Andrew Fullerton and Matt Orlando, coming out of the Pennsylvania-based rock band, The Tressels, recently formed the new, bluegrass group, Who? What? When? Why? & Werewolves. In an effort to really showcase the lyrical content of their songwriting, the pair have evolved their sound from the rock ‘n’ roll of The Tressels to a lighter, more Americana sound that is the hallmark of Werewolves. Their sophomore record, Hard Feelings will be released on August 13.
Read on for our interview with Werewolves frontmen, Andrew Fullerton and Matt Orlando, where we discuss music, songwriting, and break down the new record.
Werewolves seems to have had an interesting start—can you guys break down how the band formed and where that name comes from?
Matt Orlando: Andrew and I have been playing together since we were 12 in various bands. I joined probably the most successful band, which was The Tressels. Once that band ended, we were keeping in touch and I was playing football and I hurt my knee. I’m a lifelong drummer. I’ve always wanted to play the banjo, sonically it spoke to me. I started playing banjo out of need to keep playing music because I couldn’t play drums. I called Andrew and was like ‘hey man, I just got a banjo.’ And he was like ‘I got a mandolin.’ From then on, we just started the Werewolves.
Andrew Fullerton: In The Tressels, we had delusions of grandeur that one day we’d be big enough to play a secret show under an assumed name. So we had this long list of terrible band names. Once we had been playing for a little while as this new folk project, we had to be official about playing a show, so we picked this name that was the most difficult-to-Google name you could ever think of, and then we stuck with it because we’re difficult.
Do you guys have a general songwriting or creative process? How do you find an idea for a song and polish it up to get a completed track?
Fullerton: I usually start with one line, and kind of chase it around until I find something else that works with it. And then, I’ll come up with the music and bring it to Matt when it’s three-quarters of the way finished. He’ll add the melodic banjo parts and the harmonies. That’s something that, as we’ve grown as a band, we got really good at harmonizing. I now write songs with that in mind. It’s not just my voice. I try to keep the melodies a little bit simpler. On this last record, I usually write a majority of the lyrics, but Matt contributed lyrics. It’s been a much more collaborative thing. As I’ve gotten older, I never wanted to be the solo guy. There’s a reason we keep playing in bands with each other. We have the process down as best as we can. I also tend to stick with people who will hear out my crazy ideas for songs; people who don’t say no a lot. You have to take risks and say yes to everything.
Orlando: It’s good and bad. You could also end up with a name like the Werewolves. I didn’t say no to that, but here we are. It’s been more collaborative this time around. I think a lot of that has to do with I just really sucked at banjo for the first record. Got better at it, so I can focus on other things. Maybe if you take a step back and listen to both records, we’re the same band, it’s not drastically different. But this one, we identified and solidified a sound, I think, almost an identity, for sure. The first one was pretty experimental. This record was so much fun to record. I’m more proud to show it to people.
When you decided to start working on Hard Feelings, how did that record come together? Do you just write a bunch of songs? Do you start with a title and a framework for the record?
Fullerton: There was a handful of songs that we were playing live before Covid. I was already in the thought process of reflecting a lot on my life. Being stuck at home for a year really put the exclamation point on that. We recorded those songs. Once I had the first half of the record, and we kind of had an emotional through-line to the songs, I went back and I wrote the last three. There was a lot of time to reflect on what I really think about these things. It came together in two different halves. There’s a big learning curve when you go into a recording studio. Some songs don’t work. Breaking it up made it a little easier to make an emotional narrative all the way through.
Orlando: We also did it a little differently where we originally started out thinking we could record the record ourselves all the way through. We actually recorded the entire record in my basement before we went into the real studio and cut it. The blessing of Covid, we had time to really focus on it and compose every single aspect of the record before we went into the recording studio.
I wanted to talk about the album art a bit—how did that image come together and how does it represent the music, for you?
Fullerton: I’ve made a lot of records at this point—not a lot that anybody’s heard—but I know what I’m going to do when I get in the studio now. It’s not as exciting as the first record I ever made. What’s exciting for me now is the post-record process where we collaborate with photographers and visual artists and different people that make this whole thing into a complete package. We’re all about super colorful images. We’re just who we are. We like to be very colorful and eye-catching.
I found a local comic book artist named Steven Arnold and basically gave him the record and gave him a picture of my dad when he was in a bodybuilding competition and said ‘do what you can.’ He sent me back the cover image and it made me cry—it was thoughtful and eye-catching and meaningful. It makes me feel more fulfilled when someone’s actually paying attention. This is a nice collaboration that we had. My dad passed away in May of last year, and I wanted to use that as a tribute to him to put him on the album cover. And also, it’s very provocative to have a muscle-bound half-naked man on your album cover. The amount of content that you see every day, if this makes people stop and check out the album cover and maybe listen to a song or two, that’s what we’re trying to go for.
Earlier, you mentioned emotional throughlines as you were writing this record—what is the emotion or theme that ties this record together?
Fullerton: Well, we called it Hard Feelings because, as I said, during the pandemic I was laid off, my dad passed away, you just see the world melting down every day. It took a lot of reflecting to realize what was really important to me in my life. I wanted to make sure that that was the anchor for a lot of songs—telling the people that you love, that you love them, and also having difficult conversations about those feelings. That was a lot of the reflection that came out of just sitting in my house and trying not to die.
Orlando: It’s almost like an apology record to our wives, too. When we go on tour, long road trips and stuff, we’re always thinking ‘man, this is a really romantic setting.’ And it’s always Butch across the table and not my wife. So we always have these existential conversations and we’re kind of consumed by music. We know we can’t stop. There’s a theme throughout, too. We bring up our loved ones, our wives—I know the last song, there’s a line in there about it, “Hard Feelings.” We’re just spending time away from our families to do this thing.
I know the story behind “Quittin,’” but how did the track come together musically? How did that story morph into a song?
Fullerton: I like a lot of classic country records that take humorous slants on heavy subjects. I wanted to write a genuine please-forgive-me country song. That was the first one we had for the record. We’ve been playing it the longest. It’s a good introduction to the ride you’re gonna go on. I was just trying to write a classic country song for the kids.
With that theme of the struggles of being on tour, has the environment of being home for the last year and change been a good one for you?
Fullerton: It was difficult because we were just getting somewhere with it. We were getting a little notoriety. It was difficult to have that come to a complete halt. We were on tour when the lockdown happened. It’s been good to an extent. Talking about taking things for granted, now that live music is coming back, I’ve seen people have been super attentive. Before, you get over-saturated. I think that was a product of there being so much music—to have that taken away for so long and then to come back, people are so happy that we’re there. We’ve both been playing pretty much professionally since we were 13 or 14 years old—it’s the longest I’ve taken off from playing shows since I was 16.
Orlando: When we did come back, our first show was at this awesome place called The Warehouse. We were just setting up for a show, but then the owner announced us and he was talking about the gravity of the situation—music is back—he sheds a tear, and we’re playing and there’s women crying in the front row. Because we’ve been playing nonstop, it absolutely brought the magic back. It was awesome.
Now being back and playing shows, is it better than ever?
Fullerton: Yeah. It feels great. We played two shows during the pandemic, and one was to an empty theater we did a live stream. Just to have the human element back in it is good.
Orlando: Since we started, it’s been all around here. The community thing; we’re back. It’s nice being a local band again, because we haven’t been up to this point.
Is there a track on the record that stands out as a favorite or maybe a more meaningful song for you?
Fullerton: The two for me are “Little In Love” and “Made Things Weird,” because we do the most harmonizing on those two, especially “Made Things Weird.” We sing together the whole time. It’s this very ominous string part and those lyrics are very close to me. We both get wrapped up in the song. And “Little In Love” the lyrics are very close to me. We talked about beforehand, ‘let’s try to do harmonies like The Indigo Girls do harmonies.’ We kind of pulled it off. And those songs are the ones that are starting to resonate with people the most when we play them live. But the whole record is meaningful to me. It feels like we keep finding these new little things that we like to explore and work on. Just trying to write good songs and perform them with honesty and our weird, bizarre tenderness, and also make it fun. I want it to be enjoyable for people to listen to. The record is good, I hope people like it and it resonates with people. That’s the thing. For me, what really matters is I get a text from someone I haven’t heard from in a while who actually took the time to listen to the record and they tell me how much they enjoyed it. That’s again coming back to the community. The people in life that matter to you.
You can listen to the Werewolves music here.