War On Women’s Brooks Harlan discusses the music that influenced ‘Wonderfull Hell’
War On Women's upcoming album Wonderful Hell arrives digitally October 30 via Bridge Nine (and physically on November 13; pre-order). Their last album (2018's Capture The Flag) was our 15th favorite punk album of the 2010s and we just named Wonderful Hell's title track one of the five best punk songs of September, so needless to say, we're excited.
While we wait for the album to drop, we caught up with guitarist/co-founder Brooks Harlan, who recorded the album with frequent collaborator (and Office of Future Plans bandmate), J. Robbins (of Jawbox, etc), to discuss the music that influenced this particular album. "Writing the new War On Women record was a two-year process - basically starting as soon as the last record, Capture the Flag, was complete," Brooks tells us. "Certainly not actively writing everyday, but coming up with riffs, playing them into my phone, listening to those a month later, trashing most of them, playing them for [vocalist] Shawna [Potter], trashing some more, and then forming the surviving ideas into fleshed-out songs with the rest of the band."
"Over that two year period of writing, I was listening to a lot of music that definitely crept into my brain," he continues. "Here are 10 songs that influenced the new War On Women record, Wonderful Hell."
Brooks also adds, "Note: I am leaving out obvious influences that I've talked about for previous records. Yes, I love Fugazi, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Jawbox, Refused, At the Drive-In, Metallica, Slayer, etc. Also, I'm writing this from my perspective as a guitarist / songwriter. I can't speak to Shawna's influences on lyrics and vocal melodies."
With those more well-known War On Women influences out of the way, Brooks goes on to discuss a few less obvious inspirations, from Heart to Def Leppard to Suzanne Vega to Ben Folds Five to Pat Metheny and more. Stream "Wonderful Hell" and read on for what he had to say...
10 SONGS THAT INFLUENCED WAR ON WOMEN'S WONDERFUL HELL (by Brooks Harlan)
Voivod - "Post Society"
As a long time Voivod fan, I am so happy that this band is still out there writing quirky, sci-fi metal. "Post Society" is a blazing D-beat song with a gnarly bass intro and it's the first track off an EP released in 2016. It's got all the things I love about Voivod - playful, angular guitar lines, a long, wandering structure, a dreamy part, and Denis "Snake" Bélanger's unmistakable vocal delivery. Voivod's original guitar player, Denis "Piggy" D'Amour (RIP), and their current guitarist, Daniel Mongrain (clearly mimicking Piggy's style), both employ great inner-chord chromatic movement that has influenced my playing a lot.
Heart - "Mistral Wind"
Ann Wilson is my favorite rock singer of all time and she gives you everything she has in this song - the highs and lows. The track is a slow burn and when it hits the big riff, it's so satisfying. I also like how they sneak in a 5/4 measure in the riff. Writing songs in odd meters but making it musical enough that most people don't notice is always a goal of mine.
Def Leppard - "Gods of War"
One day I realized that 95% of all Def Leppard songs I know are on the SAME RECORD. For the following two weeks, I listened to Hysteria on repeat. I read multiple articles about its production. I learned the guitar parts. I became a huge Steve Clark fan in the process. The hits on Hysteria were ubiquitous radio standards of my middle school life. Now, I am able to see through the glossy coating and dig into the songs as individual works of art and see how each fits together in the overall arc of the record. "Gods of War" is my favorite track. It has a cool intro, a steady, spooky verse that could almost be The Cure, melodies that stick in your head, and anti-war lyrics! The form of the song is unusual but the transitions are so smooth you wouldn't notice. The coda section is absolutely Led Zeppelin influenced but doesn't sound out of place and is truly epic (with airplane sounds and Ronald Regan samples!) People can laugh about Def Leppard all they want, but Hysteria is incredibly crafted, undeniably successful and it changed pop-rock forever.
Richard Wagner - "Siegfried's Funeral March" from Götterdämmerung
"Siegfried's Funeral March" could stand in for any major Wagner work. I've always loved the way he avoids the tonic center of a key and modulates chromatically between keys. It gives the music a really dramatic tone and it keeps a forward momentum that sometimes never feels like it gets to where it's going! I definitely borrowed snippets of his style for these new songs - like hinging a transition on a single note that might be the minor third in one chord but the major third in the next. (Yes, I do understand that Wagner as a person is problematic and that his music was appropriated by the German Nazi movement).
Suzanne Vega - "Solitude Standing"
This is a song that I just kept listening to. Suzanne Vega has such an earnest voice that doesn't have to be flowery or agile. I like how the intro deceives you into thinking the upbeat is the downbeat. The vocal melody sits in the music in a perfect way. My favorite thing in "Solitude Standing" is the six-note scale pattern that repeats across the bar and keeps the song moving over the pulsing bass line.
Nomeansno - Heaven Is the Dust Beneath My Shoes
Just picking one Nomeansno song is hard. "Heaven Is the Dust Beneath My Shoes" became one of my favorites while I was working on new WOW songs. The drum sounds are great, the word delivery in the verses is amazing, the growth of the whole song over 7+ minutes always keeps me interested. Another example where virtuosic playing doesn't have to distract from the overall feel of the song.
Hot Snakes - I Need a Doctor
I have always been a big Rick Froberg fan and I really could have put any song from this album on the list. "I Need a Doctor" encapsulates all that I love about this band - a minor key, driving song that seems like it's right on the edge of flying off the rails. To know that middle-aged people can still release this kind of energy is truly inspirational for me.
Ben Folds Five - The Sound of the Life of the Mind
This song is from a newer Ben Folds Five record (2012) that I didn't even know came out until seven years after it's release. "The Sound of the Life of the Mind" is in that magical lydian mode centered on B-flat. The climbing chord roots give the verses a forward motion and the melody has a nice bittersweet quality that matches the lyrics.
Pat Metheny - Bright Size Life
I listened to this record a lot on tour for long mellow drives. Pat Metheny recorded this when he was 21 years old - unbelievable! I love his stacked 5th arpeggios and the way he uses parallel 4ths - evident from measure 1 of "Bright Size Life." In places where I felt like a new song might be too "power chord" heavy, I would borrow a little Pat Matheny to give it more color.
Petrol Girls - Burn
I had to include a song by our Euro sister band, Petrol Girls. On our 2019 European tour with them, "Burn" is the song I always watched in their set. It always drew me in. I can never seem to write a good song in a triple meter (3/4, 6/8) and I'm so jealous that they pulled this one off so well. I like the chord changes, I like guitar tone, I like the interplay between the bass and drums, I like the vocal harmonies, I like the lyrics, I like the arrangement - just a great powerful song.
While you wait for Wonderful Hell and the return of live shows, watch this killer set War On Women played at Brooklyn's Saint Vitus in 2016: