Words By Tammy Walters
We chat to the band’s bassist and vocalist Amanda Cheng about the new record.
From jazz school to signing with Captured Tracks and the infamous Flying Nun Records, Wax Chattels have built a structurally sound temple for their dark, intense haze of “guitarless guitar music”.
Their explosive 2018 self-titled debut album was full of buzzing bass, haunting keys, intense drums and pained-yet-transfixing screams from the band’s vocalists Amanda Cheng and Peter Ruddell.
Following its release, the band undertook an intense six-month touring cycle which included a NZ jaunt, two tours of Australia, a stint in the UK and two major North American ventures. The trio’s ceaseless appetite to play shows in the wake of their debut record took its toll on Cheng.
“We toured a lot when our first record came out and then I was completely burnt out and was in a really terrible place,” Cheng says. “I was like, ‘Guys, I need to take a number of months off and just work my stuff out and focus on my mental health’. I went into a bit of a hole and worked my day job and just chilled.
“It’s not how many shows we played but we would play 23 shows in 20 days or something outrageous. It was more that level of physical and mental exhaustion.”
After a well-deserved reset for Cheng, the three-piece return with their sophomore record, Clot. Clot is a deeper experience than their debut LP – the release basks in a cathartic revelry that’s strikingly cavernous and profound.
Album two was tackled differently to the rapid whirlwind of writing and recording that characterised their debut. A more concise plan was adopted with Luddell and drummer Tom Leggett taking the reins on the initial concept.
“I would say our writing process was quite different this time around,” Cheng says. “I felt like Peter and Tom just bounced back to writing mode [after Wax Chattels]. Sometimes we would just get together and see what happens but we also tried to have a more targeted approach where someone would bring something in, we would listen to it beforehand and try to think of something as opposed to swirling around in noise for three hours.
“For this record I came in more towards the end with more lyrical contribution but everyone brought their whole person and what they think and want.”
Don’t get it twisted through, Wax Chattels are a democratic band when it comes to contribution and Cheng certainly left her mark on Clot. Lyrically on the album, Cheng draws from her personal experience navigating identity as a first generation immigrant, embedding her culture into tracks like ‘Cede’ – where she speaks in her native Taiwanese Hokkien tongue – and ‘No Ties’ where she unpacks her self-awakening.
“Those two songs are sister songs for me because they come from a similar place to me and a similar time. I suddenly had these things that I felt like saying and there was a chance to do so,” Cheng explains.
“I feel like for the last couple of years there has been this cultural awakening where people have been talking more, but then suddenly the flood gates of rethinking and reframing yourself and your experiences were opened.
“Maybe for me it was an age thing just being more comfortable and reaching out to friends and discussing our cultural heritage. I think when you grow up in such a predominantly white country, even though Auckland is super multicultural, I think all of us didn’t reach out because we felt a certain way.”
Now Cheng is hoping her voice and story becomes an awakening moment for others.
“I never set out to be in a band and be an Asian woman who plays bass and screams and everything. I never set out to be a role model but when people come up to me and say, ‘This and that really means something’ or ‘It made me feel a particular way’ or even ‘It was really nice to meet you’, it made me realise how few role models I had growing up,” Cheng continues.
“I was like, ‘I love Karen O and Alison Mosshart and Kim Gordon’, but it wasn’t until I was about 25 that I realised what they all had in common – like fuck they’re all female, duh!
“Being more self-aware and then with that realising that there are so many people with similar experiences is important. I think I also had a lot of angst because it wasn’t something that I spoke about until the last couple of years and it’s a very bittersweet feeling now.”
That self-discovery has also allowed Cheng to tackle other confrontational topics. Throughout Clot, she also steers into the mouth of political agenda underscoring the physical harm and psychological breakdown arising from the increasing racial and political uproar throughout the world. This is uncovered in ‘An Eye’ and ‘Mindfulness’, songs which ponder the divisiveness of accepting the status quo.
On Clot, Wax Chattels are profoundly self-aware, and it’s their unrivalled perspective and self-assuredness that makes them a must-see and must-hear New Zealand band.
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