Noise Nerds: AIDS Wolf draws on Schoenberg and the occult for their latest album

AIDS Wolf; photo courtesy of Flickr user Pamela Willis

AIDS Wolf; photo courtesy of Flickr user Pamela Willis

It’s a cold, rainy night, and as the author, phone in hand, waits for her overpriced Medici takeout, Chloe from AIDS Wolf is on the other line. She finally finds silence in a bathroom at the Toronto club Sneaky Dee’s. Fighting a bad case of bronchitis and iffy reception, Chloe laughs: it’s raining in Toronto, too.

Noise rockers AIDS Wolf is Chloe (vocals), Yannick (drums), Myles (guitar), and Alex (guitar). Now on the second night of their latest tour, they’re criss-crossing North America. This week, they’ll be joining up with psych-folkers U.S. Girls and local noisemakers Cacaw and Mayor Daley for a Chicago show at the art collective Lumpen’s venue, the Co-Prosperity Sphere. Hailing from Montreal, AIDS Wolf (named after a very hard-to-pin-down urban legend), clawed its way onto the scene in 2003 and has been bitching and cursing ever since. Abrasive as noise-rock gets, its embrace of the hate might be too much for some. But don’t let the screaming fool you; it’s hard work. In fact, when newest member Alex joined, instructional DVDs had to be made to teach him the Nine Principles of AIDS Wolf.

The AIDS Wolf way is a lot more intense than you might think. With experience in bands since high school, these former Concordia University art students have a unique approach to their music. Their sound is brash and unapologetic, and Chloe says that from the start AIDS Wolf has been working to escape from convention. (Principle #9: Remember when punk was weird and weird was punk. Become the weird punks.) In order to achieve their raw, unsettling sound, the band employs the late-life Matisse approach to art: cut and paste. The method involves a jam session where the players record everything, and then later go back to chop up and collage the recording with ProTools. Once they get the sound they like, the group then goes back and starts the arduous process of replicating their musical concoction. This manner of composition can be rough; putting complex polyrhythms and band-specific tonalities to paper is challenging even with formal musical training.

Ambitious as all get-out, Chloe reveals that on their current tour two-thirds of the material will be from their latest album, “Cities of Glass,” while the rest will be brand-spanking new. To explain the shift in sound from the band’s previous work on “The Lovvers,” Chloe cites further venture into the realm of “twentieth-century classical music,” specifically that of the great leader of the Second Viennese School and master of twelve-tone technique, Arnold Schoenberg. Following the life aesthetic, the band immerses itself in the music as Chloe reports that they are all in the process of reading Alex Ross’s “The Rest is Noise,” the immensely popular, if tome-like, survey of modern music.

And the sound moves forward. If creation is a journey, the members of AIDS Wolf know where they’ve been and where they are heading. For her vocals, Chloe is taking inspiration from ‘70s experimental French vocalist Albert Marcoeur, pushing her to hold notes and vowels outside their normal limits. Overall, the band is working on new material that they hope to record later this year, and have plans for a concept album. The subject is the “Right Honourable” William Lyon Mackenzie King, the tenth Prime Minister of Canada and a national source of hilarity and absurdity. Chloe explains that the cautious King was Canada’s longest-serving prime minister and is now remembered for his foray into occultism with an odd affinity for a ouija board when making national decisions. AIDS Wolf is currently seeking a grant for hiring a chorus to imitate the howling of King’s politically savvy Irish terriers (all named Pat).

So what came first: the scene or the music? When asked how the band responds to the various critically ascribed labels, Chloe herself could not quite pinpoint their sound, instead simply replying, “We’re all just really big nerds.” This prompts the eternally nerdy ethnomusicological question: Is this just noise? I’ll leave that opinion up to the reader, but if we accept John Blacking’s definition of music as “humanly organized sound,” what else would we call the painstaking oeuvre of AIDS Wolf?