“In my ten plus years as a working musician, I’ve been told time and time again that I would be more successful if I were quieter, more mysterious, less aggressive, less assertive,” Hether Fortune tells me.
It’s counterintuitive to think that the quieter a musician is, the more they are exalted by the music industry, but it’s something Wax Idols’ front woman, Hether Fortune, has been battling for a decade. Since 2011, she has released three full length albums that tread through dark satirical landscapes. The band just reissued their deeply moody 2015 LP American Tragic on March 10, and are finishing up a new full length right now titled Happy Endings (release date TBA). Wax Idols is playing tomorrow, March 29th, at Brooklyn Bazaar with Decorum and Pop 1280. We caught up with Fortune to give her a chance to speak her mind about her music.
You described your new album as “a fictional story about me, or the protagonist, who has died and yet for some reason retains consciousness.” Where does the single “Everybody Gets What They Want” fit into that story?
EGWTW is lyrically positioned as a self-aware anthem, sarcastically congratulating all of the people who desperately wanted to see the character fail, or literally die, and even congratulating oneself a bit, as death has the potential to be a relief. As I was writing it, I imagined myself floating around, somehow able to hear the true thoughts people were having or see their private reactions upon discovering that I had died. It’s a song about feigned grief and the real nasty, hateful horror that can live inside the human heart. Like, you wanted to see me destroyed because of some petty reason or because you don’t understand me, my choices and identity make you uncomfortable, etc.—so, congrats! And PS: Your soul is rotten. It’s also peppered with the relief I mentioned earlier… sometimes the fight to stay alive in this world when you don’t fit into the boxes other people create for you is exhausting. Sometimes, death is tempting.
Is it safe to assume the album title Happy Ending is sarcastic?
Has your approach to recording changed after so many records? How many people are on this recording?
It’s always changing because I’m always learning more and growing as an artist, on the technical side of things as well. My imagination has expanded a lot over the years as sonic possibilities have become more accessible to me due to increased knowledge and experience.
The whole band is playing on the album, so that’s four of us plus the engineer and producer Monte Vallier that I always work with. He’s been really helpful on every record, but on this one he is even more hands-on. I really just want to see what happens when the project operates on its own without me being such a control freak. At this point, people other than me have dedicated years of their lives to Wax Idols. It’s bigger than me and this album reflects that change.
The last few albums have been hypnotic, textured, and dark. Was it an intentional departure from garage rock?
I never considered Wax Idols “garage rock” to begin with. The first 7″ had a pretty dream pop A-side and a super angular, dark postpunk sounding B-side (“All Too Human” and “William Says,” if you’re curious). I think I got lumped in with that scene because it was a huge part of the way Bay Area music was pigeon holed back when I first started this band, and I was tight with bands like Thee Oh Sees and what not. Lots of amazing artists came out of that scene, but my music never really fit in there. So, no, it wasn’t intentional. My style just became more developed and well-executed over time.
I don’t know much about the music scene in California. Is there a supportive music community? Are there a lot of house shows?
There is a fantastic and very diverse music community all throughout California. Lots of great bands and performers, lots to see and engage with. I’m pretty much a loner nowadays though—I did so much partying and show going in my teen and early 20s and it burnt me out. I don’t go out often anymore but I try to stay up-to-date on what’s happening, listen to everyone’s music and support them in other ways.
After having a bad experience opening up for Pentagram, are you more hesitant to take tours?
Bjork said, “Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times.” Has that been your experience?
This is one of my favorite quotes! I love her so much. And yes, it is my experience. People are still unfortunately so reluctant to take a woman seriously, as exemplified by our country’s decision to put a rape-y clown in office rather than elect a woman who mishandled some emails. It’s a joke. We’ve come a long way and I’m very aware that I have more privileges than so many of the women who came before me, and more privileges than so many people more marginalized than me today, but goddamn it is exhausting and infuriating! In my ten-plus years as a working musician, I’ve been told time and time again that I would be more successful if I were quieter, more mysterious, less aggressive, less assertive, etc. Basically, if I adhered more thoroughly to gender stereotypes. The sad thing is, that’s probably true.
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American Tragic speaks to a lot of the tension in America that is now coming to the surface. Do you think the album takes on new meaning with current politics?
If it takes on new meaning to you, then, yes, I guess it does. I’ve thought about it though, for sure. It feels eerie. That album title came to me out of nowhere and I knew immediately that it was the one, even though at the time it wasn’t relevant lyrically to the content of the album. It was just a feeling, a feeling that I’ve seen manifest in so many frightening ways in the time since. Strange how the right words can come to you before you know how much you’ll need them.
Get Tickets for their Brooklyn Bazaar show here.
Black and White Photos by Kristin Cofer
Color Photos by Nedda Afsari