Interview: MEAT WAVE [December 2014]

By Mike Petruccelli

On a cold and rainy Sunday night in Chicago, I went down to Wicker Park to a small hookah bar to interview Chris Sutter (vocals/guitar) and Joe Gac (bass) of Meat Wave. The three piece consists of members from notable Chicago bands like Elephant Gun, Bust!, Wide Angles and Truman and His Trophy, and they have a wide array of experience and expertise with playing offbeat, unapologetic punk music. Their self-titled 2012 release has created a lot of buzz and they are now awaiting the release of the ‘Brother’ EP which is expected to come out in January 2015. On top of this, they recently finished recording a full length record with no slated release as of yet. So, as per their request for a hookah date, I asked them a few questions while smoking some fine flavoured tobacco and enjoying a virgin strawberry daiquiri.

Okay, first question: is there any deeper meaning for us being at this hookah bar other than the fact it’s an unusual place for an interview?

Joe: Nope, that’s it.
Chris: [laughs] Well, most of us have never been to a hookah bar before. I was expecting something kind of different like it being an actual bar or a private room, but this is nice. We’ve done a handful of interviews but we’re going to start doing them at places like this, and we’ve got some other ideas for future interviews. Essentially though, this was Joe’s idea, but it’s sort of funny and actually kind of nice, yeah?

Yeah, definitely. It’s an interesting choice.

[The waitress came along and asked what we wanted. We decided to go with the ‘Blue Mist’ flavoured tobacco, which may I add was exquisite, or something like that]

How did Meat Wave come about? I know you guys play in a couple of different bands and I’ve always been curious about what inspired you to start playing together.

Chris: Ryan [drummer Ryan Wizniak] and I play in Truman And His Trophy and around the summer of 2011 we wanted to be in something more powerful and aggressive. I wrote a couple of songs and we decided on it being a three piece. Then in the fall we talked to Joe and started practising. We didn’t really have any set plans but eventually it worked out and has been good ever since.

The ‘Brother’ EP is coming out soon. What was the main focus and inspiration? Is it a departure from the self-titled?

Joe: Well, there are a couple of old songs on it and a couple new demos on it which are going to be on our next full length. A lot of it is mainly unreleased stuff. Originally, it was supposed to be a UK release for the single ‘Brother’ which is a song on the self-titled, but it turned into a full EP.

So it’s mainly a small collection of unreleased songs and whatnot?

Chris: Yeah, it’s getting released on Brace Yourself Records. They’re a new label in the UK and this is the first thing they’re putting out. I wanted to jokingly call it ‘Meat Wave’s Greatest Hits EP’ because there’s a bunch of stuff going on with it. For example, we also did a Wipers cover on it as well; it’s kind of like a Meat Wave mixtape more than anything. This was also the first cover artwork I’ve made for us so far: it’s a picture of my brother from when he was younger with a collage of a bunch of images from my life and stuff.

[The hookah arrived at the table, which added bubbles to the already ongoing soundtrack of Middle Eastern dance in the interview recording]

So, right now the only song available from the ‘Brother’ EP on your bandcamp is ‘Sham King’. That song seems to be more dissonant than some of your previous stuff. Is that what we should expect from you guys on this upcoming full length you have planned?

Joe: That song will be on the new record: it does have more dissonance but there’s also more of the the poppy sounds on it as well. We’re not trying to turn a new direction or anything like that.

Okay, so the new album is all done, yes?

Chris: Yeah, we finished it up and it’s done, so we’re figuring out all the stuff with it now and seeing what we want to do with it. The only thing is that when we record we always have to do it in so little time no matter how much we plan it. Next time we’re going to get a solid week and record because we’re always scrambling for some reason. Someone always needs to get to work or practice or something like that.

Where did you record it?

Joe: We recorded it in a bigger room that’s at Kildare Practice Space. We did all the main tracking for everything in one day, then vocals and guitar overdubs. When you do a live record you can do ten takes and if it’s not the best thing you can get, it’s stressful. Sometimes if you have the next day, it might just work out better, you know? Like Chris said, I think we’re going to get a solid block of recording time in the future.

So, recently you got to play two shows with Joyce Manor: how was that?

Chris: It was really fun, we played with them in St. Louis and then played a show with them in Chicago. At the time there was the whole thing with the stage diving incident, it was something we saw first-hand, people were front flipping into the crowd and stuff like that. It was insanity. But yeah, it was a good experience for us, we had a great time.

How do you guys know them?

Chris: I actually knew them for a few years after playing in Bust! We played with them in California, and out of the blue Barry asked us to play for them here. It was rad, the Bottom Lounge show was the biggest show we’ve ever played.
Joe: Yeah, it was something like 700 people. The crowd was super friendly. Generally we play to an older crowd of people who just kind of stand there and analyse, so it was a different but good experience playing to a younger crowd.

Where do you think a lot of your influences stem from? I know that’s the prototypical question in an interview but I’ve always been curious because you guys seem to have a lot of elements in your music.

Chris: I think a lot of our sound stems from local music, but growing up, one of the bands I can think of that influenced our sound is The Brokedowns. I remember seeing them at Subculture Skate Park in Elgin when I was in 7th grade. It was one the first punk shows I ever went to.
Joe: I was at that show too.
Chris: That’s right, we were both at that show but it was long before we knew each other. But yeah, just how they think and write songs influences us. Also, Dr. Manhattan is another local band as well, I would go to a lot of their shows and they had a huge effect on me too. I like abrasive, powerful bands, ones where the singers scream the shit out of their throats.

I can definitely relate to that specific energy. I’ve noticed that with you guys playing live, it’s melodic but has patches of dissonance here and there.

Chris: Yeah, definitely.

Where does the song-writing process usually start? Chris, does it start with you writing a song or do you guys write together?

Chris: It’s a mixed bag, a lot of the time it will be a half-finished song idea, just a melody and progression, and then after that we’ll practice it out. It differs.

How do you guys feel playing in Chicago these days? Have things changed since you started playing?

Chris: It is pretty amazing. For example this past week there’s been a show I’ve wanted to go to every night. We’re super appreciative to play here; it feels like it’s only gotten better. There are a lot different bands that we always want to play with.
Joe: Yeah, there’s a long list of bands that we want to play with, we just flat out don’t have enough time.

Where’s your favorite place to play in Chicago?

Joe: The Empty Bottle, it’s super professional there, always liked it and there’s no bullshit with them. I also like Cole’s as well; it has a great basement show sort of a feel to it.

I still haven’t played The Empty Bottle. It seems like it’s a rad place to play.

Chris: I like the Empty Bottle. I feel like it’s a given but I also always liked playing Township. There’s always good people and friends hanging out. Coles is great too.

[Quick note: Township stopped holding shows a week after this interview and have separated with their promoter, unfortunately. Although there is promise of shows happening there in the future. Total bummer]

You guys played some out of town dates recently: how has that been?

Chris: We recently went to Iowa City and before that we had our first East Coast tour in October. We played with so many great bands. We toured with Geronimo!, they’re amazing. It was their last tour ever though, as they are breaking up. But yeah, we played with some really great bands when we went to the East Coast.

Are there any bands from other cities that you played with who we should check out?

Joe: Just look at the Exploding In Sound roster and you’ll find them there.
Chris: Exploding In Sound is a Massachusetts based label and we played a full day fest for the label’s birthday in New York on one of the last days of tour. Their roster is insanely different and really good. Pile is great, and Ovlov was my favourite band that we played with on tour. It lasted from 3pm to 3am of straight bands and all of them were good.
Joe: Yeah, we played at a venue called the Side Barn, the room sounded great. It was very minimalistic I guess, but it worked out well.

I’ve seen Meat Wave a good amount of times now and it seems like you switch stuff up a bit with your set. What is your favourite song to play live?

Joe: We always play ’15 Years’. I don’t think there’s been a show where we haven’t played that song.
Chris: It feels good to know how to play the songs from the first record now [laughs]. It does feels a little different than when we were first playing them though.
Joe: I think now we really don’t have to think about it, except for one song [laughs]. But yeah, some of them sound significantly different than on the record.

Okay, last question. it regards recording because you’re a three piece and it’s the bare minimum when it comes to having a proper full band. With your sound on record versus your sound live, do you do a lot of additional stuff in the studio, like with guitars and overdubbing with tracks?

Chris: Yeah, we do a lot of overdubs but it’s usually the same parts played over each other to get a fuller sound. There are some guitar leads which are there just for the fun of listening. We like to play live, so we want the record to represent that.

That makes sense. So there are no set rules?

Joe: No, we don’t have any rules with recording, but we don’t want to spoil our live sound with the record. It’s always really disappointing when you see a band and they are not the same live as they are on an album. I like it to be consistent to what the band actually is live. Obviously though, when you listen to a recording versus seeing a band live, you don’t have a visual aspect to the performance, so the overdubs make up for that a little bit.
Chris: And then live we’re too loud and that makes up for it. [laughs]

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]