Who Is Danger Wolf? Whit Murray & Stephen Taylor Discuss Latest Project June 28, 2022 00:24
Photo by Rebecca Adler Photography
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
March of 2020 will forever be a time that evokes a wide range of emotions. Just as we all began to understand what was happening around the world, it all shut down in what felt like the blink of an eye. While the earliest stages of the COVID-19 era brought about so many trials and tribulations, it also served as an opportunity for many to press pause and focus their creative energy on in a different direction.
Nashville-based musicians Whit Murray and Stephen Taylor are a perfect example. Long time friends from their days in Athens (GA), the two guitarists shared a mutual interest in writing music together, but the stars hadn't ever aligned just right. As you will read in the conversation below, the COVID shutdown paved the way for Whit and Stephen to do just that.
The result is an exciting new project known as Danger Wolf. Fresh off the release of their debut, self-titled album, these two are riding high and already well on their way to a sophomore release. I had a chance to sit down with Whit and Stephen last week and hear the full story. After having the weekend to stream these tunes a handful of times, I can totally understand the excitement they both share.
Danger Wolf features Whit and Stephen backed by a stellar cast of their peer musicians and former bandmates from past projects. You'll find multiple members of Moon Taxi, as well as long time collaborators from Los Colognes and Mama's Love rounding out these tracks. Check out the full conversation below and make sure to follow Danger Wolf on Facebook and Instagram for all of the latest news.
Danger Wolf is a brand new project for both of you guys. I know that both of you have extensive histories in the music industry. Let's kick this off with a little background info on the two of y'all.
Whit: I grew up playing in bands in Raleigh, NC and ended up in Athens, GA after college. That was a really special time to be there, because there were so many bands forming out of UGA. After Athens, I moved up to Boston and attended Berklee College of Music for 3 years. From there, I knew I wanted to settle back in the south, and Nashville seemed to be the perfect fit. In 2014, I reunited with Tom Galloway from the Mama’s Love days in Athens to form Maradeen, and we toured extensively 'til right before the pandemic. I’ve also been playing with a group of Chicago natives that are based here in Nashville (Los Colognes) since 2018.
Stephen & I first met in Athens, GA when I was playing in Mama’s Love, and he was with Eddie & the Public Speakers. I want to say we were playing a show together at Tasty World in 2009(?), and then reconnected when we both moved to Nashville in 2014. We’re super fortunate that most of our friends here are all badass musicians. You almost forget until you’re all hanging out, look around the room, and realize that everyone there plays an instrument and most likely, we all met back in Athens in 2009.
Stephen: I’m originally from Columbia, SC and when it was time to go to college, the music scene in Athens, GA was calling, so I headed to UGA and really immersed myself in the rock scene there. So much incredible music has come out of that town. I think that’s where I learned how to play in a band and write songs with people.
Nashville was always the next step in my mind. Amazing music scene, and so much opportunity to find your place in the industry. I worked in the agency world for a while and then had a stint on the road working behind the scenes with bands like Snarky Puppy and Little Big Town. Eventually, I found my place working for Fender Guitars, which I still do today. I really couldn’t be more fortunate. I get to play in bands with some of my best pals (Drew Dixon, Tom Galloway, and now Danger Wolf) and work in the industry that I love. Life is good.
When did the idea for Danger Wolf come about, and what's the overall concept behind what y'all are looking to accomplish here?
Stephen: Whit and I quickly established ourselves as quarantine buddies in 2020. We’d get together and hang on Friday nights, play cards and grill out. Eventually, we picked up a few guitars over at my place, and Whit had the riff to “Who’s to Blame”. It was so rockin’. I think we wrote that one in a few hours and knocked out a demo. We were just like, “Man, this is pretty great! Let’s write another one next week," and here we are. So, in a lot of ways, this thing is a product of sheer boredom. Once we had a batch of songs and were talking about recording them, I think our intention was nothing more than to make a good record with our friends and have a lot of fun doing it. It’s pretty pure in that sense, and I know we both aim to keep it that way.
Whit: The styles of the songs are all very different, but the lyrics can’t help but convey a sense of restlessness from being shut off from the world like everyone was at the time. Once we had the first one finished, we thought, “All right, now we’ve got a 90’s sounding song. We should write an 80’s pop hit,” ("Less is More") or “now we need a swampy rocker” ("Nobody Home"). "We Make a Pretty Good Team" was the last one we wrote, because we knew we needed to have one feel-good, ballad-esque song on there. We were really happy that the entire EP had a really solid flow from start to finish.
Photo by Rebecca Adler Photography
What can you share about these songs and what they mean to both of you?
Whit: It really captures the best of that era to me, where we both had so much free time. We might as well create something out of it. The notion of writing songs and playing music with your friends just for the sake of doing it, with no expectations or pressure attached, is what attracted all of us in the first place. It's probably why we’re all still trying to outdo what we’ve done previously.
Stephen: It’s a thrill to put out original music. To make something that you’re proud of. That’s where it all starts for me. Whit and I have been friends for years, but this is the first time we’ve really played music together. I think we came into this thing with a great mutual respect for what each other brings to the table. As the songs developed, our strengths as individuals really became apparent. We would lean on them for certain things and get out of the way when needed. Also, both being lead guitar players, we had a lot of options under our fingers and were able to dip into some of those great Allman Brothers/Eagles-esqiw moments. It was lots of fun.
This EP features a pretty killer cast of your peer Nashville musicians. Tell me about who we will hear as we listen through each tune?
Whit: The foundation for what became our sound is Tyler Ritter (Moon Taxi) & Gordon (Gordo) Persha (Los Colognes) playing off of each other. When we were rehearsing, and those two were playing the riff to “Who’s to Blame,” we all stood there in awe for a minute. We knew that this was going to be good. You’re only as strong as your rhythm section, and both of those guys are monsters with their instruments.
We were also super lucky to have Wes Bailey (Moon Taxi) playing with us who’s one of the best keyboardists in the game. He has the chops to be flashy, but is much more committed to serving the songs. We really wanted to write concise songs that had some solos but rocked just as hard without them.
Big notable mentions are Amber Woodhouse who sang BGV’s and played saxophone on “We Make a Pretty Good Team.” She really brought that song to another level. Plus we had Tom Galloway (Mama's Love) and Dan Davis singing harmonies, and Ben Torbert (Mama’s Love) playing percussion. Lastly, we bought a 12-pack of beer and had our buddies Mills Waterhouse and Hank Bateman come in and add gang vocals to all of the choruses to really make them sound big. It such a blast.
You had the opportunity to record at The Studio Nashville with producer Tom Tapley. How did you link up with Tom, and what all did he bring to the table? Tell me about this studio, the recording process, and how valuable Tom’s expertise was to this EP.
Whit: Tom’s actually a big reason this whole thing came together. He did the first Mama’s Love EP back in 2009, and we were dying to work with him again. Then last year in April 2021, we went down to Atlanta and spent a week recording with him at his place, West End Studios. Tom’s like the cool older brother who’s holding down the house while your parents are out of town. He’s probably the nicest, most fun, and positive person I’ve ever met. He really elevates you to play things you didn’t know you were capable of. Not to mention, a really hard worker and an absolute master of studio tricks and sounds.
Stephen: Tom is such a vibe. He’s the biggest cheerleader in the room. When things are happening, he knows how to pull the best out of the moment. And when they’re not, he gets you right back on track. We wanted this thing to sound like a big rock record. Live and rowdy. We couldn’t have asked for a better guy to be at the helm.
And I see Dan Davis engineered the record. This is a name I continue to hear, as so many amazing musicians are working with him. How did you link up with Dan?
Whit: Dan was a huge secret weapon on this project. He grew up singing harmonies with his brothers, and he is a master at knowing how songs are crafted, especially vocal phrasing. It seems like he’s worked on or currently working with all of our friends in the rock scene in Nashville.
Put him and Tom together, you know that you’re going to have a ball and that these two are going to get you to your destination safely. You know that you’ll be a better musician after the experience.
Stephen: Yeah, Dan is the man. He worked on all the Tom Galloway records with us. He has such a great ear and is a blast in the studio. Not to mention, he sings his ass off. It’s pretty awesome when your engineer can jump in on harmony vocals to bring it all together.
Release day is always super exciting, especially when it involves the debut of a new project. Where does Dangerwolf go from here?
Stephen: It was too much fun making the first one. We’d be silly not to record a follow-up. We already have 5 or 6 tunes started. I’m sure we’ll continue to write until we land on a batch that feels like a cohesive project. Then it’s time to do it again, “Nothin’ to it, but to do it”, as my Dad says.
Whit: Put this out, play an album release, and get back into the factory to write the next one. We would love to bring this group back together in 2023 for another round.
Stream Danger Wolf's Debut, Self-Titled Album Here: