No Apologies: The feverish fierceness of WAAX

No Apologies: The feverish fierceness of WAAX

In the midst of a ruckus-inducing headline tour, we talk to Maz DeVita about WAAX's debut album, Big Grief.

Header photo and in-article photos by Tim Lambert.

You would be hard-pressed to find a live act in Australia right now that’s more feverish than WAAX. When Maz DeVita steps on stage to front the gritty power-punk band, all eyes latch onto her with the same intensity she effortlessly throws back in your face. Her stage presence is unparalleled, motioning directly into the crowd as if she’s staring down the barrel of a gun. And, accompanied by a four-piece band that’s as full-bodied as a nice wine, she excels in telling stories that fans grip onto, word-for-word. It’s easy to say any frontperson can command the energy of a mass of bodies but, in DeVita’s case, she also earns their respect.

Over a fast-paced six years, WAAX have solidified their place as one of Australia’s most exhilarating live acts, owning the likes of Splendour in the Grass and UNIFY Festival whilst garnering support slots for Fall Out Boy, Wolf Alice and Kingswood. Their previous two EPs, Holy Sick and Wild & Weak, defined the now-characteristic anthemic WAAX touch - something attempted to be replicated by many others in the Australian pop-punk circuit (although usually, unsuccessfully) - and their unwillingness to compromise on gigs as safe spaces makes them a band that has always stood for something and strived for more, while tapping into the things that largely riddle millennials’ lives; even Same Same, a track off the latter EP, says “I swear I am a good kid, trapped in a modern-day.”

The Brisbane outfit’s debut album Big Grief has streaks of this millennial mentality throughout each song, as it navigates the ever-changing period of being a young adult: “..the way the world is so volatile at the moment, our environment, I talk about anxiety, mania, cutting ties with old friends and habits, my problems in the past with body image, and it’s almost like a big mourning for all that. It’s definitely an outpouring of grief in every sense of the word.” And, although it still has many hallmark traits, it exposes a side of WAAX we haven’t seen before.

Big Grief is a self-proclaimed “sketchbook” of moments that define DeVita’s transition through her twenties. The issues thrown on the table in this album are unapologetic and universal to any twenty-something’s life as they walk their own path for the first time. It’s an album that revels in grief, pain and melancholic feelings of the past and explores that discomfort, rather than pushing it into a box. From the get-go, Big Grief feels no shame - opening with a title track that screams “I’ve got a big grief pouring out of me, some days it’s not so easy.” WAAX continues to push forward over the next eleven tracks, hitting peak intensity in the form of blistering lead singles Labrador (“you’re a girl and a girl isn’t welcome in here”) and FU (“nobody hurts me, fuck you for trying”) before dipping into the soft, cathartic diary pages of acoustic numbers History and Changing Face.

At its core, the album seems like it was created in typical WAAX fashion but there’s a newfound sensitivity, something that can only come down to this being a collection of songs that DeVita says mourns the necessary (but still a little unsettling) changes in her life to date. “I just want to grieve for that: feel bad for the bad times and happy about the happy things.” Created with Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning, this is an album that accepts “light and shade” for what it is: life.

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You’ve just mentioned you’re in the studio today, writing possibly the next album. Does it ever stop? Do you ever stop?

I’m continuously writing because I’m hell-bent on looking for the ‘new thing.’ I get bored and we’ve been sitting on this record for quite some time now, it’s been finished since January, so we’ve just wanted to get it out. It’s been a really fucking weird year so I’m just really excited for it to do its thing and just be free.

When I first started WAAX six years ago, I had no patience. I’m sure people have early demos, God forbid they see the light of day, but I used to do a song, record it on GarageBand, put it up immediately with no thought whatsoever and it’s just been a process of slowly taking the impatience of me out and just accepting that things take time and not everything works out immediately. It’s a process.

I’m just imagining somewhere online, in the deep dark parts of MySpace, your demos are still there.

That’s the saddest part, I don’t know who’s got them. I don’t even have them! I just know someone, somewhere on the internet has them, and I’m like God please let them never ever be seen by anybody [laughs]. I’d be keen to listen to them but I’m pretty sure they’re shit.

Let’s talk Big Grief. Does the album stem from grief of your own, or the bands?

The title itself encapsulates the general feeling of the record. It touches a lot on loss, but not necessarily about death - also losing people in your life through life happening and things changing and me changing as a person. This whole process has just been a reflection on the relationships I’ve had in my life, whether it’s been in a professional sense or a personal sense. Over the last six years, I’ve had a lot of people coming in and out of my life, it’s been a very transient period through my entire twenties. Now I’m at the point where I just want to grieve for that: feel bad for the bad times and happy about the happy things. It’s that kind of reflective exploration.

Do you think with grief we’re taught to push those feelings to the side and not allow ourselves to feel shit about things?

I think it depends on the person, but we live such hectic lives in this day and age, I do think that we need to give ourselves time to reflect and unpack the way that we feel. It’s important; if you let that shit fester, it’s just going to get worse. Through the period of writing the album, I found myself feeling bad about things and I just wanted to get that out. It was a good, cathartic experience to work on the record.

Is the album set in a linear, narrative style or is it more scattered experiences of yours?

Each song represents a different aspect of the grief and it’s not all the one continuum, it’s kind of like a sketchbook almost of different things that have come in and out of my life. I think they all fit under the title, but each song has its own story and essence.

Do the songs all connect as one between you and the band too, or is it more solely you spilling your heart out?

I think it’s a bit of both! The record was a bit self-prophetic of the band because very recently we lost a member and that’s been very difficult for us, and the record revealed a lot about how that was playing out, as well as things in the past. It’s mainly me and my outlook on things because I write the lyrics and whatnot, but I think everyone in the band was feeling this, especially in the last couple of months. We’ve been through a lot as a band, there’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s been a really big rollercoaster and we all needed some time to take out and reflect; the record does that for all of us. It’s cathartic, I think.

One of the things I loved most about this album was how you’ve channelled this aggression and passion but not necessarily in a super intense way. There’s still this rhythm that people are able to dance and mosh to. Do you intentionally try to keep it somewhat fun, musically, when you’re in the song-writing process?

Oh, 100 per cent. The first thing I think about is how is this going to translate live. That’s always been the thing that’s driven me. I want the crowd to be as much a part of it as us, and I want them to feel like there’s nothing better when you’ve got a line that the whole crowd can sing along with and share that experience together, because that’s what we get the most out of when we play – connecting with people. That’s always at the forefront of my mind. There are some moments where there’s studio magic stuff and you want it for the pure musicality, but I definitely write with live [performance] in mind.

We’ve seen that sense of community at a bunch of your live shows, for example, at Good Things Festival last year you stopped singing at one point and the entire crowd carried on, word-for-word. Did you ever imagine your music would result in this?

You can never fully imagine it until it happens, but I always had a lot of belief in the band, despite all the bullshit that we’ve gone through over the last six years. I still have a lot of faith in it and the way that the audience interacts with the songs inspire me to keep going. I don’t think we’d ever imagine it would grow this much but we love doing it, so I guess if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and you work really hard at it, things work out.

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On the flipside of all this craziness, you’ve got a couple of soft songs on the album. What was it like writing them?

We definitely wanted to have an album that had a lot of light and shade and we wanted it to be colourful, despite the fact a lot of the songs are pretty dark, thematically. The slower songs were us exploring that side. I want people to know that we’re capable of that stuff, we’re not just all about the big rock-dog bangers. We appreciate good song-writing. For me personally, I wanted to explore what I could do lyrically and melodically. I don’t want us to ever feel limited by genre, and we’re just going to keep exploring what feels right; we felt like we needed a few slower numbers, so we went and did it. I hope people are surprised a little bit by those songs, and I hope they like them as much as the heavier ones. I think that’s what our set’s been needing, a bit more nuanced and some time to breathe.

We wanted to have a few juxtapositions in there; like having a song like FU in there, which is very out there, full-pelt and straight-forward, and then having a song next to it called History, which is way more reflective and way more internal. Having those juxtapositions is something that we consciously wanted, we wanted the listener to be able to go on an emotional rollercoaster when they listen to the record.

Well, it all makes sense in the broad sense of grief. You have your full-throttle moments of intensity and you have your introspective moments too.

That’s reflective of myself too, you know, you have your good days and you have your bad days. You just ride the tide. I just wanted it to be as up as possible, and we’re all crazy so we all always do whatever we feel at the time. It’s all about the feeling and the emotion rather than any kind of intentional process. It’s got to feel good throughout. It’s something intangible but we’re all on the same wavelength with whatever that is, despite the fact we don’t even know how to explain it.

Yes! I felt it when I first heard No Apology, which reminds me of that feeling when you think you’re invincible and just want to wreak havoc and tear down the world in spite of everything. What did that song mean to you when you were writing it?

I’m personally quite a…not necessarily introverted, but I’m not very good with conflict, I suppose. I just always found myself apologising, even when I didn’t know what I was apologising for. Always just I’m sorry, I’m sorry, and I’m sorry for existing god dammit! Sometimes I just want to fucking cut sick and just grin at everybody, and just be unapologetically myself. That’s what the song was about, just a rush of rage.

There’s totally that rage of wanting to be unapologetic in yourself and not have to be weak, soft or consistently giving, which is something I think women especially face in their everyday lives. At least for myself, I think that’s why I related to No Apology so much. It reminded me of that early 2000s pop-punk mentality of ‘fuck it, this town is ours.’

Yep, that’s it. That’s exactly what we were hoping for. I’m so glad you got that from the track. It’s like, I relate to [all the songs] in different ways but I would have to say FU is my favourite song on the record; mainly because when I sing it, I really feel it every single time. Not that I don’t feel everything, it’s just the most I’ve felt.

I always grew up feeling like I’d been underestimated and a bit of a doormat, so having that song is really cathartic for me, it’s just like you totally misunderstood me, don’t think that I can be fucked with; I’m tougher than you think. That means a lot to me.

Is there anything more you want people to know about Big Grief?

In the song Why, if you listen closely, you can hear me sneeze. Then, after the next line, you can hear me swear in the background - they didn’t take the sneeze out or the swearing. So, if you really listen, you’ll hear me sneeze! That’s a nice little Easter egg, that track’s a bit fun.

WAAX's debut album, Big Grief, is out August 23rd via Dew Process / Universal Music Australia.