Columbus, OH’s Wolf Ram Heart formed in 2008, but you could say that things really began when its frontman and songwriter, David James, was hospitalized with a severe hip condition at age nine. “I felt incredibly isolated at such a young age,” James tells CMJ, “after being stuck in a hospital bed for hours, days, weeks and months.”
During his time in the hospital, James started to watch The Monkees on TV every afternoon. “It began to be the only thing I looked forward to,” he says. “After leaving the hospital, I was home schooled and spent the better parts of the day going through all my parents’ records, trying to buy all the psych albums I could find at flea markets and yard sales.”
James fell in love with records like Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and Sgt. Pepper’s, and discovered something called reverb. “The mood that is created by the absence in space was like candy to me,” he says.
Add those early influences to James’ love for Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” production technique (in which tracks are layered densely, with some instruments played twice in unison, to create an almost orchestral sound), and you’ll end up with Wolf Ram Heart’s sound. The quintet plays a brand of dream-pop rooted in the music James listened to as a kid, but also influenced by 4AD acts from the early ’90s. It’s a dark, hazy, almost escapist concoction that narrowly avoids easy characterization.
The rest of Wolf Ram Heart is made up of Eric Buford, the drummer from James’s previous band, as well as Jessica Barnes (bass) and Sawyer Shepard (guitar), whom James found through a Craigslist ad. In 2009, the group withdrew from the city to a town called Logan in rural southeastern Ohio. It was there that the band recorded its debut LP, Betrayal Of Hearts.
“The melancholy of the country surroundings made a huge impact,” James says. “There is such a dark peace and presence stitched in which I think wouldn’t have happened if we would have recorded it anywhere else.”
James’ retro influences are palpable on Betrayal Of Hearts, but the album also sounds oddly futuristic at the same time. “I think we do a good job of creating something new in the old and not falling into that trap of being written off as just another ‘retro’ act,” James says.
Betrayal Of Hearts debuted on CMJ’s Radio 200 chart this April, and songs from the album have started to make their way around the blogosphere. The band recently added keyboardist Rob Cave to the mix, and is currently on a tour that wraps up with an appearance at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival on June 19. After that, Wolf Ram Heart will spend the rest of the year working in the studio and touring Canada and Europe in support of its debut.
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