Three albums in, Chicago punk band Meat Wave have established certain norms in their sound and working methods when it comes to recording. Both their self titled debut in 2012 and 2015’s Delusion Moon, which earned them a degree of international recognition and acclaim, were self recorded attempts at reproducing their live sound. Their new album, The Incessant, which arrives this week, saw the trio break this pattern by reaching for outside help.
“It was just a desire to change up the process a little bit,” said singer and guitarist Chris Sutter. “We either wanted to travel somewhere and do it ourselves or we had a very small list of people who it would be amazing to work with. Steve Albini was our number one.”
Albini owns and operates the recording studio Electrical Audio in Chicago, and is best known for playing in the influential punk bands Shellac and Big Black, as well as working as an engineer on seminal albums by the Pixies, Nirvana and many more.
“We hadn’t met him until that first day that we got to the studio. We started setting up and then in walks Steve. We were totally aware of what he’s done, so there was some intimidation, he’s done some of our favourite records” said Sutter.
It was actually the idea of recording with Albini that determined the project’s direction, even if his methods were decidedly hands off. “Before a lot of the album was written one of the things we talked about was doing more of a studio project where we would really fuck around with things,” said Sutter. “When it became a possibility to record with Steve, we homed in on what we’ve always done, which is play live, and really capture that energy.”
Bassist Joe Gac has made all of the band’s previous recordings, including The Incessant’s pre-production. “We recorded it twice ourselves before going into the studio,” said Sutter. “So we had a really good idea of what we wanted it to be. We knew we wanted it to be very straight forward and sound like a band playing in the room.
“It’s kind of cool to compare what Steve did and what Joe did, I mean it’s not too far off. Joe, I would say, is a student of Steve Albini. I think a lot of his ethics and how he works and how he captures sounds is very similar. Maybe at some point we can release those recordings.”
Not wishing to risk diluting their sound, the band recorded with the minimal equipment with which they perform live.
“I use a 1972 thinline Telecaster and I actually use Joe’s amp, I don’t even have an amp. Joe’s got a Marshall JCM-900, so I’ve used that since we started the band,” said Sutter. “Even when we were recording, for the longest time I’ve used one pedal, which is a Boss digital delay DD-6. So I’ll fuck with that, otherwise it was just raw right from our amps. There’s this warp setting where if you just keep pressing on the pedal it kind of crescendos into this cacophony of noise. When we first started playing I became obsessed with that feature and I’ve basically used it and honed it from there.”
The demo sessions were also a chance for Sutter to refine his lyrics and melodies, which in themselves marked a change in direction.
“It started with a lot of these stream of conscious poems that I was writing when we would tour,” said Sutter. “Every day I would write a different poem just to keep a log on my thoughts and feelings, ‘cos meanwhile I was getting out of a long relationship and trying to navigate through life as a newly single person after not being single for half of my life. When we started actually writing the record a lot of it was just self-reflection and trying to figure out why I was so confused or why I was always changing my feelings. A lot of it was trying to reflect on that and trying to become a better person and to see maybe where I went wrong.
“I think that was healthy. It was both cathartic and kind of exhausting, I’d never written a record like that, it was always very outward. It just happened naturally and there was a lot of doubts in making a very personal kind of record and having people listen to it who don’t know me personally. But I’ve come to terms with it and I’m glad we did it like this.”
As evident in their recording practices, Meat Wave are a live band, though Australian fans will have to wait a while longer to see them on tour.
“We would love to come to Australia,” said Sutter. “We’re still a super small band so we don’t have a lot of money. We toured with Violent Soho when they came to the States and they made us want to go out there more, so hopefully soon.”
The Incessant by Meat Wave is out now through Cooking Vinyl Australia.
Originally published in Mixdown Magazine.