MY NEW YORK: NAT & ALEX WOLFF
Nat and Alex Wolff bring us to their favorite spots in the East Village in the latest episode of "My New York"
Nat and Alex Wolff bring us to their favorite spots in the East Village in the latest episode of "My New York"
You can travel far and wide but you’ll never find another New York (trust me, I, like countless others before me, have tried and failed). Between the clamorous car horns and characteristically rushing passersby, the city pushes you out—emotionally, spiritually, physically—until it undeniably lures you back into its glittering chaos. It envelopes you. It welcomes you into the thick of it and leaves you wishing, wanting, fighting to be a part of the paradoxical puzzle whose name is internationally recognizable as the city of contradictions. New York’s seemingly repellant nature is all of its allure. In an American metropolis where one can quite literally become anything or anyone, it’s no wonder this native New Yorker sibling duo has done just that—manifold.
From TV to music to film and back again, Alex and Nat Wolff have flourished in all facets of art and entertainment. Raised by a jazz musician father and an actress-producer mother amidst the spires of Lower Manhattan, the brothers cultivated their own definition of normalcy, having always walked a fine line between the ordinary and extraordinary. In a uniquely multifarious upbringing, the duo became accustomed to a diverse schedule of Friday night award shows punctuated with Monday morning chemistry exams. They were first introduced to us on the small screen as the bee-bopping school-age brothers called The Naked Brothers Band, complete with an eponymous series and fandom of their own. After Nickelodeon closed the curtain on their award-winning series, Alex and Nat continued crafting their musicianship true to form—busking in Washington Square Park (a quintessential experience to every New York artist’s trajectory). “I remember we busked when I was 14 and it was nerve wracking,” muses Nat, the elder Wolff. “There was a time where we were so massively famous and then somehow, when I turned 13 or 14, we went off the air and grew really tall and stuff. No one knew who we were.”
Some would call it divine timing. Their newly found anonymity expertly aligned with the always-challenging time of teenagehood, empowering the pair to freely delve into their artistry and sound between film projects. “Our music is inspired by some of the artists who are from New York. But I think the way we play is almost like a punk show sometimes, with two acoustic guitars,” says Nat. “I remember my friend said, ‘I've never heard an acoustic guitar sound like that.’ We play it really, really hard.” The brothers took to the stage in storied hole in the wall spots and entertained in intimate venues where performer and audience meld into one creative entity, simultaneously feeding into and off each other in mutual interdependence.
Now they come full circle. Alex and Nat’s evolution into mature artists is complete as the duo gears up for the release of Table for Two, accented with 70s-inspired groove. Slated for release early next year under “Nat and Alex Wolff”, their third album further cements that these are not the young brothers we grew up with but trained artists in their own right, endlessly inspired by the city who raised them. Follow the born-and-raised Manhattanites throughout downtown streets in episode 6 of My New York.
Check out the season finale of V Magazine's "My New York" created in collaboration with MOUSSY VINTAGE
Watch the entirety of season 1 here on Vmagazine.com, the series spotlights NYC's movers-and-shakers as they guide us through the formative spots in the city that have inspired and cultivated their craft.
Read the full length interview with Nat & Alex Wolff below!
V MAGAZINE: What does being from New York mean to you?
NAT WOLFF: Well I think that it's really great because we grew up around a million different types of people when we were very, very young. And so that was probably good for our influences musically and just in our lives. We were surrounded by a lot of different kinds of music, art, and people overdosing on the street, very young. So that was probably a good way to grow up fast. And then you have great music scene and then also getting to see plays is such a luxury and a gift that you don't get other places. Or if you do, it's not at the same level. And whenever I'm out of New York, I feel like I gotta get back, it always feels like I have an itch. There's an itch that I can't scratch, I gotta get back there.
V: Do you feel like there's like an attitude to New York?
NW: The New York attitude is cozy, cute, warm, light, easy, and fuzzy.
V: Fill in the blank: New York is...
NW: New York is bullshit.
ALEX WOLFF: For me, New York is inspiring. New York is alive. It's hard to talk about New York because there's been so many great people who've come from New York before, so it feels hard to sum it up. New York also is family to me, because it's where our parents are. It's the home base. I've lived other places, but New York is home. New York is home.
V: Who are some New York musicians who have influenced yourselves?
NW: Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Simon and Garfunkel, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Biggie, The Strokes, LCD Sound System, Patti Smith.
V: So you guys don't stick to one genre when you listen to music?
AW: No, and I think you hear it in our music actually. Since the beginning of time, our music has always had a lot of different influences and especially this new album, there is some hip hop elements in certain songs and then folk elements, that's very new. A lot of '70s influence. Even the neve board that we recorded the album on is the '70s board that they used to record Fleetwood Mac on, that '70s sound. Our influences are definitely pouring out of us when we make music, and especially the New York ones.
V: So I want to talk about quarantine and how there was a lull in creativity. And I assume that you recorded this album over quarantine?
AW: It was right when we were coming out of quarantine, it was towards the end, March of 2021. I mean, quarantine is still going on for a lot of people. Alex and I were quarantined together hardcore for about six months in LA. And it was when we were wiping down all our groceries and never leaving the house. It was a horrible time for so many people, but it was actually a great time creatively for us. It's when we wrote a lot of the music for the album. So we wrote a lot of the songs. We would do these live streams, we had another friend who was staying with us and he would film us.
NW: It was almost like we got to do concerts in the house. And at the end of every concert, we jump in the pool with all our, our clothes on. And then end up having a lot of time, I would wake up to Alex's new songs all the time. And we'd play each other our songs. Alex and I haven't really lived together since we were both in High School, since we moved out. So it was really nice to be back where it was just constant music and creativity.
V: How do you know when a song's finished? When do you put a cap on it?
AW: When the mixer guy emails me and says that we have to stop.
NW: Alex will keep going and going. Alex's still working on the Naked Brothers Band songs. He's still tweaking 'Crazy Car.' I have some mixed notes. Usually, when I'm writing it, there's this initial jolt where you spend an hour and it all pours out of you. And then there's an editing process that could be a week or two. And then usually I'll bring it to Alex for final ideas and he'll bring his ideas.
AW: I don't ever get to the point where I feel finished ever with any of my songs. I've never felt like it's totally finished until maybe a couple years later.
NW: One day you'll get there buddy. I'm three years older, so I've had three years to sit with the same type of creative process.
When I listen to something that's from a couple years ago, I find that it's settled. I'm like, "oh no, that is finished." But then I'll listen to something eight or nine years ago and I'll say, "oh, I want to fix this." So I think it's a cycle. The things that are a little more recently finished, you can have a good perspective on them because they are a couple years old. And then the ones that are further back, I'm like, "oh no, I want to change that." And it's just a cycle that never stops.
Also, we just keep getting better. This last time we made this album, I was like, "oh my God, this is so much easier." And the funny thing is that Alex and I have been playing music together so long. It's a brother thing, too. We really don't have to say anything. Alex's girlfriend visited us in the studio and she's like, "you guys are speaking a different language." Because Alex would be like, "Hey, should I throw this?" I'm like, "no, no, don't do it, put it on the next verse."
V: How do you guys inspire each other? I know that we talked about New York musicians that have inspired your sound, but how does Nat inspire you and how does Alex inspire you?
AW: Especially during quarantine, you don't always hear the process of songs being written. I feel like I actually, haven't heard Nat writing a song since High School where we were living under the same roof. And then we send it to each other. We send it to each other and it's a finished version which is fun to hear. It's inspiring to hear. Nat will be playing around on the piano and then a couple notes will start repeating. And it's like, "oh, that's the good thing." I can hear a song start to be crafted in the other room and I'm like "oh. yeah, keep doing that." And sometimes I'll be like, “I hope he goes back to that chord," and then it won't happen.
NW: And I genuinely felt so inspired by Alex since we were kids. He's an incredible actor, musician, writer, and director. And when we're living together, it's just so nice. There's so many people who spend their days just goofing off and for me, it's so inspiring that I can totally be one of those people. It's so inspiring seeing Alex because he has a creative motor that's always going. And it doesn't just inspire me, it inspires everybody around him to keep creating. And it's not for people to even see it. A Lot of times, it's just for him. That to me, that's the sign of a real artist.
AW: I think Nat and I, our whole lives are bouncing off each other. We're like lightning and thunder, one happens and then the other follows. I think we've always been like that, being inspired and, playing off each other.
NW: Alex likes to wear all my clothes and he inspires me to hide them.
AW: I like to take Nat's clothes and do my own version.
NW: This is not a joke. We actually haven't done an interview together, so this is something I haven't said, but during quarantine, I came in and I said, "what is that between the window? And he's like, "oh, it got hot last night." And I'm like, "is that my jacket?" And he put my jacket in between the window as a window stopper to keep the window open so he could get a breeze.
AW: And it was the right thing to do.
NW: It was horrifying.
AW: I wasn't gonna use my own jacket because I have a couple of really nice jackets. I would do it again.
V: On days off in New York, where do you guys like to explore? Any specific neighborhoods?
AW: I was just in Chinatown two nights ago and it was so fun. And they had this one little street, I can't remember the name. It's just this little street and they put up all these yellow fluorescent lights. It's so gorgeous. Honestly, since COVID, it's been like way better in the city. All these restaurants now opened up these amazing outdoor areas, and when you walk through, it's like the most psychedelic, amazing thing. And not just in Chinatown, it's everywhere. Downtown, there's all these different colored lights and it's amazing, it feels like Christmas time all the time.
NW: New York got hit so hard, it was the worst thing to happen in New York since 9/11. There was a community feeling that that happened after 9/11, when we were kids. That happened again in the last year, where people in New York feel more bonded together. It could have gone the opposite with something like COVID. And I think it did for a while, it went the opposite way. But right now, it's honestly crazy outside. It's like insanity. Seeing outside, it's like Berlin, people are on the streets just sitting and drinking. No police officers, open containers is not even a rule anymore in New York. I was just walking around with a beer last night and I'm like, "is anyone gonna stop me? This is crazy." New York is at its best when it's at its worst.
V: Why is the Nuyorican Poets Cafe special to you?
AW: We've been playing there since we were 13 and we've pretty much played there every year. During COVID, we weren't able to play concerts there, but I'm so excited to get back. It's our home stop and it's the spot that we've gone to play in New York. We've just played at Gramercy and we just played at somewhere else, but it's the go to spot. And it's one of those places where we know the people and we just say, "Hey, we want to come do a show," and they set us up. It's really sweet people which is important. They do really interesting shows, performance art and slam poetry. And there's not really a stage, but that's what's cool about it. There's these two black boxes, you just have a piano on one box and you have Nat and I on one box. So it's fun. It really feels like community, where there's not a disconnect between the performers and the audience.
AW: And we've had a couple times in a row where insane things have happened outside of our shows like an hour before. And so we always have the audience members and the fans coming outside and staying in line to come in. And there was one time, a couple years ago, a robbery happened right across the street while they were lined up, the police came and interviewed all of them. There's a security guard there, who's this big guy, literally been there for 10 years. Every time we come, he'll be like, "let's go inside, let's go inside," and ushers us in. And there's always, some story, he's like "we can't have you outside because there was some crazy lady." It's not even the neighborhood at all, It's a good neighborhood.
V: So you're taking us to Washington Square Park later today. Out of all the parks in the city, why that park? Why is that special to you?
AW: I'm a little nervous about this, I told Nat a couple nights ago, every band does this thing where they say, "I used to busk in Washington Square Park." But we did and I'm not sure these other bands necessarily did.
NW: I'm sure some of them did, Imagine Dragons said it, there's no way Imagine Dragons was busking. Someone said they were busing.
AW: It might have been Twenty One Pilots.
NW: That makes more sense. It was one of those bands. Sorry, Imagine Dragons. Our friends AJR also said it. AJR has made a big deal of busking and we did it too. I remember, we busked when I was 14 and it was nerve wrecking.
AW: We were doing when we were four years old, seven years old.
NW: But we were less shy. I remember I went when I was 14 and a guy came up to me and he said, "Hey, you should move a little forward because I don't think anyone can hear the songs." And I just got so embarrassed, I just packed it up and went back.
AW: They're like, "Were you on TV?"
V: Does that happen a lot in Washington Square Park?
NW: It was after Naked Brothers Band. There was a time where we were so massively famous and then somehow when I turned 13 or 14, we went off the air and I grew really tall and stuff. No one knew who we were.
V: How does your New York upbringing influence your sound?
NW: I don't know that it influences the sound, but it definitely influences the way we play. Our music is inspired by some of the artists who are from New York. But I think the way we play is almost like a punk show sometimes, with two acoustic guitars. And there's a West coast thing, it's more laid back. And then Alex and I, when we perform, there's a certain intensity, a frenetic, anxious, intense feeling. I remember my friend said, "I've never heard an acoustic guitar sound like that." We play it really, really hard. I remember we saw The National do that when we were really young and we loved how it sounded like they were playing ballad instruments, but really hard, like percussive instruments. Once you start playing an electric guitar, it just goes into the space of all other hard music. But if you're playing an acoustic guitar, like a maniac, it's like "what's going on?" It's kind of weird.
V: Do you find the crowd different in New York? Do you feel there's a different energy when you are on stage here?
NW: It's our home base, we play here the most. So we have the most fans here. love doing the shows in New York also because people will travel from like from Philly or Boston.
AW: Also because they can come to our show and then they can go to Harry Potter World. If they come to New York, they don't have to just come for our show, they can come for a week.
V: What can you tell me about the new upcoming album?
NW: Well, we haven't told anybody this, but it's called 'Table for Two.' We do everything together and we've been saying that since we were kids, 'table for two.' And Rozzi [Crane] came to the studio and she did a little part on it. I've never been jealous of one of Alex's girlfriends, but I got jealous. When we're doing music, they're always third wheeling, big time, because it's really intense doing music together. But the album's gonna come out hopefully in the beginning of the year. And it's my favorite music we've ever made and it's a lot of music. Sometimes people will get mad because we'll just release a song or two songs,
AW: I think it's 15 tracks.
NW: It's got a lot of tracks and some bonus tracks. It's still half as long as "Donda."
SERIES CREATORS SAM TRACY & CZAR VAN GAAL
DIRECTOR INDIE JANSONS
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY SHELDON WALKER
FASHION SAM KNOLL
GROOMING MICHAEL MORENO
VIDEO EDITOR NICK FREEMAN
COLORIST MARIANO FLORES
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT HANNAH QIN
FASHION ASSISTANT JESSE LEONARD
GROOMING ASSISTANT KEVIN JUDD
MUSIC BY NAT & ALEX
COURTESY OF MAKE WAKE ARTIST
ROGERS AND COWAN PMK
NUYORICAN POETS CAFE