I had the pleasure of sitting down with The Republic of Wolves’ vocalist Mason Maggio to talk about about the writing process for their long-awaited new album Shrine, which is due out March 27th, and what fans should expect from the record.
How long was the writing process for the album? Had you been writing it ever since No Matter How Narrow was done or did you only start writing more recently?
The process for this album has been long, but intermittent. We haven’t been working on it consistently since No Matter How Narrow (which was finished almost five years ago now), but the ideas that grew into these songs have been springing up gradually ever since then. Some of the roots actually go further back, with one of the tracks having been adapted from a scrapped song idea from the 2010 Varuna sessions. After No Matter How Narrow we went through a period where we weren’t working seriously on any new material for this project, but lyrical and musical concepts would still come to us on occasion. About two years ago all of those assorted ideas started to look like a potential new record, congregating unexpectedly into a set of half-written songs that all felt connected. So we started purposefully working on a new album around that time, recording the first few tracks as we finished writing them. We spent a while fine-tuning the rest of the songs, and only in the past five or six months did we get serious about finishing the record and making it as strong and cohesive as it could be.
Can we expect “Northern Orthodox,” “Mitama,” and “Birdless Cage” to be on the new album? Or are those stopgap singles to hold us off in the meantime?
As we’ve released the official track list since this question was posed, a lot of people are probably now aware that all three of those songs will be on the new album. They were the first few songs recorded for this release, and they were always part of our vision for a complete, cohesive record. We were really excited about the new material, and it had been a while since we’d put something out – so we dropped “Northern Orthodox,” not expecting there to be such a long gap before the full album release. We briefly considered keeping it off the album since it’s been out in the world for so long at this point, but ultimately it felt like an integral part of this album’s musical and lyrical arc. So we decided to prioritize that and include songs that a lot of people have already heard, in the hopes that hearing them in the context of the album will still give those listeners a new (and better) experience.
Do you have any B-sides or acoustic/alternate versions lined up to accompany shrine’s release?
There are three B-sides for this album, all of which are in keeping with the tone and themes of the record. They’ll be included with the digital download version of the album that all of our IndieGogo patrons will be receiving, and they’ll accompany the eventual vinyl release as well. Since these tracks are part of the story that the album is telling, they all have specific places in the chronology; instead of being tacked onto the end, they’ll be interspersed throughout the album, essentially serving as tracks 3B, 6B, and 8B. We’ll also be releasing a few acoustic and alternate versions of songs from the album, both before and after the actual release.
Does Shrine have any particular unifying lyrical theme?
Yes, a few. As we’ve mentioned it’s a sort of concept album, loosely following an original narrative that’s drawn from a certain culture’s mythology and folklore – it’s probably not too hard to figure out the predominant source of imagery and aesthetic, based on what we’ve put out so far. The lyrics are relatively abstract, so they’re not sitting you down and telling you this straightforward, linear story. But they’re often alluding to a fixed plot that runs beneath the surface, moving from the opening of track one to the end of track ten. They weave in and out of the narrative in ways that are intentionally left open to interpretation. All that being said, each song also has its own emotional meaning and significance that can stand apart from the story being told. To us, the biggest lyrical themes of this album (and its underlying narrative) are change, identity, and existential purpose – that’s obviously very vague, but we prefer to leave most of the interpretation and analysis to the individual listener. In a lot of ways this album is sort of the spiritual successor to our first full-length record, Varuna. Both albums build upon an implied mythological narrative in very similar ways, and lyrically shrine can be seen as a mirror or a sequel (or both) to Varuna in terms of its visual metaphors and sentimental themes.
How do you balance all of your side projects with The Republic of Wolves?
We’re all just really passionate about making music of all kinds, and we tend to follow our inspiration wherever it leads us. Thankfully it’s continually led us all back to this project, which is collectively our main musical priority – partly because we feel most emotionally attached to this type of music, and partly because there’s a sense of momentum in seeing the impact that this band’s music has had on people. But we all have our own creative urges that don’t necessarily fit into this project’s style, genre, or general vibe, so we stay open to that and work on other musical projects when we can. Occasionally we’ve had to move around schedules to accommodate our other musical endeavors, but side projects have never really stood in the way of this band’s progress and trajectory. Day jobs are the bigger issue.
What was the motivation behind trying out IndieGogo for the new record?
We’ve always been a fully independent band, working without the support of a record label or a proper management team, and very often that’s been a struggle for us. Over the years we’ve talked about trying out crowd-funding in some format, but last year a number of factors came together that pushed us to go for it. We had already recorded the first three songs for the album in a much more professional way than any of our previous music, utilizing a full-service recording studio for the first time ever and outsourcing the mixing and mastering to get the best possible quality – and that process had depleted all of our band funds, in addition to whatever personal contributions we’d been able to make. So we knew we’d need some sort of outside funding to finish this album and keep it consistent in style and quality. We were really reluctant to ask our fans for money – not so much because of pride, but because of how grateful we already are for their support – but after looking for financial backing from a few different sources and coming up empty, we finally decided to reach out directly to the people who care about us and our music. We’re extremely thankful to everyone who contributed, and we’re really happy with our decision to ask directly for financial support. The money we raised has definitely allowed us to finish this album the right way, although it disappeared really fast and we’re sort of back to square one after recording, mixing, mastering, and promotion. We’re hoping that what everyone collectively put into this record will jumpstart this project and get us to a point where we won’t have to worry quite so much about funding for the next record.
Do you have any plans to tour on the album?
Unfortunately we don’t have any answers on that just yet. We’ll definitely be playing a record release show in NYC around the end of March (which we’ll be announcing in detail shortly), and hopefully a few regional follow-up shows. We’ve wanted to do a proper tour ever since we started this project, but it hasn’t ever worked out practically and financially – at the moment we don’t have sufficient funding to plan a full tour for this album, but our hope is that the response to this release will improve our circumstances and allow for a national tour later in the year.