Interview: Wax Mannequin, “Have a New Name”

Wax Mannequin - Have a New Name

Without exception, new acquaintances inevitably ask us why we focus exclusively on Canadian music – “there’s so much great music where you are…”  My answer is simple: no matter how many new Canadian artists we discover, there are countless more still to find.  One such artist is Wax Mannequin, whose music offers the double delight of being both melodically creative and lyrically clever – an irresistible combination in my book.

The new album, “Have a New Name,” contains eight delightful, witty songs that will likely have the listener by turns wincing and laughing with acute recognition.  This is definitely songwriting for thinkers, and with the contribution of producer Edwin Burnett (who also produced some of Wax Mannequin’s early work), there are inspired and creative touches throughout, most notably the choir that adds backing vocals to several tracks.

“Someone Fixed the Game,” the project’s opening track, sets the tone with a wry look at the ways in which privilege ‘fixes the game’ for those fortunate enough to possess it.  And honestly, any album daring enough to include a track titled “Squirmy Wormy” is worthy of your listen (or, even better, your purchase) – wouldn’t you agree? “People Can Change” adopts a more serious frame of mind, exploring the potential within even the most hopeless of cases:

“I know what they’re saying
If people treat you wrong
Shut ’em out entire seems
A righteous way to
Keep yourself strong
Walk it alone

But people can change”

I am always thrilled to find songwriters who can turn a lyrical phrase to perfection as well as a musical one, and Wax Mannequin fits that bill perfectly.  If you’re looking for some music that will inspire not only a tapping toe but a thoughtful nod, look no further – “Have a New Name” is your perfect next listen.  Highly recommended.

We’re so pleased that Christopher Adeney (aka Wax Mannequin) took the time to speak with us about the new album.

This is the first Wax Mannequin release since 2012; after such an interval, did you approach this project any differently than previous ones?

It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I slowed down on the touring a bit to raise my kids and I’ve been chipping away at  a couple of records. This one was finished first.  Most of these are songs that I have been playing out for a while now. My tunes tend to evolve somewhat over time so these ones, having been pretty well road tested, are probably close to their final form. We took our time with the production of it, fitting in a few hours here and there over the course of three years. Our original intent was a somewhat live-off-the-floor, garagey affair. But when Mark and I decided to bring Edwin Burnett, things began to take a layered, magical Dave Friddmanesque turn.

One section in your bio especially piqued my interest: “Adeney drew from the fact that he’s been making a singular brand of music for two decades, while simultaneously building a suburban life as, in his words, ‘one of the neighbourhood guys, albeit a slightly quirky one.’” Since we don’t tend to focus on the big mainstream acts on our blog, a lot of the musicians with whom we talk juggle multiple lives, so to speak – teaching, working other jobs, building families, etc., whilst simultaneously making music. How do the various facets of your life feed each other?

There is definitely a call and answer between my civilian role and my supervillain musician identity. I think that this is apparent in several of the songs on this record, particularly Boring — it’s about two people who escape from prison-like normalcy to become musicians and find some some dubious but self-actualized end. Many of these tunes explore similar themes of travel, escape from monotony and anti-heroic self-destruction through misadventure.

Wax Mannequin

“Boring” is intriguing enough (in contrast to its title) with its melodies that remind me of (hopefully this doesn’t offend) klezmer music and even a bit of “Fiddler on the Roof.” From the lyrics: “The straight and narrow leads you straight to boring…” Cautionary tale or wishful thinking?

Both I guess. It’s sort of a Faustian morality tale with eastern European cadences. I get the Jerry Bock reference. I was a musical theatre kid, so it’s fun to bring that kind of melodrama to bear from time to time. There is some unconventional matchmaking in there. It starts as a boy meets girl story, but they forge a relationship that’s creative and not romantic and they meet some dubious but self-actualized end. The lyrics of that song have evolved a bit since I recorded it and now the characters end up nomadic, genderless, freed from stifling convention through their debauchery.

Several of the songs incorporate a 12-voice choir for background vocals; how did this come about, and how do you feel about the result?

I loved working with Earth Wind and Choir. They are a rag-tag Hamilton-based group of great singers with lots of personality. I had originally intended for them to sing only on Boring, with its theatrical twists, and we ended up working together on several other songs as well. It was fun to have them in the warehouse studio, horseshoed around the microphones while I played choir director for a day. Annie Shaw and Sarah Good usually steer that ship and I’ve been inviting them out to sing at my live performances wherever possible. I think working with them lends an energy and humanity to my sometimes inhuman songwriting.

What inspired you to include a song about basketball?

I had a job where I would get kids to write songs for me. It was a rough and inspired bunch of inner city kids. Little Liam raised his hand and suggested we write a song about Basketball. So word-by-word and chord-by-chord we came up with the basketball song together. When I playing it for the first time all of the kids grabbed those little classroom instruments — maracas, crow-blocks, sleigh bells on leather loops — all that. They were making a racket and singing along. Then I tried it again with a bunch of balloons. We were singing and the kids were trying to keep the balloons in the air — because the ground was lava. Then they started popping all of the balloons. It was terrible classroom management, but I knew it was a good song. When they finally settled down little Liam raised his hand again. Sounding a bit disappointed, he said that he had wanted it to be a hip-hop song. Everyone else seemed to like it though.

“Someone Fixed the Game” is a particularly appropriate song right now, given recent headlines, although I think you wrote it a couple of years ago; would you write it any differently now?

I tend to rewrite songs as I go anyway, even after they are recorded, but that one hasn’t changed at all. So I suppose I would keep it the same. Particularly the auctioneer part at the end: “The auctioneer is manning the raft / He’s calling out the oars and the mast / If I can bid the other guy down / I will sail home, the rest can drown.” That part works at least as well as ever I dare say.

You have a number of dates coming up on the album release tour; any particular dates to which you’re particularly looking forward?

On July 14th I’m launching my tour at Rivoli in Toronto with Blimp Rock. That will be a good one with an elaborate band. Vancouver at the Wise Hall on July 25 will be off the hook — with Ford Pier and Corwin Fox. I always have fun at the Artswells festival when I play it. It’s August 3rd to the 6th.

Visit Wax Mannequin’s website.

Preview and buy “Have a New Name” on Bandcamp.

Exposed to the wonders of CBC and Montréal Canadiens hockey as a teenager thanks to a satellite dish in rural Kansas, I have been an unabashed lover of all things Canadian ever since. I am a lifelong collector of esoteric and varied music, a teacher of piano, an avid reader, and a stamp/coin collector. In real life, I work in the field of technology.

Come find me on Goodreads.

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