Wolfjay

Interview: Wolfjay

Melbourne-based indie artist, Wolfjay is exhausted. The night before our meeting at Shortstop Donuts – one of artist and producer Jack Alexander’s beloved spots for coffee and a snack – they played at the inner-city venue, The Gasometer Hotel. It was one of those shows where, early on, everything seemed doomed. Luckily, the night turned out to be a success, mostly thanks to the decision of booking friends, dream-pop band Tamara And The Dreams and desert rock group Beau Lightning as support acts. Without music and Melbourne and Adelaide music scenes, respectively, blossoming friendships with Tamara or Eli of Beau Lightning wouldn’t exist.

Wolfjay is a difficult one to pin down. Listening to their latest EP, Together, out now on Sleep Well Records, they swing from laidback indie to jubilant pop in just three tracks. Teaming up with co-producer Hayden Jeffery once more, Wolfjay delivers a tantalizing cover of Julien Baker’s “Go Home.” Like many of our readers, “Go Home” turned into their go-to comfort song. It’s one of those moments that wasn’t supposed to happen. Wolfjay’s music, too diverse for genre boundaries, is “serious music for people who don’t take themselves too seriously,” softly and warmly spoken, their aim is to create art of cathartic release while acknowledging that “I’m on the same page as you.”

Like New York-based shoegaze band, DIIV, coming up with a moniker is something that needs to be done and doesn’t require a significant meaning behind it. For Wolfjay, the name originated following a number of chance occurrences. “For ages, I was just working with different names before Jay. It was Bluejay for a while, and then it was Original Jay. Then, I was watching all these movies and they all randomly had wolves in them.” Thus, emerged an early track entitled “Wolfjay”. The name stuck, with a ton of meaning associated with wolves and numerous films to refer to.

Growing up the child of ex-air force parents, Wolfjay’s beginnings in music were planned and highly structured. “I’ve always gravitated towards music. I have this picture of me when I was like 3 or 4 years old, and I guess like all kids, you get a few toys that are musical toys, like a toy piano or a toy cassette player or something.” Smiling and sipping their long-black coffee, Wolfjay unveils extra childhood musical moments, like donning a headset Madonna microphone with a little pocket amplifier. “I do the same thing now!” they exclaim. “It’s just far more expensive and kind of complicated, but I’m still doing the same thing I was doing when I was three years old.”

In March 2019, Wolfjay moved to Melbourne. “Everything feels a bit strange. Everything is a bit unexpected and a lot bigger,” in contrast to their native Adelaide. Living in Melbourne, they’ve had the opportunity to slow right down, focus on freelance projects, and just enjoy the city, get to know it some more. They also never really stop working on music. The drop of another EP is closer than a full-length at this time, with the promise of a “Wolfjay cinematic universe.” They’ve already offered little glimpses of the complete story, but they promise a narrative that will ultimately stitch everything together.

What’s hugely gripping about Wolfjay, so early in their career, is the number of influences you can track in a single song. In the unusual, yet triumphant pop music of 2018 single, “She Calls To Me,” Wolfjay emulates both Carly Rae Jepsen and Lorde. The journey there, though, is a spiralling trip through their musical library. “I’m – very respectfully! – Stealing from a bunch of different artists,” they laugh. “It’s like, what if I steal the strings from ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion, and then put it over this club-beat drum pattern? And then, add a New Order-inspired guitar line over the top, with a gut-wrenching story about siblings who no longer get along bubbling underneath.” It shouldn’t work. But, it’s entirely why “She Calls To Me” ended up so special.

While writing new single, “Together,” Wolfjay went back to the music they listened to as they rode around their BMX at 12 years old. “I was listening to my little iPod mini, listening to bangers like Paramore and Green Day, Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy. To me, music doesn’t sound like that anymore… When ‘Together’ was in the works, it was like, ‘man, imagine hearing this at 12 years old. Imagine if I could hear a non-binary, bisexual artist singing and making really good pop-punk.’”

“Together” was born out of discomfort. The track was written on the day Australia voted yes to same-sex marriage, following a lengthy postal survey plebiscite. Wolfjay was completely invested without understanding why. “I think being vocal about that during that time opened a lot of doors for me in connecting with the queer community. I hadn’t really felt that connection to something before, where I’m like, ‘this is something that I really believe,’ and then being able to connect with people over that.”

Wolfjay was in an Adelaide pub as the votes came through. “Everyone was very much together in the moment and watching it all unfold, and we were all realising that it was a very historic moment.” Indeed, it was. In the year that followed, Wolfjay went through relationships and talked and listened to different voices. They worked on themselves to find out why they felt so strongly about the LGBTQI+ community and began working out their identity. In four minutes, “Together” employs the gorgeous wistfulness of The Postal Service, capturing a moment of everyone feeling unified towards something.

For a majority of their teenage and young-adult years, Wolfjay spent a lot of time in a conservative church with a large involvement in the creative team. Generally, it was a number of lovely people trying to do the right thing. But, as soon as there was any conversation about queer politics or marriage equality, the church community got very defensive, seeing those topics as an attack on their values. “I can get behind a lot of the other things – like helping the community and young people, but whenever it came to the LGBTQI+ community, I would just totally disconnect.” Wolfjay could no longer be a part of those conversations, even as a passive listener. It got to the point where they were so uncomfortable and left, totally disconnecting from any kind of religion and no longer a part of that community.

How about now? Wolfjay has become totally comfortable in their identity. Knowing something wasn’t right sparked their journey to self-discovery. It was like a tiny seed inside them, whispering that something was very off. “Something wasn’t resonating or ringing true,” they share, “to go totally the other direction, where I identify as non-binary now, I’m bisexual and having that freedom to express myself and feel comfortable in expressing myself… having a whole community where any time I talk about it, I feel comfortable and the support is so quick to come through. I feel so much more comfortable in this community than anywhere else.”

Wolfjay’s future in music is largely uncertain. “I look at what I’m doing with Wolfjay and it’s cool but it’s maybe only 3 or 4 months of the year. Put out some music and tour for a few months, that’s more than enough for me.” There’s another goal in mind, one that involves uplifting fellow artists in the LGBTQI+ community. Maybe, it’ll be working at a label, or artist services, or a manager or booking agent. “I really love working with other artists and helping get their vision out. I think that’s definitely my long-term goal.”

Mary Varvaris
Mary Varvaris Mary Varvaris is a contributor at chorus.fm. She can also be found at @dormousesighs on Twitter.