By Poppy Tohill
"I've had a pretty cruisy day," a cheerful Chris Panousakis (better known by his stage moniker - Timberwolf) happily chimed on the other end of the phone as we launched into a full blown conversation about our mutual love for Netflix, lazy days in bed, noodles and of course - chocolate.
Although we could've easily spent the entire interview talking about our favourite series and somewhat vicious Netflix marathon routines, we nonetheless decided the topic of music was also of great importance...
Recently signing to ‘We Are Unified' for management, alongside the likes of Vance Joy & Remi, while also being announced as the support act for Gin Wigmore's upcoming sold out New Zealand and Australian tour dates, as well as announcing an EP tour of his own, it's fair to say Timberwolf has had a pretty exciting past few months. "Yeah, it has been one of those really beautiful periods!" he tells me. "The music stuff generally comes in peaks, because you spend quite a few months organising stuff and then you get those awesome few weeks where you get to tell everyone everything, which is always really exciting!" he beamed. "With a 9-5 job I guess you have achievements with things like pay rises and stuff, but in music it's quite rare when you can actually sit back and go, cool, I actually did progress forward in the last four to five months, it's such a good feeling!"
Venturing from his home town of Adelaide to New Zealand next week in support of Gin Wigmore's upcoming tour, he went on to tell me of his one fond (maybe not so fond) memory of his only previous visit to New Zealand. "I've been to NZ once for an obscure cricket trip when I was in year 11 at school, so about 14 years of age," he laughed. "I remember because I got the bad billet! The kid I was staying with didn't want to do anything, so I just ended up playing table tennis with his little brother for most of the trip," he continued laughing. "So hopefully on this trip I can turn over a new leaf!" and do something other than play table tennis, I cheekily added.
Back to the music however, if you've got tickets to Gin's upcoming shows and are wondering what to expect from Timberwolf's set, he was kind enough to fill us in a little bit on his sound and what we can look forward to hearing and seeing from him on stage next week.
"It's kind of a bluesy, haunting twist on folk music, I would say. The sound you're going to hear is quite different from a lot of the other formats too, as being a solo artist you tend to fall in and out of band arrangements according to how much money you've actually got to bring a band over and how available your session muso's are," he explained. "So I'm doing this trip as a duo formant which is quite a lot more stripped back than what we recorded. My bass player is one of my really good friends and we have quite good chemistry on stage, but he also sings some really beautiful harmonies, which you'll get to hear too. I've got a stomp box as well so that's in there for the drum element. You get to spend time with your songs in a more intimate way when it's a solo/duo format so I really take to performing that way and am quite excited to bring that over there."
"The live set when I've got the full band is really energetic because my keyboard player uses a lot of synths and my drummer is a real heavy rock drummer, so that's always really fun because I can just plug my electric guitar in and really hammer it out, but performing solo or as a duo, I think is a bit more delicate and fragile as it's a lot more vocal dependant as opposed to having the really massive floor toms and groovy beats. I know Gin is pretty groovy though, so I think it could be a really good contrast at the shows," he added.
"Can I just say I'm so in love with the New Zealand accent," Timberwolf announced before answering the next question. "The problem is though, that whenever I talk to people who have a NZ accent too often, I start to speak it and it's so strange! It's such a catchy accent and I always catch myself out, because I love it. So this tour is actually going to be a real struggle for me trying not to speak with a kiwi accent," he laughed. "I'm going to have to put a big blocker on it!"
Inspired by 60s/70s blues and rock music, Chris went on to tell me how he became focused and interested in producing the indie-folk style of Timberwolf.
"Reflecting on it, I think maybe it's because a lot of that music doesn't actually have that element in it. If you're talking about Stevie Ray Vaughanand Hendrix, I was really attracted to the emotion that comes out of their guitar parts and their whole band setting, which I just love. So that was initially what inspired me to learn guitar. But then as I grew up I learnt that I'm quite a reflective guy. I'm pretty perceptive and always self reflecting, questing philosophy and all those kinds of things and I found a lot of that in folk music, especially in indie-folk music because it's not so - ‘she broke my heart, now I love someone else and everything's happy,' like the poppy side of things," he exclaimed. "I'm quite attracted to morbid curiousity and anything dark, a bit eerie and melancholy, which is the songwriting path more of the indie-folk music out there seems to go down. Especially in the sense of brutal honesty," he declared. "Father John Misty is a fucking great example of confronting awkward honesty through songwriting and I just got really drawn to that, and ever since, I guess I've been trying to meld those two worlds together by writing from that kind of lyrical origin, but always keeping in mind that I want to make some big sound scapes with my guitar too."
"That's actually a really tough question," Timberwolf enthusiastically replied when asked who first inspired him to begin writing music. "I fell in love with The Fleet Foxes when I first started listening to indie-folk music. I just adored everything they did and still do," he added. "Their harmonies are so breathtaking and ever since then I've always wanted to write harmonies in my songs. I also got way more into Jeff Buckley as well. The beautiful meld between the two worlds where he's quite good on guitar and his voice is so ghostly, is incredible. So yeah, I think it was probably a mix of those two actually," he admits.
"It's funny though because if I didn't discover them, then I wouldn't have discovered my most favourite band, probably ever, which is the Middle East, who I threw everything out the window for and just listened to for two years," he laughed. "I'm going to say, for me, that is the best folk record, ever. I just don't think it gets any better, so it'd probably actually have to be a mix between those three," he concluded, deciding he was happy with this answer.
It was May this year that saw the release of Timberwolf's latest EP, Flux, and Chris was kind enough to fill us in on his writing and recording process for the EP.
"I actually co-producer it with a guy called Mark Myers who was from the Middle East," he chuckled, admitting that was a good segway from question to question. "So working on their production and some of their songwriting, Mark is responsible for a lot of their eerie sounds through some spooky guitar feedback, organs and synths, which is what I was really attracted to in their music," he declared.
"So the songwriting for the whole Flux EP came from a pretty dark place," Timberwolf continued. "I felt like it really matched with that kind of spooky and eerie sound scape that Mark was able to produce. So we got together for Flux which I definitely think is quite a moody, dark and eerie CD that's driven a lot through the production texture as opposed to the drums. I like to say the EP is quite textural, which is all part of the mood," he exclaimed.
"The first EP I released was called Man & Moon which I did mostly in my bedroom," Timberwolf revealed. "I got a drummer and a bass player on two of the songs, otherwise I just did it all myself, so it was so cool to have a bunch of skilled muso's tracking musical parts on all these songs," he replied when asked about his experience of recording with a full band for the first time.
"I think it really brought the songs to life and did justice to a lot of the intricacies in my songwriting. It's definitely different," he stated, referring to recording with a full band, "because obviously everyone has the way they do their stuff, but I think it just comes down to how you pick your musicians. I had a bunch of good friends who are also super talented, so for me as someone who knows these guys pretty well, I can hear their sound when listening back to the songs, which is pretty cool," he exclaimed. "It's interesting though, because I'm probably such a control freak as well, so in the last few months I was over in London recording another single which we did in a completely different way. It was just me and the producer, programming some drums and then playing all of the instruments between us, and I love that different approach too. I think both have a lot of positives about them."
"I think my favourite from the EP is Stranded," Timberwolf announced, explaining, "It's quite a tough song to sing, but in terms of the lyrics its the least cryptic but most painful for sure."
Moving on to talk about his latest single Whiskey Jar, Timberwolf filled us in on the story behind the song and equally as impressive music video.
"The song is about seduction and the decisions you make when you're in a pretty vulnerable head space," he began to explain. "I think through collaborating with my photographer Tash who did the cover of the EP with the motel in the background, we came up with the general idea for the video because it is quite gritty and dark and motels seem to be the place where people make quite a lot of mistakes. So to get that theme of seduction or clouded decision making in the film clip, we actually all stayed the night in an $8 motel, got really drunk, dressed up in funny costumes and just filmed it all. I think it was quite succinct in all the themes of it all, but yes seduction is the key for that one I think," he reassured us.
"It was so fun though!" he chuckled, continuing. "There's this one shot in the film clip where I am standing outside of the motel leaning on a street pole and my friend Jane is sitting in the window lit up by this red light which we put in the room to sort of be indicative of the red light district in Amsterdam, and in the clip I'm just looking at her and half walking, half stumbling towards her, because it was about 4am and I was particularly very drunk at the time," he laughed. "So while it looks like I'm putting on this ‘drunken stance,' a huge percentage of it was actually completely true!"
"Like we're talking a motel where there's prostitutes walking around everywhere, there's really creepy guys hanging outside your room looking for women and it was just the absolute real deal," he declared. "I've never wanted to get out of somewhere more in my life when I woke up!" he laughed. "There was babies crying and it was just terrible. So it's not like the entire video was just some set up, it's all quite real, which is without a doubt my favourite part about it. I'm all about being authentic," he joked.
As the interview continued I couldn't last much longer without asking about the name, Timberwolf. A question I often try to avoid asking artists and bands, but with wolves being my favourite animal, I just had to ask and we were lucky enough to be one of the few he's shared the whole truth with, so here it is...
"I normally lead people down the garden path because I don't want them to know," but after joking, "It must be the accent," Chris announced, "I'm going to tell you the truth."
So. "First of all I decided I didn't want to play under my name, because just seeing a lot of people getting attached to their performing names, I've seen a lot of fans and crowds make personal judgments on people according to their music and I think it's probably just overstepping the mark for me. Like I'd like to maintain a little of my own privacy, personal space and just have a little bit to myself that people don't know about. So that drove me to come up with a moniker of some sort," he honestly explained.
"I chose Timberwolf because first of all I seem to write all of my songs at night time and second of all I sing a lot of falsetto which is effectively like howling to the moon - like a wolf does. and well I've told many other stories, but that's the truth behind it!"
Nearing the end of the interview we went on to hit the hard topics of proudest achievements,
bucket lists, debut albums and favourite Gin Wigmore songs.
"That's so tough because it always changes!" Timberwolf cheerfully responded when asked about his proudest achievement thus far.
"Let's say two years ago I would've said the world will end if I get a song played on radio," he laughed. "That was all I wanted and then when that happened and the world didn't end, I realised I actually wanted another song played on the radio, then I wanted to have songs played on heaps of radio stations!" he chuckled again, continuing. "Then if i could sell out a room of 50 people I was happy. Now I want to sell out a room of 30,000 if I can."
"Your goals are always shifting," he explained. "For every point in time there's always something you want to achieve. I think my first sold out showin Adelaide was a really special one. The first time I heard one of my songs on radio was quite special and then the first time I sold out a headlining inter-state show (in Melbourne) was really humbling and quite beautiful. But I think aside from that, the best of them all is probably playing WOMAD festival in Adelaide earlier this year, just because I grew up here and know the sentiment behind that festival. Going from watching and taking things from each artist's performances home, as a crowd member, to four years later actually being one of the artists performing at the festival, it really hit home and was something quite special," he truthfully added.
"I would love to sell out this upcoming EP tour," he happily chimed in response to being asked what he'd love to achieve. "I've always wanted to sell out a tour poster of my own, that'd be pretty beautiful. In terms of a massive career goal though, I just want to, if I can, write at least one song or one album during my career from top to toe that changes peoples lives and deserves to be spread around, just because it's great. I think that's a big bucket-lister! I'd love to take my music overseas as soon as I can of course too, but as far as immediate bucket list things go, I'd love to sell out a tour and write the best song that's ever been written, by me," he laughed. "I'm working towards my debut album at the moment and I want that to be exceptional so if there's something on there that fits then that's when I'll be really happy," he confessed.
"I know it hasn't been announced, but there'll be a few festivals around Australia in summer which is great," Chris went on, filling us in on what's next for Timberwolf throughout the remainder of 2015. "Hopefully I can tie this single I recorded in London together and if it all goes well then I might be able to tour that across the summer which will be really exciting. But there's been no real plans so we'll just have to take it as it goes, but that's what I love to do!"
"I'd love to come back as soon as I can," he happily responded when asked if we can expect to see him in New Zealand again in the near future. "So the second I can collect enough money to come over and hopefully bring my full band with me, a full album or even a couple of songs then I'd be happy to! I really want to go skiing and check out the hot springs or go into the mountains when I'm over there as well," he admits.
Veering slightly off topic to make a list of New Zealand's top spots to visit, where-by discovering we also share a mutual talent or therefore lack of, geography skills, the interview drew to an end talking ‘favourite Gin Wigmore songs.' - "I really like New Rush. It's such a cool song," he stated. "I didn't mind the one she did with Suffa/Logic (Willing To Die) either, her vocals in that are really unique, I like it a lot!"
Then in some wise and final words- "If you're looking for a new series to watch on Netflix, I'd highly recommend ‘Wilfred,' - go check it out!"
(But not before making sure you arrive early enough to the Powerstation in Auckland, Bodega in Wellington and the Bedford CPSA in Christchurch to catch this guy in musical action.
Gin Wigmore with special guest Timberwolf
Wednesday July 1st: Kings Arms Tavern, Auckland
Friday July 3rd: Bodega, Wellington
Saturday July 4th: CPSA, Christchurch
Tickets via Ticketmaster