by Erik Oldman
There are a few bands that successfully blur the conventions and techniques between different genres.
Starting in the late 60s, progressive psychedelic bands such as Yes and King Crimson led the way in taking a standard rock form then adding and experimenting with various elements from classical, jazz, show tunes, and folk elements into their songwriting process. Fast forward to the 1990s when bands like Mr. Bungle led the mash-up brigade by combining different, and often non-sequitur genres: Ska, Thrash, Funk, and 60’s Surf Pop within individual songs. Bands such as Opeth, Meshuggah, and Dillinger Escape Plan were also experimenting with form and meter, along with different genre elements. However, instead of standard rock arrangements, these groups built upon blast beats, heavy riffing, and guttural singing from pioneering death metal bands such as Death, Morbid Angel, and Suffocation.
My first experience seeing Without Waves was at a show at Bottom Lounge here in Chicago about a year ago. They started off with a lethargic and atmospheric doom riff, abruptly shifting into some harmonized power metal guitar riffs, and then straightaway into a brutal riff one would expect from an earlier incarnation of Dillinger Escape Plan. After listening to the first two tunes, my immediate thought was “Now here is a local band that does some awesome genre blending and experimentation”.
Garry Naples’ drumming sets the pace with a jazz sensibility. It’s not so much about the foundational rhythm you find in traditional metal. It is a pulse. The double bass is working there—tight and intricate—but again in a jazz sense, accenting the music where needed. Anthony Cwan’s and Zac Lombardi’s guitar playing meshes tightly, with harmony lines and dense rhythm passages turning on the drop of a dime into different textures. John Piccillo’s solid bass playing nimbly follows the pulse of the drums. Anthony Cwan’s vocals match at every bit. His ability to change from guttural, to screams, to clean singing, is reminiscent of a young Mike Patton.
This music is fearless. Just as what has been said about Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy in the 1960’s, or what the French patronage said about Stravinsky in the early 20th century after hearing the first performance of his Rite of Spring (there was a riot afterwards). This is music is unconventional. It’s challenging to listen to, but what these four guys produce is a vital artistic statement about metal and current day music—not just pop music, but 21st century composed music.
Following is an interview with Anthony, Zac, John and Garry, to get a sense of what Without Waves is all about, in their own words.
RIC: How did the band come together?
Anthony: Well, three out of the four of us have been playing together since high school? Garry (drums), Zac (guitar), and I used to play in a thrash band called Calgary. We gigged around town for several years, which became easier once we were of age. I met John (bass) at one of our shows in college. We were playing some shit bar that will remain nameless. The sound guy had a decibel meter and kept telling us to turn it down. Like any young thrash band, we pretended not to hear and continued on with our thrashing. But John and I hit it off. We found out we went to the same school, kept in touch, and low and behold he was in the band within about six months. About six or seven months after that, we decided to go a different route musically. Our tastes had grown quite diverse and we felt a bit limited by the thrash label. Without Waves was born in the summer of 2010, and we haven’t looked back since.
RIC: You have such a dynamic and textural sound – It’s refreshing to hear a band that mixes different elements from other genres into their sound. I love how the moods change dramatically in your material; tell us about what you draw your inspirations from for the project?
Anthony: Thanks for the kind words! Our sound stems from our experimental impulses. Garry once phrased it as “evolution through experimentation.” It makes sense really. The more you tweak something, the more it changes and eventually takes on a different form. We write with a “no boundaries” mentality. It allows us to delve deep into our creative process without becoming nervous about presenting a certain riff or melody. At some point, I feel most metal musicians, or all musicians for that matter, have had that underlying sense of fear when it comes to trying something new or different. I can remember feeling that way myself at times, scared to present an idea due to a fear of rejection. That fear stems from that purist metal mentality of something not being heavy or metal enough. To me, metal is universal. “Heavy” is about emotion more than anything, and that’s what we try to do with this band. Being limitless allows us to explore and incorporate all different types of music into our sound. It allows us to be melodically driven when a song calls for it. And honestly, it makes things a lot more interesting.
RIC: Let’s talk about your album Scab Platter, tell us about the subject matter in the songs. Was there any life experiences that influenced the lyrics?
Anthony: We put everything we had into that record. Most of the music had been written about a year and a half before its official release. It’s snapshot of who we were at the time, both individually and collectively.
“Tradition of Fear” is definitely the thrashiest song on the album, and its lyrics follow suit: an angry, apathetic view of politics with a “call to arms” so to speak….that need to rebel against the status quo. We wrote it when things in the country were going haywire in 2008-09, then again, when aren’t things going haywire in this country.
“The Way To Crash And Burn” is about the loss of my father. He died back in ‘07. Naturally, it had a profound effect on me. I won’t get too deep into it, but the song is basically about my frustration with my father not wanting to get his shit together and take care of himself. It’s depressing when a person you love completely gives up, no matter what you say or do. But that’s life, and you learn to live with it. And that’s all I need to say about that.
“Scab Platter” is Zac’s creation, both lyrically and musically. He and Garry put so much hard work into this tune, hashing it out rehearsal after rehearsal. We went into the studio to record it thinking we could use a click track (No fucking way!). Garry and Zac recorded the song without a click. It’s absurdly awesome. Lyrically, the song is about the fear of the unknown. We were 22 or 23 at the time wondering what the hell we were going to do with our lives. Zac had some personal things he was going through at the time.
He eventually put his thoughts down on paper and that was all she wrote.
“Dhyana” is the turning point on the record. After all of the negativity that spawned over the first half of the album, this song is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s one of our finest moments.
“Sativa Sunrise” was Zac’s creation. It’s the exclamation point on the record; a fabulous instrumental with intricately woven melodies. Zac is like a mad scientist when it comes to his songwriting. The final product came out beautifully. To be honest, I’m kind of envious of his style, but at least I get to reap the benefits.
RIC: Noting the intro track, Avici, the short instrumental  and Pieta, they function the way different parts of a symphonic piece work together. Avici, which gives is a nice set up, and 404 and pieta make for some interesting mood shifts between the longer tracks. Did the music come from a single conceptual thread compositional piece or was this a collection of individual tunes?
Zac: It was never intended to be a concept record or one piece in and of itself. However, it was written over a considerable period of time and changes which we all experienced in different ways. The whole initial point of this band was to be honest with ourselves. So, I think that as we changed, the music did too.
Zac: Avici was a little something Cwan came up with to open the live show, so we liked how it sounded on the record. “404” and “Pieta” were originally short compositions of mine that were never intended to be “band material”. Cwan thought it would be a good idea to track them, and then introduced lyrics to “pieta.” We all loved it, tweaked the ideas a little more, and they were done.
RIC: Since you all have some great dynamics and textures with your material, we’d want to get a sense of where that comes from. Give us your top five desert island disks – top five albums you would take with you.
Anthony: Jeff Buckley – Grace, Sunna – One Minute Silence, Ulver – Shadows Of The Sun, Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works, Portishead – Dummy
Zac: Wow, this is tough. Cynic, FOCUS – Zappa – The Grand Wazoo – King Crimson, Discipline – Tool, Lateralus – Dillinger Escape Plan – Irony is a Dead Scene.
Garry: Dissection – Storm of the Lights Bane, Miles Davis – Four and More, Cryptopsy – None So Vile, Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet, Black Sabbath – Sabotage
John: Thrice – Vheissu, Washed Out – Within and Without, In Flames – The Jester Race, Opeth – Blackwater Park, Gustav Holst – The Planets
RIC: When did you first realize you wanted to create music?
Zac: That’s really what drew me to playing in the first place. The idea that I could “write, or invent” something was incredible. Which led to a lot of horrible riffs. It’s great.
Anthony: I had been drawn to music at a very early age. I remember being three or four listening to my mother sing around the house and thinking, “I want to do that.” She has an incredible singing voice. I started writing songs around nine or ten. They were terrible. I got my first guitar out of a JCPenney catalog at thirteen and began to compose a few months after that. Again, the songs were terrible, but everything blossomed from there.
John: I grew up in a musical household. My mom worked at an Arts Alliance/Venue, and my dad played guitar occasionally. I took piano lessons, but like most kids I hated it and quit as soon as I could. I didn’t pick up another instrument until college. Mostly out of just boredom I guess, I needed a hobby (besides video games). After a few years a couple buddies who played guitar and drums told me they needed a bass player to complete the band, so I obliged them. After two hours of playing bass I was better than I ever was at guitar, and it just made sense. Music became such a passion that I knew I wouldn’t ever stop playing/learning/creating.
RIC: What are the plans for this coming year? tours. shows more recording?
Anthony: Our focus is on releasing the new EP, which we hope to have out by the end of the year. One of our goals this year is to also film our first video. On top of that, we’ve been writing a ton of new material that’s all over the place. We have songs that are heavier than anything we’ve ever done juxtaposed with some of the most melancholic tunes we’ve ever composed. Good things are on the horizon.
RIC: I heard briefly about your fundraiser show from Mark Sugar, from Trials, can you tell us what happened with you guys?
Anthony: We have a huge show at Cobra Lounge on Friday Sept. 21st! It’s a benefit show for us actually. Back in June, three out of the four band members were displaced by an apartment fire. We lost a lot of our belongings and had to move out immediately. It’s the type of situation you think will never happen to you. Honestly, it’s been a bit life changing. Due to the fire, our plans to release a new EP were put on hold. So the good folks at Unholy Empire decided to throw us a “chip-in” party! All of the door money is going to us and will go towards finishing the EP! We’re really excited about it! We’re playing with our good friends Trials and Psychopathic Daze. We’re also playing as Zero Tolerance, our Death tribute band! There will be free PBR from 9-10! It’s going to be a great time!
RIC: Are there any other bands in Chicago (including the burbs) that you want to recommend or give a shout out to?
Anthony: There are way too many to name, but here is a list of bands we really dig. Everyone and their Grandma should listen to these bands:
Trials, Jar’d Loose, Czar, Yakuza, Arbogast, Kastasyde, Never We See, Centaurus, Alma Negra, Air Raid
Ways to find Without Waves:
Without Waves is a Featured Artist in the September 2012 podcast.