Beliefs, desires and limitless imagination.
These all seem like loose words, but deep down they are all interconnected. We love to wander around in our heads, in our thoughts, in our alternative reality that is being cemented and perfected every day. Some use their head to create new worlds, people who do not exist, or parallel realities, which, from one moment to the next, end up becoming incontestable truths.
Today is the day to introduce to the world a character, a being that can be both real and founded on our imagination. It is up to you, readers and listeners, to dissect with us this artist, person, hero…or villain? Stay with us and meet Wolf Manhattan.
If our dreams were a book, we would have endless volumes of stories to tell. And João Vieira is no exception: the Portuguese musician has travelled the seven corners of the world in terms of musical genres, with X-Wife, one of Portugal’s best-known indie-rock bands, and White Haus, his more electronic-oriented project – and this year he celebrates 20 years in the music background. And twenty years call for more music, rhythms and an immense desire to push his creativity further and further upwards.
His sound and genius bring us this time to Wolf Manhattan, often confused with João himself. But we should not get confused: Wolf and João may have gone to the same school, but they are two completely different people and characters.
João’s creation is mirrored by Wolf Manhattan, a producer from a non-specific era, who lives above a shop in the centre of New York. He is inspired by his Uncle’s collection, a 4-track recorder and a 1950s guitar from a renowned Rough Trade artist. His thoughts, storms and loneliness scared him daily and the only way he found to calm himself was through music, from renowned voices in garage, indie and pop styles.
Wolf combined his artistic talent with Manhattan and, in a matter of months, conceived his first album, Wolf Manhattan.
Wolf Manhattan is made up of thirteen songs. Let’s discuss each one in turn.
The initial noise is not deceiving: we are looking at a recorder starting its playback, and it is with an already unavoidable voice that we swear we hear João Vieira in Wolf Manhattan, where the two mix between “Voice in My Head”. With a positive and danceable rhythm, we don’t want these voices to leave our heads and we feel like humming live with Wolf all the dialect that is expressed here.
With a mix of electronic music, the 50s/60s and a nice head-turning ride in a convertible car, we come to “Want to Go Back”, an anthem to nostalgia, nostalgia and all the good things we want to have and keep in our lives. So close to the heart, so far from reality, but the song unites us in a romantic way, with its positive and very fresh beat.
More romantic and close to the current British band Arctic Monkeys, we have “Back to Her”, it’s time to break the ice and be direct and raw to the point. The musical crescendo that goes on in this track is pure – and suddenly we feel back to her, the person who made us feel unique, incredible and irreverent. The rhythm makes sense of each mix of rock and electronica, which connect in a very original and pure way. By the way, the transition between this song and the next one, “Little Girl”, is genius: for those who listen to the album from one end to the other, non-stop, they can’t even tell the difference. Basically, we are in a life story of a character who is, or is not, real – and the whole tale is made as if it were a walk in the street.
Fast forward to “Sometimes“, and it is in a hover of Wolf’s life that we are in this moment, almost dreamlike. We feel like we’re on cloud nine, with a vocal groove that makes us feel like we’re listening to The Beatles at their peak. Sometimes it’s good to be alone, in bed, in our own world, without problems, dramas or plans: it’s us, just us, without sadness or softness. And it feels so good to rest and be alone in our world, with this song serving almost like our consciousness.
From our relaxed head to the raw, hard reality are two eyes open – and that’s where we move into “Tornado”, into our city life, full of stress, problems, dramas and everything running with us and around us. The groovy rhythm is remarkable and rises to our consciousness as if it were a life lesson.
From an electronic rather than indie-rock perspective, we are under the power of “Surveillance Cameras”, set to dissect our life from one end to the other, watching our every move and what surrounds us. The rhythm is almost playable – and could be present in any classic video game on the market.
The consecration between electronica and indie-rock is made in “Dead Funny”, a modern-day anthem to what was cool 50 years ago and is the future of music. The fresh and frenetic rhythms squeeze our hearts and give us reason to want more and better in our lives and those with us.
Hypnotised by a loving light that fills our soul, we come to “Five Years”, a sincere transmission of happiness that turns us into a crazy child who does everything for love, almost in a blind way.
In a melancholic and more introspective transformation where we almost feel a personification of The Strokes, we have “Those Days Are Gone” and “Never Want to See You Again”. The rhythm, the will and personification of our feelings are patent with every passing second, and it’s Manhattan we want to be in, cycling down the avenue until we reach nirvana.
The “Ninety-nine” transition sounds like a comic book side story, with the backdrop unfolding all our thoughts and existential crises.
We close on the dance floor, with an explosion of flavours and desires: “Goodbye” is just that, that solemn moment where we don’t know how to say goodbye to a place, person, feeling or creature, but which remains intact as that final moment where a door, a chapter, an event of our life closes.
Reality or fiction? Belief or disbelief? We don’t know, but in the middle of a real walk through Manhattan, we discover that the character blends with the person, and the person with the character. We spoke to João Vieira, the ideologist of this parallel world, and asked him a few questions about this new creation of his:
[WtMM] Who is Wolf Manhattan and how can we characterise this person/personage physically and psychologically?
[João Vieira / Wolf Manhattan] Wolf Manhattan is a bedroom producer that, in a non-specific time, lived above a local shop in central New York with his uncle, a gambler who disappeared one day (on one of his trips to Atlantic City). Wolf grew up alone, surrounded by his uncle’s record collection, watching quiz shows on TV and reading bad detective stories. This was his cultural background, he’s a loner, a kid with a lot of ideas and a wide imagination that saw his dreams put on hold through the vicissitudes of life.
I see a lot of similarities between the concept of the project and the video game The Artful Escape (an artist who lives ‘sucked in’ by the memory of a very well-known Folk singer Uncle, but wants to escape this genre to play something more psychedelic and rock – and is afraid to take that position). Can we define Wolf Manhattan as an escape from the city routine of the artist?
Never heard of “The Artful Escape” until now… But yes, I wanted to create an alter-ego, a stage persona, something out of the “day to day life”. I get to be me 24 hours a day so this is an escape to a parallel world. The story (coming out in a book later) was the start of it all. The sound of the record, the identity, the simplicity and rawness of the songs, together with the illustrations (by Toby Evans-Jesra) created this new character. It’s great to escape, to be in character on stage, like an actor, like I’m in a play. It’s really challenging and I like that.
If Wolf Manhattan could step on stage with anyone, who would it be?
That’s an easy one, David Bowie. I wouldn’t mind a duet with Angel Olsen 🙂
What is the character’s greatest ambition, and how connected is it to you, João?
The biggest ambition is to escape from real life, to create a whole new world, although it’s fiction, it’s quite liberating, to fabricate something that’s not real. In a way it’s very similar to when I moved to London in the 90s and I kind of changed to a totally new persona (after living there for a couple of years), and then I brought it back with me when I moved back to Porto in 2001. I like to start from scratch, to be free, to do whatever, to take things a step further and not be stuck in formulas. As long as I believe in what I’m doing and I’m having fun with it, then it’s all good. That is the most important thing. I’m my biggest critic and I’m a tough one.
20 years on the road, completely different (and irrevocable) projects and many disparate sonorities. Is there any way to connect Wolf Manhattan to X-Wife or White Haus?
Yes, it’s always me in there. I sing in all of them and write all the lyrics but in this one, it’s mainly fiction. I pushed it further, I wanted to create stories that are not so autobiographical, I wanted to create stories that people can relate to with a sense of humour, darkness and nostalgia but from a character’s point of view, which doesn’t mean necessarily, it’s my own personal views of the world and other people’s lives.
It’s liberating and there’s always a connection because it’s the same person working on the songs and singing them in all projects but I always try to create an identity for each one of them. It’s very important that each project has a life of its own, an identity, I know what goes where when I’m writing for each of these projects.
I read from the presentation that the creation of this album had the help of André Tentúgal. I’ll try to make here a mashup (I hope you understand): if Batman has Robin, Wolf Manhattan has? (I hate the name sidekick, but the idea was to understand if it made sense to have an extra name for André’s help)
André and Sofia (my girlfriend) were the ones to push to get these songs out. André produced and went through the selection of songs to be in the album; he also played guitar and organ in some of them. I guess he was my Tony Visconti.
How can we define Wolf Manhattan (the character) in one word?
A lonely wolf, away from his pack.
We would like to thank João Vieira, Cláudia Duarte and Rafaela Ribas for making this interview possible.
The record is available in an exclusive edition of 200 copies on vinyl, with an illustration by English artist Toby Evans-Jesra. The edition unfolds in several layers, which make up a board game full of characters, scenarios and questions that further spice up the relationship between listeners and the character/artist of the record.
Wolf Manhattan is us, and we are Wolf Manhattan: João Vieira’s most recent project is just that, a hymn to our dreams, desires and wishes – where we can turn the impossible into the possible or an illusion into reality. A delightful record from beginning to end, promising multiple emotions from the first to the last minute. A WtMM recommendation.