Ahead of the release of their 6th full-length release Thought Form Descent, Knotfest’s Jon ‘StayPuft’ Garcia sat down with Calgary, Alberta’s Wake, to discuss the record, their progression through the years, and what comes next.
Forming back in 2009 as a grindcore band, Wake have navigated the course of five full-length LPs and a handful of splits and EPs, during which evolving their sound into a hybrid of black and death metal that doesn’t really conform to either genres guideline. Their most recent release, Thought Form Descent, releasing July 22nd on Metal Blade Records, pushes their own boundaries and songwriting standard even further, resulting in what is surely their best work to date.
It’s been a gradual rise for the Canadians, and whilst the last couple of years of the pandemic could’ve halted them, they instead grew faster than ever before, putting out their Confluence EP at the back end of 2020 to keep people engaged, and continuing that momentum in recent singles “Swallow the Light” and “Infinite Inward”. The result saw a crescendo of the underground buzz that had followed Wake around for a few years, now bubbling up to the point of spilling over ahead of their latest opus. And rightly so – this is a band that should be on the radar of everyone who even dabbles in extreme metal.
On the week of its release, we sat down with Wake’s bassist Ryan Kennedy to talk all things Thought Form Descent and more.
All your albums to date have sounded different than the last, while still having elements of what preceded it. You can practically hear the evolution in real time when touring your discography. As a band, how do you try to push yourselves to evolve in the creative process?
Kennedy – Very little specific impetus, but I think the turning point for the lineup was in 2017… everyone just connected and entered a place in their lives where the concept of what the output would look like was aligned across every member. Since then it’s really just a story of our journey as a group, the varying experiences that make up the individuals since then have just become a piece of the daily grind we all do together. We’re really good at just going with the flow.
How did the Confluence EP help bridge, or compliment, how the band approached Thought Form Descent?
Kennedy- Confluence was a leftover, a last gasp, from the Devouring Ruin sessions. The ideas for those songs had gestated for a pretty long time and getting them down was a reflex and something to keep us going and moving during the pandemic – and also a chance to really use some resources to have a little extra time in the studio to flex our muscles and stay late, fiddling with new tricks on both the recording and the performance. That said, I think its biggest effect on Thought Form Descent was how it reminded us that experimentation is effortless, in a way. The fear of change is something to grapple with in all forms and you can just let it drip away, if you want. There was a special moment during that session where Josh suggested something late at night while we were doing rote guitar doubling, and Arjun and I just lost our minds and wanted to use it on every song. That feeling of disregard for the past was something we definitely had in mind when we started in on Thought Form Descent.
What was the biggest difference in how Thought Form Descent was written compared to Devouring Ruin?
Kennedy- The two albums are astonishingly similar, to me, but that’s down to the fact that the process of making them was nearly identical. Of course their content is fairly different. I guess the biggest difference in my eyes is the role Dave Otero took on for TFD. We always counted on him to be an editor of sorts but for this record he got really invested, took a lot of time out of just tracking to get right into the songs content and what it meant. He hummed a lot. It was oddly helpful.
What’s it been like to experience milestones such as the release of Devouring Ruin, which dropped just at the start of the pandemic, and Confluence, through a long period of mostly being at home? Do you feel like the band has actually gained momentum during this time or has the relative isolation made it difficult to gauge outside the writing and recording room?
Kennedy- That’s a great question, because the truth is that we did gain momentum, as a band, despite the fact that a year went by where I largely just stayed in my apartment doing pushups. I don’t know about gauging anything outside; while everyone in the band hopes that people enjoy what we make we are all pretty siloed in terms of our personal lives, and definitely more so in the wake of the pandemic, so there isn’t a lot of reading of the public opinion of things. I don’t read comments on videos of us or anything, haha. You’re right to mention it though, because we’re part of a bizarre minority where we were completely sidelined in our promotion of Devouring Ruin and yet somehow the release still went excellent and we still had a great reception. I chalk that up to good luck and the right music reaching the right people, thanks to a lot of hard work from Translation Loss Records and our manager. I don’t know if there’s a lot of us gauging anything in there, but I do think you’re right to ask why or why not. As a wise person once said, “content is king”.
What would you say would be your biggest changes in influence from the beginning of the band to this release? What inspired you for Thought Form Descent that may surprise some of your listeners?
Kennedy- I’ll go deep here and instead of listing a band I’ll give you a fundamental answer – in early Wake, we wrote riffs. On Thought Form Descent, we wrote songs (or tried to). Inspiration-wise the funniest part is that we listen to the same disparate records now that we did in 2012… Steely Dan, Thin Lizzy, Tears For Fears and Henry Rollins were just as popular in our van then as they are now. The change is in our dynamic and our interplay. There are so many conversations that have shaped the shared relationships between the five of us by now, we suggest things while we write like games of chess – five moves in advance.
You got to finally get out on the road earlier this year for a small North American tour with END, Portrayal of Guilt and Yashira. What was it like to get back to playing live shows, and how did it feel to get to unleash the “new” material in front of an audience for the first time?
Kennedy – It was a special tour for a lot of reasons. I’ve written about it before – there is nothing more austere than the fruit you can’t eat, and being allowed to pursue our goal of playing live felt perfect in that context, but simultaneously dreadful given the restrictions of travel and the ominous threat of being detained at a border town in North Dakota for 14 days. END, POG and Yashira were all hands-down highlight bands for me to tour with. The tour was largely assembled by END and I think they figured out an ideal dynamic, musically. Something for everyone, and to a person I felt like they were all interesting and in it for the right reasons. It’s funny because even though we were desperately excited to play live again, what songs we played seems irrelevant to me. We always come up with a new list of songs every tour, and the experience of them blurs together into one threaded half-hour experience. I don’t like or dislike our songs in any context, they become something different while Im playing them, so to me it all feels the same.
You’ve said that you ‘describe the record as a place to reconsider what ‘extreme’ means – what does ‘extreme’ mean to you now? Are there other bands or artists that get you excited when thinking about music from this perspective?
Kennedy- (Laughs) I did say that. I’m very wary of any buzz word. There are so many lines people come up with to shill their content as unique or special, and I don’t blame them at all – attention spans are measured in nanoseconds alone in this era and if you can capture attention for even one of them, that’s a win. Reconsidering “extreme” is the same as reconsidering anything – if I call myself that, what does it mean? Why? Thought Form Descent is something aggressive to one person, and pallid and thoughtful to the next. Someone might latch on to one part thats fast and label it “grindcore” and another might latch on to a calmer section and call us wimps. Reconsidering “extreme” is merely recognizing that fact and expanding the playground. It’s meditation, it’s the freedom of consciousness and attention once it isn’t fettered by any thought. Anything is extreme, even Taco Bell. Especially Taco Bell. I honestly don’t listen to much new music, as I am cripplingly old. I really like Khemmis, I think they’ve done a great job of blending heavier riffs and very interesting chord modulations. Aura by Bolzer was very cool, though I guess its a few years older now.
What do you have planned after the record releases? Has writing so much over the last couple of years left you with piles of ideas yet to explore, or are you ready to load as many live dates on the calendar as possible to perform all of these songs?
Kennedy – I think we’re somewhere in the middle on that one. We’re ready for new experiences, be they tour-related or creatively. We did sixty days on the road this spring which was a big number for us; it gave us all a new idea of what we’re out to do and what the process of doing this means. I think there’s an openness, and a freshness, to the band, at the moment. When we returned from the May tour everyone was exhausted from what felt like non-stop go for at least six months, but after a brief recuperation I think there’s a lot of curiosity and intent on seeing what the future looks like. I think a lot of people worldwide feel that way in light of the global circumstances. We basically never have piles of ideas left over… Confluence is probably the only exception, generally we cut ourselves off when the final, full piece is done. I think we’ll hit a moment sometime this year when we get off on some musical tangent in the practice space and suddenly there will be a whole new adventure on the go.
What are you most looking forward to about unleashing Though Form Descent out in the world?
“My mom buying a Thought Form Descent t-shirt and being proud to wear it while she tends to her garden.”