by Logan Lowrey-Rasmussen
On an early Arizona morning, I meandered my way across the I-10 West to reach the trendy Be Coffee in Phoenix to link up with the indie-folk-pop duo Wolf & Moon from the mysterious lands of Germany.
Straight from the tribulations of touring the globe, Wolf & Moon unit Stefanie and Dennis took a brief stop in Phoenix before their SXSW appearance to talk with yours truly about their background in music, the importance of travel, and the story of how an affable couple from Berlin built the foundations of a powerhouse sound with a simplistic setup.
As I nervously gathered my coffee and sat in front of two cultured, musical individuals, I could only hope my bawdy, American sensibilities wouldn’t get in the way of a fantastic interview.
Logan: So, how did Wolf & Moon start? I saw you released your first single in 2017.
Dennis: Exactly. We got together four years ago, and we started with a trip to the United States. The story is, that Stefanie wanted to go to the States, and I was saying, “Oh, if you’re going, I have to be there, I have to go with you.”
Stefanie: — He’d never been —
Dennis: [I wanted to go] because I’d never been, because of the movies, and the culture, and music; I listen to tons of music from the States [so I said], “I have to go with you!” Then she got us booked in New York —
Stefanie: — Then I said, “if you’re coming with me, it’s much more fun to play music,” but we didn’t have a band together [yet]. I was a full-time musician already at that point, and he played some guitar, and I said, “let’s try and play gigs,” because it’s much more fun going on tour then going on holiday. So then, just for fun, I booked a couple shows in New York with my old solo music [material], and said [to the promoter], “I’m coming with a new project;” and so [we got booked at] The Bitter End and The Rockwood Music Hall. [We knew] we had gigs coming up, but we didn’t have any songs yet!
We had these gigs in New York we were really looking forward to and had to write forty-five minutes of music. We went to a barn in The Netherlands and started writing the song material, and preparing for it, inviting friends over for rehearsal/concert kind of thing; then we went to New York, played, and it was really fun. We also went to open mics, and told people, “yeah, we’re just here for a month, if you want us to play somewhere, please come to us.” People invited us all the time and in one month, we played over twenty shows in small places.
Dennis — yeah; New York, LA, San Francisco, that was the trip. Especially [in LA], we had two weeks, so we would go to an open mic and be invited back for a full show at the venue. That was a really fun and exciting start for the band. [In regards to] the name, Stefanie and I were on a boat [before our trip] for [her birthday], and we were playing guitar, and she was singing [the words] “wolf and moon,” something very funny, [we were] just jamming, you know? We were both like, “dude! That’s a good name;” just like two entities working in a nice story-kind of way.
Stefanie: That’s when we decided traveling was so important to us because I was already a solo musician before and we lived in The Netherlands, [which is] so tiny. Within two years, you’ve seen most places and played most places; I was like, “if we started a new band, if this becomes something, I don’t want to play the same places again and again,” it’s so boring. [We said we would only play] if it involves nice traveling to see another country, or if someone offers a lot of money… [chuckles]
You’re doing what you want.
Stefanie and Dennis: Yeah!
Stefanie: Either someone can give us a lot of money to play, or we’re traveling, one of these! It turned out mostly we were traveling.
How did you find your sound? You guys have a very Western-friendly sound; I can totally imagine people stateside latching onto your music. Did you have the intention of appealing to Western audiences?
Dennis: It came very naturally. In that first weekend we started writing, it was exciting times because she had her project, I had my project, it wasn’t like, “Oh, this is going to work.” We didn’t know [if it would]. When you start something new, you don’t know what’s going to come out of it. Then Stefanie had this intention back then of making it that we could travel “easy” with it; we had a small guitar, a small keyboard, and limited ourselves so everything could fit into a backpack, basically.
That was the main ingredient; we had a drum machine, we had [a keyboard], we have a guitar, and two voices: what can we do with that? But then, it sounded even more acoustic folk-y [in regards to] what came out of [the future recording sessions]. After the New York [gigs], we said, “let’s go to Sweden!” It was always Stefanie’s plan to go to Sweden for three months, and she was a top-of-the-line songwriter, so she would [write], and I would work remotely. Then we basically met our producer shortly before that. He’s a great guy, [and the three of us] have a great connection.
Stefanie: He’s the EDM guy who did “From A Distance” [with us] —
Dennis: His name is John Andersson and he produced the album. I picked Stefanie up after a writing session she had with him and he had all these analog synths, and I immediately talked with him about it. We clicked very well, and he said, “okay, if you come back in the summer [as we planned],” and said “let’s start recording together.”
When we started working with him, we had this acoustic setup, and knew we didn’t want to record it like we played live back then. We wanted to focus on making a great album. We started rebuilding the songs with him in Pro Tools, we used more of his analog synths, and the way he produced us, [he added] kicks and a four-to-the-floor beat under our [tracks]. He just put [the beats down], recorded, and said “later we’ll change the drums,” and he never changed it. We really discovered our sound between the three of us.
Sometimes less is more when you have those simple elements. What came before Wolf & Moon? Where you guys in any other acts?
Stefanie: I studied music and had a solo project which was fairly successful. I was very young, so I’m quite embarrassed about the music now! [chuckles]
Was it like 90s girl group kind of stuff?
Dennis: It was way cooler!
Stefanie: It’s like making your first pancake; the second project is always going to be much better because you’re more developed with your tastes and skills, so that’s why I’m a bit embarrassed about it.
Can you tell us the name you went under?
Stefanie: [hesitates] Uh…
Dennis: It was called Stefany June. I must add, I thought it was a great project. [turns to Stefanie] you can feel differently, but I don’t look at it like, “oh that’s a bad pancake.” I thought, “is that your first pancake?!”
There’s our headline: Not A Bad Pancake —
Dennis: I was really like, “woah,” because she also had a full-album —
Stefanie: I took down the music from Spotify…
Dennis: She had a full album done and I was so impressed with meeting her. We also started dating before we did music, so I was impressed by her career.
Someday you’re going to have somebody go to your show and they’re gonna scream, “STEFANY JUNE!”
Stefanie: There’s someone on Facebook now posting all this stuff [saying] “good times, Stefany June! Now she’s Wolf & Moon,” and I’m like, “Why are you doing this?! Shut up!”
Out of curiosity, Dennis, what were some of the bands you’ve been apart of?
Dennis: I was in indie bands from when I was 16 on, typically with friends, forever rehearsing. I’ve been in multiple bands, but none of them successful. I make a lot of music, and I had electronic solo stuff, I had my bands, things like that.
Stefanie: For him, it was basically a big passion, more like a hobby. I studied music, so I was doing it all the time. When we came together, I kinda took him out of this “forever rehearsing / hobby” [mindset].
What are your future touring plans? Where do you want to take Wolf & Moon?
Stefanie: For this year, we are going to be touring in Germany, then back to the UK, and then go to The Netherlands. We have a little summer break, but then we’re going to go to Sweden. We just signed with American label, Bonfire Records, so we want to come here more often. Our U.S. future isn’t really clear, but that’s also why we’re going to SXSW [to look for] booking agents to help us incorporate the U.S. more in our future. We think it’s a very interesting and important music market to the whole world, and one of the most influential ones I think. Coming to Arizona briefly, I feel like it was already so much fun.
Dennis: It blew away our expectations. We had been here before, and only the [aforementioned] major cities, and now we’re road-tripping more, and [realized] it was so versatile. To go back to your question, we have a band of two. Stefanie loves touring [and thinks] it’s the best part of being a band, [while I think] the best part is the studio and recording. We have a great combination and we have to do both to work together well. Don’t get me wrong, I love touring when we are on the road, but not in foresight. I always look at it like an [incoming mountain].
Stefanie: For him, the album track will always be the original, and performing live is like a cheap version of that, because [he thinks] we’ll never sound as good as in the studio. For me, it’s the other way around; playing the song live is when the song really comes to life.
I agree with her.
Stefanie: Yeah! And recording it in the studio is like having some cheap version of the magic that’s created on stage, and it’s really hard to reproduce that in the studio. [We have the opposite views] of each other, and we have to do both.
Have you built a fanbase or have received solid reactions to your work?
Dennis: We are doing pretty well in Germany and college radios love it. We are in the Top Ten there —
Stefanie: — they’re hand-picked kind of stuff because we’re not super commercial since we’re still Indie, but [a couple venues on our tour] were sold out and lots of people came. I mean, what’s a lot of people? It’s still small —
Dennis: — but we’re building it up. It’s not like a breakthrough from one blog, but we’re in this for the long run. If you look at bands like The National, for example, they steadily put out great albums and progress. With Boxer, they grew big in the Indie world, and I look at that [as my inspiration]. [It showed me you could] keep putting out great music, and grow your fanbase, community, and brand. We have a female / male combination, and with the kind of music we make, it’s very easy for people to connect with [our work]. When we play live, we have diverse people coming to us and telling us they really like it. With this album, it’s got a lot of good reactions of people liking it. People say it’s really different from what’s out there, even if it’s subtle. I’m really happy where we are heading.
Stefanie: We are also planning on releasing an album next year.
When can we expect you back for an Arizona show?
Stefanie: We don’t have a date yet, but we just signed with Bonfire Records a month ago, and we’re gonna meet them in person at SXSW. Either in the summer or October, those will be our first options.
Dennis: At SXSW, our goal is to find a booking agent in America, and then we’ll just include [Arizona] in the tour schedule. For [historic European bands], they always [talk about] in documentaries how they tried to “break through” in America, which for English bands, [mention] how it was hard to do. But the fun thing is, since we are a small band, it doesn’t feel like that. We just go to different countries, travel, and make music. You don’t even look at it as “breaking through,” we just want to connect with people. Since we started in America, [it’s been exciting]. From meeting James Brown’s bass player at an open mic, that’s America for you. There’s this rich history.
Before we conclude the interview, do you have any weird or funny tour stories, something the fans might not know?
Dennis: We have a very minimal setup, I don’t change my strings often, [and] every time we are on stage [with my guitar and pedals], I just think everything is so fragile. There’s this connection between Stefanie’s gear and my gear, which is midi-synced to get the loops in, and I’ve been feeling like this from the start until now. Every show we’re doing, it feels like this could all [snaps] break like that. We have a backup of songs, and know even if it all falls apart like it has sometimes, we can just [pull the plug], play the songs acoustically, and rely on our voices and guitar. The fragility of our setup is always there and I’m very inspired by Jack White, who also did this documentary [and showed] you can make it easy for yourself or work really hard on [perfecting a simple setup].
Jack White, in this documentary, says he makes it harder and harder for himself when he plays live [by putting] the piano just a little farther away during songs where he has to switch between guitar and piano, so he has to run and jump to do that. He really has this philosophy of, things don’t have to be easy. He plays on guitars that are a little bit bent or cheap, so he has to bend them a certain way while he’s playing to get into tune. That philosophy is something that really inspired me to say, “okay, we don’t have to perfect all our gear and make it easy for ourselves,” it’s okay if a show feels like you’re fighting these machines to get your songs across.
Stefanie: When you said something funny about touring, I immediately thought of the cat pee —
Stefanie: Cat pee. One thing about touring that isn’t so nice keeping expenses down. [In the past] we’ve done a lot of couch-surfing, and not spending money on accommodations. We aren’t doing that as much this time, [but when we toured the U.K.] we [stayed at places] that were like “Oh my God, what is happening?!” There was a guy who invited us to stay at his place, [saying] “Yeah, there’s two couches!” Sounds like space; but then we walked into the door and nearly fainted because of the strong cat piss smell. Then the couches were actually two couches, but [extremely small], thinking, “how are we going to sleep on this?” He was like, “yeah, maybe you can take my bed and I can sleep on this.”
We slept on his bed, and he didn’t change the sheets or anything. It smelled so bad and there wasn’t even a [litter box] in the apartment and the cat was just peeing everywhere! We were like, “what the fuck is this?” This was one of the moments where you don’t like tour life and wonder, “why do we have to be cheap and keep expenses low?” Touring is already so exhausting; it’s fun, but playing every night, driving so far, and not always having good food to nourish yourself [in addition] to nights like this, that was quite the limit.
— and that’s where we are going to end the interview; on cat pee!
For more Wolf & Moon, check out their website.