'Guitarless guitar band' Wax Chattels talk noise complaints and farewell-for-now tour

When recording their second album Clot, Wax Chattels wanted it to be as loud, abrasive, and confronting as their live show.

And they succeeded. During the sessions, they got a noise complaint. And they're proud as punch about it.

"They said we were disrupting the office work environment, because of 'horror music sounds,'" says vocalist and keyboard player Peter Ruddell.

"And 'when will it stop, please?'" adds bassist and vocalist Amanda Cheng.

That noisy, gnarly energy has seen Wax Chattels rise to the top of the pile of must-see New Zealand live bands. 

And all without a guitar in sight. The self-described "guitarless guitar band" creates their sound through a lot of effects pedals, and a lot of feedback.

"The sounds that I make on the bass are centred around squealing noise and feedback, so you really need to crank the amp up to a certain volume to achieve that, on the verge of not being able to control that noise," explains Cheng.

"It has some excitement to it of riding the edge of 'when's this feedback going to take over?'" adds Ruddell.

Some of their effects pedals are rare, they've had to go through great lengths to get.

"There's just one boutique pedal that I use that I get all of my sound out of that I have a permanent eBay alert for, and I have two of them now but I won't say what it is," laughs Cheng.

"Pepers' Pedals, in Dunedin, we had a bunch of them in the studio when we made Clot, and I didn't have one. And I hit him up and asked him to make me a custom Wax Chattels one," says Ruddell.

The former jazz school musicians now find themselves in elite company, signed to legendary New Zealand record label Flying Nun.

"There's a bunch of record collectors and what-have-you that still regard Flying Nun as cream of the crop, so it felt pretty good, I felt pretty stoked when we were signed up to Flying Nun," says Ruddell.

"And you know if you put out a record on Flying Nun, [Sonic Youth founder] Thurston Moore owns a copy. So I hear," he adds.

They'll be joining other Flying Nun acts like Aldous Harding, Straitjacket Fits, and the Bats to celebrate the label's 40th birthday at the Auckland Town Hall next month. Though Ruddell's not sure how they'll do anything differently.

"Um, I think we're planning on playing in the Town Hall. That's quite different. For us, at least."

Wax Chattels.
Wax Chattels. Photo credit: Facebook/Wax Chattels

Nine months after Clot's release, they're finally taking it on the road.

"We haven't been to the South Island for two and a half years now. We get some very sweet DM's from the South Island being like 'are you coming back? Please come back!' so it'll be nice to play those shows," says Cheng.

The wait meant fans are arriving prepared.

"Every song we started, pretty much every song there was a reaction, people knew it, they recognised it and they were going 'yeah!' so it was pretty special," says Ruddell.

But this isn't just Wax Chattels' first big tour for a while. It's also their last for a while too.

"It's not farewell, but it's the farewell for now kind of tour," says Ruddell.

He's working on other music projects, while drummer Tom Leggett finishes off a maths and computer science degree and Cheng heads to New York to study a master's in law.

"I'm going to travel with my bass. I'm going to take it with me, I'm going to have to pay for a second bag to fly it to New York. It's $2100 one-way at the moment. I'm very stressed at getting a flight to go to school!" she says.

And she has advice for anyone wanting to catch this farewell-for-now tour: "Bring earplugs. Always."