In Guest List, Paste’s favorite artists and auteurs reveal the music that’s inspired some of their most seminal works.
Bursting onto the scene with a psychedelic school takeover book titled Wild Children is a good way to earn the label enfant terrible, but crisp talent Ales Kot has quickly constructed a career out of finding the intersection between provocative plots, dense layers of meaning and emotional resonance.
Kot has reached a point creatively where he can step away from big-budget superhero fare (most recently an acid-trip span on Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier for Marvel and the format-busting Dead Drop mini-series for Valiant Entertainment) and turn his attention to a small kingdom of creator-owned books at Image Comics. These projects include the just-concluded thriller Zero with more than 18 issues; polyamorous near-dystopia The Surface with Langdon Foss; ideological clusterfuck Material with Will Tempest; and now Wolf, Kot’s mysticism-drenched L.A. fantasy-horror-noir with artist Matt Taylor and colorist Lee Loughridge.
Los Angeles is an evocative city, one whose name brings to mind a curation of familiar sights, sounds and colors. In advance of Wolf’s first issue, hitting shelves this week, Paste spoke with the author by email to discuss the sonic background to the series’ mood and atmosphere.
Ales Kot on the Role Music Plays in Wolf
Comics are music. When I look at a grid of comics panels, I hear feelings. When I hear sentences and see drawings, I sense harmonies and distortions, puzzles folding in and out. I don’t know how to explain what feels inexplicable except by using words to describe feelings, an act which always fails to encompass the fullness of the experience. How to explain that a beat of a heart can be synced to the way you turn the page? It’s what I mean, yet it sounds trite, incomplete. What I mean to say is the heart asks pleasure first; music nurtures it.
Wolf #1 Cover Art by Matt Taylor
Wolf can be classified as dark fantasy crime noir horror pulp primarily set in Los Angeles and California. What I needed for it, as with every project, was a deep connection to the material, and music helps me find it. I usually aim to reach a meditative state where images and scenes come without me having to think about them.
It’s all one package. Sometimes the thing that pops the most is a line, other times it’s the atmospheric throughline, but usually it’s the way the song, in its entirety, exists in the world and interacts with me.
1. “Hellhound On My Trail,” Robert Johnson
The opening scene of Wolf wasn’t complete until I got the last missing piece—this song.
2. “Bloody Christmas,” Jerry Goldsmith (LA Confidential OST)
The quintessential Los Angeles cop movie, together with Heat and Chinatown. In Los Angeles, the atmosphere is never gone—the decades become overlaid on top of one another, merging, popping up around you all the time, often in strange, beautiful mutations. This track says: tempo. Crescendo. Reaching towards something bad, something worse than you expect. Which is what’s coming in the first issue of Wolf, so it fits.
3. “Put Your Love in Me,” Tindersticks (Les Salauds OST)
See Bastards by Claire Denis. The film might turn your stomach. I want my art to support physical responses. I want to get inside you, deep enough that your process of change in relation to the art becomes externalized. “Put Your Love in Me” is about the absolutes of greed. Connects with Gibson Sterling, our main antagonist. Last name after Donald Sterling, the man famous for his shitbag racist behavior.
4. “Twin Peaks theme (instrumental),” Angelo Badalamenti
America cares, and it’s strange, and it might kill you. Also, you know nothing of it, and the things that were here before you will be here long after you’re gone. The Twin Peaks theme says all that and the same applies to California, the primary setting of Wolf.
5. “lxC999,” White Ring
Satan sex slow disco hell. Like having a threesome when coming down on speed. It likely feels good in the moment, and it’s creepy, and the creepiness makes it even hotter. But sometimes the bodies deform in ways that push your perception over the edge, the geometries no longer feeling safe. Witch house might be dead, but it lives on in the best tracks. And what do you know of true pleasure?
6. “Smirenye,” Zola Jesus
I’m not sure if there are many people on this planet more romantic, in a raw, genuine way, than I am, but I feel like Nika Roza Danilova might be one of them. I began listening to this track in 2009 and I never stopped. Everything goes away. Even the pain.
7. “Dawn in Luxor,” Shabazz Palaces
Consistent / Now that’s the comfort of the uninventive. Dawn in Luxor / Dawn in L.A. The warmth of the sound feels like rising sun. It’s going to get really hot, but right now you’re getting the first hit of an ecosystem waking up, telling you how it is. The sun rises across the desert and you sense things around you can’t quite see, so you have to go with the feeling. You accept it. The song helps.
8. “Love,” Mica Levi (Under the Skin OST)
However inhuman you are, love will find you. There is no escape. Which can make love, in a sense, a totalitarian nightmare, but that’s not what I’m going for here. Here, it’s finding something worth encountering within a nightmare.
9. “They Don’t Care About Us,” Michael Jackson
I remember hearing this song for the first time as a small kid and feeling: This is special. This person is speaking to my soul. And it wasn’t just because I was marginalized, in my own ways, by bullies and all kinds of toxic people. We’re talking 1995, so I was nine, storyboarding my own version of that True Lies scene with a horse, reading a lot, being a fat anxious kid who was starting to get worried the world was a place much different than what I’ve been told…and here comes Michael Jackson to blow my mind and tell me yes, the world is a much bleaker place than they all pretended to you, but that doesn’t mean you have to bow down and take it.
10. “DNA,” Earl Sweatshirt
Family can be a source of tremendous pain. The thing is, however deep into it you go, can you ever not love them? Even if you remove yourself, even if you know the wounds you give and take in that those relationships are horrible, sometimes even when you try to change, can you stop loving them? Do you even want to? I know my answer and I suspect I might know Earl Sweatshirt’s, too. There’s a sense of recognition.
11. “Coyote,” Joni Mitchell
I don’t believe you can escape romance in L.A., but maybe that’s just me. Temporary encounters where you recognize a person and know you have a place in each others’ lives. Temporary movements towards and with each other. Unity. Then the desert splits you up and you go with it because in Los Angeles you have to go with the elements. It’s wilderness, after all.
12. “The Blacker the Berry,” Kendrick Lamar
Whoever says that people of color should curb their anger does not understand that their anger needs to be respected, not curbed. The anger exists for a good reason and that reason has to do with hundreds of years of still-existing systemic oppression. Kendrick Lamar is making kind, angry, daring art. The beats in this, the escalation, the insight he goes for? I’m grateful he’s speaking out. I’m grateful people are listening. He’s an artist whose primary focus is clearly truth. We could use more of those.
13. “Malibu,” Hole
A few days ago I discovered this beautiful hidden Malibu beach with my friend Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv, Sons of Magdalene) and on our way back through Malibu I saw a warning sign that said “HOLE” in big sprayed letters and I thought, Wow, forever got the most cake. Plus, there’s a hole in all things. Courtney Love forever.
14. “Paradise Lost,” UDF
What is happiness / what is pain? Contemplative melancholy paired up with a subdued, resilient drive. The track sounds a bit opiated, which—California feels like that. Voices overlaid, multiplying, but with enough space. On a good day, this might be what it sounds like in Wolfe’s head. On a bad day…see below.
15. “Pornography,” The Cure
This is what it feels like to descend into hell. By the way, I don’t conflate pornography with hell, just this song. And in a good way. I love porn! I must fight this sickness / find a cure…final words of the song and the record, or close enough. The Cure and Manic Street Preachers are two bands I consider very formative. Listened to them a lot between the ages of 12 and 16. Helped me see I’m not the only one feeling horrible. Wolfe needs someone like that, too.
16. “Man in the Mirror,” Michael Jackson
I’m not big on monarchy, but still: the king.