Since I started writing for New Zealand’s #1 music site, https://www.muzic.net.nz/, I have been continuously amazed at how much great music is out there of which I previously knew nothing. In many ways, it felt like I had been fumbling in the dark and then a light was shone on a scene which I had no idea even existed. I used to get excited about international bands coming to Aotearoa, without ever asking the question about what was happening locally, and now I can clearly see how much I have been missing out on. I have seen some incredible bands play in the last year, and heard some amazing songs, and have been continuously playing catch up.
While I have been working with some wonderful bands since I became more involved, there is no doubt that the one which has had the largest impact on me personally, both musically and for other reasons, is Written By Wolves. The band has been around for some five years, has more than 100,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel, more than 330,000 monthly listens on Spotify, has one video that has been viewed more than 10 million times, another more than 8 million, so by any measure, they are a successful act. They released their debut album, Secrets, in 2019 and have long been favorites on the live and festival circuit. When I caught them at their low-key gig at Dead Witch earlier this year I was blown away, not just by the intensity, passion, and power of the band, nor the reaction of the wolfpack, but also by the band and their reasons for playing there. They have long outgrown venues that only hold 100 people, but here they were, playing to support the venue. They also bought everyone a shot, and at the end of the night put $1000 behind the bar for their fans, yet again providing valuable financial support to the grassroots scene.
Since that night, I have kept in close touch with the guys and was intrigued at the beginning of June when they announced The Collab Project. The band realized they have a platform that allows them to talk about a subject that is often hidden away, invisible, and deadly, mental health. The concept is a simple one, reminding followers and fans that no matter what mental health struggles they might be going through, there is no need to do it alone. Even in a country that has some wonderful mental health advocates in Mike King and Sir John Kirwan, there is a real need to push this conversation into other areas, especially with the younger generation, and that’s where Written By Wolves come in. The album Secrets had already spoken on the subject, with many songs having lyrics that spoke to having secrets, not letting others know what they were suffering, and talking about the black dog of anxiety. The decision was taken that the first step would be to revisit some of the songs from that album, now a few years down the line, and collaborate with others to give the songs a new life, bring them out in the context of an open discussion around mental health. The result is something which has emotionally hit me harder than anything else I have ever written about, and if any of my writing intrigues a reader to discover a new band or album, then I sincerely wish it is this one, as this is more than entertainment. It is that of course, but it is also way, way more than that.
Some of the songs have already been released as videos, and there is no doubt that the hardest-hitting is the opener Better Luck Next Time. Lyrically this is a fun number, saying that whatever you do in life you are going to get screwed over and no one gets out of here alive. This features Trenton Woodley, from the Australian band Hands Like Houses, who not only sings on the track but also co-produced and mixed it while also appearing in the video. Here we have WBW heavily inspired by Linkin Park, ripping right from the off with a monster hard rock number which gets things off with a real bang.
Next up we have Secrets, which features none other than Sonny Sandoval of the mighty P.O.D. Here we find the band moving between different styles, incredibly heavy when they need to be, whereas at others it is pure and clean, quite poppy. It is a song of multiple sections, full of intensity and passion at times, more reflective of others. The percussion is incredibly important in this arrangement, as there are times when it is just Oli and Karl combining with Sonny and Mikey while Bahador and Davie prepare themselves to come in hard when the time is right. Everybody’s got something they’re hiding, And the best secrets are the ones you don’t keep, You can say otherwise but you’re lying, And the best secrets are the ones you don’t. The arrangement which allows extreme contrast between gentle and out and out aggression is incredible.
I am going to smartly bypass tracks 3-5 and come back to them at the end, which brings us to Help me Through The Night, which features Kellin Quinn from the American act Sleeping With Sirens. This was the first single to be released from the EP and is an absolute classic from the first note to the last. Mikey and Kellin combine in an incredible rocking duet which commences with piano and percussion before the guys kick in and it takes off. This is another uplifting and wonderfully arranged song in many ways, while in others it hits home really hard. I could reproduce all the lyrics here, as they are all so meaningful, but instead, these are the ones that get me every time, I think I’m going crazy, Can’t find the remedy. When I had my breakdown, I clearly remember being out walking my German Shepherds, something I did a lot at the time and thinking I was going crazy, that I was going to be locked up in a mental home, and that I would not be able to provide for my family. I love all the songs on this EP, but this feels personal to me, and emotionally is probably the hardest for me to listen to.
The last song on the EP is Forever & Always, the most recent single, where Mikey duets with his wife, Becks. The intensity of this song is palpable, with Mikey and Becks living each and every word, full of passion. The arrangement switches between heavy and light, and feels the most polished of all the songs, emphasizing the emotion being displayed by the protagonists. You tell me it’s alright, That everything’s okay, But I can see there’s something more, That you don’t want to say. The concept of this song is that if the world is going to end who would you spend it with? Mikey has said that this is probably his favorite song of all he has written, and recording it this time with his wife made it all that much more special. When I get to the end of this number, I often find myself going back to the beginning of the EP or going instead to YouTube and watching the wonderful story video which has been developed.
But what about the songs in the middle of the EP? Although they can be played individually, the best way to listen to these is to always play them as a trilogy, and the first time I heard this it had been mixed as a single piece of music. The songs are (Our Stories), Lucky Stars, and (Hope), and the concept the guys came up with was both simple and incredibly brave. They went out to fans and friends, and asked them to share their story, their struggle with mental health, and to record them and send them to the band for possible inclusion. The selected clips were then edited, the vocals slightly treated, and in (Our Stories) people talk about what they have been through. Underneath the vocals is the keyboard line from Lucky Stars, which brings all three songs together. The first time I played the piece, which when combined is 23 minutes long, I had it on repeat and listened to it four times, feeling that all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around everyone involved, as the sharing and emotion from this is physical. The stories are harrowing, showing just why this is such an important project, and why people need to speak out about what they are going through and asking for help when they need it. Mikey also tells his own story here, taking this project to a whole new level as not only is he providing a platform to get people talking about mental illness, but also sharing that he is a sufferer as well.
Once the stories are over, we go into Lucky Stars, where Mikey is duetting with Sydney Rae White of the UK band The Wild Things. Here the lyrics talk about the power of music, You shouldn’t need a song to save your life, The world should care enough for you to feel like you belong right here, But we all know that that’s not right, So sing this song and know that someone out there cares. I am brought to tears each time I listen to this, as this combined with the stories which have taken place before is pure emotion. I find I concentrate on the lyrics, combining them with what I have just heard, and there is an outpouring of empathy, and desire to help.
If it were left here, I think it would have been too dark, even though the band has injected lightness, as the stories are still so harsh and cutting, but then we end with (Hope). We hear the same voices from (Our Stories), but this time around they are talking about coping mechanisms, and how they have come out the other side. There is positivity here, showing that with the right help and support, sufferers of mental illness can make it through. There is a realization that the problem will rarely really go away, but sufferers have learned how to cope and there is real hope for all of us.
So, there you have it, 43 minutes in length, five re-imagined songs from the Secrets album, plus two spoken word pieces which combine with one of those songs to create something incredibly powerful. The songs have deliberately been placed in an order which takes us on a wild ride of emotions, taking us into places that make us think, yet also lifts us and rocks us hard when the time is right. To say I believe the message and concept behind this EP is one of the most important ever to be brought through rock music is an understatement. This is such an important piece of work, and I truly hope that people will not only take this as some wonderful music and performances but listen to the words, really listen, and if they need support then get out there and talk to people.
This is probably the hardest review I have ever written, just because I am so personally invested and because it is so important that people listen to this EP and speak out if they need help.
I suffer from mental illness, have done so for years, and the very first voice you hear on (Our Stories) is mine.
By Kev Rowland
Watch Help Me Through The Night
Watch Forever & Always
Watch (Hands Like Houses) – Better Luck Next Time