WAAX: Engaging International Audiences 

Drinking Scotch all night with Kim Gordon, collaborating with music royalty such as Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes), sharing stages with Bernard Fanning – Maz DeVita discusses her life leading up to the release of WAXX’s latest and second album At Least I’m Free, and the band’s plans to go global, with Bryget Chrisfield

On stage with Bernard Fanning

“I think one of the most triumphant moments for me was getting in the van after playing a Splendour [In The Grass] set when Bernard Fanning and I sang a Powderfinger song together on stage. And that was just while we were starting to make our first album [2019’s Big Grief] and everything was really exciting and people were like, ‘What’s this band?’ and, ‘What the f**k? They’re bringing out Bernard Fanning!?’ Like, we weren’t f**king around.”

Her musical heroes

“Growing up I was a huge fan of Janis Joplin. I remember hearing her music when I was 13 and being like, ‘Woah, that’s possible?’ She blew me away. I also love Karen O – I look for character, I look for a distinct vocal. And they don’t have to necessarily be the best singer in the room; I’m more interested in the way their tone is, in the way they put melodies together – that’s what interests me the most. I think it’s impressive when people can do the whole, like, crazy, Christina Aguilera moments – the vocal gymnastics, yeah – but I’m much more interested in how they deliver it through just tone and melody alone.”

‘I was nutty as a child

“I spent a lot of time alone, thought a lotta weird s**t. I’m so glad I found a way to express myself that was healthy … School was not the best for me; I did not have the best time. I felt very confined and I don’t like feeling boxed-in – that’s pretty much my worst nightmare… I just remember I felt like I hadn’t found my people yet. So I thought that everyone hated me, because I felt so isolated and I was like, ‘Why doesn’t anyone get me?’ Like, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t relate to people around me and I think that’s kind of where I got the lyric, ‘I’m the most hated girl in the world according to me apparently’ [from Most Hated Girl, At Least I’m Free’s lead single] and now it’s like – I just relate to that 16-year-old self, but I’ve worked out that those fears were just internal and the world was waiting for me once I got out of school.”

You don’t wanna peak in high school

“It weirds me out when people talk about the old high school days. I blocked it all out; I’ve got no idea what happened, I just know that I stepped out of there when I was 18 and I went off and did my s**t. Like, I had a really small group of friends, which I’m still friends with now, but, yeah! I just felt like the biggest weirdo and I used to get picked on and all that s**t. And boys were really strange with me. Yeah, I had a weird time in high school.”

Teen dreams

“I always wanted to be an artist in whatever capacity, whether it be visual or in music. Becoming a musician was something that – I just played instruments growing up, but I didn’t take it seriously. And I’d write songs, but I didn’t take it seriously. But I wanted to f**k the system when I was 16; I was very angsty … I dreamt of being in bands, but I just didn’t think of it as a profession until I was, like, 20. So it’s always something I wanted to do, yeah.” 

Listen to your gut 

“I was so nervous as a 22, 23-year-old, I honestly was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. Please, anyone give me advice!’ I would just go up to anyone and be like, ‘Am I gonna be okay? Am I on the right path?’ [Laughs] But I think, later down the track, I look back and I’m like: the best advice actually comes from me; if I listen to my gut, things work out better for me in my life. So that’s something that I’ve learnt.”

Vulnerability as a superpower

“Luckily, being vulnerable comes naturally to me; I’m inherently a bit of an oversharer and that’s okay! I put it in my songs. But I’ve just learnt to embrace that side of me. I used to be like, ‘No! Shut up, Maz! No one wants to hear your shit!’ Now I’m like, ‘Take it or leave it, I don’t give a f**k!’ [Laughs]

“I just wanna be the person that I would wanna look to, you know? Like, I don’t want someone who’s f**in’ showing one dimension of themselves. Everyone has lots of layers – no one’s one dimensional – and I wanna see every dimension: I wanna see the dark s**t, I wanna see the light s**t, I wanna see the funny s**t. And, you know, that’s how I like to write music as well: I wanna show all sides of me.” 

Sharing Kim Gordon’s Scotch 

“We did a one-off show with Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth a number of years ago and after the show she was like, ‘You guys want some Scotch?’ And we were like, ‘Yes!’ And we all just sat there and drank Scotch all night with Kim Gordon! It was great. It was so good. She was like, ‘You guys are gonna be great, you guys are gonna do just fine’ – ‘cause I think we had just finished making our second EP [2017’s Wild & Weak], so we hadn’t even begun making albums at that point!”

Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes) said ‘hey’ 

“The first time Linda Perry [American singer-songwriter, previously of 4 Non Blondes] heard my music she emailed straight away and was like, ‘I want a session with this girl’. We chatted on email and when I met her she told me pretty much that there was something in my voice – a real raw darkness in my vocal tone – and that it’s something to be nurtured. She was like, ‘You just need that one song.’ And she was like, ‘I just wanna see your band excel.’ She was really supportive.”

Hey Maz. What’s going on?

In the studio with Linda 

“It was terrifying! [Laughs] I just had to keep telling myself – ‘cause I was over there by myself as well, like, that was my first solo overseas trip and so I was still getting my bearings as a solo traveller. And I just like got in the Uber to her studio and was like, ‘Okay, Maz, you’re gonna need to dissociate from the reality of the situation and just work. You need to focus on the work, do not let her stature intimidate you at this point, don’t let your nerves overcome you.’ Because I was that f**in’ nervous, you know? If I’d let that overcome me I wouldn’t have gone, ‘cause I was just so scared.”

You can’t be what you can’t see

“Meeting Linda – she is the most powerful being I’ve been in the presence of. Like, I saw her life and I saw who she was and I was like, ‘This is what I would dream of: if I could have my career as a touring artist and then, once I get tired of that, just literally sit in my studio and have people come in and out and write with me – that would be my ultimate, ultimate dream. So she kind of showed me a window into what’s possible. I think if you see people doing the thing, it’s a lot easier to imagine it for yourself. Because, before that, making songwriting a career long-term wasn’t even a thought or possibility for me. Now that’s something I really aspire to… Linda was a boss lady in that room. It was so cool to watch her work.”

Embracing raw vocals

“When I started to sing something that we’d been working on, Linda was like, ‘Oi, no! Take off that c**p!’ I’m like, ‘What c**p?’ She’s like, ‘The thing you’re doing, the vibrato, stop…’ – ‘cause I found that I’d gotten into habits of masking my raw vocal with bits and bobs. I’ll have like a [demonstrates a high note with max vibrato] with vibrato or a falsetto voice and she was like, ‘No, the less the better! I wanna hear your raw vocal, and that’s what I’ve come here to work with you on,’ and, yeah! She gave me the confidence to do that more. So you can kind of hear it throughout the record [At Least I’m Free], where I’m less inhibited and I’m just kinda saying my lyrics naturally as they fall out of my face.”

Zoom versus IRL songwriting sessions

“If you’re working with a producer, they can pretty much control the session remotely now – which is insane! We did a lot of Zoom writing sessions but, for me – I dunno, I need to be in the energy field with someone. I struggle reading people through a computer screen, it does my head in because I’m such an ‘energy’ person. I much prefer face-to-face – for writing, especially – because then you know where things are going; I can pick up on the vibes.

“I was very excited to start working with people again and get in a room, like, that’s really the biggest goal and that’s why I’m heading over again to start working on the next record in LA next year – just get into heaps of rooms with people and just vibe, you know?”

LA dreaming 

“I personally have such a connection and love for LA. I started making the record [At Least I’m Free] over there and that’s where I wanted to be this whole time. And it’s really kind of been sucky that we haven’t been able to go back. So I think that’s another factor as to why we were so keen to start working on [breaking WAAX in] other territories.”

Taking WAAX global 

“I have huge aspirations to take our music globally and, you know, we pride ourselves on being an Australian band but I also feel like our community can be found all over the world. So we really put a lot of energy and effort into engaging with global audiences. And that’s something that’s really started to take flight, which is really exciting for us.”

WAAX plays the Edge Hill Tavern QLD on their ‘At Least I’m Free’ tour on Sunday, November 27. Tickets here.