Words by David C. Obenour
Eight years and three albums later, New York’s The Wilful Boys refuse to mellow. Gritty and angular, chugging and growling, the songs that make up World Ward Word Sword are melodic enough to be punk, shouted enough to be hardcore, and with enough attitude to be both. Throw their latest vinyl in a dusty plastic sleeve, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve chanced upon some crate-digging classic from a decade or more back (it’s hard to keep track of styles and scenes anymore). But the deeper the needle gets in the groove, the more contemporary the sounds become.
Off Shelf: Three albums deep, when you listen back to your old records – what do you hear that has changed about your music?
Steven Fisher: Honestly, I don’t feel like it’s changed too much. Maybe I yell a little less. I like to think we’ve been consistently all over the place.
OS: Though the music is loud and with frayed edges, there are undeniable melodies running through it. What do you find the inspiration for both the rawness and the craft in how you approach songs?
SF: I’m a big fan of things being driven by the rhythm section, and strong bass/drum roots in a song give Johnny and Nick more space to make the guitars nuanced and melodic, but still raw.
There’s definitely a lot of post punk inspiration going on in there.
OS: In terms of production, was World Ward Word Sword a pandemic album at all? Either recorded through swapping files in isolation or delayed by inevitable supply chain issues?
SF: It’s a little bit of a pandemic record. We had some songs written before, and some were written during. We demo’d the whole thing remotely before getting into the studio once it was safe to do so. That was a fun yet tedious process, but ultimately set us up to record the whole thing in a day.
OS: Jordan Lovelace has worked with you for awhile now, how do you think his influence helps get the sound you want on albums? Has there been anything about how he makes you sound that has influenced how you play?
SF: Jordan is the best to work with. He’s got a good ear and is technically on top of his game. The first record was easy and fun, and it’s been the same for each record since. He is just able to go with whatever our flow is and facilitate getting it done well. I can’t speak highly enough the guy.
OS: In terms of the songs, were any written amidst the political, racial, societal upheaval of the last couple of years? Did that angst seep in any deeper this go around?
SF: The songs are often just what’s been on my mind, random thoughts, deep thoughts, silly shit, anything that I need to get out in some way. Often I don’t feel like being super direct, so I wrap my issues up in other things. I don’t think anyone could have gone through this last few years without taking on some of the weight of the world around us. There’s been a lot of truely sad things going on and that gets in for sure. This record definitely has some more substance to it, or at least some of it does.
OS: It’s also interesting that with things being so truly raw and ugly, I think more people here in the West are feeling that level of angst and anxiety. While none of that reality is new, it’s definitely been dredged up closer to the surface. Do you think that makes an album like this hit differently?
SF: A lot of context in music is given by the listener, I think, so definitely darker times lead to darker interpretations. Although the album is not a political statement by any means, there’s a bit of that wrapped up in there. We’re well aware that the world has been fucked for much longer than the last few years.
OS: This album aside, everything sort of had to take a pause for a couple of years – touring being a big one. Being away from audiences for so long – did that change how you approach making music?
SF: Somewhat. We’ve always sent demos and ideas to each other, being a busy group of people, we’ve needed that element to progress when we couldn’t always be in the room. We went further in that direction during the pandemic, but it was always in the pursuit of being back in front of audiences. That’s what it’s all about.
OS: Now that you’re able to tour again – does that change how you approach playing live?
SF: No, not really. We’ve always had the same approach. Practice, play and have fun.
OS: Last thing, I really love the album cover and it definitely gives you a good idea of what to expect on dropping the needle. Can you talk about how that came together? What are some of your favorite influences in the aesthetic that you all embody?
SF: The concept was just a fleeting thought that popped into my head, which I held on to and entertained to the point where it ended up being the album cover. There was some contention over it in the band, but ultimately we were all on the same page (eventually).
As for our influences, we’re lucky to be surrounded by amazing artists who can take our ideas and realize them in such amazing ways. Thomas Rennie pulled this art together for us, he’s a brilliant designer, a great friend, and he killed it I think. Other than him, we’ve worked with Julian Hocking, Rob Fletcher and Peter Savieri on our records and countless others on teeshirts and flyers. Seeing the art that your friends produce is one of the best things about being in a band.