WAAX’s new album, At Least I’m Free, has much in common with the Meanjin/Brisbane alt-rock band’s debut, 2019’s Big Grief. Both albums were recorded at La Cueva Recording in Byron Bay, NSW, with the studio’s owners, Bernard Fanning and Nick DiDia, sharing production duties. At Least I’m Free, like Big Grief, is out via Brisbane-based indie label Dew Process Records and arrives in the month of August.
But a closer look reveals WAAX to be a changed band three years on from their tone-setting debut. At Least I’m Free includes not just punk rock riffs, ripping guitar solos and Maz DeVita’s howling lead vocals, but samples and programmed beats, as well as co-writing contributions from K.Flay and Linda Perry. To celebrate the album’s release, the four members of WAAX sat down to debrief.
WAAX – ‘Dangerous / Help Me Hell’
Maz DeVita: I’m going to start this one off with a question for Ewan. What were you thinking when you wrote that ripsnorter of a solo on ‘Beam Me Up’?
Ewan Birtwell: James [Gatling] and I worked on this one together, so we went outside and the general consensus was that we wanted to make this sound like Queen as much as possible. But we needed to figure out how to make it sound like Queen, but still cool, and also not completely rip them off. So I got it under my fingers and figured out how to play it, and when I was recording it I was just like “don’t fuck up!” That’s all I remember from recording it.
Maz: I just love the finesse of it with how it went up and then slowly trickled down.
Ewan: Having Nick [DiDia] there too, he definitely had some input with how it would rise and fall and have little nuances to it. Recording guitars in front of Nick and Bernard [Fanning] is a bit pressure-filled as you just wanna make sure you don’t look stupid.
Maz: Tom, could you talk us through your skincare/beard care routine?
Tom Bloomfield: My skincare routine is a bit boring. I wash my face, and then I put this stuff called niacinamide that my partner Cheryl makes me use, which draws out all the ugly pimples from in my head. And then I moisturise, and that’s it. That’s the whole skincare routine.
My beard routine is a lot more complicated. I have an exfoliating brush that you have to get to the skin as it’s always covered. It’s really easy to get beard dandruff, so you need to exfoliate the skin to stop that from happening. So I scrub the shit out of my beard with a brush and all the dead hairs come out and all the dead skin gets rubbed off.
I do all of that before I shower and then I have beard wash that moisturises and cleans the beard, but doesn’t get rid of all of the natural oils as that’s important. But it does get rid of the dead skin that didn’t come out from the brush. After that I put some beard oil in and rub that through and brush it. And then I use beard balm and I shave it, and that’s it.
Maz: Beautiful. I remember when you first started your beard care routine and we were really drunk and you asked if you could show me how you do it and I was like “yes!”, and you just did it in front of me in the bathroom. We were so excited.
Tom: I was very excited. I’m very proud of it.
WAAX – ‘Beam Me Up’
Ewan: What moment during recording this album surprised everyone the most?
Tom: Mine is the same part we were talking about before with your solo where the choir comes in, because all I heard was everyone recording vocals separately, and then Nick had his headphones in and mixed it. So when he ended up playing it for us it was this huge crescendo. That surprised me a lot.
Maz: Yeah, I’m really glad that paid off. My biggest surprise was the addition of your bassline in ‘No Doz’. That really tied the song together and gave it such a funky flair. I didn’t expect that, and I loved it.
James Gatling: Mine was when we were working on ‘Dangerous’ and all we had was the piano and vocal demo that Maz had done with Linda Perry. And then Nick obviously had an idea of how he wanted the final song to be, so we were trying to work towards what that final version would be without having heard it or visualising it.
He was telling Tom to play really straight drums in the final half of the song and when we finally got things clicking in place, it just sounded like this beautiful ending montage song. It sounded like the end song of Rick and Morty with it being sad and lamenting while being sinister at the same time. When that all came together it was like “Woah, what is going on here”.
Maz: It was so cool when we wrote it we mentioned the Rick and Morty comparison, and then when we put it out someone commented on the video saying “this sounds like the end song of Rick and Morty” and we were like “yes!”
Ewan: When you’re on tour what do you crave most about home
Tom: My son! And sleep.
James: Apart from sleep, being comfortable and my son, it’s probably constant access to peanut butter. I have to have at least two spoons a day, otherwise I’ll die.
Maz: Going to the gym for me. I do miss having a healthier lifestyle. It is hard to keep that up when you’re on the road. You come in strong and over the course of the tour you keep seeing Scotch, and it keeps on turning up backstage at gigs. You are like, “no.” But then you give in.
Tom: One time I ate five meals in the airport lounge.
Maz: We are only human.
WAAX – ‘Read Receipts’
James: Okay, who is the most annoying WAAX member on tour? And in the studio?
Maz: I think I am the answer for both of these situations.
Tom: Yes, you are [laughs].
Ewan: I think they are both you James. 99% of the time you are really up. Plus you can also be a little sassy bitch when it calls for it.
Maz: He’s also the most sassy when he doesn’t mean it. He will say something and everyone will be like, “Fuck bro, that was so mean.”
James: Okay I regret asking this now.
Tom: Maz is the most annoying on tour. She doesn’t do anything bad. She is just not as time conscious as I am. She runs on Maz time. Lobby call would be like 30 minutes ago and she’d be like, “My make-up is nearly done and then I will be packing and then I will shower, and I will be fine.”
On the last tour, she brought the biggest fucking suitcase that had like 40 different pairs of shoes in it. We went to the airport and it was too heavy, and they somehow let it slide.
Maz: In fairness, I had a lot going on that week. But I am really annoying, so go on.
Tom: In the studio I think it’s actually me.
Maz: I would agree with that. You finish early and then you are just done for the day. You do everything in the first two days and then you turn off.
Tom: I think it’s me because I put a lot of stress on myself, and then I freak out.
James: Is there any part of At Least I’m Free – a guitar line, drum fill/rhythm, lyric etc – that may be missed by the listener, but you’re super proud of?
Ewan: That little chord I did in ‘Read Receipts’ on the offbeat. I just fucked with the click and I had my hand in the right position and I saw Nick’s ears prick and turn around and look at me, and I thought, “Oh no, I’m going to have to restart this,” and he ended up giving me the thumbs up as it sounds cool.
Tom: Mine is that you wouldn’t realise that Bernard does so many backing vocals in it, but I can always hear him on the track doing it.
Maz: I like the different array of bells I used on ‘Mermaid Beach’ at the beginning.
Tom: Okay, so if you could only eat one thing for an entire tour what would it be?
James: Without worrying about my nutritional value, it would have to be peanut butter.
Tom: That’s the thing though, imagine this is reality. You would feel like shit if all you ate was peanut butter. So think of it more as a meal. So what meal could you have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a whole tour?
James: Oh it’s a meal! Mine would probably be a vegetarian burrito bowl with sautéed vegetables and avocado.
Maz: I would have to say the same. Mine would be more so a poke bowl.
Ewan: I would go with a burrito.
Tom: Okay last question, Would you rather a) Take every flight in first class but you can only wear a furry costume, or b) sit next to the toilets on every flight but you get unlimited drinks and whatever you want to eat?
James: First class furries let’s go!
Maz: I mean, if you are all doing it then I will do it. And we would get the block of four seats together.
Tom: What if we were touring with a huge band and they hop on the flight and are like what the fuck?
James: I’d be like, we always fly like this.
Maz: “It’s comfortable.”
Ewan: It sounds like a Blink 182 music video.
WAAX – ‘No Doz’
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