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Hailing from Brisbane and now, as of this week, two full-length albums deep, emotive rockers WAAX have a diabolical knack for weaving indie rock, alt rock, punk and post-punk elements into dynamic and emphatic musical masterpieces.
MORE: DUNE RATS: Dance Lessons and Thinking Outside The Box // BRING ME THE HORIZON: Damned If They Go Back REVIEWS: THORNHILL: Heroine // ALEXISONFIRE: Otherness // GREY DAZE: The Phoenix // STAND ATLANTIC: F.E.A.R // DUNE RATS: Real Rare Whale // THE INTERRUPTERS: In The Wild // WAAX: At Least I’m Free
Riding high off the release of their previous album, 2019’s Big Grief, the group’s work with producer and Powderfinger frontman Bernard Fanning and Grammy Award-winner Nick DiDia proved a combination entirely deserving of a revisit, with the group once again converging with their same production team for their illustrious second full length album At Least I’m Free, out Friday 12 August.
Already whipping up attention at home and abroad for their ongoing stylistic evolution, stirring delivery and modern injection on the punk rock tropes, At Least I’m Free finds the quartet embracing towering guitarwork, samples, glistening beats, and the ever-commanding vocals of frontwoman Maz DeVita who practically crawls through the speakers and into your soul at every corner of this latest album.
Boldly stepping beyond being pigeonholed and cultivating sonic landscapes far beyond confines and comfort zones, At Least I’m Free is a jubilant embracing of freedom and denouncement of expectations; a musical Phoenix rising from the ashes of the global pandemic and surrounding challenges, also boasting a co-writing credit from the legendary Linda Perry and K.Flay on tracks Dangerous and No Doz respectively.
A vibrant outing laden with catharsis, moments of youthful angst and dazzling composition, it’s been a long time coming for WAAX to have arrived at the precipice of release for their sophomore effort; and it’s a moment that is not without its own emotional rollercoasters, as vocalist DeVita and guitarist James Gatling reveal.
“It’s exciting. I’m finally at the ‘excitement’ moment,” DeVita enthuses.
“Yeah, it’s always been like a random date in the future for such a long time!” Gatling concurs, “And now it feels like it’s actually happening. Exciting but also kinda nerve wracking.”
“I’m going through waves of nerves, then excitement, then fear then feeling on top of the world,” DeVita continues. “It just kind of changes moment to moment.”
While unmistakably a WAAX outing across the space of eleven tracks, the infant days for At Least I’m Free’s creation were ones that saw the group actively seeking to embolden and creatively challenge their beloved and trademark sound.
… I think the whole band went in knowing that we didn’t wanna have boundaries on this record, we didn’t wanna have rules. We wanted to see what we were capable of and what we could pull out of our butts really
[ Maz DeVita ]
“We talked a lot about what the album should be,” muses DeVita about the early stages for At Least I’m Free’s conception. “I think I’ve changed now, but I had it in my head that it was gonna be this particular thing. We just had so many chats about it, but it just ended up becoming its own thing.”
“Yeah, and I think in the writing process, we thought right from the very beginning that we were gonna experiment more,” says Gatling. “We decided we were gonna have more things, like production stuff, synths and stuff like that. And then in the writing process, a couple of songs would reflect that and then we’d write a different batch of songs and then have a completely different energy – and that same thing would happen a couple of times. And then at the same time, Maz was writing overseas.”
“We have this eclectic bunch of songs and they all fit really well together somehow – but it’s definitely not what I was thinking it would end up as.”
“It’s definitely not,” DeVita agrees. “But I think the whole band went in knowing that we didn’t wanna have boundaries on this record, we didn’t wanna have rules. We wanted to see what we were capable of and what we could pull out of our butts really,” DeVita laughs.
And, as with any band’s second full length album territory, the so-called “sophomore slump” did initially play a small role, albeit a very brief one.
“I don’t know how you feel, James, but I think in the beginning I was definitely feeling that this album had to be perfect,” DeVita reveals. “Like, it had to be the next best thing, it had to be the best thing we’d ever written. But I think once you really get into the thick of it, you kind of have to live in the present moment and just focus song by song and not get too bogged down. But that’s kind of how I felt, what about you, James?”
“Yeah, I think there’s been so many changes to the band from the first album to the second album, me included, obviously,” Gatling smiles. “And I think that when we were approaching this album, there was little-to-no talk about comparing it to the previous release. It’s all just about the song at hand and the fresh mood and the band and what we’re gonna do with this excitement and this limitless potential of what we can do.”
“They’re two separate entities: this record and the last one, and the others as well,” DeVita continues. “This is technically our fourth record, but every time we go to make a new record, it feels like a new thing and its own beast, you know? And now that James is in the band, it’s a completely different vibe”.
Alongside added 90s flourishes and raspy heartbreakers, another dazzling addition to the WAAX family arrived with former 4 Non Blondes vocalist Linda Perry co-writing with DeVita for the divine ballad Dangerous, which showcased a stunning additional jewel to the WAAX sonic crown; and the moment was as unforgettable for DeVita as the song itself.
“She is such a commanding and powerful presence,” DeVita enthuses. “Like – the moment I met her, I knew that I’d never met anyone like her in my life before. She’s there wearing this hat, she hung up her hat on the neck of a guitar, on the headstock of a guitar. And she just went on the piano and starts busting out these chords. And you could tell that she was really tapping in and she was all about feeling the energies in the room. And I think that’s what really makes her approach, she can kind of tap into what energies are going on. And it was really surreal to experience, and I was just excited, even scared! I guess I just had to keep in my head: you’ve got a job to do, do the job, ignore the fact about who she is, you’ve got this moment, you gotta do it, you know? Just gotta make the best of it!”
With the band recently announcing a 22-date national album tour, kicking off this October and extending into early December, the Meanjin-based quartet are raring to bust out some new material and show their fans a whole new wild and wonderful world of WAAX; but, of course, without sacrificing that signature high-octane onstage badassery the quartet are highly renowned and regarded for.
“I think that the production value is gonna be higher,” Gatling reveals about the upcoming tour. “We’re aiming for a really schmick, really high class kind of show. Obviously we’ll be doing songs like Dangerous and doing songs from the new album, which are venturing into a different space sonically for us.”
She is such a commanding and powerful presence. Like – the moment I met her (Linda Perry), I knew that I’d never met anyone like her in my life before. She’s there wearing this hat, she hung up her hat on the neck of a guitar, on the headstock of a guitar. And she just went on the piano and starts busting out these chords. And you could tell that she was really tapping in and she was all about feeling the energies in the room.
[ Maz DeVita ]
“We wanna encapsulate that in the way we perform and the way we present ourselves. We’ll still have the same high energy moments as we previously have showed, we love having fun on stage and all of that. But there’s probably gonna be more of an air of maturity to it. I think that’s about right?!”
“I couldn’t have said it better,” DeVita chimes in. “We just wanted to level everything up. Our shows are the most important thing to us because that’s why we do what we do, to connect with our community, to connect with the people who understand us and relate to us. So, we wanna make sure that we give everything. Always.”
“And that’s why we’re doing so many shows,” Gatling laughs.
With eleven new tracks to choose from courtesy of their brand new album, there’ll be plenty of new live favourites ready to be lapped up by adoring fans across the country later this year. But as to what DeVita and Gatling are most excited to bust out live from At Least I’m Free?
“I think from a live perspective, Mermaid Beach is something I’d be really excited to see live and how we could make that work,” reveals DeVita.
“Yeah, totally. I think that Mermaid Beach would also be my pick, it’s my favourite off the album,” Gatling adds. “When we sort of finished writing, we were instantly like: that song’s gotta be first on the album. We just know that it’s a really good tone set, probably for the live performance too, but definitely for the album. Other than that, I think the song No Doz from the album will be really fun to play, we program beats and this kind of stuff that we’ve never really done before. So that’s gonna be super fun!”
“The exciting thing is as well, like, as a punter watching – there’s so many different songs and so many palette cleanses,” says DeVita of the new material primed and ready to appear onstage later this year. “It’s like: you think you’re going one direction and it will completely take a new path because all of our songs are so unique and different to one another, they work together, but they’re also a lot of variety in there. We really want to make these shows an actual experience!”
While the upcoming shows will undeniably offer unforgettable experiences for both the band and fans alike, talk soon turns to creative inspiration and what continues to motivate both DeVita and Gatling as they continue on their journey and their pursuits under the WAAX moniker.
“I think that as I’ve progressed as a musician or as I play more music, my music taste and the music that I play has actually kind of diverged a little,” Gatling muses. “And I think that I’m leaning into more pop sensibilities in terms of listening to pop songs and more commercial songs, that’s actually the thing that really, really gets me going these days. And then trying to take bits of those and incorporate it in the music that I write or turning into something – that’s a fun, new challenge.”
“For me. I think what motivates me the most is our community,” says DeVita, smiling. “I have this unwavering need to communicate with our community, and I think that’s really what drives me. And, you know, just hearing from people that have heard our music and said it’s helped them or things like that – that’s what keeps me going. For example, I’ll be really down in the dumps and then I’ll check my DMs and there’ll be someone in there just saying such a lovely thing. It’s not easy being in a band, it’s not easy navigating this industry, but that’s what makes it all worth it. And then being able to connect with them in a live setting as well…!”
With a brand new album, their own massive national tour closing out 2022, and many more plans undoubtedly in place for the near future, the doors, windows and anything with a hinge will undoubtedly continue to bust wide open for WAAX as they venture further into this exciting new phase of their already staggering career. But for a band who have previously and publicly covered My Chemical Romance before and the supports for MCR’s 2023 Australian tour seemingly still up for grabs, dare we hope for a night of all of the feels from these two beloved bands?
“I need to will that into existence!” Gatling declares.
“I’m thinking that the next step is starting a petition,” DeVita adds. “It’d be like going to the opera, you know what I mean?! It’d be so theatrical, both of our music is just so dramatic. It would just be such a vibe.”
Your move, MCR.