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Wax Chattels: An exercise in acceptance

For New Zealand experimental punks Wax Chattels, who are a self-described ‘guitarless guitar band’, getting their first record deal was like something out of a movie.

Playing a set at Auckland’s The Others Way festival, Captured Tracks founder Mike Sniper happened to be present for two songs of their set. 

It was enough to convince him that they were worthy additions to the Captured Tracks and Flying Nun artist roster, resulting in a whirlwind few years for the band that saw them completing multiple international tours.

“I mean, we’re just a little band out of Auckland – to be touring around the world is a really strange thing for us,” says keys player Peter Ruddell, phoning in to chat about the band’s sophomore release Clot.

“That story of how we ended up getting our deal, it just keeps us hungry to go out on stage and smash it every single night. It sounds cliché, but when you don’t know who’s watching you, you don’t know when the next boost in your career might come, so you want to make sure that you’re always ready for that.”

If the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t interfered, there’s a high chance that the outfit would be ascending to even bigger heights on the world stage currently, with Clot taking their tried and true formula, stripping it down to its bare bones and then smashing it down over the listener’s head.

“We were very burnt out after our last tour of the US, which is when we really started working on this album,” says Peter.

“So many of these songs were demoed in shitty vans or in planes or whatever – but we also had way longer to record this one as opposed to last time.”

Having more time can sometimes result in acts falling privy to the cursed ‘follow-up’ album jinx. However, more time for Wax Chattels meant a few more days and nothing more.

“For this, we had a couple of weeks to knock it all out, like nine days or something. It just meant that we could really think about what kind of tones we wanted to use, how the songs would hang together and create more of an atmosphere.”

The result is what could be dubbed the soundtrack to 2020: dark, existential and ferocious new-wave/noise punk, bookended by front-woman Amanda Cheng groaning, screaming and snarling in rage and horror at the state of the world that they find themselves in.

“We don’t want it to have some false sense of release, and then everything’s better. Some things are just hard, and that’s cool.”

Is it an exercise of catharsis for the band? Hardly – acceptance is a better description.

“I mean, it’s certainly cathartic, that’s for sure. But with these tracks, it’s more of an examination of stuff that we go through all the time. We don’t want it to have some false sense of release, and then everything’s better. Some things are just hard, and that’s cool,” says Peter.

For Clot, the band made a conscious effort to keep things sounding ‘live’, so as to give the listener the most authentic experience of the band possible.

While the album certainly achieves that, it was an added bonus that, on July 24th, audiences in their hometown were able to experience the record in a live setting.

“It was so weird to play a show. There were like 80 people in this little bar, all sweating it out nice and close to each other like a normal show…it felt like nothing had changed, but that in and of itself was really weird,” says Peter.

“We’re pretty excited with how the new songs are all sounding live. The first song on the album, this track called ‘Glue’, that one really seems to be connecting well with people. We have a really good feeling about that one.”

That golden window of opportunity for shows in New Zealand shut again just a few days later with the re-emergence of new cases of COVID-19 in the country – meaning, like most bands, Wax Chattels are staring down the barrel of a long break between their album release and showtime.

“Well, it doesn’t look like this album is going to get much of an album cycle behind it, does it?” laughs Peter.

“It’s a very uncomfortable feeling for us all. We weren’t expecting to be at home much this year, so it has been nice to just see friends and family and get used to being in one place for a while. 

“I guess once we’ve put this album out into the world we’ll just get back to developing our sound and demoing more songs. We’re such creative people, so don’t expect anything to change there.”

Clot is out today via Captured Tracks / Flying Nun Records.