I think the name is very me. *laughs*
Yeah! And which artists and bands would you say have influenced your musicianship?
Wølf: When I was a kid I was really into Michael Jackson’s music, and he was really the start of my dream of becoming a musician. I started doing music in my twenties, so it was a little bit later than usual, but I had some things that I needed to express and started listening to other styles of music, especially rock and grunge. I would listen to Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers a lot, also John Frusciante’s solo albums, who was the guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With time I started to listen to more indie music, and also people who I discovered from live performances. I go to a lot of concerts, not big concerts, they’re a little smaller, but sometimes I will go and not even know who is going to be playing. If my friend says to come with them to a concert, I really like to go with them to discover new music. I found some of my favorite artists like that. I would say the artists that I listen to the most, at least for a few years now, is Scout Niblett, she’s from the U.K. but she lives in the U.S., and then Shannon Wright, who’s also from the U.S. They both tour a lot in Europe, and in France especially. But I would say that all of those are my influences from different times and different stages.
And what would you say would be your typical songwriting and recording process tends to be?
Wølf: Oh my gosh, I almost forgot Radiohead from before! They were a huge band that inspires my soul as a listener so I think it’s important to bring up. I really love their music, and they’re one of the best bands I think.
They’re definitely beloved internationally.
Wølf: Oh yeah, and very much deserved! But with my songwriting process, I try not to really have one. *laughs* I don’t want to be trapped in some kind of repetitive process, so I try to keep it simple and use my acoustic guitar to figure out exactly what I want. Sometimes it starts like that, sometimes I have the lyrics first. I bring my notebook with me everywhere so I can write the lyrics down. Usually everything comes together all at once, but basically, I like to keep it a bit random and not have a plan on how to do it. I like to feel when it’s the right time, because I think it allows me to stay closest to my emotions. Right now for example, I’ve been struggling with one song for awhile. For some reason I can’t finish it even though I’ve been working on it for three years. I have the lyrics, I have most of the music, but the problem comes when I want to sing it. It’s almost like I’m not ready to feel these emotions. Sometimes I will be like, ‘Eh, it’s not working. I’ll try again later.’ when I’m trying to sing it, but I know it will come out when it’s ready and I’m ready to express these emotions. I’m not freaking out about the white page or the lack of inspiration, I know it’s somewhere in there and it will come out when it’s supposed to.
And you really shouldn’t rush art and music. It’s almost like if it’s more rushed then it’s not as genuine.
Wølf: Exactly! Or you try to appeal to what you think people will like. That works for some style of music, but for me, that’s more for entertainment when you try to do the music that you think people will like. It almost influences your writing, and it’s these kind of songwriters that like that type of plan and process. They like how they work like that, so they end up repeating it on other works. Like, if they have a hit or a good song, they think they know what works, so they end up repeating it and becomes a process. That’s why I’m trying to not do that, and even though it takes more time, in the end, like you said, it feels more genuine.
And staying along the lines of trying to appeal to the masses, social media goes along with that as well. I mean, it’s pretty much our main form of marketing here in America. Do you think it has made it easier or harder for artists, especially independent artists, to make a name for themselves?
Wølf: For independents I think it’s harder, but I think it also has to do with the internet generally. There’s so many great talents out there who are able to communicate about their music, and that’s a good thing because they’re able to reach a wider audience. But there’s also the counterpart that it’s quite saturated, and music is not the only thing that you can find on social media. Music can become like a background, and if there’s too many of them then you just pop from one to another. A few years ago you would listen to a full album, now you just listen to one song from ‘this’ artist and then one song from ‘that’ one, it’s just become completely different. So I would say that it’s easier to communicate and reach your audience if you know how to use social media, but it’s also harder because you drown in the mass of artists. It’s kind of a 50/50 situation.
Do you feel that it also adds a pressure on artists to constantly have something going on or revealing so much of yourself to your audience that you wouldn’t normally do?
Wølf: Totally! Again, it depends on the style of music you want to do. For me, I really struggle with social media, especially on this tour. I don’t know if it’s because I’m too old, *laughs* I’m in my late thirties, but I feel like I want to share stuff with my audience yet still also want to live in the moment. Some artists that tour in a more usual way are struggling with that, because promoters and bookers want them to always have an album out if they want to tour. And if you don’t have a lot of followers on your social media, they won’t even consider you.
I always thought that was insane.
Wølf: I know right! I mean, if you do this for awhile then it works. But at some point you want to do some retiring. For example, if you want to take time for a new album and then you come back, it’s almost like you never existed. What I’m trying to avoid is this crazy music industry if I can. I want to do more to try to find my own ways to tour. I’ve been doing this for a year now, and I think I found some ways to do it. I’ve been playing house shows through Couchsurfing, and it’s been cool I basically avoid promoters and bookers by doing it all by myself. It’s a lot of work, but there’s also a lot of rewards that you get from it. I like to play house shows so I can meet people and make more deeper connections with them. It’s almost like I’m fighting against this idea that music is becoming more of just a sound in the background. I think it should be more about the feelings and emotions and sharing a life moment. If you don’t take the time to enjoy the artist’s album for example, you might not feel the emotions you’re supposed to feel or the intentions of the artist that made it. But anyways, I have social media because you have to. *laughs*
At least to let people know that you didn’t die off the face of the Earth. *laughs*
Wølf: Yeah exactly! *laughs* Although I do wonder if I were to die if somebody would take care of my social media. But anyways, I also have it in case people want to reach out or send a message, or even if they want to know if I’m going to play in their area, but honestly, I barely use them. In the U.S. I found out it’s more Instagram for music, but in Europe or France it’s more Facebook, which I think is more useful because you have events and everything. But even so, when you’re touring so intensively and you have to do it all by yourself, it’s really complicated to keep up with the social media pace. I think I kind of abandoned the idea of doing it. *laughs*
Sometimes I wish I could do the same. *laughs* Now you were already kind of saying this in terms of social media, but do you see any differences in the way that music is consumed and discovered between France, or Europe, and then in America?
Wølf: I’ve actually been thinking about that, and I think it’s really close to being the same. Basically the music industry is mostly from big companies that mostly come from the U.S., but even if they come from other places they still work the same. People don’t really buy CDs anymore even in France and Europe. Some of them do, like elders who want to buy. We have artists in France who have a new album every year around Christmas, when the sales are supposed to grow, and there are people just buy those CDs every year. But if you’re a music lover, the mass now would consume their music through streaming, which is still a bit weird for me because I can’t get used to that. But then you have music lovers who just buy vinyls or maybe CDs sometimes during the shows. If they go to a live performance, they might buy merch which would be CDs or vinyls. To me, that’s where as an independent artist, it’s what you have to try to do. Play as much shows as you can and you can sell your music to the people that come to your shows because there’s no way you can find your place on streaming. To make money on the streaming platforms, you have to have a lot of listenings.
Wølf: Exactly! Millions and millions. Even Radiohead at one point stopped being on Spotify because they were complaining that they weren’t getting enough money from it. I really respected that move because it was very brave. I think you could find them again back on streaming, but they were not the only ones to do that. You have either deal with that or you have to find your own ways to sell your music.
Right. So you came all the way from France to do a tour in America. What would you say the major differences are between touring internationally and touring in the U.S.?
Wølf: I didn’t find a lot of differences, but the main thing would be the distances between the places that you would like to play. In France or Europe, you can tour and just have a few hours drive to the next city. Here, it’s impossible or harder to do so. I had been touring a lot in Europe lately and I don’t have a car, so I would try to find different ways to get around. In Europe, I mainly use buses and trains and you could go basically anywhere for not too expensive. You have to think about those things from economic way of doing it. You have to spend as little money as you can. I wanted to come and tour in the U.S., but I am doing doing this alone and I have no car. I didn’t really want to drive because I would be too tired. Some people do that and they end up exhausted because they have to drive ten or twelve hours, maybe even more, play the show, and then do it all again. That would just be impossible for me because I would be here for two months and wanted to see the most places I could. The car was just not an option for me, but I found the train would be a nice way to do it. I have been travelling by train across the U.S. and it was such a cool way to do it. To me that’s the greatest difference, you would have to spend 24 hours on a train to go to your next city, or maybe even thirty hours, and that’s perfectly fine with me. Some people will look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them, ‘Yeah. I had a 24 hour train ride to come here and then I have thirty hours to go somewhere else. They’re like, ‘What? That’s nuts!’ *both laugh* But you also get to see a lot of really different places.
I was actually thinking about this a lot, but in Europe, even if you’re still an independent artist or band, you can still get paid if you play in bars or small venues. I kind of knew it when I started working on this tour, but I found out that it’s harder in big cities to get paid in big cities because you have so many bands and so many artists. It’s cool in the U.S. because there’s a great culture of live music, it’s bigger here than in France, and it feels good to play here. On the other hand, it’s way harder to make a living out of it. I played one of my first shows in New York, and I was at this venue where you have like eight bands that play for an hour during the day every day. People still give tips, but you still have to get an audience. It really feels like I’m one in a million, you know? Before I came here to the U.S, I contacted a bar in Seattle and this is what the guy told me, ‘Yes, you can play at our place, but you would have to find three other bands from Seattle, and then fifty people for this show.’ I asked them how much they would pay me for that because it would take me a lot of work to do that, and they told me that they don’t pay anything, so my money would be from tips, and that they didn’t make bands pay to play. I kind of knew this was a thing in the U.S. sometimes.
I feel like that’s a little surprising for Seattle though.
Wølf: I think I read in a Kurt Cobain biography about pay to play, he even wrote a song about it called “Pay To Play.” To me it’s just insane that you would have to pay the venue to play.
I totally agree. And unfortunately a lot of them are like that here.
Wølf: Yeah. I was a little bit angry about it, so I answered the guy, ‘Ok. I will not come to your venue. I’m doing house shows where people come to see me live and they pay me directly instead of having to also pay for the ticket and beers. I can do my tour without you, thanks.’ It’s just so weird, because you would think by now that bands and artists would come up with new ways to play their music and make money out of it. I think they’re so used to doing it like this because it’s always been like this, to play in places where a lot of bands play so the guy will just tell you that it’s good for promotion and that they can’t pay because there’s too many artists. I get that, but you also have to think of new ways of doing it instead of keeping it like this all the time if you want to make a living out of music. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. In France, you don’t have pay to play. You might not be paid, but then again you don’t have a pressure to fill the venue. So it’s a bit different on this part, but otherwise, from my point of view it’s pretty much the same with no big differences.
And you’re also doing some live recordings on this tour as well as collaborate with a bunch of different artists from here.
Wølf: Yes yes!
Would you like to give us a sneak peak at some of the cool stuff we get to hear on the new live album?
Wølf: So this is not really going to a new album, but basically it will be a live album with a lot of the songs that I’ve been playing for a few years as acoustic versions. Most of them I had originally recorded with a cello or drums or electric guitars, but when I compose I always do it by myself with the acoustic guitar. What I’ve been doing on this tour is recording every show, and I would sell the CD of the show from that night to people.
How cool! It’s so personalized!
Wølf: Yeah! They can buy the full album or they can buy the live performance of the show that they attended. To me, that’s really important to what live music is because when I do these house shows we are sharing a moment that is unique, so the CD is the souvenir of this moment. With recording all these shows, I’ve decided to keep the best moments and release a live album. I only had a few collaborations, especially in Chicago. I played with a musician named Mike Reeb, he’s a singer and guitarist who played harmonica on one of my songs, so you will definitely hear that on the album. I also had Rachael Marie, also from Chicago, play clarinet on one of my songs. It was an improvised thing because I didn’t know she played clarinet, but she mentioned it when we were talking about music so I asked her if she would like to play. It was a really nice and intense moment that will definitely be on the live album. There might be another few collaborations, but I will see what I would like to include when I’m back home in France. There also might be one or two covers that I did that I didn’t think I would do. When I was in Seattle I really wanted to play this one song from the Foo Fighters that I think is about Kurt Cobain. I played it when I was there when and was like, ‘Ok, I need to have this on the live album.’
Cool! And if you could make your own world tour, which three artists would you bring with you and what would you name your tour?
Wølf: So it would names that I’ve already mentioned here. The first would be Michael Jackson.
We’ll bring him back from the dead!
Wølf: Yeah! He could be like the zombie from “Thriller!” *both laugh* That could be cool. I would love to have Kurt Cobain also. We would have to bring him back from the dead too. And then Scout Niblett is a major influence for me. And for the name of the tour, it would be the ‘We Are OK’ Tour, because it’s basically either dead people or people who play really emotional music. *laughs*
If you could give your younger self advice on what you’ve learned so far in music, what kind of advice would you give him?
Wølf: I think it’s important to understand that every lesson you learn has to be learned on your own. The only advice I would give myself is to never give up and to always keep hope. I feel like I did that even though it’s really hard at times. But I would also tell him that I wouldn’t change anything. The way I came into all my thoughts about music and how I should do it because I learned it by myself and by struggling. There are no shortcuts. You also have to find your real dreams and not other people’s dreams. When I was younger, I wanted to play music and be famous. I feel like we’re all like that because that’s what society makes us dream of. You have to deconstruct this in order to find your own dream, even though it might take some time. If you try too hard to reach this dream that’s not really yours then you might have some troubles in the future, so I’m pretty glad that I was able to find my own path. It’s not about when you become yourself as a musician, it’s not a race. The point is that it doesn’t matter when you reach your goals as long as you reach your goals.
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Wølf: I would like to think that my music could help them feel their own emotions easier. It’s important to be aware of what you have inside, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my music and I hope ’s what happens when people attend a show of mine. I would like to open people to not only being entertained, but also being touched and to also inspire them to create something. When you have emotions, the next thing to do is create beauty out of it, or at least try to. I would love to have people get to know themselves better from listening to my music.
Absolutely! And to end us off, apart from the live recorded album coming out soon, what other big things should we be expecting from you?
Wølf: I actually have a few things planned! When I prepared this tour I was thinking that I needed to do it all myself. I prepared the live album, but I’m doing photography on the side also, so I decided to release a photobook based on the tour that will also be like a journal on what happened on the tour that I’ve been writing it while I’ve been travelling. I try to be the most genuine in it, so you will see the good and the bad on the tour. *laughs* I also try to film everything I can, so I also want to have a documentary come out too. Hmm, what else? I already have photo books that are going to be released in June. They don’t have anything to do with my music, but I also try to figure out how to connect the two. Apart from that, I would really like to finish that song that I am stuck on. *laughs* Hopefully it happens soon. And then after that I know a few songs will come out, so I would be ready to record an album with new songs in the next few months or in the next year. Once that’s done, I will do a new tour, probably in the U.S. again because I really feel like I would want to come back several times.
Yay! Lots of exciting things in the works! And of course we will welcome you back with open arms.
Wølf: Thank you!
About Paris Baguette Encino:
If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for yummy, fresh baked pastries in every possible shape or form. Growing boulangerie (‘bakery’ in French) franchise Paris Baguette puts an impressive amount of effort in enticing whoever walks in to want to try everything they have on display in their glass cases. An easy to manage self-serve layout give you buffet-but-with-baked-goods vibes, and it doesn’t get any easier when you get closer to the checkout counter and see their list of delectable sandwiches and coffee offerings. I paired a caramel latte with a heavenly Monte Blanc pastry, which is pretty much a fluffy and sweet hybrid of a croissant and (my absolute favorite) a sugar donut! The Encino cafe is located in the strip mall area of the city, and it’s not surprising that it would be very popular for those who live or work in the area. Top it all off with a 90s pop playlist and a warm, welcoming color palette complete with tastefully contrasting black and white photos of Paris landmarks and you’ve got yourself your next go-to pastry shop!