music | 24 August 2017
Wax Chattels are testing the limits of audiences with their “guitarless guitar music” - think ear splitting drums, punishing time signatures and spiteful lyrics. The Auckland based trio showed Gussie Larkin around their tiny practice space on K rd.
words: gussie larkin
photographs: frances carter
Home to a diverse and unapologetically eccentric lineup of characters, Karangahape road flaunts the weird, the wonderful and the straight up questionable icons of Auckland. On any given night the street is alive with them; packed into underground dive bars, spilling out of shisha lounges and slumping in the squishy booths of Sal’s pizza.
Not long after I’ve been chowing down on said pizza myself in the wee hours of the morning, I meet Wax Chattels’ bass player Amanda Cheng between the Lim Chhour food court and one of many tattoo parlours. She’s lugging her bass, some drum gear and looks about as sorry for herself as I feel. Adjusting her black beanie and shaking her head, she explains how her morning kicked off with a thumping headache and a surprise visit from her landlord. I tell her I’m very impressed that they’re practicing on a Sunday - and why would they do that to themselves? “I know. It’s literally the only time we all have free,” she says, handing me a cymbal, “It’s ridiculous.”
Amanda leads me through a wooden door on the street and we both scuttle inside, happy to be out of the sunlight. I follow her up a brightly painted stairwell that leads to a series of tiny rooms, crammed full of vintage amps, leads and guitar strings. One room is the control room, another the practice space, and another is storage. This cosy den is where Wax Chattels practice, write, record and sweat their way to loud, aggressive and thumping sonic goodness.
Describing their sound as “guitarless guitar music”, Wax Chattels make music that is caustic, dynamic and fragmented. The three met through jazz school, although it was a few years after graduation that Amanda re-met organist Peter Ruddell and decided to have a jam - mostly because Peter needed to make use of his organ that was gathering dust. The pair wrote a few songs using a drum machine as their backdrop, until they found the human metronome that is Tom Legget. Tom, who also drums for grunge pop band Miss June, has taken his jazz training to a strange realm, resulting in a style that’s both savage and unique. He was the perfect fit.
“I want people to be exhausted afterwards”
Wax Chattels’ tendency for energetic live performances has been a shared value from the beginning: “I want people to be exhausted afterwards,” says Amanda, who’s own performance is highly physical: “It shouldn’t be an easy, pleasant experience. I want people to walk away and be like ‘I saw something.’” With easy-going slacker guitar bands seemingly dominating the alternative music scene, to be confronted at a live gig is a rare opportunity that Wax Chattels don’t shy away from. “It’s about making a connection and creating intensity,” says Peter of making eye contact with the audience, “I really like the intensity of ‘Yo, I’m looking at you. This is happening for you right now.” Similarly, Amanda draws a connection between her assertive vocals and her personal identity: “The stuff I write isn’t always the nicest and most pleasant. It’s confrontational just because I feel like...my identity here is always challenged as a whole.”
“It’s surprising how long we can stay in that room without going nuts”
From Tom’s brutal beats, Peter’s menacing spoken-word vocals and Amanda’s wide use of effects pedals, each instrument has its own distinct voice - something that’s conveyed through their recordings as well. After having a few singles floating around on bNet playlists for the past year, Wax Chattels are set to release their first full length album this September. The debut album was recorded by sound engineer Jonathan Pearce, who has recorded the likes of Anthonie Tonnon, Astro Children and Watercolours, as well as his own band The Beths. Between working full time jobs and playing in other bands, the band were left with very narrow availability for recording. So narrow that the record was tracked over two nights - starting at 9:30pm and wrapping up as late as 4am. Although this wasn’t their ideal recording scenario, the trio smashed out seven tracks without losing their minds: “It’s surprising how long we can stay in that room without going nuts,” says Tom. With no natural light to indicate whether it’s day or night, the studio affords a special kind of focus, says Amanda, adding “It feels like an alternate universe.”
“The stuff I write isn’t always the nicest and most pleasant. It’s confrontational just because I feel like...my identity here is always challenged as a whole.”
The remainder of the year is looking busy for Wax Chattels, with a North Island tour planned for September, followed by a tour of Japan, China and Taiwan. With touring comes the reality of spending a substantial amount of time around each other, but this isn’t an issue, says Peter: “This space forces us to be close physically...I think that influences the way we write and the way we interact with each other in a way.” Get up close with Wax Chattels yourself this September - and don’t forget your earplugs!
Listen to Wax Chattels brand new track 'Gillian' below:
Wax Chattels’ North Island tour:
TAURANGA — Friday 8th September @ The Bach
WELLINGTON — Saturday 9th September @ MOON
HAMILTON — Friday 15th September @ Nivara Lounge
AUCKLAND — Saturday 16th September @ Whammy + Backroom
Wax Chattels: Bandcamp
Wax Chattels: Facebook
Wax Chattels: @waxchattles
Frances Carter: @francescarter
Gussie Larkin: @gussielarkin
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