Before Wax Witches perform their first show in four years, we decode the many musical personalities of Alex Wall.
Alex Wall doesn’t like silence. During our visit to his Bondi studio, this became immediately clear. Davila 666 were playing from his speakers for the majority of our visit, but for a brief period, because of recording purposes, we had to turn it off. This made Alex noticeably uncomfortable. Later on, at the pub, the first thing Alex noticed upon entering was the lack of music. He quickly brought this up with staff, and music was subsequently turned on.
Being so uneasy around silence, it makes perfect sense that Alex would always have some sort of musical project on the go. Since starting Bleeding Knees Club back in 2009, Alex has never stopped. As one band reaches a lull, he simply starts another one; each with its own distinct identity and sound. So we caught up to decode the many faces of Alex Wall.
HAPPY: Could I grab a timeline of all your projects? Did Bleeding Knees Club come first, or were there other projects before then?
ALEX: Yeah, me and Jordan started Bleeding Knees Club in 2009. We did that until like 2012. Then, after the first Bleeding Knees Club album, we took a break. I got really bored, so I did Wax Witches up until 2016, then I started doing Bleeding Knees Club again, but this year we didn’t really do anything so I started CANDLE.
HAPPY: Yeah well you started Wax Witches pretty shortly after that first Bleeding Knees Club record came out. Were there any particular things you set out to do differently with Wax Witches?
ALEX: Yeah for sure. Bleeding Knees Club was always very sugary and poppy. It had a punk aspect, but the recordings were always very sugary, and I wanted to keep it that way. I didn’t want to mix the two vibes up. I’m a massive punk fan and I always wanted to do a punk record. My first Wax Witches record was pretty much a New York punk record, so that was the big difference. I wanted to do something different without changing what brought in money.
HAPPY: And then with CANDLE, was there something again you wanted to do differently?
ALEX: Well I was never going to put out the CANDLE stuff, but I wrote a full album and really liked it. The guys at Burger Records have been really good to me. They really love that kind of stuff – weird stuff that wouldn’t normally be released. So they ended up putting it out. It’s similar to Wax Witches, but with a bit more of a psych and kraut-rock vibe.
HAPPY: You mentioned Wax Witches being pretty much a New York punk record, and that project has always been more popular in the US than it has in Australia. Do you think that’s just because of the Burger Records connection?
ALEX: Yeah maybe, I’m not sure. When Wax Witches did Europe for the first time, we did really well. It was actually pretty mind-blowing. We never even got those crowds in Australia with Bleeding Knees Club. When Bleeding Knees Club went to Europe last year, everyone was just asking when Wax Witches were coming back. I think it’s because I put a lot of effort into touring with Wax Witches in the states and Europe, but we never really bothered with that for Bleeding Knees Club. But Wax Witches never really did anything in Australia, nobody cared at all.
HAPPY: So Wax Witches has been the most popular project overseas?
ALEX: Yeah for sure. We played huge shows in Paris and Germany, and all sorts of places.
HAPPY: Do you just put that down to putting more effort into touring? Or is there a cultural thing that resonated over there?
ALEX: I think they’re way more accepting of niche music over there. Everyone over there really seems to look for their own music over there, whereas here people just listen to the radio. Bleeding Knees Club used to get played on triple j, but people get lazy and just stop looking for new music over here. They just listen to the radio and that’s it. In Europe, it’s really cool to know music that nobody else knows. And they follow labels a lot more closely over there, they really love Flightless and all the King Gizzard stuff… I think that’s why they’ve been so popular, because Europeans follow labels so closely.
You know him as Bleeding Knees Club or Wax Witches. For the first episode of our new series One Eighty, we decode the many faces of Alex Wall.
Posted by Happy Mag on Monday, December 9, 2019
HAPPY: In Australia, people still love the idea of listening to music that nobody else knows, but no one really puts in the effort to find it. Do you think having one singular national tastemaker like triple j has been beneficial to the Australian music scene?
ALEX: Well, you look at some of these bands… like, I don’t know, Sticky Fingers or something… there’s no way that band would have been popular if they started in another country. But in Australia, there’s this massive thing that brainwashes people with the same music over and over, every day. Every festival just books the same bands… of course they’re going to get huge. Nowhere overseas has that. Bands have the opportunity to build a cult following and grow organically. Over here, bands get really big and then they just drop off really quickly. That doesn’t happen overseas.
HAPPY: I’ve heard you talking before about the difference between Australia and the US in approaching a live show. You’ve said that Americans get more creative in putting on a show, whereas Australians don’t seem to give a fuck…
ALEX: Yeah, when I was living in New York, it was kind of in the middle of that whole garage revival thing. The bands were putting in so much effort into their shows. They were bringing backdrops and props, all sorts of stuff. Walking into any venue felt like walking into an art show. It was really awesome. Also, the bands were really good. Jay Reatard would throw fireworks and stuff off the stage. It was chaos. Here bands just rock up to a pub and play. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you can feel when a band puts in a bit of effort – it’s way better.
HAPPY: People seem a lot more concerned with being well behaved in Australia too. You look at all the shit Black Lips and Fat White Family have done on stage… there’s no way you’d get away with that here.
ALEX: Yeah man, I’ve seen Black Lips a few times. The stuff they used to do on stage is wild. When we toured in Germany, it was the first time Black Lips had been to Europe… Cole had diarrhea all over the stage. They just left after the show and everyone had to wash it up. I mean, I don’t really want to do stuff like that, but it’s a show. I think stuff like that is a good thing to do. We’ve never been that crazy, but we’ve always done our own hand-painted backdrops and dressed up. We try to make it look cool.
HAPPY: And you’ve always painted your own posters as well…
ALEX: Yeah I’ve always done all our artwork. That’s one of the best parts of being in a band. You can fully create your own identity. I find it weird when bands let weird graphic designers do their posters. It’s cool to just do shit on your own.
HAPPY: You mentioned before you felt bored after you put out that first Bleeding Knees Club record. Do you get bored of the projects themselves after sitting on them for a while?
ALEX: Yeah, but I also get a bit burnt out. We toured Bleeding Knees Club like crazy. You get so over playing the same songs. Also, with Bleeding Knees Club, we were doing it through bigger labels, so we couldn’t really do much. There were heaps of rules. Then after doing Wax Witches for a while it got to a similar point, with heaps of rules. But I’ve got no labels and it’s so good.
HAPPY: Do you find that different parts of your personality come out with each project?
ALEX: Yeah, I feel like Wax Witches is me. Bleeding Knees Club is more of a problem-solving band, it’s more of a mission to write a certain kind of song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either. I really enjoy trying to write a pop song. I find it really fun. Then CANDLE is more about experimenting with different things.
HAPPY: Well you’ll be playing your first Wax Witches show in four years at our Issue 13 Launch Party. Anything special planned?
ALEX: I think it’s going to be really good. We’re going to play Celebrity Beatings and Centre Of Your Universe, which are my two favourite records I’ve ever made. I’m really excited to play the Centre Of Your Universe stuff with a full band. When we toured that album, we just had an iPod for a drummer. We had two really loud guitars and just blasted the iPod. With the full band, it’s going to be really cool.
Video by Jamieson Kerr