Uncovering New Layers: A Conversation With Without Waves

The Chicago band's boundless approach is led by a still from a viral video to learn from.

without waves chicago
Photograph by Matthew Gregory Hollis

Early in 2020, the Indian Forest Services shared a video of two flamingos engaging in what initially appears to be violent act. One of the flamingos is pecking on the other bird's head, which is covered in blood, while a flamingo chick feasts on the dripping blood underneath. Surely enough, the video went viral and many sensationalized the entire ordeal without context of this entirely normal parental dynamic. It was later explained that the two flamingos aren't fighting but actually feeding a chick their crop milk, a red liquid produced in their digestive tracts and regurgitated for their offspring. Chicago's Without Waves snagged a still of the video for use on the cover of their latest endeavor, Comedian: a record brimming with energy and compositional wonder as it takes on the hyperbolic nature of journalism and media overall. It arrives on March 18th via Prosthetic Records and presents itself as a defining statement for Without Waves, who deliver a third entry of many experimental layers just waiting to unfold. Tech death and progressive flourishes are but a few of the diverse sound elements encompassed within this expansive, well-produced effort.


We welcome frontman Anthony Cwan and guitarist Zac Lombardi to a discussion on their new record Comedian, the striking cover it sports, art as a means of disarming negativity, and more:

 

‘Comedian’ fast approaches and with the record delivering a loose socio-political commentary on the sensationalist nature of media, soapbox journalism, and hyperbolic punditry among other truths, I can’t think of a better visual representation than a still from the viral video of a flamingo hammering the head of another. When it was first circulated, the video drew countless assumptions that painted the picture as a violent act rather than a routine one of flamingo parents feeding their offspring. That said, what inspired the audiovisual direction?


Zac: The duality of the scene is precisely why we chose it. The difference between perspective and intent. The record deals with those themes a lot but manifested in different and often more personal ways.


Anthony: I love the interplay between someone’s initial perception of the image and the underlying reality. We felt that way when we first saw it. It looks grizzly yet it’s colorful and eye-catching. There’s a deeper meaning beyond that initial reaction though. It implies that things aren’t always what they seem. One has to dig deeper to discover the true meaning. We went through this process as a band when choosing the image and it just felt right as the cover.


Well-put, and it's neat that you all underwent a similar introspection. It wasn’t until after the video spread widely that it was explained that what occurred in the video was common practice for flamingos, who feed their offspring with crop milk. Is there something to be learned about this entire ordeal?


Zac: Ha! Absolutely. There's probably a lot of wisdom to extract from it, I'm just not sure I'm qualified.

Anthony: Absolutely. Sort of a never judge a book by its cover mentality. There’s so much more to us as people under all of the surface level ways we express ourselves. I’ll scroll through Instagram sometimes and see people having the best day of their life that day, myself included. But what’s behind all of that? What drives someone to post something special about themselves? Ego? Selfishness? Fear? Loneliness? It’s all of those things and more. We’re all just searching for meaning and connection.


Without Waves is certainly a great conduit for finding that meaning, especially through the camaraderie you've all built. There are strong commonalities between the cover picture and the album’s overarching themes, at least in my view. Did the visual inform the development of the record in any way? Or did the selection come about after the music had been completed?


Zac: Thank you, you're 100% on the money with the congruent themes. The cover, title, and layout all came after the music was recorded. We had a fairly clear idea of what we wanted out of a cover theme/feeling wise and once we stumbled back upon the flamingo clip it just felt right.


Anthony: I agree with Zac, even down to the layout of the CD booklet. We were trying to highlight the gray areas collectively and in our personal experiences and with the intention of these themes being universally relatable. We’re all connected.


Audiovisual synchronicity is a strong suit for ‘Comedian’, a feature that is quite inviting and tantalizing. It’s a proper entry point to what you all craft. Did this come about intentionally or was it a byproduct of the creative process?


Zac: Intent. We really wanted to find an image that captured the essence of the record and went down many rabbit roles trying to do so.


Anthony: Musically, we’re the best we’ve ever been. The songs are stronger and more cohesive. Take “Sleight in Shadows”. That song encapsulates everything I love about the music we write together: catchy hooks, chaotic, focused rhythms, progressive riffs, and a sliver of dissonance. Combining all of this together could have left us with a composition that was very messy and disjointed, but we ended up writing one of our best songs to date. I think that ties into the imagery…we want someone to see it, have that initial reaction, then dive a bit deeper. If you dive deeper, you’ll find that interconnectivity throughout the record. While these themes of anxiety, stress, and anger are difficult to process, when you reach the end of the record, it’s supposed to have been a nourishing listen, just as the crop milk nourishes the little hatchling in the image.

Great comparison there, Anthony. Musically, ‘Comedian’ is a maelstrom of influence, an influence that is enriched by the extensive culture and musical history that Chicago is so privileged to have. What role did camaraderie play in your own growth as it pertains to the development of ‘Comedian’? I say this as a means of reflection because it is arguably your strongest record so far.


Anthony: Thank you! I feel it’s our strongest material too. The metal/punk scene in Chicago is littered with so much talent. I think we all feed off of one another. It’s been inspiring being surrounded by so many good creatives. There’s a rich history here too. We’re very lucky to have cut our teeth as a band in this city.


It's evident in your composition, that's for sure. Touching back on the sensationalist nature of journalism, it’s a double edged sword that is increasingly seen in metal and music platforms as a whole. On one end, stories are drawn out without context and exacerbated to generate clicks, leading to senseless stories and cheap entertainment. On the other hand, generating excitement through enticing visuals and messaging invites listeners to engage with material they wouldn’t otherwise have done. ‘Comedian’ does the latter. Do you feel as though media outlets can draw a fine line here?


Zac: Probably, at least on an individual level, but it seems unlikely for an outlet as a whole. It might even simply come down to user engagement. Almost everyone slows down on the highway to look at an accident.


The traffic that creates is horrifying. What role do you feel the arts play in the larger scope of the human experience, especially in contemporary times? The goal for ‘Comedian’ is centered around utilizing music and art as a means of disarming negativity.


Zac: In the grand scheme of things, the arts might be what makes and keeps us human. The absurdity of creating without a truly quantifiable, tangible goal. For our modern times and looking forward, I think Isaac Asimov may have said it best, "The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine".


I love that perspective, and hey, Asimov may be right. In what mindset does this new record find you all, musically and personally as people? Much has obviously happened in the five years since ‘Lunar’ (2017) on a global scale and in your own lives as well, I’m sure.


Zac: Yes, it's been quite the ride. A few years ago after losing a close family member I asked an older friend of mine if life ever gets any easier. He inhaled, looked up and to the left, and said, "No, but you get better at dealing with it".

without waves chicago
Photograph by Matthew Gregory Hollis

Anthony: For me, this record was born out of extremes. I was personally in a very difficult spot during recording and I definitely brought that anxious, stressful energy into the sessions. Thankfully, the guys were all very supportive. A lot of the guitar and vocal tracking sessions were just myself, Zac, and Rollin Weary (engineer/mixer) in the room together. We harnessed that energy on each track, but also dialed things back when we had to. Despite the self-imposed onerousness, I feel we served the songs in the way they needed to be served.


I'd agree. Contrary to what many bands find customary, you don’t take yourselves too seriously and simply have fun along every step of the way. Considering you note that this record found you all during tough times and moments of learning, it's important that you all embarked upon this album cycle with "fun" as the core goal. The video for ‘Good Grief’ shows it, as does the boundless nature of the record itself. That said, how important was it for you all to have ‘Comedian’ be a fully realized representation of your creative endeavors?


Zac: It was very important. The whole point of this band is to be honest and to do what we really want to do. If something is truly good, then all of us will be able to recognize it as such, and 'Comedian' is by far the best we've ever done at capturing that.


Anthony: We’re just as serious as we are funny. There’s a balance there. Part of it comes down to the fact that the four of us excel at expressing ourselves through what we bring to the band musically, so much so that when we we’re not rehearsing or writing, we kind of revert back to our 15-16 year old selves making idiotic jokes, making fun of one another etc.... There’s still a sense of youth and vigor in the room with us after all of these years. The “Good Grief” video highlights the more playful versions of ourselves, and we wanted to showcase that visually.

You did that well. In closing, ‘Comedian’ is the light at the end of the tunnel, a message of triumph amidst adversity. There’s beauty in the struggle and the new record provides an outlet for finding it. Where do you hope it connects to an eager listener?


Zac: Well, even though it's not a concept record, I would love for people to connect with it as a whole. But in reality, people will take from it what they want/need, and that's its true purpose.


Anthony: I sincerely hope anyone listening gets something out of it, whatever that may be. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always bright. Most of the time, it’s dark, gray, and unclear, but those rays of light shine through from time to time, and by the time you reach the last song on the record ('Seven'), it’s really just about accepting the nuance of it all. Life involves acceptance of inconvenient truths. Contentment isn’t white clouds and sunshine all the time, and that’s alright. Just try to be kinder to people…and be kinder to yourself. Or not…It’s all relative.

 

Comedian arrives on March 18th via Prosthetic Records. Order your copy HERE.