Guitarless Guitar Music. This is the self-imposed one-line description chosen by Auckland, New Zealand's Wax Chattels. The keyboard, bass and drums trio don't have a guitar player, but their overwhelming sound and energy creates an atmosphere akin to a traditional loud power trio – except their music is anything but traditional. They create darkly hypnotic and frenetic music that's both rhythmically complex and sinister. If that paints any sort of aural picture, it comes as no surprise that "Gillian," their homage to X-Files star Gillian Anderson, was roundly endorsed by the ex-punk actress herself on social media before the band had even played shows outside of their home country or received any support from larger press outlets.
Peter Ruddell (26, keyboards/vocals), Amanda Cheng (26, bass/vocals) and Tom Leggett (22, drums) met studying Jazz Performance at the University of Auckland, and started Wax Chattels a few years later after they'd lived in Japan, Ireland, gone to Law School and/or performed in various other projects. Though Peter plays heavily treated keyboards in the band, he's a multi-instrumentalist that focused on sax in school. His influences range from old horror movies to the more outrageous side of live performance styles in Tokyo's music and art scene. "We want to play shows that make people feel uncomfortable. The goal is to leave the audience feeling slightly altered, like they have experienced, not just heard or seen something." This is evident in the self-recorded "Stay Disappointed," the band's self-recorded debut single where Peter takes the lead.
From novels to tweets, bassist Amanda is drawn to art and writing that addresses adversity. She's influenced by recurring themes of various difficulties she has experienced in her own life, challenges she feels are overly ubiquitous in the narratives of young women of color. Her post-punk informed bass lines provide the backbone for most of the band's tracks, though when she takes the lead on "It," she's unrestrained. A song about "really fucking wanting to fuck,” "It" expresses that it's important to not only have more visible women in the arts – especially in genres of traditionally "dude music" – but also to explicitly address female sexual desires. She finds these themes are usually shrouded in subtler terms, well-dressed metaphors and cute euphemisms. Perhaps, if people hear or see these statements more, female sexuality and/or libido could become a less shameful, "behind close doors only" thing. "Slut shaming is real, prevalent, and wrong."
Initially, Peter and Amanda started Wax Chattels by writing tracks with a drum machine before realizing the band would be more exciting with a live drummer. Tom was playing and continues to play in a feminist punk band as well as various jazz acts in Auckland. And, the one thing Tom hates the most in this world? Being stuck in traffic. By living in the city, he has an endless supply of anger to take out on the drums, which influences Wax Chattels’ punishing aesthetic. His minimal kit propels the band like a freight train. When asked why he paired his kit down to what it is, Tom said: "I saw a pianist play with only ten working keys and still sound great... I started following drummers such as Mark Guiliana, Paul Motian and Deantoni Parks, who all play minimal kits, and it always put me in awe when I heard how unrestricted they were by their set up. Also, less drums = less pack down."
Composing together, the band worked up their material for a year prior to recording. “We tracked the songs as a live band to capture the energy of the live show, restricting ourselves to instruments which we play live and keeping all production to a minimum to focus on the band sound itself." The band "come from" and "go to" different places on stage and in their heads when they write, record and perform, largely because they aren't the kind of band with homogeneous interests outside of music. Live, they are not to be missed. While they do come across as a "rock" band, it's coming from so many places so quickly that you're kind of left wondering where you're going. The opening of the one-chord tour de force “Concrete” begins in a downright frightening and jarring place and turns into an almost Krautrock-via-Suicide crescendo. It was after a particularly insane live performance that they were signed by both Captured Tracks and Flying Nun Records on the spot.
Wax Chattels recalls the other side of Kiwi underground rock history, one that's a bit less sunny and jangly and one that demands your attention.
1. Concrete / 2. Stay Disappointed / 3. It / 4. Gillian / 5. In My Mouth / 6. Shrinkage / 7. Career / 8. NRG / 9. Parallel Lines / 10. Facebook