Wolves at the Gate Photo by Aaron Marsh

Rescued by Light

Wolves at the Gate stand firm in their formidable subtext of rescuing hope for humanity on their latest release, 'Eclipse.'

Photo by Aaron Marsh

For their fourth studio album, Wolves at the Gate bravely stood still while the world moved a million miles per hour.

After a good dose of everyday life and despite the cultural pressure to adapt and mold their message to polarized opinions, the band – true to who they’ve always been – charged the gate with another bold work, Eclipse. A collection of questions contemplated, their newest release is the fruit of fertile ground, offering reflection, observation, and new insight.

After three years away, I called the band’s vocalist, Steve Cobucci, to pick up the conversation where we left it after their previous full-length record, Types and Shadows. What I quickly realized was that a whole lot had happened since then – musically, socially, personally, even politically – all of which played a role in the making of Eclipse. But what hasn’t changed is the band’s conviction to create the best music they can, remain open to hard work and opportunities for growth, and promote the truth the drives them. That truth – that people exist to show compassion and kindness without limits – is what led to this potent message of hope veiled in darkness but rescued by light.

While it’s true that every band brings something different to the table, I feel confident saying this band has consistently been a subtle anomaly in metalcore. Wolves at the Gate have always let the music unfold naturally, which is what makes their narrative so impactful. Like true artists, they remain students of their craft, never forcing a sound or an agenda, but, rather, allowing the process to do its work on them and graciously paying it forward to their fans.

I looked back and couldn’t believe it’s been three years since we last talked. What’s been going on since Types and Shadows that led to this record?
I think the last time we talked, my twins were just born. They’re going to be three in October. So that’s what kept this record on the down-low once the last record was released. The timing wasn’t the best, but it was good being home spending some time with my wife and my family. Raising a couple of babies has been insane (laughs). Not a lot of sleep, but it was cool. It gave me a lot of time to write and work on music. In the past two years, we probably did 12 months of touring, and we’re trying to get back out there again now that the twins are older and a little more manageable for my wife at home.

I’m sure a big life change like that made quite an impact on your music going forward. How did that influence this record?
I don’t know. That’s tough because part of me thought that Types and Shadows would be our last record. I was completely drained by the time the record came out because I was in the studio and I did a lot of it myself. It was very exhausting, physically and mentally – and then my kids were born. That was just nine months of not sleeping. I didn’t have much time to do anything with music. I was just thinking, “Am I ever going to get back to writing music?”

But once the kids started sleeping through the night, it was better because, when I work on music, it’s at night. Once everybody’s asleep, I go down to the studio in my basement to get to work. So it was cool once all that was settled because I felt like it was the right time to start again. I didn’t know what it was going to be about. It’s kind of like riding a bike, you know, but you’re not sure if you’re going to crash and burn (laughs).

For sure. I think whatever you did worked for you. This record definitely showed a lot of growth. The last album was very story-driven. Do you think Eclipse is different in that way?
Yeah, totally. I think what influenced Types and Shadows – the place in life I was in – was different, you know? More of those songs were geared toward external expression, like when I’d share thoughts and ideas with people. Stories and imagery. There were fewer songs on the internal side of things.

And I think on this record – especially because of the place in life I was in – not doing too much music-related when my twins were born gave me a lot more time to think introspectively and observe what was going on around me. Thinking about friends and family and also society at large. Obviously, there was a crazy political shift and the way that people have responded to that, negatively, positively… You know, the injustice that has happened over these three years, it’s crazy. And really, I did an interview yesterday and I was talking about how you could see a lot of this stuff brewing back in 2015, but like, I couldn’t have guessed that things would have happened the way they have. So it’s definitely impacted the record, because it’s stuff that I’ve been thinking about.

Wolves at the Gate Photo by Aaron Marsh

Wolves at the Gate Photo by Aaron Marsh

Would you say that’s a good balance for you, to go from story to reflection? Do you think that’s been a step forward for the band?
Yeah, because really what I tried on Types and Shadows was new to the band, and there were things that I had done a little bit on other records, but it was cool to make a concerted effort on a bunch of songs. That was definitely awesome. And now, we can feel free to do something else, and express different ways to approach music and ways to approach lyrics, and death and life. I think stories are helpful, they kind of give you ways to say things you may not be able to express, but it’s also awesome when you can talk about what’s going on purely internally, you know? And there doesn’t have to be this big overarching imagery, but just normal, lyrical imagery to describe things you’re feeling.

Even though it isn’t primarily driven by story, is there a general narrative to the record?
Oh, yeah. That’s why the record is titled Eclipse. It was the classic thing that happens every time. Our label asked, “Do you have an album title yet?” and I’m like, “Uh, no” (laughs). So I was thinking I needed to name the songs first. There’s a title track, “Eclipse,” which was actually the working title of that song. When I think about what an eclipse is, I actually think about belief. With the naked eye, you look at an eclipse and you think there’s no more light. But everyone rationally knows that’s not true. Had it been how many thousands of years ago and we didn’t understand physically what’s going on, we’d say, “What happened to the sun?” That was really what I realized was kind of a theme in all the songs, whether it was things I wanted to express internally or not.

I think so many people feel this feeling of, “Why do I feel so dark? Why do I feel like there’s nothing good in me? Why do I feel like a total screw up?” You feel a darkness, and that’s what happens: You look purely at yourself. It’s so easy to go down that path. But, for me, as a Christian, it takes believing that even though I see all this stuff in me that’s so messed up. There’s a God who loves me and has offered me forgiveness.

“It shouldn’t be a political party that causes us to want to care for people who are in need. That should just be what we naturally do as people.”

That was a super internal aspect of the theme, but also as a society, I feel like a lot of people are asking the question, “Where’s God?” All the suffering, everything’s so messed up. There’s so much division and what I tried to highlight regarding those issues is that I don’t think God’s the issue. I think we’re the issue. We’re letting ourselves be divided by such petty and small things and people are focusing so much more on political parties than actually caring for people. It shouldn’t be a political party that causes us to want to care for people who are in need. That should just be what we naturally do as people.

Let’s stop blame-shifting. And both (parties) do it. Really, all it is is pushing forward a political agenda. And in a couple of the songs, I hope to shed light on that and say that you’re just buying into a political party. You’re buying right into exactly what they want you to, which is to be one of their pawns for their cause, you know? How much better would it be if we as people when we see injustice happening… When someone is wrongfully murdered – let’s just say by a police officer – instead of attacking all the cops or people attacking whatever culture that person came from, why don’t we just care for people and families who are suffering from the injustice and not make it a political issue? That’s what happens. People and the media push an agenda, and people buy into it because of our own darkness. I definitely wanted to address that.

For me, I have no interest in identifying with a political party because I don’t think it’d do anybody any good. I would much rather identify with what I know is true. I want to love my enemies and the people who may hate me for what I believe or what I stand for. I want to love them. I mean, they hate me because of the color of my skin, but I don’t want that to be made into a way for me to justify how I treat them. I want that to be fuel for me to show them that, even though they hate me, I want to love them. I want to care for you. If you’re being treated unjustly at all, I want to be by your side and stand with you. There’s very little of that, but I believe that’s what Jesus’ message was about on a societal and interpersonal level. It’s just the picture of what God did for us, you know? We were his enemies, and he loved us purely by sending Christ to make peace for us.

So yeah, that was a super long answer to your question.

Why do you think music is a safe or better way to navigate those issues?
I think we might have talked about this a bit last time. It’s an artistic way of expressing truth. Obviously, putting a message in this medium of music can be something that appeals to people. The way I look at it, we’re much more willing to listen to somebody who shows you love and care. In the same way, we’re much more willing to listen to a message if it’s enjoyed musically. I think that’s why it works. It’s a way to express emotions, vulnerability, and clarity. It’s something I can’t explain. It’s amazing how people naturally connect with music. It’s such an awesome tool.

Why did you choose “The Cure” as the opening track on the album, speaking of all of this?
I feel like “The Cure” is basically a heavier version – in lyrical content and also sonically – of the title track, “Eclipse.” “The Cure” is really about the fact that we wonder why we face so much misery when we reject the things that would give us peace. The song starts by saying, “I can taste the misery / spitting out the remedy.” We wonder why the world is so dark, but we reject the thing that gives us light. It was far more internal than it was external, but I know it can help people externally as a message.

But it’s just something I really identify with. Sonically, I think it captures the array of sounds and emotions that people are going to hear on the record. We thought it would give people the most well-rounded picture of what to expect.

This time, you guys released four singles before the album came out. Being on tour, without the full album out, do you think having people know those three singles paid off and helped with the energy?
Oh yeah, definitely. I love it. I think it’s great, especially nowadays. The way that people release records is so different because the access people have to music is so different. For us, we put 13 tracks on the album for a reason: We felt strongly about 13 songs. We’ve put out four singles before the record came out, and we’ll still have nine other tracks for people to dig in to. You know, some people put out a nine-song record, and that’s almost half the record, but even still… The one thing that’s a bummer is when you put out new material and you go on tour, you want to play the new songs. We’ve noticed, in the past, that if people don’t have access to the new songs, it’s hard for them to get into a live show. So we’re thinking, yeah, let’s make sure they’re out long enough for people to latch on to them, learn them, and really get into them so, when we play it live, they’ll be able to sing along and scream with us. And that’s what’s happened, and it’s been so fun.

Who did you work with in the studio this time around?
We self-produced the record, so it was myself and we have a new member – his name is Joey Alarcon; he’s the other guitar player – and he and I engineered and produced the whole record. We went to a different studio to engineer the drums. We worked with a producer named Mike Watts at VuDu Studios, and he engineered all the drums there. Then we did the rest ourselves, so that was pretty new. I’d engineered some stuff – a couple of EPs of ours – but this was the first time I took the brunt of the engineering and producing along with Joey. It was a good experience, for sure.

Wolves at the Gate Photo by Aaron Marsh

Wolves at the Gate Photo by Aaron Marsh

There’s such a careful balance between keeping enough control over your music so you don’t lose your voice or your identity in the process, but also in inviting others as an outside perspective. Where do you fall in that balance?
I’m a big fan of somebody telling me that something in our songs is not good. That probably sounds strange, but I totally invite that. I want to know if something’s not up to par or not appealing or if something can be better. I’ve always really wanted that and maybe not necessarily gotten it to the degree that I desire it. That sounds strange – because we self-produced this record – but that’s where Joey came into the picture.

He had been a friend of mine for the past couple of years, and we had worked on another side project together. And he was exactly that. When we’d work on stuff together, and we’d be listening back, we’d say, “Alright, how can this be better?” and then completely take it apart and start again. We’d keep doing that until we felt like we had gotten as far as we could go. So, as I was writing songs, I would send them to him, and he’d push me and confirm a lot of things that I thought. I knew some parts needed to be better but didn’t know what to do, and he said, “Yeah, I think this can be better. Let’s try this.” Then, I’d go back and work on it and it was so much better.

So, it was a month before we were going to record the album, and Joey had been super helpful, so I was like, why haven’t I asked him to be a part of the band? And I asked him, and he said, “I thought you’d never ask.” So, we just jumped in headfirst. I’ve always had a pretty clear vision of what I want for the band, and the label took a chance. I told them, “Trust me, I’m going to work super hard and make this thing exactly what it needs to be. And if it’s not up to par, it’s on me.” We wanted to prove that we could produce a record ourselves, and we would rather invest our resources in having someone like Taylor (Larson) mix it – because he’s phenomenal – and I definitely think it paid off.

You mentioned earlier about how the music industry has changed so much in recent years with labels and DIY culture. Do you think there’s something WATG has done that has proven to be successful every time throughout the ever-changing industry? Is there something you’ll never change about this band?
That’s an interesting question. I mean, I think one thing that’s always been really important to us is our relationship with our fan base. We don’t want there to be any smoke and mirrors. I don’t want people to think we’re something that we’re not. Obviously, we love music and we love it as a career, but ultimately we just sincerely want to help people. We control all of our social media. I’m usually the one who’s responding to every comment and every message, and it gets harder and harder as this is the only way people communicate with each other. It can be overwhelming at times, but it’s something I don’t ever want to change. Having that access to people that have questions or want to share how something impacted them or want to understand what a song means… anything really. So definitely that accessibility.

Overall, I guess I’d say integrity. It’s hard playing a tough genre. We just want to write great songs. As much as we want to make songs that people like, we want to make songs that are true to us and true to what got people into our band. We want to be able to make that while still growing and challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves and our listeners. And that’s what’s so cool about our fan base, they’re just along for the ride and have supported us so well. So we just want to keep doing that.

Do you ever feel pressure to write to a certain audience or to do something as a band that caters to industry expectations?
Totally. We’ve been a band for 11 years, so we’ve seen a lot of different iterations of heavier music, and I can’t say that we’ve ever quote-unquote fit in. Not because we’re trying to be oddballs, but I can’t help but write what I write. But that seems to be what people really like or really don’t. I think sometimes bands see that and they try to cater to the interests or the way of what’s going on and you kind of shoot yourself in the foot. Forget about all the fans that have been with you and love what you’re doing.

For us, we just want to get better at what we’re doing because it means something to those listeners. We’ve never been a blow-up sort of band, but we’ve always just seen growth and more growth. Sure, it would be awesome to blow up tomorrow and things get a lot easier financially, but we love what we’re doing and how things have been growing. It works for some bands that take a chance and cater to what’s happening right now, but I think there’s a way you can keep doing that still. You do need to pay attention to what’s going on and what people are into, but doing that while staying true to what actually inspires us? That’s always been really close to us as a band. We want to make sure that everybody feels strongly about everything we’re doing, and that’s because we’ve all changed, what we’ve seen has continued to grow, and we are okay with knowing we’re different.

Wolves at the Gate was posted on August 11, 2019 for HM Magazine and authored by .