Tell the Wolves’ beautiful mess

The Sacramento rock band asks you to put down that beer and pay attention

Thirsty like the wolf.

Thirsty like the wolf.

photo by kevin cortopassi

Catch Tell the Wolves at 10 p.m. Saturday, February 6, at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, 2708 J Street. Some Fear None and Hero’s Last Mission are also on the bill. Tickets cost $10. More at

Members of Tell the Wolves sometimes dub it a rock ’n’ roll band, but that doesn’t sound right.

The Sacramento group’s debut EP The Great Design opens too dramatically, too angrily, with just a dash of hardcore screaming. Then, it softens into something more cathartic, more thoughtful, ultimately ending with a surprising and restrained acoustic track.

Indeed, Tell the Wolves is definitely more of an alternative band, influenced by the likes of Rage Against the Machine, Deftones, Circa Survive and Incubus.

“Incubus kind of paved the way for bands like us who are weird but you don’t know they’re weird,” says bassist Zack Davis.

That weirdness mostly stems from singer and primary songwriter Leryan Burrey, who previously played in math and experimental rock bands. Compromises had to be made at first, but now he views writing for Tell the Wolves as an artistic challenge with greater rewards.

“I get to be more creative,” Burrey says. “It’s kind of like if you’re only given so many words to explain this really big concept. It forces me to make every note count.”

Tell the Wolves was formed the way many local bands form—from the ashes of another group, in this case, Finding Apollo. In 2013, Ryan Griffith (guitar) and Ian Moch (drums) realized they wanted to keep jamming, so they searched for a singer and bassist on Craigslist. Ta-da.

“It’s kind of a cliché for bands to say we all bring our influences to the group, but it really does make a difference,” Davis says. “[Finding Burrey] was like two trains colliding—it just made a beautiful mess.”

Another collision: finding Arianna Kinsella. Burrey ran into her at a show and knew he knew her, but couldn’t remember why or how or even her name. Even still, he introduced her to the rest of Tell the Wolves as their new keyboard player. Alcohol may have played a role.

“He was super wasted,” Kinsella says, laughing.

Yes, the band loves to drink, have fun and act like idiots offstage, but the music is another story. They’re extremely serious about it, and sometimes tackle serious themes.

Take the EP title track “The Great Design” and the acoustic finale “Basilica,” which are two parts of the same story: an epiphany Burrey had while touring the Vatican.

“There was this huge cathedral, marble— I couldn’t really get down with how audacious it was with how much sadness there is in the world,” Burrey said. “Since 19, I’ve had a crisis of faith, and going there, it hit me. I just saw the hypocrisy of it all.”

It provided an artistic breakthrough as well. Burrey had written the instrumental for “The Great Design” years earlier, but he could never come up with the right lyrics. After his trip to the Vatican, he stripped it down and rewrote the song as “Basilica,” then went back and finished “The Great Design.” The pair of songs make for an intriguing, layered and active listening experience.

And, of course, Tell the Wolves takes its live performances extremely seriously. It’s not really a mosh pit sort of band, but in Burrey’s words: “We want you to turn your head and put your damn beer down—or chug it because you need to watch this.”