I put my past in a sheetrock wall.
Rick and Ryan Kennedy, the Murray Hill natives behind Strangerwolf, met with me on a particularly rainy Tuesday evening at Brew Five Points. Despite the difficulty of meeting during inclement weather, they were good sports. They each grabbed a cold draft, pulled up a chair and opened up about the music that echoes from their subconscious.
At first encounter, they were two nice guys who didn’t take themselves too seriously. However, after explaining their band name, it became evident that they are two introspective dudes.
Encountering a stranger in a dream, Ryan explains, symbolizes an aspect of yourself that you’re not yet familiar with. Likewise, dreaming of a wolf represents something you’re afraid of.
The Kennedys are well-acquainted in confronting the unknown. At this point, the two cousins welcome uncertainty like an old friend, have a beer with it and allow it to resonate within their band name, their music and their messages to the world. Their eponymous album is the product of them digging within emotional repositories to create a deeply cathartic record.
It is about confronting uncomfortable truths. It is about healing from irreconcilable pasts. It is about looking forward.
Much of their inspiration comes from the unfortunate fallout of a previous band that Rick and Ryan played in. The aftermath was a long, dark time for both. Their guitars, their songwriting and their will to create had been retired altogether.
After years had gone, I’d forgotten it all.
“Our last band kind of fizzled out,” says Ryan. “And we weren’t necessarily expecting that. So whenever Ricky started showing me some of the songs that he was writing, I was almost like what the hell man, we should play these. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time or what I would do to contribute.”
Years later, the two began playing songs together again, in a new acoustic style that seemed foreign to both.
Regardless of their past struggles, they are family. They are comfortable around each other and they are in sync, both in performance and conversation. It’s fascinating to witness.
For example, we posed a deep question to Ryan–what does this album mean to you?– when, mid-sentence, Rick jokingly tried to steal Ryan’s wallet resting on the table. Ryan dodged his reach and they laughed. It’s this type of playful dynamic between the two of them, along with the comfort of creating music with family, that makes them fearless in their songwriting.
“You can be on the same wavelength very easily when you’re family,” Ryan explains.
As far as Ryan’s answer goes, the album allowed him to explore his talents lyrically and become more vulnerable in the band’s acoustic drumming style.
“I’m more involved in the lyrical part now. So now I’m singing up front, I’m out in the open now when I used to feel sort of protected back when I was behind a drumset. It was completely new territory,” he says.
For Rick, it means another chance to make music after believing for years that everything was over.
“I think in short it means a lot for both us just because it was like a return for us. When the last band fizzled, it was kind of our entire life. So for probably two years–at least for a year straight–I didn’t touch my guitar. But eventually I started writing these songs in secret and it had to be about four or five years later that Strangerwolf finally came to be.
I can hear the sound of new life, rising from the ashes of my past.
Ryan adds, “We only played when we were drinking around a fire and that was the only time you could get him to show you some of the things he had been working on. He’d play these really awesome songs and I’d think, what the hell man, we’ve got to start playing some of this.”
Strangerwolf is filled with passion, fury, fear and redemption leaking through every verse. The two cite musical influences from bands/artists such as Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, Father John Misty, and the Avett Brothers. In varying ways, the songs will light a fire within you, sting you and ultimately, heal you.
Each scar I find, gives me strength to look back and learn.
One of those songs is “Sheetrock.” The acoustics are mellow and the lyrics are resolute. The song references a dream in which Rick found himself in a home he had never lived in, combing through sheetrock and finding pieces of his past that belonged to him. The song is deeply introspective, provoking listeners to confront their own unresolved questions.
Likewise, “Shapeshifter” opens with deep hums and a simple acoustic opening that’s reminiscent of an old western song. It’s confrontational, with fighting lyrics about no longer being taken advantage of–about seeing someone’s true intentions.
There is also something to be said for Strangerwolf’s live performances. Their harmonies instantly woo a crowd and draw you into an intimate listening experience. They are deeply committed to authenticity in their shows, providing background for their songs when the opportunity presents itself. If they could have it their way, they’d always be on the floor with their listeners.
Their vulnerability, both in their songwriting and their performance, is haunting. It has latched on to me in a way I was not prepared for. Their journey of salvaging themselves is one that anyone can relate to.
Now I return to reclaim who I was. Is it too late for me, too late for us?
I hope it never is.