Interview With Wax Mekanix

Waxim “Wax” Ulysses Mekanix is an American musician, songwriter, performer, producer, and founding member of NWOBHM cult rockers Nitro.

Wax’s perspective and work can best be described as raw, authentic, bold, uncompromising, and disconcerting.

Never one to remain creatively static, and close on the heels of his critically acclaimed prescient debut album MOBOCRACY, Wax Mekanix and Electric Talon Records offer three new well-timed songs that illustrate a striking sonic and thematic evolution for this American rock artist.

As if to invite them to follow his lead onward into bountiful undiscovered musical territory, Wax’s diverse, open-minded, brave, and adventurous audience are presented with HEAD, MANCHESTER STRAWBERRY BLONDE, and FREAK BOUTIQUE.  Tribal, exotic, mysterious, fearless, contemporaneous connective tissue between what has come before and whatever Wax sees on his creative horizon.    

Greetings Wax, How are you today, I’m Keith, The Editorial Head for Metalheads Forever Magazine, It’s a pleasure to have this interview with you?

Hi Keith.  Thanks so much for inviting me!  I really appreciated your generosity.

I know that there are so many artists that are eager to get your attention, so know that I’m truly grateful for your time.

October 8, Electric Talon Records will be releasing your Single “Head” from the upcoming album, can you tell me about the making of the video?

The video for “Head” was created by me and RAZVAN “R” ALEXANDRU of ABSYNTHE MOON FILMS (https://www.absynthemoon.com/). 

Although I’m an American, my instincts were telling me that any video should be not limited to an American narrative, since the lyric is about a global issue.

For years, intelligence professionals worldwide have warned us about the dangers of the digital age.  Unregulated social media, troll farms, deep fakes, identity theft, disinformation, fake news.  The notion that my (& everyone’s) mind is under siege was permeating my thinking for a long time.  The most important part of the lyric is, “I can get anything I want if I know what you know”.

The main objective for the video was to illustrate in a compelling way, the idea of information weaponization.   Specifically, that it’s global, pervasive, insidious, deliberate, and colors our lives.  I think it’s healthy to be knowledgeable about the inherent desires of social media, mass media, governments, organized religions, social causes, and political movements.  ‘head’ is my reminder to be vigilant.

October 22nd, you along with Troll Teeth is planning to release a split album “Blunt” Can you tell me about the songwriting and production behind this album?

My goal for ‘Blunt’ was to find a way to construct connective tissue between ‘Mobocracy’ and wherever I was headed next.  When ‘Black’ trailed off into the ether as the  final track on ‘Mobocracy’, I felt like I wanted to continue that conversation sonically and thematically.  I had parts of ‘Head’, ‘Manchester Strawberry Blonde’, and ‘Freak Boutique’ written and they kept creeping into my thinking as if to say, ‘dude, I’m what you want next’.   It was a perfect example of how I let the songs tell me what they want to be. 

When I knew what I wanted to do, it was easy to focus and finish the lyrics.  I honestly never conspired to leave heavy rock elements behind.  The more I lived with those three tunes, the more they implied something organic, exotic, visceral, primal, and straight forward.  Heavy, yes.  Aggressive, yes.  But not electric or distorted.  I followed them, I didn’t lead them.

Once I had them complete, I knew I had to take them to my Philly producer, Lectriq, for a fresh set of ears.  He knows me, my trip, how I love certain musical ideas and notions, and how to focus me relative to the song.  He can optimize what I want even when I’m not sure myself.  We do that thoughtfully with every song before recording a single thing,

I trust him completely to recommend what to change and how to change it.  He’s an amazing partner, and the reason my records are as good as they are is because of his incredible guidance.  I’m so lucky to have him with me in the studio.

Once we were satisfied with the songs’ construction, Lectriq and I recorded my guitars, vocals, and percussion.  I’ve heard other producers like Daniel Lanois describe it as “getting the center laid down and focused” like a photograph or painting.  I love Lanois’ work and it felt like that.  I set the vibe as I saw fit and then we started to invite our spectacular friends to jump on them. 

In addition to my acoustic guitars, Tom Altman, Chris Bishop, and Stephen Burdick are playing along on ‘Head’ and ‘Freak Boutique’.  Some  were recorded in and around Philadelphia while Bishop was recorded in Austin Texas by the awesome engineer, Alberto De Icaza.  Tom handled bass and set a delicious groove on those two.   He’s such a great player with decades of experience, vast knowledge, and a virtuosity that feels broad and natural.  Effortless is the way I perceive it as it flows over me when I hear him play.  I love Tom and his artistry.

To add some serious heft to ‘Head’ drums, Machine and his Austin crew cut thunderous skins at The Machine Shop.

The next phase was vocals.  This is where Lectriq stands head and fucking shoulders above anyone I can think of.  Hos arranging is exceptional, his musical knowledge is endless.  His taste is flawless.  He knows pop, rock, urban, club, folk, and world music as if it’s all second nature.  I gave him vague vocal signposts like Beatles, Queen, Beach Boys, Van Halen, and he interpreted my obtuse references into what you hear.  I think of it as his unique sublime harmonic convergence with balls and teeth.  What a gift he is.

Lectriq added some of his voce to mine and then we called on the searing power of Crobot’s lead vocalist, Brandon Yeagley, the smooth and pitch-perfect throat of Philadelphia’s M11son, and then  balanced all of that testosterone with a woman’s perspective via the gorgeous precise singing of Marissa Wolner.  The texture of her vocals is unique and  were exactly what ‘Head’ and ‘Freak Boutique’ required to further differentiate these song from anything else being offered up by my peers. 

Final mixing was done by me and Lectriq with Machine and his golden ears mastering my jams and Troll Teeth tracks into a wonderful cohesive EP.

It was an exercise in me inventing, my talented friends executing, and Lectriq and Machine perfecting.  We tried to work inspired, hard, smart, and consistent.  I’m so proud of this team that I could just burst.  We aren’t even firing on all cylinders yet, so I’m stoked for whatever we have on the horizon.

Is it based on any concept?

Although you’ll have to ask the guys in Troll Teeth about their tunes, for my songs, I hoped we could find a title that summed up the unvarnished themes we were offering up in our respective tracks.  In my opinion, it needed to be short, percussive, harsh, and direct. 

My songs were coming off as if they were frank conversations with someone where you get into each other’s personal spaces, look them straight in the eyes, and can feel each other’s breath.  My 3 songs certainly feel blunt to me.  My personal take on Troll Teeth’s cool songs is that they are thoughtful, clear-eyed, confident, and informed.  That implies blunt to me.

3 amazing songs from you and 2 from Troll Teeth, amazingly produced songs, great melodies and amazing progression of music, how do you feel about the outcome of it?

There is a duality to it for me.  First, I’m really proud of the work I’ve done with my crew.  In my opinion, ‘Mobocracy” and ‘Blunt” are the best records I’ve ever made  and are a satisfying confluence of songwriting, performing, and production.  The quality of the ‘Blunt’ records is a direct result of the breathtaking skills, talents, and  collective commitment of Lectriq, Machine, Tom Altman, Brandon Yeagley, Chris Bishop, Stephen Burdick, Alberto De Icaza, Marissa Wolner, and M11son.  I asked them all to trust me as I followed my instincts into some atypical areas, and they did  that whole-heartedly.  I’m thrilled, humbled, and grateful beyond measure for that.   For me to optimize what I do, that kind of bravery is essential from anyone that works with me.

The other side of the answer is that I’m never completely satisfied with results because I’m so critical of myself.   I see flaws where others may not, but I think this kind of sober self-evaluation is healthy.   I always walk away from a final mix feeling as if I could have done something better.  I think most artists feel this way, so I have learned to trust a few important friends, family, and colleagues to reassure me when any track is ready for release.  When others are willing to step up like they have, it signals to me that I’m on the right path.

Founding member of the phenomenal “Nitro” to Your New Band Wax Mekanix, how has the journey been for you?

For Nitro, 2021 marks our 40th anniversary as a recording quartet.  Dana joined us in ‘81 and we entered the studio in the fall of that year to record our debut, ‘Lethal’.  That’s so cool to me.

It is taking me a lifetime to fully appreciate and  process Nitro’s impact on me as an artist and person.  Although we continue to converge and diverge irregularly and unpredictably, John Hazel, Dana Confer, and Brad Gensimore still inform and shape me.  They are never far from any of my writing, recording, or performing.  John Hazel and I wrote ‘Mad World’ and he appears on ‘Mobocracy”.  I’m really proud of the records we have made over the decades, and view  those guys as brothers, not just colleagues. 

Although our standing in the world is modest, it is very real.  It’s something very unique because it can’t be purchased, conjured, or synthesized.  It must be earned.  We are a bit puzzled by our records being held in such high regard, but we are proud of them and our small pedigree.

Do you have any plans for touring this year or early next year?

In general, because of the nature of the pandemic, I’ve decided to wait until 2022 to get out there.  Exactly when, I’m not sure.  The data so far seems to be mixed.  Some say it’s safe and worth the effort from a health and financial perspective, while others say it’s not.  Some tours continue without a hitch while others shut down due to Covid-related issues.  I recently learned that the guitar tech of Kiss frontman Paul Stanley passed away due to this terrible disease.  That’s heartbreaking and sobering.

I understand and respect that others are out and about now.  My instincts tell me that there is no seriously compelling reason for me to put myself and others at risk right now.  As always, I reserve the right to change my mind for any number of reasons, but until then, I exercise the performance muscles by busking.  That is a meaningful way to stay connected to live performance and scratch whatever itch I have for the unique ‘live-without-a-net’ vibe you can only get like that. It sharpens senses, tones creative tissue, and certainly toughens the skin for when I get back out gigging full steam.  I’m eager to gather like we did before Covid and am sure it will be glorious and joyful.

What would be the next plans for you?

As we prep to return to live performances, and in parallel with making music, I am doing some photography and painting. I’ve done this under the radar for years, but  I’ll be offering these things up to my audience that are interested in my other creative expressions.   Since it all seems to come from the same place in my creative spirit, there is interconnection that’s obvious and some that’s subtle.    Overall, it helps me to be the 3-dimensional artist that I’ve always felt I was, so that justifies sharing it with my audience.

Musically, Electric Talon Records asked me to conjure up a new split with America rockers Almost Honest.  I’m in the studio now carving out a few tunes for that.  I’ll save the juicy details for later, but, like ‘Blunt” was different from ‘Mobocracy’, these new records will be thematically and sonically different from ‘Blunt’.  I’m stoked for my audience to hear these tracks and to enjoy another exciting fork in the road that I like to travel. 

I’m not changing for the sake of change.  I’m just following the creativity where it leads me.  I’m assuming that anyone interested in my work wants that kind of approach from me.  My audience knows that I’m doing my work only to be the most authentic artist I can be.  There is no other compelling motivation in the 21st century music biz.  Full stop.  They also know that I respect and appreciate their intellect, tastes, sense of adventure, and bravery.   I’m  fortunate and delighted to be on this side of that conversation, so I’ll simply do my work as honestly as I can and invite them to it.  I’m confident that it will be received as I’m offering it.

Finally, I’m always writing new songs and recording them, and I have a full-fledged solo album about 70% done that I hope to have in the can later in 2022.  Again, it’s shaping up to be unique and different from ‘Mobocracy’, ‘Blunt’, and the upcoming split with Almost Honest, so this is what jazzes me about keepin’ on keepin’ on!

So, my mission statement is to write, record, perform, rinse and repeat!

Would you like to share some great moments that you had over the years?

There are so many that have accumulated over the years, but there is one that really sticks out is from the early days of Nitro.

One typical night in 1983, we were rip-snortin’ away at a regular gig at The Wooden Apple in Bellefonte Pennsylvania.  A typical neighborhood bar with typical patrons hollering at each other over our crushingly loud and blistering 4,45 minute sets of covers and a few original tunes.  In 1982 we had managed to record and release our debut 10” EP ‘Lethal” on our own, to little fanfare.  We were happy to be a local bar band  doing our thing for anyone that would tolerate us.

During one of our breaks, a young follower rushed up to me and bassist Brad Gensimore and shoved  our way a crisp fresh copy of the metal bible of the day….Kerrang!

He proudly shouted at us, “You fuckers are number 8 on the fuckin’ charts!”

Brad grabbed the magazine and mumbled in his calm deadpan, “Nitro charts in the UK”…and  then casually handed the copy to me.  I scanned the page and shout to nobody in particular and everybody,”Holy shit, that’s us!”

There it was in black and white. NYTRO ‘LETHAL’ at #8.

I shot over to Hazel and Confer at the bar with the unbelievable new and evidence.  We forgave the small typo and were thrilled by our first appearance on the import charts inside the front cover of Kerrang! December 1983 Issue No. 32.

That was a paradigm shift for me.  A serious inflection point in my head that confirmed to me that we were capable of doing this music thing in a meaningful way.  It was validation, confirmation, and high-octane jet fuel for me.  I was intoxicated by the notion that we may actually have a chance of ‘making it’.  I never looked back from there.

Do you have plans to collaborate and explore more music in the future?

The short answer is, yes.  Frankly, both records, “Mobocracy” and ‘Blunt”  are examples of deep collaboration.  It starts at the songwriting and continues through the final mastering stage. 

My main collaborator is Philadelphia producer/engineer/songwriter/musician, Lectriq.  He has been at the helm of both records and is indescribably talented, skilled, patient, honest, open-minded,  flexible, adventerous, and brave.  He sets the most exquisite vibe that optimizes my limited abilities in a way that is simultaneously humbling and encouraging.  I have never had a better creative experience than what I’ve had with Lectriq.  Full fucking stop.

That said, every musician, engineer, producer  that you see credited on my two solo records has been a wonderful collaboration.  Each one has enriched and informed me  in ways that would take me weeks to describe effectively.  Tom Atlman, M11son, Brandon & Chris from Crobot, Machine, Marissa, Stephen…every one of them has been so generous with their talent and time for my odd-ball records.  I cannot thank them enough.  Some co-write with me while others bring aspects to my tunes that I’d never have though of.  I’m so grateful and pleased with my awesome crew.

I find that I do my best work like this, so I will continue onward and upward in the same way for the forseeable future.  I’ll stay open to more collaboration for sure.

What would be the dream for you, do you feel that you have accomplished all your dreams and aspirations as a musician?

Honestly, I’m doing it! 

It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true for me.  Just getting to be an artist in the way I do it is the most rewarding part of it.  There is no real destination since the point and satisfaction for me is in the act of doing it.  For other artists, they know exactly what I mean and I don’t have to explain it.  For non-artists, I couldn’t possibly explain it effectively, no matter what I’d say.

I make music and other art when I want, how I want, and with whom I want.  That’s simultaneously liberating, fulfilling, and inspiring, so I feel really fortunate to be here now.

Although commercial & critical success measured by typical metrics would be nice, that’s never been the reason for me to do what I do.  Since I have cultivated my life so that I’m not making creative decisions based on ever-shifting commercial or critical  gating criteria, all I have to do is satisfy myself.  I’m lucky to have the ability to do it like this.

The key for me is to do it all in such a way that it’s self-sustaining and self-perpetuating.  Getting that to work well is always a challenge, but not insurmountable as long as I do things that are smart and consistent.  Decades ago, I matured out of the juvenile notion of using art as a vehicle to become rich, popular, and famous.  Frankly, those things never held much appeal for me, so their romance faded when I was barely into my  20s.

Finally, what would be the message for the fans?

There are two parts to that answer.

Part 1:  I can’t overstate how much I appreciate and value my audience’s attention.  There is so much music to choose from these days.  The notion that someone takes a few moments to join me and consider my work never ceases to genuinely humble and thrill me.  Although I’m an artist for myself first, and when others are not paying attention, I will always approach my work with authenticity and honesty.

Part 2: Life is so preciously short.  These odd times will not last forever, so please try to be optimistic.  And please try to treat others with kindness, appreciation, patience, and respect.  Finally, let others love you and show those who you love, that you love them.

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