Hether Fortune on Poetry, Shoegaze, and the Return of Wax Idols

The music made by Wax Idols is equally visceral and melodic, and can shift from one to the other at a moment’s notice. Their new album, Happy Ending, is due out on May 16th, and they’ll be venturing out on tour later this year. For the group’s founder, Hether Fortune, that’s one of several things keeping her busy: she released her first collection of poetry earlier this year, and has also been making forays into visual art. I spoke with Fortune about her multidisciplinary work, her band’s new album, and more.

Between Wax Idols albums, you released a book of poetry, Waiting In Various Lines (2013-2017). You’ve also begun painting. Has working in multiple artistic disciplines changed the way you approach music?

It remains to be seen, I think. One thing I’ve noticed is that having the courage to express myself in public in these new-to-me mediums has helped to release my identity somewhat from being so entirely wrapped up in THE BAND and only THE BAND, which is something that really needed to happen for the sake of my sanity & self-esteem. Everybody has a private self that no one else could ever really know. I think that is extremely precious and important. Having strangers project their idea of you onto you constantly for years and years can really cloud your own perception of who you really are. Painting and sharing other forms of writing is helping me develop a more well-rounded presentation of myself, both on a personal level and in terms of how I present myself to the world. Painting in particular is something that really relaxes me and helps me tap into the collective unconscious in a way that feels a little more pure & direct than songwriting. When I’m writing music, even when experiencing one of those lightening rod “divine” inspiration moments, inevitably my own experiences, anxieties, traumas, etc. creep in. It’s nice to have a medium where there are no words. It’s all feeling & intuition.

Had you always been writing and painting, or was there one moment that prompted you to start working in those areas?

I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was very young. The first poem I ever wrote was about my great-grandfather, who had just died. I was 9 years old. I read it aloud at his funeral. Painting, however, is totally new to me. I just started doing it on a whim last year and it stuck. Our neighbors moved out and gave me a bunch of art supplies amidst the purging. I stuck these boxes full of paints and sketch pads and things in our garage and just thought “Oh, maybe someday I’ll need this stuff.” A few months later my partner and I were hanging out at home, a little stoned, and he suggested that I try watercolor painting.

How do you balance the different creative aspects of your life?

So far the only thing that has been an issue is time management. I have a tendency to over-extend myself and now that I’ve released a poetry collection & started sharing my art and other things semi-regularly on platforms like Drip, I feel compelled to stay on top of those processes & integrate them fully into my life and expression. But I am very busy with the band almost always – I do all of the administrative tasks for us & our record label, our booking, etc. – + I work day jobs, maintain a home that is very important to me, have a personal life, etc. It can be tricky. Luckily I have a lot of help these days via an extremely excellent & encouraging management team, which really comes in handy when I am feeling overwhelmed & having difficulties staying on top of everything.

When you’re reading from your book, how does your relationship to an audience differ at those events compared with show you play with the band?

I’ve only read in front of an audience a couple of times so I don’t have a firm grasp on that experience yet but it is definitely much more vulnerable than fronting a band or even playing music as a solo act in front of an audience. It’s just you, your words & your speaking voice. If your work & your presence is weak or off in any way – it will be quite apparent. It’s something I think I will get more comfortable with over time. When the band plays, it’s totally different. At this point in the band’s career there isn’t anywhere that I feel MORE comfortable than on stage with them.

Sonically, how would you say that Wax Idols has changed between American Tragic and Happy Ending?

It’s hard for me to describe my own music and I try to steer clear of doing that — best left to the listeners, I think! However, many of the most obvious differences are a direct result of this album being more genuinely collaborative from that ground up than any previous Wax Idols album has been. My bandmates brought a LOT of ideas to the table that I simply wouldn’t have had on my own.

Would I be off-base if I said that I hear more of a shoegaze influence here? There are parts of Happy Ending where the guitar recalls the first couple of Ride albums, which is an excellent thing in my book.

That’s mostly Peter’s vibe! We all are shoegaze lovers but his guitar style is very nuanced and specific unto him. He & I are true collaborators in the sense that we run everything by each other musically before we commit to our parts for songs, so our personal style as guitarists has been effected by each other’s influence over the years & on stage/on recordings I think that shows. There is no doubt about it — Peter’s guitar work has added a new & irreplaceably unique element to the band. The instrumental track “123” is a different beast. That’s something I started composing in my bedroom after the death of a close friend and peer. It was the first thing I was able to play or write in the time since they had passed & I consider them as a collaborator on that song. It didn’t just come from me. Plus when it came time to bring it to life in the studio, Monte (Vallier, engineer/co-producer) added his own personal touch and nuances as well.

You’ve recently begun releasing work on your own label. Do you see this as a way to get your own creative work out there, or would you ever work with another artist?

We actually did our first release for another artist very recently — our friend Jeffrey’s solo project Compltr. It’s a small run of cassettes. Our intention when we decided to go the route of the self-release was simply to maintain autonomy so that we could release music however/whenever we wanted to without the fear that comes with “needing” someone else i.e. a record label. We poured every resource and extra penny into being able to make this record on our own, so it will take some time before we will be able to afford to release the work of artists not directly affiliated with us in any kind of consistent, stable manner. That’s definitely something we want to do, though!


Photo: Matthew Vincent

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