You’re definitely not ready for this.

But it’s okay, because I’m here to guide you through this new and scary thing! I feel so lucky to have gotten a chance to interview the fantastic new band, Sister Wolf, who uses comic books as a strong backbone to their equally exciting and innovative music. On top of that, they happen to be good old friends of mine from school (Oh, what stories we could tell…) so I am so excited to let our devoted followers at ComicsVerse know about this unique rock band who probably is just as into X-Men and Alan Moore as you! Dare to question us? Take a look at the thoughtful answers of two-thirds of the legend you don’t know about yet, lead guitar wielding Chris Atkins, and crooning temptress on bass, Stephanie Winkelmann of Sister Wolf! Turns out they’re funny, too…
1) Welcome to ComicsVerse! Congratulations on your first album release, Villains. As a fan and a friend, it’s really exciting to see you go from your 2013 EP Hard-Boiled Wonderland to Villains. Was there a different approach or reaction between the two albums?
Stephanie: Thank youuuu. Definitely very different approach and reaction. For one, until recently, I forgot we ever put out an EP. We put out Hard-Boiled Wonderland basically because we’d been playing shows for so long but we weren’t ready to record an album yet, and we wanted people to be able to listen to our stuff whenever they wanted to. So for that EP, Chris literally just recorded us live at our practice space and mixed it all himself (because he’s amazing), we sold a handful of EPs and put it up for free online. So it was very much just a quick “here, listen to us online so you don’t forget about us.” VILLAINS was much more involved and as a result the reaction has been much bigger and much better.
Chris: Yeah, I like to pretend that EP didn’t happen. Like Steph said, we cobbled it together just to have something concrete, but it never felt representative of what we sound like. At least, not to my ears. VILLAINS is closer to that.
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2) You guys just had your Villains release party/show at Pianos on September 4th. Needless to say, the show was fantastic! Have you felt any difference in the performance aspect of your shows since you started incorporating Villains’ songs compared to your many past shows? I feel like I’ve seen you guys when you were still starting in school, and while the shows were always memorable, I can definitely feel a new energy. How would you identify that?
Stephanie: Thank you! At this point, we have really become so familiar with playing the songs that we’re much more comfortable on stage, and I think we’ve written songs that are more fun to play. At least for me, a big part of that is because I was originally just singing in the band, so I had total freedom to move around, use my arms, get in the crowd, throw myself on the floor, etc… But when we decided I was going to be the new bassist, it was a huge adjustment. This was maybe 2 and a half years ago? I had to learn to play bass, sing and play bass at the same time, and do that while being engaging on stage. I’ve finally become totally comfortable doing all three, so I think as a result the energy on stage is much better. But of course, ever since Matt joined it’s like we have this straight injection of punk and energy and enthusiasm and it really makes playing so much fun. (Especially when he destroys drum kits).
Chris: It’s definitely been a huge change since Matt has joined the band- we’re all excited to be here, playing these songs, and his drumming just pushes us all up to 11.
3) So it’s clear by the titles and the lyrical content of your music that you draw various inspirations from comic book characters, from Batwoman to Swamp Thing. Did you guys enter the song-writing process with these famous characters in mind, or were the lyrical themes there originally? I know you all are comic book fans!
Stephanie: I think there’s a mix between songs that are just “I love this character and I want to write about them” and songs where references just gave a little more weight to my own story. You know, there’s a difference between saying “I’m sad,” and saying “I’m Batman.” With the reference, you get all this complexity, and then I have room to build on my story without having to explain too much, which I think is part of the appeal of writing comics about established characters. But I improvise all my lyrics while we’re writing, so it’s kind of just whatever is on my mind at the time.
Chris: Steph, you ruined everything. You told them you’re Batman. Now your loved ones are no longer safe.
4) Let’s take a look at the loaded question of influences: I wanted to draw a parallel between your musical influences versus your comic book influences for Sister Wolf. Do you think that out of your favorite influences, there are similarities or differences between mediums? For example, is there a certain aspect of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke that thematically or emotionally relate to say, how you feel about certain songs or musicians? How does your feelings on comic books influence your work for Sister Wolf?

Stephanie: Hmmm… I really like art when I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I want to find out. So much music, and so many movies and TV shows are infuriatingly predictable, so I’m definitely drawn to music and comics that keep me guessing. I think one thing that really drew me to good comics and graphic novels was that you’d have these intriguing, cool stories, but they’d be addressing issues like politics, corruption, violence, and I like music that does the same. I’m also just drawn to good story-telling, whatever the medium is. There’s something about listening to your favorite CD, or reading your favorite book or comic, that’s very much the same, so I think the comics we reference and the music that influences us have the same kind of appeal for me.

5) Was there a specific moment when a choice was made to use comics as a lens for your music, or was it an organic growth into it?
Stephanie: By the second song we wrote I started sneaking in little comic references, because they just stuck with me so much. I was reading The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at the time, which I love, so I stuck a couple of subtle references in “Yearlings and Dead Things.” At first it was very much just easter-eggs, but I realized that I wanted more time with these worlds and that they helped me tell my own story, so I kind of embraced it and ran the gamut of subtle-to-overt references.
Chris: Steph is pretty guarded with her lyrics when she writes them. At first it took her months to show us what she had written for the songs. So when she came to me and told me “yeah all of these songs are about comics, at least in some way” I flipped and thought it was awesome. Now that we’ve got this common theme that we work with, I think we’re all more content to wear it on our sleeves.
6) What drew each of you to comics in the first place? What drew each of you to music? Were the reasons similar or very different?

Stephanie: Music was always solace and release for me. Shockingly, I didn’t have a great time in middle school/high school, so music was this wonderful, understanding escape wether I was writing/playing/or listening to it. I wasn’t actually allowed to read comics when I lived at home because of the “violent and disturbing content.” Then, in college Chris lent me Watchmen and I was just like “all the wasted years!” From there I read the New 52 Batwoman and there was no turning back. But both music and comics were similarly very escapist for me, like “let me just hang out in this world for a bit,” which is also just an avid reader thing.

Chris: When I was about 12 or 13, my older cousin gave me his entire comic collection. It was like, hundreds of single issues and a bunch of graphic novels- all from the 80’s. It was like 89% X-Men titles, but also stuff like DC’s Crisis and Dark Knight Returns. At the same time I was getting into punk. It was 3rd wave punk stuff, but that lead me to the 80’s and 70’s stuff too. I had always loved music, but punk was speaking to my rage about society and politics and all that. So was X-Men. To me, those books are all about ignorance, and fear as a tool for the powerful to control the masses. And teen drama. X-Men was punk as fuck.
 
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7) I understand that you all are very creatively driven people, open to different forms of art. Do you think that openness to different mediums helps you in becoming a very unique and original band?
Stephanie: Why, thank you. I think a frustrating aspect of writing music today is that so many people have been making music for so long that it becomes difficult to be original in a way that’s not totally experimental and potentially alienating. So I think when you draw influences from a wide variety of media, you can create something really interesting, as opposed to a recycling of things that have been done before. I don’t think there’s any art that’s totally original, it’s all collage, so the question becomes what is my source material and how am I arranging it to make it my own? Comics are so cinematic, and I think some of that bleeds into our music, with the quick cutaways, themes, and stuff like that. I like for the instruments to tell a story as much as the vocals, to be their own characters, and I think visualizing the music not as a “song” but as a flexible art form really lets us get creative with it.
8) You guys often self-identify as an indie/grunge/rock band, with a variety of influences. I personally feel that I can’t really define you guys because of how eclectic your music is. How do you maintain that kind of freshness in your music and art? Is there a specific process?
Stephanie: For me, being easy to peg in a genre would be failing at what I want to do. If you fit in this square then you haven’t really done something new. I think particularly as we’ve been writing with Matt, we have this sense of music not being these formulaic parts (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown, chorus), but very much an extension of the story telling. So we’re constantly looking for the unexpected, for a different flavor, for that M. Night Shyamalan twist you never saw coming but is amazing. I know I particularly fall into a pit of despair if a song is coming out too predictable or accessible and then the guys are always happy to mess it up and make it more of a twisty, bumpy journey. As far as our process, we usually just start jamming, usually on a riff one of us comes up with, or just total improv and we kind of try to guide it into a shape and throw in some twists and turns while still keeping it open for experimentation, so there’s a lot of room for something weird to come up organically.
Chris: We’ve made a conscious decision to avoid doing just one or two things, genre-wise. If something sounds too easy or too much like another band’s song, we fucking mangle it until it’s cool. 
9) Let’s get a little personal: Are there any comics you guys are reading right now and are into? If you like them, why, if not, why not? What are your guys’ relationship with comics right now? Any suggestions for other fans?
Stephanie: My relationship with comics right now is that I wish I had more money. So I’ve been reading classics and we’ve been swapping our old favorites. Still working on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and I’ve been reading The Dark Night Returns. At this point I would like to ask the universe to send me a Hawk Girl comic that’s as badass as the Justice League cartoon Hawk Girl.
Chris: I’ve been keeping up with Saga, Copperhead, Trees, Mind MGMT, Alex + Ada, Low, and Ms Marvel. I’ve also been reading some older stuff by Alan Moore and Frank Miller that I never got to. I’m super happy that Image and Marvel are putting out more diverse comics. Aside from being important, it just makes for better storytelling.
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10) I’m sure people are very curious about the origin of the name, Sister Wolf. Why don’t you guys tell us about that! It’s very Superhero/supervillain-esque!
Stephanie: I’ve come to like Sister Wolf, but when we named the band there were 5 of us, and only 2 of us that are still in it. And with 5 people with different tastes it literally took a WHOLE YEAR to agree to a name. So at the time it was just the name that no one really hated. But we were definitely drawn to wolf imagery and the idea of something traditionally restrained combined with something traditionally wild. Though “Sister Wolf” will take on new and more villainous meanings in album number 2 ~spoilers~
11) How long have you guys played music? How long have you guys read comics for?
Stephanie: No one would let me be in their band in high school because I had a vagina, so as far as being in band, I’ve been playing since college. But I’ve been noodling on my own and writing very dramatic songs about zombies since I was little. And likewise I didn’t get to comics until later in my life, but I was always super into all the comic-based cartoons that played when I was a kid, particularly Batman and Justice League. As Sister Wolf we’ve been playing for like… four years?
Chris: Been playing music for 15 years now, and reading comics for the exact same amount of time. Like Steph, I grew up on those 90’s comic book cartoons. I especially loved Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men.
12) I have way too many favorites to choose from, but “Mary, Mary, Mary”‘s supervillainy, “Civilized”‘s take on humanity, and “Swamp Thing”‘s sincere but sick take on love are songs that stick out to me. Also, way to bring back such an old Marvel character with “Armadillo”! But you guys were able to make “Armadillo” an angry open letter for feminism and the patriarchy we live in. (Correct me if I’m wrong, obviously!) Do you guys have any favorites to play or favorites in terms of content for Sister Wolf? 
Stephanie: I did not know Armadillo was a Marvel character! (I’ve been more of a DC person). Armadillo is more a reference to this feeling of when you go outside as a woman you have to have thick skin and you kind of just want to curl up and hide from all the gross attention and harassment. But also it can mean whatever you want it to. Swamp Thing and Mary are always the most fun to play, I think. Though with Matt, Armadillo is a blast because I never know where he’s gonna take the second half and I just try to hang on for dear life, which is a fun challenge. And it’s always fun and cathartic to sing about the goddamn patriarchy.
Chris: In addition to what Steph mentioned, I love playing “Alice.” It’s got all these little parts to keep track of, but it’s never stressful.
13) We very recently did a podcast on Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING, as well as working in-depth with analyzing important themes of humanity, life, death, love and equality in comics. Sister Wolf seems to have done an amazing job of taking those same themes that we all know and love and translating them into your music. How purposeful was this interpretation or appreciation for comics in your music? 

Stephanie: Those are themes that I think are really poignant for any self-examining person, which is why they’re so rewarding to explore in comics. So I think I was already interested in talking about those ideas, but the fact that they came up in comics I love gave me more to work with. In the same way that music is a heightened form of expression, comics, by virtue of often being about super-heroes and super-villains are necessarily extrapolations and close examinations of what it means to be good, bad, human, alive, and so on… So I think when you put comics and music together it’s like holding a magnifying glass to another magnifying class; it’s getting a really close and intense look at these issues, which I definitely wanted to do.

14) So something I always experience when listening to your music is that I find it surprisingly visual. Do you guys think of playing or making music in a visual way? If not, how do you do it? I ask because the music has a story and real heart, which is much, much, much more than just “sounding good.”
Stephanie: As you def know, I’ve always been drawn to musicians that are also great storytellers, and being a great story teller involves engaging all the senses. I’m very interested in music as a heightened form of communication/expression/emotion, and I like to exacerbate that as much as possible. As a lyricist I certainly want to paint a picture: I want to tell you, I want to show you, I want to make you feel what I’m talking about. And it’s fun for, and important to me to have the instruments be part of that journey.
 Chris: I often times write guitar licks “visually.” With guitar, it’s impossible for me to not notice patterns, so I try to draw on that in addition to using my ears and music theory.
15) Any new media or plans for the future? Comics and videos alike? I’m sure we’d all like to get a taste of that.

Stephanie: Ohhh yes. We’re working on a really collaborative muti-media project for our next release (which makes me sound like a douche but it is really cool). There’s gonna be a bit more of a concept to the second album or EP, whatever it turns out to be. I don’t want to talk about it too much because it’s very much in the planning stages, but we will be integrating comics more, and would love for any interested aspiring or established comic writers/illustrators to get in touch with us!

16) Any comics or other forms of entertainment that you find inspiring or just plain awesome right now? I personally am really into Daredevil on Netflix.
Stephanie: I actually couldn’t get past the pilot of Daredevil! I just rolled my eyes the entire episode, particularly when they had the one girl be a complete idiot and then cook Daredevil and his buddy her “grandma’s recipe that she was supposed to cook for her husband.” PLEASE NO. Buuut I’m very excited for Suicide Squad. I’m still working through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and can’t wait to get to JH Williams’ illustrations. And I’m not gonna lie, I still watch the Justice League cartoon all the time because Hawk Girl is my feminist sass queen. Also ORPHAN BLACK, holy shit that show is amazing, Tatiana Maslany should have all the money in the world.
Chris: I just finished Twin Peaks. What is life anymore?
17) Why should comic lovers pick this up? Or who should? Aside from people who have ears…

Stephanie: I think if you enjoy the pacing and themes in comics, you would enjoy the music? Also if you just like to have more of awesome comic worlds. I think anyone who enjoys music that really wants to engage with you could get into Sister Wolf. It’s not meant to be easy, but it is meant to be rewarding and cathartic listening, so if that appeals to you, you’re welcome? xxxxxx

Chris: Pick this up if you like things punk, and weird, and honest. We talk about comics and scream. Well, Steph screams anyway.
Thanks again to two out of the tremendous trio that is Sister Wolf. Pick up their album, Villains, immediately, if you know what’s good for you. It’s donation based, because they’re that generous. They’re also having a show this Monday on September 21st at the Pine Box Rock Shop on 12 Grattan Street New York, NY 11206. 8 o’clock. It’s not too late to go! Don’t be lame and miss it!

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