comScore Sister Wolf's Villains, a Comics and Feminism-Inspired Album | The Mary Sue
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Sister Wolf’s Villains, a Rad Comics and Feminism-Inspired Album

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With angry howls and riffs that’ll bite a chunk out of your flesh, Sister Wolf‘s debut album, Villains, finds its way into your heart by way of your earholes. There’s something undoubtedly raw and emotional about each and every track, something that calls out to the very real, very deep part of you that wants to just get aggressive, passionate, and angry. Equal parts Screaming Females, The Coathangers, and The Kills, with a dash of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a hint of Sleeper Agent, this female-fronted alt-rock band is the perfect grungy rock band cocktail to down before diving into the pit.

But it’s not just their sound that sets them apart. Their lyrics are inspired by comic books and feminism, two great tastes that taste great together. We had a chance to chat with Steph Wolf, Chris Atkins, and Matt Weitman, the members of Sister Wolf, about their new album and their inspirations and influences. Wolf, the trio’s vocalist, spoke about how comics informed their song writing process, saying:

I think sometimes someone else’s story can actually help you tell your own more powerfully. Comics can be so great at discussing or presenting big issues, like corruption, morality, sexual violence, and ego. 

Music has always been very therapeutic for me, but in writing the songs for this album, I found it was difficult to talk about what I was going through directly in my lyrics. Even when I tried the direct approach, it didn’t fully capture the depth of what I was experiencing. 

If you’re looking for specific references, Wolf shared some information on that as well. She cited Batwoman and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as two specific comics that she found solace in. “I felt so connected to those worlds,” she said. “I realized that if I framed my own experiences through these comics, I could both talk about them more easily and capture the depth of feeling through the shared metaphor of these characters.”

“Alice” is one example of how the band pulls from comics to inform their lyrics. Pulled from Batwoman, it’s all one big reference to (you guessed it) Alice, the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Batwoman villain. The song starts off pretty downbeat, the bass setting the melancholic tone.

Oh Alice, young mistress of crime
What led you to twist and turn so?
With monsters and criminals at your command
You terrorize Gotham, ’cause you can

Spitting poison blades from your mouth, it made you mad, so mad
I will find you, tell me, could it be true, is it really you?

The lyrics call back to the story arc, especially its ending. After realizing Alice is her sister (who was long thought dead), they end up hanging from a jet wing after a scuffle. Batwoman catches Alice, who pulls out a knife with her free hand to stab Batwoman. The hero begs her not to do it, because the fall would undoubtedly kill her. This is reflected in the song’s end, which goes:

I don’t want to fight you, sister of mine
No, I don’t want to fight you, sister of mine
I won’t let you fall

When it comes to musical influences, the band lists inspiration from bands like The Smashing Pumpkins, The Kills, and The Pixies. They were immediately drawn to these bands because, as Wolf said, “There’s something so raw and sincere and I-don’t-give-a-fuck about that kind of music, that to me is the epitome of what music should be. If it’s not honest, what’s the point?”

Atkins, the band’s guitarist, said, “They’re all so heavy and sad, yet sexy. And in very distinct and unique ways, too.” And Weitman, the drummer, spoke on the commonalities between those three groups, touching on their “incredible writing surrounded by unparalleled musicianship.” To him, “each of these bands has such a raw and unique sound–like nothing else.”

But what sets them apart from these bands? Atkins explained, “We want to express ourselves, so we have to do more than just copy-paste. If we write a song that sounds exactly like a Pumpkins track then we either throw it out and do better, or we fucking mangle it until it’s ours. And I mean mangle.” They do a great job of “mangling” it, as it were (in the best way). The influences are subtle, but noteworthy. The band absolutely does have its own sound that acknowledges where it came from while still maintaining its own identity.

Atkins touches on how even video games have a way of influencing their process. He cites examples of Bastion, Grim Fandango, and Transistor, three games with iconic soundtracks. “They have beautiful stories and beautiful atmosphere, which the music totally heightens,” he explained. “I guess they made me think about how both music and games have elements of performance and narrative, and I think any kind of intellectual understanding like that is impacting.”

There’s an atmospheric element to all of those games, but they also mentioned one in particular that is perhaps the epitome of atmospheric and moody: Mass Effect. “Mass Effect definitely gave me feelings,” Atkins said. “So many good men lost. And has there ever been a better villainous force in video games than the Reapers? They’re such a beautiful symbol for death itself; emotionless, uncaring, unknowable. Refusal is the true ending. Everyone must die or the whole trilogy isn’t as artful.”

Fair enough.

As for the album, which was released last Tuesday, they say the reception has been grand. “A big response has been ‘this makes me want to break things/hit people,’ which is simultaneously awesome and unfortunate,” Wolf said. She also added, “PSA: Please don’t hit people to our music.” According to Atkins, a lot of fans are absolutely resonating with the album. “I’m psyched that a few people have said to us, ‘I was looking for something just like this.’ That means so much,” he said.

I was actually one of those people. I remember listening to the album for the first time, and being struck by how much I needed to hear the album they were creating. There’s definitely something special about Villains. Its comics and feminism inspired lyrics and its skillfully applied riffs and melodies somehow come together to tell a story greater than themselves. Each of these elements creates something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and delivers pure, raw emotion. Any artist would kill to have that ability, and these three have that in spades.

Villains is out now on Bandcamp, and is a steal at $7. The band is also getting ready for a tour to promote the new album.

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