CIW Q&A: Wolf Gang’s Max McElligott

The inspiration for Wolf Gang’s Max McElligott’s first album Suego Faults came, quite literally, from a dream. But now the British singer reports he’s become more grounded, and he’s brought that sound to his sophomore album. In advance of his show at Subterranean on September 19—co-headlined with Sir Sly and featuring opening band Secret Someones—we talked to McElligot about the reaction to his more mature sound and who he sees next.

Max McElligot (second from the right) is bringing sounds of reality to his latest album.
You quit college to pursue music. What led you to that decision?
I just sort of realized in my last year of studying at university that all my life that the one passion I had was music. The one thing that I could work endlessly toward without feeling like it was hard work at all was music…. I was 21, young. I just thought I’d take a leap of faith. I dropped out… Luckily, I was able to secure a record deal quite soon afterward. So, that’s how it all came about.
How does your newest album differ from Suego Faults?
The first one was very ethereal, very dream-like, quite youthful and romantic. Everything down to the way it sounded, like the production and everything… The second record is a lot more down-to-earth. The recording of it is slightly rawer, a bit more organic sounding.
Lyrically, it’s a bit more real. James [Wood, the bassist], who is the primary songwriter, has written some amazing songs. They’re about more real-life experiences rather than dream ones. It’s a bit more of a mature record. I mean, I think there’s still a lot of Wolf Gang stuck in there. It’s still me singing and the arrangements are still quite ambitious sounding soundscapes, and people who enjoy the first record will like in the second. It’s just a step forward really.
What types of reactions are getting from people to some of these newer songs? How do people respond to the real-life songs?
Some of them are really quite emotional. Some people are not too well and ill, and they talk about how music got them through a bad patch, or they may be unwell still and not going to get better. I’ve had that a couple of times, and I’ve never really had that before. It’s really tough at first to even get your head around about how someone might be in that position. It makes you think a lot. It’s very touching.
You kind of forget…. When you write songs—many songs I may have written eight years ago in my bedroom—when you write that, then you kind of forget that the song takes on its own life and can affect people in different ways, many years after you’ve written it and long after you’ve thought about it. That’s an amazing experience, I think. Every time we come to America there’s funny stories, things that happen, people that you meet. Very touching things that happen as well, like people coming and telling me something that’s personal to them or what music might mean to them.
We always ask: What are you listening to right now? What band or musician do you think is the next big thing?
To be honest, I think Secret Someones are just absolutely incredible. I’ve fallen in love with that band, watch[ing] their performance every night. They have a song called “Let You Go”, which I have no doubt will make the radio sometime soon and having a huge impact. It’s just the most amazing kind of Fleetwood Mac type—I mean, to me, it’s Fleetwood Mac anyway. An amazing love song, real 80s filter. There’s just so much character to that band. I’ve been really enjoying getting to know their songs.
How has the tour been more generally? Have you gotten to do any sightseeing in the states?
We’re so lucky—we get to wake up in the city and get a whole day of getting to wander around and see stuff. I’ve been trying to make the most of that. I went to Philadelphia the other day, which is absolutely incredible, and took a walk downtown. It’s nice to have a little time to soak up the vibe of the city.
Q&As are edited for clarity and length. 

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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