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Interview: Wax Chattels Talk About Their Self-Titled Debut Album and Future Moves

Interview: Wax Chattels Talk About Their Self-Titled Debut Album and Future Moves

Chris Cudby / Friday 8th June, 2018 12:43PM

Auckland's Wax Chattels have achieved an astonishing amount since kicking off in 2016. The hard-gigging trio of Peter Ruddell, Amanda Cheng and Tom Leggett have swiftly gained a legion of fans for their inimitable brand of "guitarless guitar music," and dropped a superb self-titled debut album in May via Flying Nun Records and Brooklyn tastemakers Captured Tracks. They're celebrating with a launch party at Whammy Bar tonight, the final leg of their nationwide release tour before hoofing it for shows overseas. Chris Cudby tracked down singer / organ player Peter Ruddell, tearing him way from a pub quiz night in Oraki to grill him over the phone about the new record. A short chat turned into an in-depth conversation exploring the origins and inspirations behind Wax Chattels' world of sound, plans for the future and more...

How's the tour going?

Tour's going great. Very very good actually, better than we expected. Sold out of presales in Wellington last weekend which is pretty incredible, had a great turnout. South Island was amazing as well. It was our first time down the South Island, so to go down there and have decent crowds of people was pretty amazing. In Dunedin we were playing with Coyote and Birdation which was awesome. Coyote... you know how good they are!

I can really feel the live energy from your new album, it's easy to imagine someone hearing it and being super hyped about seeing you play. Was writing for a live crowd an important part of the songwriting for the record?

I guess we always had in mind we wanted to play shows, we were never going to be a studio band, and the songs for the album came out of a shitload of gigs. I feel like the two are just together, and for that reason we went for the live studio sound to mirror the live performance and to encourage people to come to the live shows, because we are a live band. Best experienced live I guess, try and catch that as much as possible on the recording. It comes back to the idea of not layering it up with things, just have the band sound done well in the studio. Minimal overdubs, keeping it simple and raw.

How did the record actually come together?

We had these tracks about a year ago, about eight tracks. We recorded two of them by ourselves in Fuzzy Vibes at the end of 2016. We were going to record the rest of the tracks about this time last year, and we got a message from Tom saying "hey I've got this sweet teaching job in China, I'm going to go over there to teach drums for three months, let's get in the studio asap." So we had to panic, call our friend Jonathan Pearce and say, "got any studio time when you're available?" He had these two nights free where we started recording it. Load in at eight, finish at four and go to work the next day, then load in at eight again and continue recording.

Oh man.

It was real full on. Most of the live tracking of the organ, bass and drums was done in those two nights. We had a couple of overdub sessions later on. There were a couple of tracks actually that we recorded when we came back from our Asia tour. The track 'Career' we workshopped and wrote on the road when we were in Asia, the same with 'Shrinkage' as well. Which is cool they made it on to the album.

I was going to ask about your songwriting process, because there's quite a lot of diversity and different lyrical approaches as well.

We're all pretty busy people, so to get the three of us in a room is sometimes quite difficult. So whenever were are in room we want to make the most of it. We go in with a plan, this is going to be a songwriting session or this is going to be a rehearsal for the show session. It's all very organised compared to previous bands I've been in. Someone will bring in an idea or bring in a recording of a demo they've made at home, or some lyric that they've written or something like that. Then we'd put it to the group and try to shape into a Wax Chattels song together.

There's a kind of bleak or scathing social commentary in songs like 'Facebook' that call to my mind artists like Sharpie Crows or Ron Gallipoli. Are there any local groups that you feel a kinship with, now or in the past?

Speaking personally Girls Pissing On Girls Pissing is definitely one which comes to mind. I remember seeing them a bunch of times when I used to play with Deer Park, back in the day three or four years ago, we used to play a few shows together. I remember just the intensity of the show y'know, very memorable. I guess the first band I ever saw, the first proper 'band band' was at the Big Day Out in 2004 I think and it was Die! Die! Die!. I remember that being a real standout because I've never forgotten that particular performance and they're still around doing the same thing today which is rad.

What are Wax Chattels doing next after you play on Friday?

After we play on Friday we will be heading over to England for a few shows, heading over to London and doing a couple of shows there, and then a show in Brighton. And then heading over to the States to do a tour for four or five weeks. Doing both coasts, East and West. That's the near future and hopefully other plans later in the year. Basically for the next while we're going to be touring real hard this first album.

I'm pretty curious as to how you guys came up with your organ / bass / drums setup originally.

I had this Yamaha organ which I had recorded with my last band, there was always a Yamaha organ sitting in. The studio, Ed Castelow's studio, Dictaphone Blues, he had this organ sitting around and I loved it so much that one popped up on Trade Me pretty soon after that and I nabbed it. And I loved it so much that I wanted to start a band with it. So when I came back from living overseas, I ran into Amanda, we started talking about maybe having guitar and organ, considering there's a lot of low end in that organ. But then Amanda decided that she'd prefer to play the bass, so that's how it was: bass, organ. We started toying with the idea of having like a Suicide kind of setup, with the drum machine as well and having it real mechanical and stark. Then we played one session with Tom, and it was just like "yeah, he's the guy." [laughs]

The only other band I've seen with a similar setup was a band from the mid-2000s called The Chandeliers from Wellington. They were a guitar-less surf band, where they had organ, bass and drums. They were instrumental, they didn't sing, and they didn't sound anything like you either, but they had some great tunes.

Two weekends ago for our Christchurch show we played with a band called Contact Rock. That's Joe from Salad Boys and T54 and stuff. They play kind of wonky, Eastern European rock music so it's very upright, very clinical. But they had the YC20 the Yamaha organ sitting down there, the exact same organ I have waiting in Christchurch in the green room. So I showed up with my little guy that I'd taken in hand luggage expecting to play a show on, and I see the beautiful old thing, exactly the same, plays even better than mine and in better nick. And I could play it that night, it was amazing.

Because you've got a specific setup that is really coherent and has its own sound universe, it seems like you've got quite a lot of freedom.

It forces you to be creative with what you're doing, harmonically and rhythmically, if the sound itself is relatively simple or static. Lot of these songs stem from a cool sound that I managed to get out of these very simple ingredients of just the fuzz organ and delay. For example, the song 'It'. That came about because of two notes played directly next to each other, two chromatic notes through the fuzz pedal reacting in such a way that it had this oscillation. And when you play that chromatic interval further up the keyboard the oscillation increases in speed. It's a very simple thing, but it sounds very cool when you put it through a couple of guitar amplifiers in a loud room y'know. That dictated the tempo of the song as well, that particular oscillation, that particular note. It's all kind of intertwined.

Wax Chattels are playing tonight at Auckland's Whammy Bar, tickets are all sold out sorry but limited door sales are available.


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