Music is a powerful device, wielding its way through the darkness of isolation, shedding light for listeners in downtrodden times. It can forge unity. It can break through barriers. But it takes a band with the right story, the right connection, to open up those unique experiences and create the bridge to the heart of matters. Wolves at the Gate are known for that connection. It’s not a surprise to go to one of the Ohio-based band’s shows and find their set is two-thirds music, one-third story. It can be more a theatrical experience than a gig. It’s as much they say as what they play.
After exchanging countless stories on the stage — and off it, as well, spending inordinate amounts of time at their merch table post-show, mingling with attendees — Wolves at the Gate have released their third studio album, Types and Shadows. The record is not only a work of art but a work of fortitude. From the record to the stage, the strength of this band is undeniably growing, and the connection to their fans grows directly beside it. Unabashedly celebrating life and the power of music, Wolves at the Gate have created a collection of stories on Types and Shadows that hit home with immeasurable force, sure to bolster the experience they aim to create.
Formed in 2008, founding member Steve Cobucci has served as their guitarist, songwriter and vocalist for the seven-or-so years the band has been together. After it first began, our interview quickly transformed into an in-depth conversation about the music we grew up with and how the spirit of individuality shines in the genre today. Cobucci strives to harness a raw identity in his voice, one similar to that the bands before him have mastered, one you can hear on the new release. From drafting songs to recording the final arrangements all the way to the stage, he walks me through the vulnerable journey that became Types and Shadows.
He humbly carries the expanding responsibilities of his influential role, built with the conviction to be excellent as well as the wisdom to keep learning. A man of immense faith, Cobucci emanates with thankfulness and love for his band, his fans, and his creator. His passion radiates as he talks with me about being imperfect and broken yet covered with grace and how all those feelings helped shape the album.
Types and Shadows is your third full-length album. How do you think people are responding to it?
It’s been cool. One thing I just noticed today is that people have been posting lyrics and favorite songs, and they’ve all been so different. That’s been really cool for us, to see a bunch of different people getting into a bunch of different songs, not just “the single,” you know? It’s awesome to see people get into deeper tracks on the record.
Just to introduce the album from your own words, can you tell me about the title of the record?
Types and Shadows is a way I could describe my approach to writing all these lyrics. They’re all in a story format. There’s one song I wrote about Nick (Detty, co-vocalist) and something he went through, but from my perspective. I walked with him through this whole situation, and it was really difficult stuff. We both came to the idea to write a song about what he went through, but we wanted to write it using story and imagery to personify different things in different ways.
It’s crazy to see the things that people struggle with or believe about themselves or about God that are so wrong. Some of these songs have imagery that I used to help explain what was going on with them, and to help them see that God still desires to do good to them despite how they’re feeling.
And then some of it is personal, things that go on in my head. Being a Christian band, people think I’m some sort of super hero. But I always try to be very clear in our interviews and in our songs that I’m not. I’m so far from that. I’m somebody that needs grace. That was another thing I really wanted to make clear in the record. A lot of the songs are types and shadows of displaying the beauty of God, which I think is seen most clearly in His grace through Jesus. That’s the ultimate theme.
Do you do most of the writing, or does that happen all together?
I do most of the writing. A lot of the input I do get is after I’ve sent it out to the guys, or I’ll sit down with Nick and explain the concept. A lot of times, I’ll have Nick listen to the song and read the lyrics and ask him, “What do you think it’s about?” That’s usually a good indicator to me. If he’s not getting a certain point, maybe it’s not him but it’s me, you know?
Do you do any writing in the studio or is that strictly tracking?
I would say 10 percent of the record happened in the studio. That’s only because we changed stuff. Right before I’d go to track something, I’d talk to Randy (Leboeuf), one of our producers, and I was like, “Man, what do you think about this?” And he’d say, “Well, what are you thinking?” and I’d say, “I think I can do better.” So we would just explore. That was fun.
Has the writing process changed for this record with a new drummer coming in?
Yeah, his name is Abishai. He’s been in the band for about two years. He used to play drums in The Overseer. He had so much great input, and he’s a phenomenal drummer. He really has a great knack for adding a whole new texture to the songs. I think the stuff he added made the songs three-dimensional.
I was just consumed by the album when I heard it. I was actually baking while I was listening to it for the first time.
(Laughs) That’s awesome!
Where do you pull your sound from? Who inspires this band?
Musically, I would say collective influences come from bands like Thrice and As Cities Burn. Some other bands like Blindside are bands that we collectively enjoy. Brand New is another huge one for us.
Obviously, bands like Thrice or As Cities Burn have had heavier stuff in their music. But other bands like Brand New, who aren’t necessarily heavy, still influence us in how we want to communicate feel and emotion, you know? Really, it runs the gamut, but those are the first bands that come to mind.
And what about you as a guitarist or vocalist?
That’s tough. As a vocalist, I love Jesse Lacey’s vocals. (Editor’s note: Lacey is the frontman for Brand New.) It’s just so him; I love that. All the vocalists I’ve mentioned have that. It’s funny because it sounds like those guys don’t have control of their voice at times — it can sound so broken — but they (still have control). That’s what’s so cool about it. Dustin (Kensrue) from Thrice, Christian (Lindskog) from Blindside, they just have a lot of character to their voices.
Guitar-wise, that’s hard. There are so many places I could pull from. I would have to say, creatively, my favorite guitarist is Cody (Bonnette) from As Cities Burn. He probably has the coolest guitar style I’ve ever heard. I couldn’t recreate it if I tried, so I just have to be influenced by it.
I wanted to ask about one song on the record, “Fountain.” That was originally a hymn by William Cowper (“There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”). Just curious: Do you know anything about his personal testimony?
Yeah, that’s actually a huge part of the reason I wanted to put that song on there. On our last record, we wrote a song called “Relief.” The song was generalized when it was written, but it was more so a particular response to all the interactions we’ve had with people who practice self-harm or have suicidal tendencies. It’s shocking how much of that goes on in the scene and in society.
I’ve always loved that hymn, and, a couple years back, I was reading William Cowper’s biography. He struggled with depression and attempted to take his own life on a couple occasions — and you wouldn’t think that. With these old hymn writers, you’d think that they were monks that sat and prayed all day. In a sense, he was a very Godly man because his resolve was always trusting in the gospel. It was his sin and seeing his failure that would cause him great despair. But if you look at the lyrics to his hymn, you see what his hope is in: All of his sins would be washed away, and Christ had accomplished that for him. It’s such an amazing story. The words are simple and yet so poetic. It creates an awesome visual and it really fit into the theme of the record.
Yeah, I mean it makes the whole song that much more powerful, coming from him. What is it that he says? “Redeeming love will be my theme until the day I die.” That’s him handing over his life and his time…
Yeah. That’s so funny that you picked that one out because that’s my favorite line from that hymn. I remember, it was the one line that our producer asked, “Is that the best word you could use?” Then I explained to him that it was a re-done hymn and he was like, “Okay, I get it now. You probably shouldn’t change that” (laughs).
It’s crazy because we were on tour in Indianapolis and, during sound check, they were playing really dark, ethereal music. I had that tune stuck in my head all day and I started singing it while that music was going on. That song’s usually sung in a major key, but the song that was playing was in this dark, minor key. So I just started singing a different melody with those words and thought, “This sounds pretty awesome.” So I got my voice memo out and recorded myself doing it really quick. That kind of birthed the idea of the song once I got home from tour. I finished making it in three hours, probably.
Do you have a favorite song on the record? Or one that’s closest to you? I know “Lowly” is pretty personal for you.
Yeah, it is. I think it’s easy for me to say that’s my favorite, also, because I know that it’s everybody else’s favorite, too. I feel like it’s the most accurate depiction of any thought I’ve ever had, if that makes sense. Sometimes you’re trying to get something out, and maybe you got 10 percent of it out, but I felt like I was really able to communicate what was on my mind.
There’s great tension in that song about coming to grips with the struggles that I do have — and, internally, that we all have — but also the hope that I have. It’s amazing that in one song, I can say I know I’m wretched and I can also say I know I’m blessed. That’s why I love that song, because it defines much of my life, and probably the rest of my life, too.
Do you find it hard to get back in that headspace to either record or perform live?
No. For that song in particular, I think that’s why it’s so dear to my heart. Every time I go to sing that first line, I remember. It’s because it’s something that I face daily. It’s the battle between the flesh and the spirit. That doesn’t ever stop, you know? It’s really easy for me to connect right off the bat with that song. Thankfully, we’ve got a couple songs like that, and hopefully I can keep getting better at writing songs and being honest and make more songs like that, if anything, just for myself.
Is there a reason the album is constructed the way it is, in terms of album order and arrangement?
There isn’t necessarily a concept with that. We definitely tried to construct it in a way that feels like a story. Something I was surprised nobody caught onto yet is the first track on our last record was called “Wake Up.” It is basically a call to people to see that we live in a generation of prodigals; that’s what it seems like. It’s saying that the prodigals are prodigals because we’re giving our church everything but the gospel — a lot of laws to keep, a lot of condemnation, but not the gospel.
Ironically, I wanted to name the first track “Asleep” because that story’s about Nick and his belief of the gospel. It’s about forgetting it, in a sense. Not forgetting that Christ died on the cross, but forgetting what it implied for him. That was very intentional. I was hoping people would pick up on it, and I’m sure some people have. That’s kind of a hidden gem.
“There was a time when everybody and their mom was in a Christian band and said, ‘We do this for Jesus.’ And then it died and it got really cool to be anti-religion. I think there was a big period where it boomed, and then people saw how disingenuous it was. Then they swing to the other side of the pendulum.”
What do you think about the Christian post-hardcore movement that seems to have picked up within the last couple years or so?
Maybe I’ve missed it, because I feel like I see it a little differently. There was a time when everybody and their mom was in a Christian band and said, “We do this for Jesus.” And then it died and it got really cool to be anti-religion. Maybe not anti-religion, but anti-Catholicism or anti-Christianity. I don’t really know who these bands were targeting. Basically, I think there was a big period where it boomed, and then people saw how disingenuous it was. Then they swing to the other side of the pendulum. People used to be all about Christian metal and hardcore, and then they saw an ugly side of it and saw it to be fake, so they ran really hard to the other side. If that’s what you’re seeing, I’d attest it to that. You see it everywhere: in the church, in our government, in politics, socially, etc. For a while, all that was being talked about was sexual orientation, and now it’s all about race. It’s just the way things are, you know?
For us, we just want to see more good bands get out there, to be honest. I think there’s a lot of filler out there. I think there’s a lot of disingenuous music. People putting out music that sounds like stuff that’s already out there or trying to recreate something that was successful. It doesn’t even have to be a genre I’m crazy into. As long as they’re being themselves and trying to make honest music, it’s pretty cool. I would love to see more good Christian music. It’s hard to find. I’ve gotten into less heavy music myself, but any good music would be great.
In light of that, what do you hope this record or this band brings to the table in that way?
Musically, I really hope that people are getting tired of cookie-cutter metalcore and people start thinking differently about what heavy music is. There’s a huge population that would say we’re super heavy and another population that would say we’re not heavy at all. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. But I would listen to our record to hear the songs, not to see if we have this sort of breakdown or this pop chorus or these cookie monster screams, you know?
I think you’ll always be disappointed in music if you’re searching for something in particular. It’s fun to get knocked off guard. All my favorite bands have done that to me. I remember the first time I heard Brand New. I thought, “Man, this guy’s vocals aren’t really in tune, but this song is awesome!” It was so different than anything I had ever heard. This guy was talking about really personal stuff. Or with Thrice, I thought, “These guys are playing really aggressive heavy music, and he’s singing.” It’s cool to get knocked off guard, and, if you come in expecting something, you’ll almost always be disappointed. Or you’ll find what you’re looking for and it will only meet that expectation, nothing else.
Are you guys going on tour for this record?
We will. It’s going to be a little delayed though: My wife and I just had twins a month ago.
Thanks. Yeah, that’s really exciting for me, and I really want to be a part of their lives and also help my wife. She’s got a hard job right now, and she’s doing so great with it. I’m really thankful for her, and the last thing I want to do is make it harder for her to not have her teammate and best friend with her. So I’m going to stick around for a little bit. But we’re pretty anxious to play these songs live. We’ve played a couple shows since it’s come out, and we have a couple more overseas in Germany in December. But people will probably start seeing us going out again in 2017.
That’s great. I guess the only other thing I have to ask is what’s next? I always want to know what we can be looking out for and how we can support you as fans and musicians.
Seeing as we can’t tour right off the bat with this record, my goal is to be a lot more active on social media. I just did a Reddit AMA for about two hours, which was a lot of fun. We’re going to try to give people more content and interact more on social media. We’ll be doing guitar playthroughs on new songs and old songs, drum playthroughs, and we’re going to try to work on some acoustic versions of these new songs — basically, try to stay engaged with our fans that way since we can’t get on the road this winter. We’re not going anywhere. There’s still a lot coming up for people to enjoy.
Wolves at the Gate was posted on December 3, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by Nao Lewandowski.