Brisbane/Meanjin rockers WAAX have been on an absolute tear over the last decade, blowing people away with frenetic live shows and winning over audiences across the globe with their grit-infused tunes. Powered by Marie 'Maz' DeVita’s unique vocal WAAX songs bleed an intensity and authenticity that ensure no emotion goes unfelt. That emotional connection with listeners is only set to intensify in August when the band releases At Least I’m Free.
The follow-up to their breakthrough debut Big Grief, At Least I’m Free sees WAAX reunited with Bernard Fanning (Powderfinger) and Grammy Award-Winner Nick DiDia (Bruce Springsteen) as they explore new sonic territory and experiences, without sacrificing any of the vulnerability and honesty that has brought them this far. Featuring the QMA Award-winning single Most Hated Girl, Help Me Hell, and the Linda Perry co-write Dangerous, At Least I’m Free features some fresh collaborations, including one with US rock superstar K.Flay. The result is an honest and indignant album, laden with raw vulnerability and contrasted by the high octane energy WAAX is renowned for.
Following the release of their latest single, the sardonic rocker Read Receipts, Maz joined us for a chat about songwriting, overcoming self-doubt, her natural connection to performance, being a maniac for creativity and all things At Least I’m Free.
WAAX latest single Read Receipts just dropped and it’s another one in a long line of awesome but very angry WAAX tracks. What was the inspiration behind Read Receipts?
“It kinda came about all at once. I was writing with James, the guitarist in WAAX and one day all the vibes were right and it just sort of fell out. James started playing some chords and the “don’t leave me on read” line came out of nowhere, and we built it from that. At the time I was going through a bit of a rough patch with a relationship and I didn’t like the idea of being left in the dark. I don’t think anyone does. I just sort of be a fun thing to do, to put it in a song. It was a really fun and easy process really, it just fell out, we got it done in one session.”
That’s rare. It’s also generally speaking an indication that you’re onto a hit song. A lot of the best and most visceral hits have been written in one session. Has that happened before with WAAX or was this a new experience?
“It’s definitely the rarer side of things. I feel like we usually get down in the trenches and work and work and work on songs and eventually they come together, over time. There are one or two songs on this new record, that came together really quickly and ‘Read Receipts’ was one of them. So when that happens, we just snap it up straight away. We’re super excited, it’s a great feeling when all the pieces come together.”
There’s a heap of guests on this new WAAX album you speak of. Was this an organic development or did you try and push yourselves into that process to spark new waves of creativity?
“It was a bit of both. Every time I go to write a new record, I definitely want to push myself and see what we can do, both production and songwriting-wise. If you just keep rehashing the same thing, it gets a bit stale. I hadn’t done much writing with artists in the past, this time around I was feeling ready for it. I had enough confidence to jump in. I had a lot of success when I went to LA before the pandemic happened. It really lit a fire in me and two tracks off the record came out of those LA sessions. I feel like that LA vibe really brought some new energy into the process. It’s nice collaborating, the more I do it, the more I love it.”
You ticked off a bucket list item for a lot of musicians in those sessions. You wrote a song with Linda Perry! That certainly pricked my ears up when I heard about it because that’s a name usually associated with someone like Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus or Ariana Grande. Was it a mind-blowing experience to be working on a song of your own with Linda?
“It was! I’m literally from a local band in Brisbane and I’m fronting up to this global giant’s home studio, I mean, what the fuck? The whole time I was saying to myself “just keep your head together, this is just another person in a room, you need to write, that’s what you came here to do.” Every so often I’d find myself asking “is this even real?”
How did the session come together?
“Our team sent like a bunch of our music every which way they could because they knew that I was going over to LA and they wanted to make sure that I was teed up with some good writers and things like that. For whatever reason Linda saw the email, heard my songs, and yeah, she said that she really liked the sound of my voice and wanted to work with me, which is just pretty crazy. But I felt really good, because I was like, “Okay, I must be doing something right, then”. It was quite validating as a songwriter to learn that a songwriter of that magnitude likes my songwriting.”
It’s always nice to get a boose of confidence. Now I don’t think anyone who has ever seen you play live would have ever thought of you as lacking in confidence?
“Performing is one thing to me that I feel very much in control of and that comes natural to me. It feels like an extension of me. Songwriting feels like a completely different skill. The idea of being vulnerable in front of one person is so never racking to me, but then being in front of thousands, I feel completely in my element. The opposite is true for a lot of artists, a lot are terrified to get on stage and all that. For me performing was my first passion and love and I think that’s why I feel so confident on stage, because I've been doing it for so long.”
“I love songwriting, but I’ve had a variety of experiences in my formative years as a songwriter where other people have made me feel like I’m not good enough. So when I first started out, I never considered myself a songwriter. I had this weird relationship with songwriting. It’s only in the last couple of years where I’ve really embraced it and been able to say, “no I am good at this, I can do this” and that’s meant I’m not afraid to be myself and be honest. I love a good melody, but it’s been a journey. That side of things has been a journey for me”.
WAAX are an interesting band because you’ve got a real chameleonic sound. You can fit in with the punk scene, you can fit in with the indie scene, and you can fit in with the Triple M rock scene. Have you ever been able to define what it is that you do?
“If anyone asks me what my music is, I say it is guitar music. It’s rock music. Rock is such a broad term though, it covers a lot. So often people think AC/DC or some shit, but I guess it is the broadest way to describe it. Our upcoming record is going a little bit on the poppier side as well. So I don't know, we've always been a band that's based on feeling whatever we feel is right. Whatever, in our gut, feels right, we just do it.”
“Intensity is an important word, I think, all of our songs must have some sort of intensity. Because at the end of the day, we're always thinking about the stage, we're always thinking about how this is going to translate live? The show is the core for us. It's like, how can we make our show better? How can we entertain? How can we, you know, convey a lot of emotions all across the spectrum, and do it in a way that's palatable to a live audience, as well as I guess, you know, just general listening on Spotify or whatever. So, yeah, it's a rabbit hole for us to describe what we are because we're kind of everything and nothing all at once.”
Touring has been a huge part of WAAX’s legacy and you’re headed out on tour soon with The Amity Affliction on their national run, which flows beautifully from our discussion about you fitting in anywhere. Outside of both being from QLD, there’s not a lot of obvious similarity between the two acts. So how’d it come about?
“I met Joel Birch from Amity through a friend and we became mates really quickly. He really liked the band and he invited us out. We played the first show in Brisbane and it was interesting. We played the first half of our set and the crowd was like “okay this was not what we expected” as we played directly after Nerve Damage and Void Of Vision. So we tried to play all of our heavier tracks, that suited the vibe a bit more. It was definitely different to our usual crowd. We’re not afraid to go out of our comfort zone, in fact, I would go as far as to say that we thrive on it. There’s nothing more rewarding than walking away knowing that you’ve won over a crowd. I definitely felt that by the end. I’m super keen for the rest of the shows. They’re a great band and we’ve learned a lot from them. There’s mad respect there for sure.”
I’ve seen you own the crowd at UNIFY with a cover of My Chemical Romance before. So I have every reason to believe this pairing will work famously!
“We played that at the Amity show in Brisbane too and it went off, it really was the turning point of the show! So we’ll probably do that for every show on the run. Plus we are trying really had to get on the My Chemical Romance tour!”
I mean, manifest as hard as you can! Hopefully, it works out for every band dreaming of it. Now MCR talk connects beautifully to asking you about your influences. To my ears, it sounds like you’re channelling a lot of Courtney Love, PJ Harvey, Adalita from Magic Dirt, all of these gritty feminine voices of the 90s. Is that an accurate reading?
“You pretty much hit the nail on the head. I was a big Courtney fan, big PJ fan. Every woman in rock that I could find in my childhood was everything to me. I loved angry music, I loved Bikini Kill. I love Kathleen Hanna, but then I’m also really inspired by singers like Jeff Buckley, because of the power in their voices. I LOVE finding interesting tones, like Paul Dempsey for example, incredible tone, incredible singer. So I’m inspired by people like him too. But yes, definitely those women you mentioned earlier were big influences.”
Outside of music, what’s something that you consider yourself to be a Maniac for?
“I love good art, I love good food, I’m a maniac for good food. If I could try every restaurant I would. I also love clothes and fashion. I especially love local Australian designers and seeing what they're doing. There are always really cool people doing really rad shit. I’m a manic for creativity in general. I'm a maniac for anything cool. I'm about it. I just eat pop culture up like pop tarts. I love it”
If much like a wrestler, you could have any song play when you enter a room, what song would you like to play to announce your entry to the room?
“Ooooh, probably ‘Whole Lotta Money’ by BIA. Some bad bitch rap!”
Before I let you get back to your existence, is there anything else you’d like to share with our Maniacs about the record they might not already know?
“I think they’re going to be pleasantly surprised by how far we’ve pushed this record and how much variety we put in there. I want them to walk away from this record, thinking we’re not this one thing, I want them to walk away thinking “I did not expect this shit, wow, they really tried to give it a read hog go doing something different, trying to like get out of their comfort zone.” And I hope that they overall enjoy it anyway.”
At Least I'm Free tracklisting
1. Mermaid Beach
2. Read Receipts
3. A Man Like Me
4. No Doz
5. Most Hated Girl
6. Beam Me Up
8. Jeff On The Streets
9. Help Me Hell
10. Same Bitch
Listen to WAAX