Neon Debris, the debut full-length by Indianapolis outfit S.M. Wolf, evokes 1960s bubblegum, bright psych, and the power-pop acts who’d mine the same influences in the 1980s. That’s to say, it’s a classicist exercise in buoyant hooks and up-tempo rock insistence, teeming with bright keyboard melodies and cut by the knotty but dulcet vocals of bandleader Adam Gross. At another time, it’d be new wave: staccato and scrappy like punk but decidedly more optimistic, with its pop ambition sounding less like commercial gambit than spiritual compulsion. Asked about the band name, Gross vaguely referred to a fictional author and late-night dog walks, which is well enough. Below, he goes on to explain S.M. Wolf’s origins as a solo outlet, its unplanned evolution into a proper group, and Indianapolis’ musical groundswell.
How did S.M. Wolf come together?
I was initially approached by a friend of mine to record half of a split for a Spring Equinox celebration cassette. I took seven ideas I had in the form of voice memos on my phone and turned them into songs, recording everything myself on a 4-track reel-to-reel. I enlisted my former bandmates Ben Leslie and James Furness to play bass and drums for the cassette release show, thinking that it would be a “one and done” situation. Luckily for us, people enjoyed it and we were talked into playing more shows, so I asked another former bandmate, Rachel Enneking, to round out the sound on keyboards for us…A few months later James left Indianapolis so we recruited my wife, and also former band mate, Melanie Rau to play drums for us.
Tell me about the opening track, “Lies to Heathens”. The keyboard is a strong melodic component, reminiscent of Eighties power-pop groups; is that a source of inspiration?
I wrote “Lies to Heathens” after watching a documentary about a cult at a time when I was listening to a lot of Weezer’s Pinkerton and early, Barret-era Pink Floyd singles. I don’t think there was any direct inspiration taken from 1980s power-pop groups but the main keyboard in the song is actually an early eighties Casio CT-403 run through a distorted tube amp, so I suppose it kind of has an 80s sound by nature. There’s also a Moog Sub Phatty in there which helps thicken things up and gives the song some quintessential power-pop vibes.
I understand the first S.M. Wolf single was essentially an Adam Gross solo project. What prompted the ensemble expansion?
The first release was a solo recording mainly due to logistics and time constraints. I initially toyed around with the idea of playing solo with a backing track or something of the like, but it just didn’t do the songs justice. Playing these songs amazing musicians who could get a long well together and who respected each other was clearly the right way to go. We’d all been in somewhat dysfunctional bands in the past so S.M. Wolf was really a breath of fresh air for all of us.
Can you tell me about Indianapolis, its current music, and S.M. Wolf’s participation in it?
Indianapolis’ music scene is great and is constantly growing. We’re getting a lot of new venues opening up and and the scene is becoming really diverse but staying connected at the same time. We have a lot of great indie psych/pop bands, a strong garage/punk scene and a growing hip-hop scene. Some of our local favorites are Bonesetters, Digital Dots, and Oreo Jones. Indianapolis also has a strong connection to the ever-thriving Bloomington music scene with bands like Sleeping Bag, Mike Adams at His Honest Weight, and Thee Tsunamis often playing here. Having Joyful Noise Recordings and My Old Kentucky Blog in town has been a big help to Indianapolis music because they often bring in great out of town acts and have locals open. We also have a great Indiana music centered non-profit called Musical Family Tree whose sole purpose is to support Indiana music. Indianapolis musicians are pretty incestuous as well when it comes to being in several bands at the same time, and we’re certainly an example of that. Ben and I have played together in five other bands, Rachel and I in two other bands, and Melanie and I in two other bands as well. S.M. Wolf wouldn’t have the sound we do have if it weren’t for the influences of the previous bands we’ve been in and the influence of our city at large.