THE WILD, WILD WAAX

BRIS­BANE’S TRAIL­BLAZ­ERS ARE REIN­VIG­O­RAT­ING PUNK, AND THEY’RE DO­ING IT ON THEIR OWN TERMS. WORDS BY MATT DO­RIA. PHOTO BY REECE ERDMAN.

Australian Guitar - - Final Note -

After top­ping the ranks in our 2016 Big­sound Top Ten ( Aus­tralian-Gui­tar #118), WAAX have had an enor­mous first half of 2017. It’s not hard to see why: their sec­ond EP, Wild&

Weak, is five pre­cise slices of pure sonic eu­pho­ria, strewn in dizzy, melodic vo­cals and numb­ing lead sec­tions. The quin­tet are bring­ing a fresh flavour to a fast-stag­nat­ing Aus­tralian punk scene, and though their riffs are scorch­ing and their noodling tight, they’re zest­ing things up by re­think­ing how gui­tars make their mark on a song.

“Our mantra has al­ways been to make things con­tem­po­rary and to do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” says string-split­ter Chris An­to­lak, “Rather than just fol­low what ev­ery­body else is do­ing. When we were writ­ing th­ese songs, grungy gui­tars were a re­ally big thing with bands like Vi­o­lent Soho, DZ Deathrays and Dune Rats – all amaz­ing bands, but we felt like we didn’t want to walk down that path. There was a con­scious de­ci­sion in that to play more sin­gle notes than chords [on Wild&Weak]. We wanted to ex­plore the at­mos­phere within the mu­sic; the gui­tar doesn’t have to be the driv­ing in­stru­ment in a song, or it doesn’t have to be as dom­i­nat­ing as it of­ten is.”

It’s un­likely An­to­lak would have said the same thing a few years ago: there’s a far cry in vibe be­tween the gritty, abra­sive shred­ding that pads WAAX’s HolySick EP (2015) and the airy, tense bends on Wild&Weak.

“Be­fore this ex­pe­ri­ence, we’d dial ev­ery­thing up to 11 and just blast away with­out a care,” he laughs. “But the more you evolve as a musician, the more you un­der­stand that your sound is some­thing you de­velop for your­self. And if you want to de­velop or clean up your sound, go nuts – y’know, that doesn’t make you any less of a punk. That’s what we did, and if any­thing, we’ve re­ceived more com­pli­ments than com­plaints about our gui­tar tones.”

“I think one of the things I’ve learned through [ Wild&Weak’s] process has been that some­times, less is more,” chimes in co-shred­der Ewan Birtwell, “Es­pe­cially when it comes to dis­tor­tion. Peo­ple tend to think that with this style of mu­sic, the more dis­tor­tion you pack into it, the bet­ter it will sound. But if you dial it back a bit, you can get a lot of clar­ity while still re­tain­ing that heavy im­pact.”

A new take on tone was met with a new take on song­writ­ing. Rather than scrib­ble notes on the road (side­note: WAAX are cur­rently on the Wild&Weak tour across Aus­tralia – be there!) or piece cuts to­gether in iso­lated bursts, An­to­lak and front­woman Marie DeVita ded­i­cated large blocks of iso­lated time to craft­ing new bangers. In par­tic­u­lar, An­to­lak says the writ­ing process for lead sin­gle “This Ev­ery­thing” spurred a new cre­ative di­rec­tion for the band.

“[Marie and I] had a day on the Gold Coast to­gether where we bur­rowed our­selves away and just lis­tened to a lot of vinyl,” he ex­plains, “Just try­ing to get re­ally in­spired with mu­sic and feel in­no­cent with it again. Be­cause you can get so lost in un­der­stand­ing mu­sic; when you be­come a musician or a song­writer, you need to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing about your craft. We kind of just wanted to for­get all of that and be fans again, just pick up in­stru­ments and see what we could come up with. That idea of go­ing away and dis­con­nect­ing from so­cial me­dia – get­ting away from the out­side world so we can be fo­cused enough to ac­tu­ally demo things – that seems to be the trick for us.”

WAAX’s looser ap­proach to writ­ing is largely what led to the gru­el­ing two-year gap be­tween re­leases. But it paid off in the end: rather than stick to rigid dead­lines and sched­ules im­posed by a record la­bel, the band de­cided they would work on their own terms, tak­ing each day as it comes and only set­ting goals where goals needed to be set.

“It was easy in the sense that we only had the pres­sure that we put on our­selves,” of­fers An­to­lak. “There was no man­age­ment or any­body else telling us we needed to have songs writ­ten. We took the ini­tia­tive and went away our­selves to write, and we ac­tu­ally made a prom­ise to our­selves that we’d have slightly big­ger am­bi­tions than we needed. We went in there say­ing, ‘We’re gonna write and record five songs this week­end!’ and then ended up writ­ing five but record­ing four. We put our own pres­sure on our backs be­cause we wanted to get this record done; we wanted to prove to our­selves that we could do this and con­tinue to write songs – and so far, that’s worked out for us.”

Writ­ing for the next re­lease – a de­but al­bum, Birtwell slips – is well un­der­way. They plan to fol­low a time­line in the foot­steps of Wild&Weak, but are quick to note their open­ness to any pos­si­ble course of ac­tion. “I think the un­spo­ken plan is to write no less than 40 songs and then fig­ure it out from there,” re­marks An­to­lak, teas­ing that fans will hear new jams sooner than later ei­ther way.

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