When NME released the C86 cassette in 1986, no one was entirely aware of how much of a cult item it would later become. But the 22-track compilation ended up being so influential that it resulted in the unintentional creation of a new subgenre: C86, a version of independent jangle pop.
One of the bands featured on the tape, The Wolfhounds, enjoyed moderate success at the time, but in retrospect, lead singer and guitarist David Callahan says the group didn’t necessarily feel like its song belonged on the recording in the first place.
“It’s always been a sore point with us, largely because it was our big break at the time and out of sheer naïveté, we put a throwaway song, [Feeling So Strange Again], on the cassette (which reputedly sold up to 100,000 copies, depending on who you ask), rather than The Anti-Midas Touch, which would surely have seen us having more success than we did,” he said. “Interestingly, the two or three bands that ‘made it’ weren’t necessarily the best bands on the tape, but had the suss to put their best songs on it – we were just too dumb at the time.”
Additionally, he insisted that although C86 became an umbrella term later on, the way he saw it, there was a lot of variety in the sound of the bands on the tape.
“The use of C86 as a genre description evolved later to describe bands (some good, some bad) with a fairly limited jangly guitar sound. We saw ourselves pretty much as garage/post-punk with tunes (but that’s not a very snappy description),” Callahan shared. “There certainly wasn’t the ‘jangle pop’ scene that people think there was, and most of the bands had wildly different sounds, though many knew each other from sleeping on each others’ floors and playing with each other at the same clubs.”
The Wolfhounds are one of the bands on this more-than-25-year-old compilation that still exists, albeit in an updated configuration. But Callahan said if the band were to be featured on a tape today, he’d prefer to be called something else.
“We rather think that we stand on our own these days and would not fit into any particular genre, though if someone wanted to compile a bunch of awkward pop bands – if we’re not on our own there – under the umbrella ‘uneasy listening,’ that might work,” he said.
The Wolfhounds initially formed in 1985, releasing four albums over its five-year span, before calling it quits in 1990. Fifteen years later, in 2005, the band reunited to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the release of its first single, 1996’s Cut the Cake. It was initially intended as a one-off type of deal, but at some point, it became more than that.
“It took a couple of gigs to see if it would work, and none of us wanted to do it very often if we were merely to pay faded homage to the past,” Callahan said. “As it turned out, both Andy (Golding, guitar) and I…had lots of songs we’d written with no outlet, and new compositions have continued to emerge as if they were the results of bodily functions or psychological tics.”
So naturally, after feeling things out, The Wolfhounds – which also consists of Richard Golding on bass and Peter Wilkins on drums – decided to keep at it, releasing an EP last year, along with the single Cheer Up in January of this year.
“At some point in the past I had seen a workman shout ‘fucking cheer up love, it might never happen,’ when a woman in the street refused to respond to the oppressive piffle he was shouting at her. This worked its way out of my head on a long walk to work in Spring 2012 as I started to think of the oppressive piffle that our government continually shouts at us too,” Callahan explained, sharing the origin of the song. “Several rewrites and revamps later, Andy changed the arrangement from a Joy Division-ish dirge to a sprightly depressive pop tune by adding some atypical jangly guitar, and bingo. David Janes did the slightly seditious wish-fulfillment video.”
Later this month, The Wolfhounds will follow that single up with another, Divide & Fall, a song Callahan said he has had sitting around for quite some time.
“It’s an idealized kitchen sink drama really, about a couple, who could be any two people reliant on each other, staying strong through unnamed austere circumstances,” he said. “Like now.”
Of course, the real question for fans is when another full-length will come out, given that 1990’s Attitude is already more than 23 years old.
“Our long-term plan has been to put out about five singles/EPs and compile them as an album, but it’s taking more time than [planned] despite our dogged faithfulness to that plan – it was meant to take about a year,” Callahan said. “We have a massive backlog of songs and are probably working about two years behind, which is frustrating. But we stomp on doggedly.”
And there are other challenges to contend with, one being that the music industry today is so over-saturated with watered-down artists that it’s difficult to break in, much less make a difference, according to Callahan.
“The struggles now are even worse with most media decentralized and the main outlets being completely corporate. Most bands that get good amounts of attention seem to be generic; they pull the right strings,” he said. “This artistic model can’t last forever in the same way that the Internet business model of not being paid for creative work can’t last – sustainable art and culture needs a full time and cross-pollinatory approach.”
But even with the formula to success being giving the industry people what they want, Callahan has nobler and better goals for The Wolfhounds and remains adamant about carving out a niche where the band can do what it wants and hopefully still garner a substantial following, proving the industry wrong.
“I’d most rather like to make a success of the band now as we are so counter-intuitively wrong for what a modern ‘indie’ band is supposed to be – wrong age, wrong era, wrong class, wrong sound, wrong clothes, wrong attitude, wrong things to say – that it would give me such a fillip to prove every doubter wrong,” he shared. “When everyone’s beaks are stuck to the bottom line like hypnotized chickens, only us dreamers are free.”