Punk rock – perhaps more than any other genre in modern times – has been diluted, distracted and bastardised away from its original blueprint. A pale facsimile of its former self.
Yet when they broke onto the scene in 2012, Brighton’s Gnarwolves injected a hefty (and much-needed) shot of energy, boldness and no-fucks-given attitude that resonated immediately and with extraordinary intensity. Across a collection of short, sharp and charmingly ramshackle EPs and a stunning self-titled debut album, they captured the zeitgeist of a youth disaffected with austerity and cultural homogenisation and set about re-focussing attention onto community, DIY ethic and an unshakeable belief that punk really can save your life.
“We grew up on punk rock,” offers guitarist and singer Thom Weeks with a grin. “You become a lifer after a while. It’s engrained in to the very core of this band.”
A cult fanbase grew with them, a collection of slacker skaters, hardcore kids, pop-punkers and many more besides, drawn in by the dual attack of Thom’s rasping, sugar sweet melodies and bassist Charlie Piper’s guttural drawl. Along with Thom’s brother and drummer Max, the trio powered their way to the Reading and Leeds Festival main stage, as well as in to support slots with Blink-182, NOFX, The Story So Far – all while maintaining the sort of resolutely Do-It-Yourself ethos that so many bands jettison when chequebooks start getting opened.
“Every time we did something really big like Reading and Leeds, it felt like we were wearing someone else’s shoes,” admits Weeks. “We don’t even want to play shows with barriers, really! We had some incredible experiences, but in the end took a step back from that larger stuff deliberately, and I wouldn’t change that.”
Yet eschewing the games of a mainstream anathema to their ethics came at a price. A penchant for playing 200 or so shows a year began to take its toll on the three-piece – the fatigue of being constantly on the road, sleeping in leaky vans and on freezing floors leading them to the conclusion that it was time to step away from Gnarwolves and re-calibrate. Better that than running a band which was founded with the sole aim of having a good time into the ground forever.
“We’ve never done this to get famous,” laughs Weeks. “So it was the right time for us to have some time away. You’ve got to be mates with your bandmates and we were risking not being. We all went away and did different projects for a while and cleared our heads which was absolutely the right thing to do.”
But that period apart was never the sort of publicity driven ‘ongoing hiatus’ so many bands indulge in, nor an absence cynically designed to make hearts grow fonder and spur more hype. After all, this is a group who have already been lauded to the rafters amongst press and peers for some time – one who are now refreshed, revitalised and raring to return.
“We’ve been away for an appropriate amount of time and we’re back to do the thing that we love doing. It’s as simple as that, really!” says Weeks with trademark directness.
That return comes in the shape of new full-length ‘Outsiders’, an album which finds its genesis in the uncertainty which, for Thom at least, characterised Gnarwolves’ intermission: a band who have always dealt in suburban dissatisfaction now rallying against existential crises head-on.
“I was properly burned out when we stopped touring and didn’t really feel right for ages,” sighs Weeks. “There’s a lot of honesty in ‘Outsiders’, songs about feeling really misanthropic, about feeling incredibly worn out. It’s the most open thing I’ve done lyrically and I’m proud of that, but also preparing to feel a little bit embarrassed about it. I guess that’s the spirit of punk, making something positive from a negative thing.”
Sonically too, ‘Outsiders’ marks a real leap into new territory for the trio. While there is still a vim and energy on show which is unmistakably theirs, there is also a retreat away from out and out pace and manic D-Beat rush, and towards four / four power and crafted, distilled songwriting. Influences ranging from ’90s emo and ’80s hardcore to the inventive indie of Cloud Nothings push to the fore, making for a often surprising, always engaging, listen.
“If we made the same music every time, that wouldn’t be rewarding for anyone,” insists Weeks. “I certainly feel the most confident as a songwriter that I ever have. I used to be quite scared of songs and I’m really not scared of songs anymore. Looking back, Gnarwolves used to essentially be hardcore tunes with pop-punk on the top, but that has changed a hell of a lot.”
The upshot is that ‘Outsiders’ feels like the work of a band holding fast to the ethos that they have always lived by: doing their own thing, on their own terms, for their own creative fulfilment. That it is the sort of exceptional, forward-thinking second record that most bands in their scene have neither the guts of ability to produce is just a head-spinningly exciting byproduct.
“When the three of us got back into a room again and started playing, it was genuinely amazing,” finishes Weeks. “We have almost a sixth sense between us in this band, I suppose knocking out hundreds of shows will do that for you. And I can’t wait to start showing these new songs to people at those gigs. It’s going to be the best time.”
The most vital British punk band of modern times are back, right when we need them most.
Gnarwolves Cru. Fuck you.