The literary cliche of “making something great again” is far overplayed at this point (and arguably problematic – swathes of actual human beings have experienced genuine suffering at the hands of that Darth Sidious-looking motherf***er), but when it comes to WAAX and songs about self-love… Well... You get the point.
Last year, they followed their breakthrough Wild & Weak EP (read a chat we had with them about that here) with the absolutely scorching “Labrador” – an ode to personal empowerment as poignant as it is punchy. Now the vibey punk Brisbanites have followed it up with “FU”, a similarly powerful track that sees frontwoman Maz DeVita take aim at those who think they’re exempt from consequences when they abuse and belittle those around them.
We spent a while trying to accurately hype the tune up, but this is one of those cases where the press release just says it perfectly: “A study in honesty and contained intensity, ‘FU’ documents the very point WAAX moved beyond their initial genesis grounded in punk rock into an arena where they feel ready to embrace all the influences that make up the entire sum of their parts. More than anything, the song is uncompromising in its lyrical intent, wearing its anger on its sleeve in the form of a majestically dark, hooky, and riff-laden rock song which will inevitably slide its way into your consciousness well before it delivers its weighty message.”
“FU” comes as our second taste of WAAX’s forthcoming (as-yet-untitled) debut album, set to change the Australian rock landscape forever when it drops in Q3 2019 via Dew Process. The record is already making a case for this year’s best-of lists – WAAX have been using their live set to road-test jams from it since 2017, and without a doubt, they’ve been some of the hugest moments in the show. It was also co-produced by Nick DiDi (Bruce Springsteen, Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam) and Bernard Fanning (surely we don’t need to introduce him), so there’s no shortage of talent onboard.
With “FU” now out in the wild – and crushing it on Australian radio with fans and critics alike – we caught up with DeVita and guitarist Chris Antolak to chat all about how the track came to life.
Where did the initial idea for this track come from, and what’s the story behind it?
Antolak: I remember it all started with the intro riff. At the time I was pretty zapped, inspiration-wise, where nothing I played really “sparked joy”, as Marie Kondo would put it. I would revisit some of my favorite records in an attempt to rekindle what it was that drew me to the guitar in the first place, and in the process, I realised that the songs I loved the most were the ones with dissonance, and with that, I picked up the guitar and started playing the intro riff. Maz was in the same room at the time and quickly took notice of what I was playing, and soon enough, we were writing "FU".
DeVita: When I heard that riff, I was blown away and knew I had to start singing to it straight away. Something about it stirred a heap of emotion and vibe, so the words and melodies just came straight out of me. We wrote the majority of the song quite quickly.
There’s a very powerful sense of liberation in the lyrics, and the way Maz absolutely tears through that
chorus... Like, if you got in her way while she was spitting it out, you’d probably lose a limb. Maz – did
having this freedom behind the mic and being able to really take control of your narrative as a vocalist serve
as an outlet of catharsis for you?
DeVita: Absolutely. I feel like it’s a song that needed to happen. Songwriting has always been my best form of catharsis, and in this particular song, the words and vocal came to me pretty organically. I really look forward to playing it live because it feels so raw, real and liberating.
What was the process like in taking “FU” from an embryonic idea to the absolute mammoth of a track we
hear now? Did it go through many different iterations, or did the song come to life pretty naturally?
Antolak: The process was pretty typical to be honest – Maz and I will demo what we call a skeleton, which is essentially just guitar and vocals, then we will take the songs to the band and flesh it out from there. During this process, we'd usually start to experiment with the structure and dynamics, however with "FU", we had written a strong arrangement already so it didn't take too long for the song to take shape. Because of this, "FU" didn’t really go through any major changes, apart from a few tweaks in the studio with Nick and Bernard.
Following “Labrador”, what made you want to choose “FU” as the next teaser for the album?
DeVita: It’s a song that I felt so much for, and I had this massive, fiery desire to make it the first single. I can’t exactly pinpoint a specific reason why – it just felt right. Plus, I felt that it really encompasses everything WAAX stands for thematically, lyrically, vocally and musically.
Would you say “FU” is indicative of what fans can expect to hear from the rest of the LP?
Antolak: Yes and no. There might be a song or two that fans might not expect, but the sound people have come to love is still there.
As I can personally vouch, having seen you legends bash it out a handful of times, this track goes right the
f*** off in the live show. Was it written with the stage in mind, or did the way it would translate in the set
influence how you approached it from a creative standpoint?
Antolak: Glad it translates well onstage! But it wasn’t written with the stage in mind – the only time I think we had the stage in mind was when we made "Labrador", because we wanted a song with the same tempo as people bouncing in a mosh.
On the topic of guitars: what were you going for in terms of the tones you wanted to achieve on this track?
Antolak: We wanted a dirty, but still defined sound. The song is pretty up-tempo and busy, so ensuring the guitars were sharp was a big motivating factor.
What were you wielding in the studio?
Antolak: Nick and Bernard have an amazing selection of guitars in the studio, and we brought a lot of our own too. If I remember correctly, the main guitars on "FU" were an '87 reissue Fender Telecaster, an '85-87 reissue Fender Stratocaster, and a '60s Gibson ES-335 hollowbody that was gifted to Nick by Brendan O'Brien. Amp-wise, we played through a 65amps Producer Head and a Marshall Vintage Modern Head, both through a Marshall 1060AX cab.
In regards to effects, the main drives were a Crowther Hotcake, a Fulltone 2 and a Devi Ever Soda Meiser Fuzz, which you can hear after the first chorus. For delays, we messed around with a vintage Deluxe Memory Man, an awesome Wem Watkins Copycat Tape Delay and a Visual Sound Dual Tap Delay. Reverbs were an Empress Reverb and Boss RV7, and I remember Ewan [Birtwell, guitars] using an Otto Bit Jr by Meris to make this killer arpeggiated pitch-shifting sound, which you can hear in the last chorus, just after the half-time grove goes into standard time.
Do you have a go-to guitar at the moment?
Antolak: I just got my 1960 Elk Jaguar back from Tyms Guitars, so that’s my go-to at the moment. The house tech, and all-round legend, Alex Caffrey just replaced the pickups with some P-90s, and it’s sounding amazing.
I feel like it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say it’s been a fucking wild year-and-a-half since Wild &
Weak came out. As we come into a new era for WAAX, what have been some of your highlights from the
DeVita: We've been lucky enough to play a bunch of amazing festivals, sell-out shows and some big arenas on tour with Fall Out Boy. Wild & Weak really helped us pave the next chapter of our journey, and we’re still very proud of it.
There’ve been a lot of milestone moments for WAAX since our last interview together – you’ve played
arenas, worked with legends like Bernard Fanning… How much would you say you’ve grown as musicians
and songwriters – and as people in general – over the past year?
DeVita: We have learned and grown so much, as a band and individually. We have really honed in our craft and we are family. And although a lot has changed, we never forget why we do this: because we absolutely love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
What does the future hold for WAAX in 2019 and beyond?
Antolak: Tour, tour, tour! We head back to the states in the middle of the year, and have a big old Australian tour in the works. Perhaps we'll head back to the studio by the end of the year, but we'll see...