Interview with Brian Wahlstrom | By Joshua Maranhas
California’s Gods Of Mount Olympus—fronted by Brian Wahlstrom on keys and vocals—play piano-centric punk with a rock beat and a touch of jazz. They describe themselves as “Billy Joel on speed.”
Theirs is a strong lineup with a fresh sound. Wahlstrom and drummer Paul Rucker of Armchair Martian founded the band as a duo in 2013, and they added former Unwritten Law guitarist Steve Morris and Matt Riddle of No Use For A Name fame to make music that’s completely unique. Now, they’ve released a debut self-titled EP, originally available digitally via Joey Cape’s One Week Records, then on vinyl through Bird Attack Records.
Wahlstrom ties together the relationships in the band. “It’s been an ongoing kind of thing that Paul and I have had,” he says. “We started it a while back. He and I played together, and we met for the first time. Ironically, Armchair Martian was one of the first punk bands I ever got into and saw a lot in San Diego when I was 16. It’s funny to have started a band with him all these years later, but we met while playing in Joey Cape’s rock solo project called Bad Loud, and we did a couple tours, and he and I just kind of clicked.”
“He’s a huge Billy Joel fan, and when we figured that out during soundchecks, we started messing around, playing songs,” he continues. “I had some songs that I didn’t really know what to do with, but they were kind of like progressive piano songs. I don’t know how to describe it. He immediately clicked and said, ‘Oh, I know what you’re going for.’ So, we just kind of started getting together. He’s in L.A., I’m in San Diego, and we just started meeting up and practicing a lot and just hanging out.”
“So, that went on for a while,” Wahlstrom relates. “Eventually—Steve Morris was a friend of mine from way back when, he lived across the street from me at the time, and he left Unwritten Law. So, I was like, ‘Dude, we need a guitar player. Do you want to come play?’ He was into it. So, he came and we wrote the EP together, and after we released the EP, Matt Riddle heard it and wanted to play with us. So, that’s kind of how the band formed.”
Is their sound just punk rock? Wahlstrom replies, “I’m a Propagandhi fan, a Lagwagon fan, of course, and that was my influence growing up, big time. I feel like we’d get some pushback from real punk bands. They’d say, ‘What the hell? You guys aren’t really [punk].’ So, I’d like to think that [we are], and I love playing punk shows, ‘cause, to me, they’re the most fun and the most real. I think our next record we’re working on right now, our full-length, is gonna be a lot more aggressive and more fast. So, it might lean more toward punk. I’m not quite sure. What I like about it is that it doesn’t really have a category.”
It’s definitely not Billy Joel. The music hits hard like a rowboat in a hurricane, a four-man crew pushing against the tide. Wahlstrom explains Rucker’s backbeat, noting, “Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do it without Rucker, because he totally understands the vibe that I’m going for when I write a song. He’s not someone who goes, ‘Oh, what would Ben Folds do here?’ You know what I mean? He goes, ‘Let’s fucking shred this thing.’ He’s not afraid to go faster, and that’s what I want.”
Wahlstrom intrigues with the remark, “We recorded all the guitars in a book publishing radio station.” Morris works there. “Paul kicked ass years ago, and Steve and I took a year to record everything else,” Wahlstrom adds.
Gods Of Mount Olympus tied everything off by recording Rucker’s drums in one day at Big Fish Recording Studio in Encinitas, California. “Most of them are live takes,” Wahlstrom explains. “There’s hardly any editing on the drums. It’s super raw, which we both wanted.”
What really makes Gods Of Mount Olympus special is their piano-forward approach. “I would consider myself a purist when it comes to the piano,” Wahlstrom says. “I have a lot of people, when I’m doing studio work, they go, ‘Hey, throw a little organ on there, throw a little MOOG,’ and I’m like, ‘I really only play piano!’ I think I can play those other things, but I love just focusing on that one instrument. I’m not sure why, I just—growing up, Billy Joel and that Elton John kind of sound was what I always loved. You don’t hear a lot of extra stuff when they’re playing. I kind of felt the same way.”
The music is piano-forward, but Wahlstrom doesn’t consider himself the band’s leader. “We’re very democratic band,” he says, “just ‘cause we’ve all been doing it for a long time. Steve’s a great songwriter and a great player. Paul’s a great player, and even songwriter too. I don’t want to limit anybody, so I don’t try to lead it necessarily, but in terms of the sound, I like to drive it with the piano, ‘cause I think that you can do a lot with the piano. I mean, it’s a horizontal replication of music, and it’s percussive and melodic. So, you can do almost everything.”
The self-titled EP gets by with a little help from their friends. Angus Cook from Bad Astronaut plays cello on a couple tracks and “did a lot of mixing too,” according to Wahlstrom. Joey Cape also adds a guest vocal to the first track, “Blue Screen Light.” There’s a lot of talent here.
This is a tight, evolutionary record that carefully places one punk rock domino next to another, then pushes it into a steamrolling, grown-up punk “click, click, click” that delights our youthful garbage-can-flipping, favorite-skate-spot-finding, 24-hours-of-nothing-but-black-coffee minds the same way hearing Lagwagon’s Hoss for the first time did. It’s fresh, but familiar too. When it’s over, you’ll want to listen again, and you’ll be glad they’re working on a full-length LP.
Gods Of Mount Olympus will be out all summer, playing Punk Rock Hoedown in Vegas with Authority Zero on May 27, then undertaking a late summer tour. “We’re just eager to get out there, man,” Wahlstrom says. “We’re stoked on how it all came out, and we’re stoked on the response. We want to play live, because that’s what we love to do.”