Staying Sane with Work Of Wolves

Words by Grant Wentzel

Photos by Thomas O’Steen

Midwestern decorum dictates that it’s not polite to talk about religion, but the topic was unavoidable while sitting down with a couple of the guys from Work of Wolves over a cold beer on another frozen South Dakota night.

“I mean, you can’t throw a stone in Sioux Falls without hitting a church,” said Paul Pinos, founder, guitar player, and melody-man of the riff-heavy modern rock combo.

Paul grew up with a split heritage: half-Ecuadorian, half-South Dakotan. He was born and raised in Cuenca, Ecuador, the child of missionaries, moving to South Dakota a few days before 9/11.

“My mom’s from the Flandreau area, but then as soon as I graduated from high school, I just wanted to get away from my parents. I had two options, either Redding, California, or Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and for some reason I chose Sioux Falls. I knew some kids in Sioux Falls from missions trips, so I lived with them for a few months before I met some local musicians and moved in with them,” he said.

Paul was playing in the band After The Sun, and eventually started up Work Of Wolves as a solo project while going through a dark night of the soul. “I did go through an angry atheist phase for a bit, if you know what I mean,” he says.

“It wasn’t even going to be a band,” Paul explains. “I kinda wanted to try some things musically and mess around and see what happens with it. So, I ended up recording the first EP pretty much by myself and thought…well, maybe I should start playing shows.”

Two albums and a few major line-up changes later, Paul called up his old bass-devouring buddy Tyler Jung and soon after everything changed. “Everybody kinda left, and that was probably going to be the end of it, honestly.” Tyler said.

“But we just kinda had a heart-to-heart, and I just laid it all out to Paul. ‘Cause at that point I was learning all of his songs. I said, I’m willing to keep doing this, but if we are going to start this over, like I wanna start this over. I want to start working together. I want to start writing new songs, 100%, and from that point forward we totally fresh-sourced it.”

“The band I was in when I met Paul was Private Drive,” Tyler continues, “a really terrible screamo band from back in the day, and that’s mainly where I did my touring and stuff. I went on my first tour when I was 16 and fell in love immediately. I didn’t want to go to college, I didn’t even want to finish high school. All I wanted to do was go on tour with my friends and that’s all I cared about. And that’s a young man’s dream, I get it, but that’s all I really wanted to do. I jump around to a lot of things, but music is one of those things that, like, if I didn’t do it, I’d probably go insane.”

When not ripping fuzz-drenched grooves from his bass guitar, Tyler spends his days practicing the permanent art of tattooing at the Electric Crayon. “It might sound crazy to some people, but tattooing was my fall back.”

“I always tell people this story: I have a picture of my grandmother hanging in my tattoo studio. I did a lot of painting and drawing growing up, but as soon as I found music I didn’t do any painting hardly ever. And then I was talking to my grandmother — she was a great artist — she was like, ‘What are you going to do now?’ I had no idea. And she said, ‘Well, you like art and you like tattoos, why don’t you be a tattoo artist.’ And I replied, ‘that will never happen.’ Years went by and I fell into it. It found me more than I found it. I like being creative. I can tattoo all day.”

Tyler also applies his sharp eye to the band’s graphics, logos, and posters, even tattooing the Work of Wolves logo on a few “super fans.” “They get friend prices,” he jokes. “So I charge them double.”

Like Aerosmith, who (swear they didn’t) snag their appellation from a book by Sinclair Lewis, Work of Wolves nicked their name from a novel, The Work Of Wolves, a twisted tale of love-on-the-ranch in South Dakota.

While their hook-laden rock could come from anywhere in America, there’s no doubt that growing up with roots in the Upper Midwest shaped their music.

As Tyler explains, “We are all products of our environment. Obviously, with Paul’s lyrics, there is that questioning, religious stuff. We’re kind of surrounded by it. We’re in the Bible belt to a point. It’s one of those things we do discuss often. We have great religious friends and very non-religious friends, and those debates come up and we can talk about it.”

“I come from the completely opposite spectrum. Zero church. Zero religious experience. I always looked at it from an outsider’s perspective. I had the opposite experience as a kid. In the Midwest if you’re the kid that doesn’t go to church, you get those questions, ‘Why aren’t you going to church?’ ‘What’s up with your family?’ You know, I’ve been open to it. Pretty much all my bands, like my first band especially, they all come from very religious families. They even had me playing at a church here and there. I was curious, but honestly at the end of the day, I was just kind of faking it to fit in.”

“There was a hard push, especially in those early 2000’s, you’d go to a show, even a local show, and a band in the middle of it would stop and say, ‘Hey, just want to let you guys know we’re here for Jesus Christ!’ and I was like, where the hell did that come from?”

As Paul says, “Yeah, it was a big part of the music that we grew up with, it was very heavily infused by Christian bands, like the stuff that was on Tooth & Nail Records. They’re all quote-unquote ‘Christian Bands.’ Any of those samplers with those bands, like MXPX, that’s what got me into punk rock.”

“We’ve had members that were very involved in church, and I wasn’t,” Paul continues. “I mean, I was at the beginning, but then I wasn’t and that was fine, and it was just nice that there was a space where you could just question things and talk about things openly and honestly and even disagree but still be friends, and that’s why I try to not be too dogmatic on the other side of things.”

“That’s what I try to go for lyrically, and yeah, sometimes I deal with anger that I’ve had, but for the most part it’s just open-ended questions, and hoping that the best parts of religious faith are still true. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to say that there is a god that actually cares that there is a god that doesn’t give up on people. Nothing would make me happier than that. But at the same time, I don’t have reasons to necessarily think that’s true, so like… maybe? Or, I hope so, you know?”

As Tyler says, “It’s one of those things where we can get along with anybody, we can play with a Christian metal band one day, and band that’s just all about partying and drinking the next. It doesn’t bug us. And I think it reflects how a lot of us feel, too, we’ve all got different sides to us. It’s nice that we can have those alternate views. Our drummer, Alex Foster, went from a non-church goer to being super-involved. And we can have all those sides and it’s not really a problem.”

After music, Paul’s other creative outlet is jiu jitsu, where he’s been earning his belts and racking up trophies across the Midwest. “I love it,” he says, “cause honestly, church was my community. I kinda lost that when I stopped going, so I found that again when I started going to jiu jitsu.”

Does music overlap with martial arts? “Absolutely,” Paul says. “There are certain principles that you should abide by to be successful, but at the same time there are no rules, and you have to find your own way. There’s a lot of creativity in both, and it’s a very personal exploratory adventure. It’s like, that worked, that didn’t work, and like music, it’s just endless. There are so many variables.”

Paul still hasn’t convinced the other guys to give it a try. “Paul tries to get me involved, but I pretty much live and die by my hands, and with how much he’s always getting hurt, I was like uh, nah. But I’m glad he found something he enjoys,” Tyler smiles.

Despite the passion the guys from Work of Wolves bring to everything they do, they’ve got a pretty laid-back attitude about the band. As Tyler says, “The only ambition is stay happy, stay friends, and keep it going. We don’t keep track of our numbers, we don’t do any of things you’re supposed to do.” 

“Yeah, I’m horrible at the business side of it,” laughs Paul. “For me, it’s all about the art.”

But karma seems to be on their side. They’ve played some big shows the last few years, earning slots at Jazz Fest, the White Wall Sessions, the Levitt Shell, and opening for national acts like The All-American Rejects, All That Remains, and Falling in Reverse.

“We’ve got to play with a lot of bands that I was listening to back in those scene days when we first met,” says Tyler. “Having it come full circle and getting to play with some of those bands now has been super-wonderful. When I watch bands, I don’t really move around, I’m studying. I’m watching how things are set up, I’m looking at how they’re doing things. It’s nice to learn from more experienced people. That’s a big thrill of it for me. That’s not something you can Google, you have to watch and learn.”

Paul adds, “For sure, we’re always learning, just making the best music we can.”


Check out Work of Wolves and their latest single “Ghost” on Spotify, Apple Music, and any of your preferred streaming services. For upcoming shows, be sure to follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

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