Meeting Gnarwolves

“Punk music makes me feel like I have superpowers,” Gnarwolves bassist Charlie Piper tells me. “Playing aggressive music live just gives you a whole different kind of adrenaline and you share it with the crowd. Before we played London’s Underworld last year, I ate a filthy kebab and felt ill, but when I got onstage I felt I could do anything – as I said, superpowers!” Coming to us from Brighton by way of Cornwall, Gnarwolves (completed by Thom Weekes on guitar and vocals and Max Weeks on drums) have found a hugely passionate following since their formation in 2011 and that fan base can now be found spilling beer, stagediving and shouting along with the band at one of their famously rowdy live shows. The passion and excitement shown by Gnarwolves’ fans – who now stretch from England to Israel – has its nucleus in the band’s commitment and love of playing their uplifting punk rattlers. “I don’t feel alive until we’re onstage then I’m buzzing and up until four in the morning,” Charlie tells me. “I don’t know what it’s like for other bands, but for us, playing intense fast music and doing stagedives and posi-jumps keeps you alive and well.” 

Gnarwolves formed with humble ambitions – like many bands fuelled by the DIY aesthetics of punk rock – but have gone on to shred the globe and string together several well-loved releases, with a new EP imminent. “We started a band to make friends and play shows… we never planned it like ‘we’re gonna do 3 EPs and an album’. When we signed to Big Scary Monsters and Tangle Talk, they asked if we wanted to do an album and it dawned on us that we should. We had deadlines and everything.” The ensuing self-titled debut album Gnarwolves ended up acting as solidifying mark for the band’s first few years: “We didn’t expect to do it but we were very proud of ourselves. Normally, after a year, a band will listen back to their album and want to do things differently whereas we’re proud with how it came out. The record did surprisingly well which was a shock too. I remember when we were in the Top 40 for like six hours or whatever and made it to Number 8 in the independent charts and top of the vinyl charts.” Keen record collectors, putting out a physical and collectable item was huge for the outfit, as Charlie expands: “It feels rad to be part of the vinyl push as a record collector myself. We got to do colour variants on the 12” as we had different releases. I was very proud to put out something other people could collect.” As things got realer for the band, it seems that physical evidence mounted up alongside it, with the band’s debut a physical token of progress for the band and their fans to hold onto. 

 

“We played the Main Stage to show people a punk band can do it. We were playing on the same day as Arctic Monkeys and Peace, and don’t get me wrong, they do their thing, but they don’t play like we do.”

 

With the band entering their fifth year together, I’m keen to get Charlie’s perspective on progression and what that means to him. He pauses for a second before first focussing on the musical aspect of Gnarwolves. “We try and bring our band’s vibe every time and keep it energetic and a bit technical and odd. There’ll be songs where people will say ‘that’s different’ and that’s the point. We can write heavy songs and ballads and pop songs. The first two records were straight-up punk and then we started to expand. Max and I lived together for the first two years and a lot of our early music was just whatever records we were listening to. We were into Iron Chic and RIVR and Hot Water Music on CRU and the new one was influenced by DC Hardcore and Fugazi and Dischord Records bands.” As well as the music the band were listening to, Gnarwolves’ latest recordings are also influenced by the musical scenes they feel a strong affinity with. “The newer stuff is more based on what we want to be part of – we’ve always wanted to be part of the punk community. We’ve wanted to move away from pop-punk and more towards punk-pop. I was watching a Descendents documentary and they brand “pop-punk” as a band like New Found Glory whereas Descendents were a punk band that made it a bit more pop and now you’ve just got bands who aren’t punk at all with that “pop-punk” branding. Grime is popular in the van too – we’re very attracted to the aggression of it. We like music that get us pumped and we want people to have that attachment to our music.” 

Progressing as a band has meant that Gnarwolves have had to maintain a strong unity, which has been a constant positive throughout their career, as Charlie tells me. “If there was a high point for this band, I’d say where we’re at now. We’ve got another record coming out and we’re still strong and still brothers. If it got to a point where it was a job or just to make extra money then we wouldn’t be a band anymore. When the element of friendship leaves, that’s it: we’re done.” Charlie tells me that one of the greatest high points for the band so far has been their appearances at Reading Festival – unsurprising for a band who inject so much vim and vigour into their live performances. “We’re not lying when we say we’re amazed by these things. Playing the Lock Up at Reading was huge – the Main Stage was the next step and we were obviously stoked to perform there – but the Lock Up has always been the punk stage. Quicksand and Alkaline Trio played the same day which felt special for us as fans of punk music.” I can palpably sense the excitement as Charlie continues. “We opened at 11am at Reading and the tent was full. Everyone had obviously got up from their tents to come see us and it was the craziest show we’ve ever done. That was the moment where we said ‘this band thing is going to get real now’ and it was incredible. Not long after that performance, we headlined the Underworld and sold it out and it was chaos, so we were right about things getting real.” 

The band’s rise to a Main Stage appearance at Reading also registers as a highlight, if just for the attention it brought the group. “The Main Stage business might have set us too high to be honest – people told us because of that we’re going to be huge and were going to play arenas, but we did it for experience. We were considering not playing Main Stage but my dad told me we better do it. It was funny how some people think we were going to be mad rock stars or something stupid and that’s just not the case. We played the Main Stage to show people a punk band can do it. We were playing on the same day as Arctic Monkeys and Peace, and don’t get me wrong, they do their thing, but they don’t play like we do.” It’s easy to sense that, despite their success, Gnarwolves are – and will forever be – carrying the underdog mentality. 

As well as the commercial growth of the group, there’s been a strong sense of personal growth for Gnarwolves as individuals. Charlie is candid as he explains to me how “Gnarwolves was the first time I started heavily touring professionally. I’ve learned better social skills, made some amazing friends and the whole experience taught me a lot. Even going onstage and setting up my pedals and restringing my bass and knowing what I want in my monitors… it’s made me feel I can do stuff. Before I was in this band I worked in a care job and liked working with people but I felt a sense of 'what do I do now?’. Being in a band has that element of feeling different and doing what I want. When this band accelerated and got big I quit my job.” Touring also afforded the band the luxury of seeing other parts of the world, which holds huge importance for them. “I’ve learned a lot about culture from being in this band. European culture, for instance. I can’t speak German well but if I go to Germany I don’t have to speak much English. I could go to lots of places in Europe and can walk around there like I walk around Brighton. I took my girlfriend to Berlin and was able to just walk through there and show her around. I’ve always wanted to soak up different cultures and have been able to as a result of touring.”

Success initially proved a steep learning curve for Gnarwolves, as Charlie talks about the effects of drinking and partying. “It did affect me in a heavy way and it’s taught me to look after myself and get fitter. The first few years of touring were just me being wasted the entire time, but my bandmates told me to sort it out and look after myself. We had a big tour coming up – they call it the “breakthrough tour”, or something – with thousand-cap venues. I had to buck up my ideas for that. We all had to grow up – we’ve learned how to wash our clothes on tour and book decent hostels now.” As our conversation ends and Charlie waits for the rain in Brighton to stop so he can go skateboard, I’m left feeling invigorated about the healing, empowering sensation of punk and the aforementioned “super powers” they can give you. It’s this napalm spirit that has coursed through the veins of people like me, Gnarwolves and the people before them. Gnarwolves are the sort of outfit that are going to inspire the next generation of bands to pick up instruments and make a racket of their own – it feels like the next wave of punks are in safe hands. 

Words by Joseph Fuller