Oakland’s Wax Idols don’t stray away from large and heavy concepts in their music. 2015’s American Tragic largely focused on frontwoman Hether Fortune’s divorce, and their forthcoming record Happy Ending tackles the idea of being a ghost and not having a body. Their music also complements these cathartic and dark concepts such as in the recent remix of “Deborah” from American Tragic.
Atwood Magazine spoke to Fortune about the difference in the creative process for each album, what it’s like touring with artists in other genres, and some of her favorite concept albums.
Watch: “Deborah” – Wax Idols
A CONVERSATION WITH WAX IDOLS
Going from an extremely personal point of view to one that’s fictitious is a large shift. How differently did you find the writing process for Happy Ending as opposed to American Tragic?
Wax Idols: Writing American Tragic was intensive emotional labor and very isolating. Although being in the studio was exhilarating as always, the actual writing process was very difficult and torturous for me. ‘Happy Ending’ is a group effort and so a lot of the pressure is off of me, which makes the process more fun. Writing in fictional narratives isn’t exactly a new thing for me – I explored that on Discipline + Desire as well – but this album is closer to a cohesive story, or theme – which makes the approach different in that there is more time to explore an idea, rather than trying to cram an entire narrative into a single song. It’s been a healthy challenge for me as a writer.
Did you originally set out to write a concept album when you started Happy Ending? If not, how did it grow into one? Were there other concept albums that helped shape your musical identity?
Wax Idols: Yes, when I thought of the title ‘Happy Ending’, the concept came with it. We started working on the record right after that, within the framework of the concept. It has changed a lot since we started writing it last year though. Life has a way of throwing curveballs at you even when you make definitive choices and plans.
Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars and Purple Rain are concept albums (to me they are, at least), and those records have been incredibly influential for the entire band. I used to watch Purple Rain with my mom all the time when I was a kid. She was very young when she had me in 1987, so she was of the Prince generation, fully. Watching someone create an entire world for themselves with music and visuals left a big mark on me, no doubt.
From a few of the interviews I’ve read, particularly the one with The Bay Bridged, it seems like this isn’t so much an album about just being dead, but the feeling of not having a body. Could you expand on how the body does or doesn’t play a role on this album?
Wax Idols: Well I’ve been exploring what it might be like to not have a body but to retain consciousness within the context of this album, so it plays a pretty big role. It’s pretty difficult to describe a feeling no human being as ever truly had – at least not in a way that can be proven or easily explained. Some people have “out of body” experiences, I know that I have, so I’ve been putting myself in that state of mind as an attempt to access what it might feel like to really be in the position of being a ghost. It’s a difficult thing to do & an even more difficult thing to explain in words. Hopefully it will be effectively described within the album. That’s what I’m shooting for.
Despite having a pretty dark concept, the first single from Happy Ending, “Everybody Gets What They Want,” has a pretty upbeat tone to it. Would you say that the album title Happy Ending actually sets the mood of the album, or is it ironic for an album told from the perspective of a dead person?
Wax Idols: The album title is absolutely meant as a tongue in cheek sort of thing, as if death were a relief.
Listen: “Everybody Gets What They Want” – Wax Idols
When watching videos of your shows, it seems that there is a lot of catharsis in your live performances. Which of your songs is the most powerful to perform live?
Wax Idols: “I’m Not Going” has been a pretty cathartic one for me these last 2 years but lately it’s the new, unheard material that makes me feel the most.
Despite being a gothpop band, you’ve toured with much heavier acts, like Touché Amoré and King Woman, even though I can draw sonic similarities to each, do you ever raise eyebrows while you’re on tour?
Wax Idols: Oh yes, many an eyebrow has been raised! Sometimes those oddball tours really work out and sometimes they are complete disasters but that’s the risk you take when you agree to go on the road with a bunch of strangers and dip your toes in new waters. Overall, we’ve had very positive experiences on tour & enjoy playing to different audiences and with different styles of bands. I think it’s kind of hard to pin down exactly what kind of band we are anyway, so we can move among different circles with relative ease. I like that. We just want to do our thing & connect with people. Even if the crowd doesn’t seem interested in us at first because we don’t fit into their preferred genre or whatever – we usually win them over by the end of the set because of our energy & musicianship. People just want to see a good show & aren’t as rigid as they seem, usually.
Wax Idols are currently on tour with Thursday, Touché Amoré, and Basement, as well as Pop1280 and Decorum on select dates (see below).
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cover © Danielle Spires
American Tragic – Wax Idols