Wax Fang premiered their video for "WWII (Pt. 2)" over at RCRD LBL today, and between the sweeping chorus and the stock World War II footage, we were feeling pretty good about the American Dream for the first time in forever. But then Scott Carney starts singing about the mountains and valleys and oceans disappearing, and it becomes increasingly clear that they're pulling a "Born in the USA" (start counting the days until McCain adopts "WWII (Pt. 2)" as his campaign song). Wax Fang's La La Land is out today, and while you're at the record store picking it up, you should also pick up a copy of FADER 57 (or download it ), and check out Peter Macia's Gen F on the band. After the jump, read the interview from that story in which Carney talks about the album, his fellow Kentuckians My Morning Jacket, the recession, falling down drunk and transendental meditation.
You were one of three people Jim James said were his favorites in FADER Number 40. How close are you guys, have you known each other for a long time?
Well, Jim and I went to the same high school. He was a grade above me and we both had bands in high school. And I think our bands may have played together a couple times but we didn’t really, not that we weren’t friendly but I wouldn’t say we were friends per say we just didn’t know each other very well. He had his circle of friends and I had my circle of friends and they never really collided very much. So yeah to be perfectly honest, until very recently when we did that tour which I think was after that article came out, I really didn’t know him very well. I knew who he was and we’d seen each other in passing and what not but um yeah it was strange, I had seen him around [Kentucky] Derby time and gave him, it was when I was working on the album and I had some demos and we found ourselves sitting at the same table at the bar here in town and I handed those over to him not thinking anything of it and like a month later he dropped me an email saying he really enjoyed it. And next thing I know he’s including me in his list of favorites in The New York Times and in The Fader and it’s just like, wow, and he just asked us to go on tour..
How big were the shows on that tour?
Much bigger than the ones we were accustomed to playing, for sure. I mean I think the smallest one was 800 to 1,000 people, and the largest one which I think was at Stubbs in Austin was 2,200 people. It was terrifying, you know, and it was totally surreal going from playing to just a couple hundred people in a dingy club with just a vocal PA to that. It was really surreal and the first few shows were really intimidating.
You were playing some of the songs from this album during that tour right?
Most of them were in the mix. We went on the Jacket tour in ’06 I believe, and then two weeks after we got back from that tour we went down to Ardent Studios in Memphis where we started tracking. So most of the songs were there, in some form. There was maybe one or two that didn’t have the lyrics finished or what not, but we were playing the majority of the material that ended up on the album.
How do you guys fit into the Louisville music scene?
Yeah I’m not real sure. I mean Louisville’s had, unbeknownst to some people, Louisville’s had a pretty rich musical history and just, starting with the Babylon Dance Band in the 80’s and continuing up with Slint and Rodin and a lot of those first post-rock bands revolving around the Quarterstick, Drag City, Touch and Go labels, and Louisville had a huge hardcore scene back in the early 90’s. I mean it was this huge thing, there was this band King Whores and Rodin, and it spilled into the whole post-rock thing.
I really enjoy old rock and roll, like 50’s music, and I got into psychedelic rock and prog rock and all that kind of stuff a little later, but people ask me sometimes, “What’s in the water in Louisville?” I think it’s, I’m not necessarily sure. I guess it’s a cultural thing. Louisville has been a kind of make-your-own-fun town where there just wasn’t a whole lot to do. There weren’t a lot of clubs where bands could play or where you could see bands, so a lot of people in that situation just sort of go to town and go to work and that’s kind of what I’ve done. And from what I understand that’s what Jim has done, just devote all of your time to playing music.
Do you still work a full-time job?
I don’t have a full-time job, per se, but I’m working two jobs at the moment and I pick up a lot of off jobs when I can. I’m kinda stuck in a weird place at the moment. I feel like I have one foot out the door but I’m not really sure what door that is.
Are you at the point where you’re like, Alright I need to quit all my jobs in order to dedicate all of my time to making this happen?
I’d like to get to that point, but everything’s just so expensive right now, it’s really kind of mucking up all kinds of plans because it’s now becoming harder to make money by touring just with gas and inflation the whole economy sort of being in this slump.
I think a number of years ago it was probably a lot easier to tour and make money and that sort of thing but definitely with $4 a gallon gas, it’s making it a little bit trickier.
Reading the lyrics to “Wake Up, Sleepyhead” and “World War II (Part II),” there appears to be a call to arms, a call for action. Did you have politics in mind when you wrote the album?
I guess I could say before that I’m a big fan of subconscious writing, so that’s where a lot of my songs start out. With “Wake Up, Sleepyhead,” I’d had that first verse, which is essentially a dream of being a soldier, you know basically dying on a desert battlefield, I’d written that verse awhile ago, probably a year before I wrote any of the song. Then the second part of the song kind of happened, musically speaking, and it was like, Oh okay, weird. I think what had interested me was that, you know the song takes a pretty big jump there. It goes from being a very contemplative sort of folky, heavy, string-arranged sort of song and then turns into this kind of pop song. So I began working on the lyrics to the second half of the song, and being that it’s a lot of major chords and stuff it already has that uplifting kind of feeling, that’s just sort of where the lyrics went. It went into trying to use your time more wisely and to try to make whatever changes in the world that you’re capable of making for the greater good. And after I’d sort of figured out what I was doing I was able to go back and be like I can use this second verse and I can bridge it together with the first verse to make it seem more like a dream than a tried and true like political commentary.
In your interview in FADER 40, you said some stuff about celebrating annihilation, like, the world is falling apart but have a good time. Do you still feel like that’s what you’re going for?
Yes and no, I mean that idea’s still there but that idea was much more apparent in my life in general back when I did that interview. Just because I was a lot more self-destructive back then. Just the way things were going—not that things have really changed much, you could still turn on CNN you know for half and hour and it would probably still feel like the world was falling apart—having that sort of attitude at the time was in a way avoiding any sense of responsibility I had as a human being to instill any sense of change in the world. Like, the world’s falling apart, what can I do about it? I’m powerless to do anything about it so I might as well get trashed and have a good time and watch it all happen. But a lot more has happened with myself and with the band since that interview, and I definitely feel like I have a greater responsibility than to just tell people to forget about trying to do anything, think about yourself and enjoy it.
Is there anything in particular that changed your mind?
I don’t drink as much as I used too, that might have something to do with it. I mean I was kind of a wreck during that interview. That whole experience of making Black and Endless Night was a total nightmare, and it climaxed right as I was about ready to start doing the vocal takes, I fell down a staircase and broke my ribs. And of course I was totally drunk when I fell, and then I didn’t go to the doctor, I didn’t get any pain killers. So all I could really do was keep drinking to stave off the pain because I don’t know if you’ve ever broken a rib before but it sucks. You can’t do anything and it hurts to breathe and it totally consumes you because you can’t move your arms.
One of the things that attracted me to psychedelic music was the idea of expanded awareness and time, and I thought the only way to achieve that expanded awareness was through substance abuse or use, whatever works. I never felt like I substance abuser—I always used them to the best of my ability. But I think for a long time I didn’t occur to me that I was being completely self-destructive by being in my mid-twenties and not having graduated from college and just working these shitty jobs to try and keep my schedule flexible enough to do the band and just kind of living the, living the party life like five or six nights a week. It just started to take a toll. My girlfriend’s a yoga instructor, and I’ve kinda gotten into that and there are other ways to come up with great ideas than to sit around drinking all the time and getting high or whatever.
Was there a moment when you turned it all around?
It’s never just a moment. It started with feeling like shit all the time and just waking up every morning feeling like crap and wondering why I feel like crap and realizing I drank half a fifth of bourbon last night. I’ve realized now, for instance, if I’m going to get drunk I should just get drunk off beer because I’ll feel a lot better.
I also had like a lot of anxiety issues which kind of forced me to reconsider my current lifestyle, and once my anxiety started to subside, I realized maybe I was on a better path. Around the time of Black and Endless Night, I had this anxiety attack and I had to go to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack and a lot of it was related to drinking. Some of it was related to doing acid in high school. But a lot of it would occur when I was really hung over I would have anxiety attacks from dehydration and the alcohol leaving my body. And I think it’s just part of getting older, and I actually think I’m enjoying life a lot more now that I don’t drink so much. I can definitely remember a lot more about what I do on any given night, and I like to think it has affected the quality of my work.
Yeah I mean is that something that you worry about?
It was something that I worried about for a long time, but I think I’ve kind of settled in with the idea and made peace with the fact that you can make art without having to kill yourself over making it. I read this book David Lynch had written about transcendental meditation, so I’m interested in trying it out because apparently he swears by it and I really like his work. And you know if anyone can harness the power of something and turn it into the kind of weird ass shit that he makes, then I think it wouldn’t hurt to try.