The band was conceived during a homecoming of sorts—not in the heat of a romantic dalliance, but a brotherly collaboration. Prodigal sons returned and found themselves playing proud papa to a Sad Baby Wolf.
It was autumn of 2010 and Marty Crandall was recuperating from a decade long adventure known as The Shins, all amidst a painful buzz of gossip-mongering. No doubt it was a welcome relief to be back in his dusty hometown surrounded by open sky, family, and old friends. An old friend with roots in the Albuquerque music scene of yore (i.e., the mid-90s, when the Shins were Flake Music and headbangers and zinesters still rifled through vinyl at Bow Wow Records on historic Route 66) was seriously ill and hosting a benefit concert to offset medical expenses. Professional hot air balloon pilot and fellow-former-Shin Neal Langford was a natural collaborator on guitar for what they assumed was a quick, one-off gig. Along with another long-time buddy and musician, Jason Ward, and Marty’s younger brother Maury on drums, they pasted together a set of two covers and two originals. It was a slap-dash rush to compose the new songs, yet they found that it felt oddly, exhilaratingly effortless. The feeling persisted through the performance. One show turned into a handful, and the band soon recruited Sean McCullough – another stalwart in the Albuquerque music scene who had done sound for the band at their first few shows – to complete their lineup on bass guitar. Marty’s relocation from Portland back to Albuquerque erased all doubts as to Sad Baby Wolf’s permanence…
They spend a lot of time at Ward’s house in Albuquerque’s North Valley, on the banks of the Rio Grande. It’s a beautiful location, with an acre of cottonwood trees where goats, dogs, and chickens mill about. Songwriting is a loose, hierarchy-free process for the wolves, and the songs usually undergo unexpected evolutions. While their lineup boasts the guitar count of Iron Maiden, their sound is more nuanced. What might start as vintage shoe gaze with some country lilt can slide into darker terrain when Ward, who comes from a heavier rock background, adds hefty riffs. In Neal’s hands the songs progress down loopy, psychedelic detours, and Maury might add unexpected syncopation that completely shifts the emotional movement. McCullough’s exuberant bass lines provide the glue that holds Sad Baby Wolf’s eclectic bag of sounds together.
Marty’s lead vocals are not polished or shimmering. They rise plaintive and vulnerable above the bracing wall of often My Bloody Valentine-esque guitar sound. His melodies—like those lent by the instruments—bend and melt almost out of tune. But it’s defenselessness that can lure, particularly when braced by such muscular musicianship. All of this has not gone unnoticed, with Sad Baby Wolf having already notched a number of coups in their short history: performing at Noise Pop and Musicfest NW 2012, touring with Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade’s new band Moonface, and releasing three digital singles to more-than-enthusiastic reviews. The wolves are set to shed milk teeth and unleash fangs in the coming year with a full album and more touring.