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How Porno Wolves took over a St. Paul mansion to record 'Renegades'

Porno Wolves

Porno Wolves Fin Delahunty

“Do not Google image search us at work,” Ryan Bachman advises. “There’s three band photos and some other sketchy stuff.” That’s the danger of naming your band Porno Wolves.

Lead singer Bachman and drummer Anthony Gore are seated in the back booth at the Triple Rock on a midsummer night to talk about the Minneapolis band’s upcoming sophomore studio album Renegades. The two met during orientation at Augsburg College.

“I have a St. Anthony tattoo. Ryan was wearing a V-neck t-shirt,” Gore recalls.

“I was like, ‘This guy looks like someone I would hang out with,’” Bachman adds. “The exchange went something like: ‘Hey, nice V-neck.’ ‘Hey, nice tattoo.’ And we’ve been friends ever since.”

When Bachman and bassist Shea Drenkow formed the band in 2013, Gore was their initial choice for a drummer, but he was too busy playing in another band, the Japhies, and with work. Then life settled down a bit for Gore, and his band broke up, and he was ready to team up with his college friend. (Guitarist Steven Schwartz rounds out the quartet.)

Porno Wolves recorded their debut album in three days. Their live album took 75 minutes. But Renegades kept the band in the studio for over six months, from last fall straight into February. The intention was to make a timeless rock and roll record, the kind that could have been recorded 40 years ago or 40 days ago.

The group worked with engineer Tim Barbeau in Bachman’s home studio and also in a mansion on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. The mansion’s wood floors were perfect for shaping the expansive sound the band wanted. They experimented with mics and different recording approaches, sometimes homing in on sounds from old Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin records. Barbeau is experienced with guerrilla recording techniques and he knew the right equipment to capture anything the band asked him for.

Some of the tracks on the new record stem from their beginnings as a band, worked and reworked for the album until they made sense. Five tunes can be heard on the band’s 2016 live album, which they recorded when they packed the 331 on one of the coldest nights of last year. For the studio album renditions, the songs were recorded live, then densely layered with overdubs.

“On our first album, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the vocal styles and melodies,” says Bachman. “This one, there’s some that are radio-friendly, which we’d never intentionally done before—we didn't know, as a band, how to do that. We had a starting point, but the first album was pretty dark. I wanted the vocals on Renegades to sound different.”

The album’s second single, “In the Garden,” certainly sounds radio-ready. A supple and sinewy anthem, the track starts small and grows to a towering, insane, shimmering wall, before returning to how it began.

The mood of the album starts with delusion, evolving into self-pity, then depression, then relief, and finally arriving at redemption through hope at the end. Bachman loosely based the album around the story arc of The Lord of the Rings, he tells me with a sheepish air of how nerdy that must sound.

“The story is universal enough, and we make sure never to be too specific in our lyrics that it can’t not be applied to different thing,” Bachman says. “A good storyteller doesn’t tell you, they lead you. I was watching a Chris Cornell interview where the interviewer was asking him about ‘Black Hole Sun’ and if it was about heroin use. Chris said, ‘No, it’s not. It’s whatever you want it to be about.’ That’s the great thing about music. Translated, it can relate to all situations.”

Porno Wolves
With: Two Harbors and Buffalo Fuzz
Where: Turf Club
When: 8 p.m. Fri. Aug. 25
Tickets: $7/$10; more info here