Nat & Alex Wolff want “Glue” to make you feel every emotion at once
Given the overnight success of The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie and the subsequent Nickelodeon spinoff series that debuted in 2007, it’s hardly a surprise that the Wolff brothers’ fictional kid group has catapulted them toward a full-fledged alternative-rock career. Working under their given names, Nat & Alex Wolff, since 2009, the duo have released two albums and a number of singles over the past decade. The latest addition to this catalog comes to us by way of a track called “Glue,” which is available on all streaming services now.
Their first major release following “Cool Kids” and “Note” in April 2019, “Glue” is a catchy indie-pop track that captures the coalescence of fun and anxiety that arises in social experiences backdropped by self-doubt. Drawing on influences including Fleetwood Mac, the single furthers the duo’s experimental leanings in a way that still feels immediately relevant—a result that they chalk up to explicit honesty in the lyrics.
In a chat with Alternative Press, Nat and Alex detail the influences behind the song, how the incorporation of pop elements contributed to the narrative and the “glue” that’s been holding them together through 2020.
This is a markedly upbeat song that provides a great contrast to the context the lyrics describe, and it really makes the sentiment all that more dynamic and powerful. What influenced you to create this type of polarity?
ALEX WOLFF: I think that the lyrics carry a certain energy. They have a mixture of anger and anxiety, [but they’re] also fun. It’s a reflection of what the song is about. They paint a picture of a late night of traveling to all these different parties and being very social [while also] having a hum of anxiety and sadness. Some of my favorite songs and bands combine more dynamic, fun music with a mixed message in the lyrics. It makes it easier to feel multiple things at once, [like I was] when I wrote it. It’s not a super thought-out process. [It’s] just where I was at, and I think it was an expression of [those feelings].
To that point, this song seems a little more pop-leaning compared to the rest of your catalog. Was this a natural progression or more of a targeted divergence to fit the theme?
NAT WOLFF: I think so, too. We really went off on more of a psychedelic, experimental way on our last two singles. [For “Glue”], we were very influenced by Fleetwood Mac, the Replacements and the National, and the song ended up taking on its own form. Alex and I don’t do anything too intellectually. We like to go with our gut and follow [the] image and sound that we have in our heads. Alex [wrote] this song, and it felt really fun and catchy, [and if we were to play it live], people would be really enjoying it and jumping up and down. But then on the second or third listen, you realize that there’s a lot of pain and alienation to it.
ALEX: We tried a lot of different things with it. There was a version that was a little more experimental, but the more we pared back, the more it felt like the song. It’s mixed bare bones but with some of our signature flair. But our favorite music is pop, like the Beatles, [so] I think that’s [natural for] us.
Regarding the narrative behind the lyrics, you’ve got this incredible way of creating relatable situations in a way that still feels unique and poetic. Where do you find the balance in presenting these very clear, real-world experiences and employing imaginative aspects to make them more colorful?
ALEX: It doesn’t really matter to me. It’s not one of my main priorities [to make sure] it’s relatable. I feel that if you write a song that’s honest to you, usually people can connect with it. If you’re [actively] trying to be relatable, it’s going to come off as either vague or faltering, so you’ve just got to stick to what you like. I love that it feels relatable, but I think [everything] would be if everyone was just honest and specific in what they’re trying to say.
NAT: The more personal you are, usually the more universal it is. And the more you try to pander, the more that it loses some of its connectability.
There’s this intrinsic nostalgia factor there as well in that the days of going out to parties and socializing seem so far gone in light of global events. In that sense, I don’t think it could have come at a better time. Was that intentional?
NAT: It’s [both] bad and good luck. It’s horrible luck that we’re all stuck here, but we were always planning on putting this song out around this time, and the one silver lining is that it lines up with people feeling like they need it. It’s just kismet, and there was no conscious decision to do that. I’ve also been noticing [that], in the lyrics for “Glue,” there’s a lot of open vulnerability, neediness and pain to the narrator in saying, “I’m gonna stick to you like glue.” During quarantine, a lot of relationships have gone haywire because everybody’s stuck inside, and a lot of people’s purposes are gone. I’ve felt that kind of intensity in my personal relationships, and I think that’s another thing that makes this a weirdly good time for the sun to come out.
You’ve put a positive spin on isolating feelings by emphasizing the emotions that drive attachment. Personally, that made me really retrospective about how I’ve let anxiety detract from social situations that feel so much more important now than they did months ago. Has this suddenly distant world changed the way you look at the experiences that influenced the song?
ALEX: It’s about a past relationship, so I think not necessarily [isolation], but [having] more time to think about things has forced me to think about some of my fuckups or ways that I went wrong in this type of situation. If I’d just enjoyed things, I wouldn’t have gotten the song out of it, but I would have probably enjoyed certain situations more. I’m not really thinking back on that time in rose-colored glasses. I’m just reexamining it because I have so much time on my hands. It’s dangerous at this time because you’ve got to make sure [not to get] totally introspective, rethink everything and be self-doubting.
You’re coming up on nearly a decade since your debut album under the Nat & Alex Wolff moniker and over 15 years since the formation of the Naked Brothers Band. How do you feel this single reflects the changes you’ve seen, both personally and professionally, over your careers?
ALEX: I feel like any song and album that’s doing its job has to be a snapshot of the time. Naturally, everything you do in the moment is an accumulation of the stuff you’ve learned. There’s way more studio agility, and it’s definitely lyrically more deep and honest for me. We’re better musicians at this point, but, at the same time, I think you’ve just got to go with what you’re feeling in the moment and not try to show you’ve improved or something. There are songs I really love that we made when we were 9, and I think it’s about sticking with what you’re into at the moment and not thinking about how it’s going to hold up in a year or how it compares to the rest of [your] stuff. You’ve got to shut that out.
NAT: I feel the same. Thinking about other people’s reactions [toward] your work is just a way to cut yourself off creatively. Alex and I just have this need to be creative all the time, and we came from an artistic, wacky family. It’s honestly amazing to think that we’ve been making music together for this long because the music has grown with us, and our fans have grown with us [as well]. It’s out of our control, but the best thing we can do is try to be the best people we can be and stay open and present, listen to great music, watch great movies and work really hard at what we do. Then [beyond that], it’s not up to us. Sometimes you’re just sitting there, and a song comes to you. Other times you’re going to spend a week trying to write or finish a song, and it just doesn’t come to you. It feels out of your control at a certain point. I just watched this interview with Neil Young, and he said he doesn’t own any of his songs because they came through him. He didn’t control them or make them—he just kept his channel open, and they came through. I really relate to that.
What’s been the “Glue” holding you together through all the uncertainty we’ve faced in the last few months?
NAT: I think it’s been amazing being together. The fact that [people] came together for these protests in the last couple of months has been very inspiring. There’s this sense of community and justice. I felt a little bit like [during] the first couple months in quarantine, we were just stuck in Groundhog Day, but then it feels like that woke everybody up to something that was really important and hopefully rejuvenated a lot of the artists out there.
ALEX: White Claw has been our “Glue,” also.
NAT: That’s really brought us together.