Last month, Meat Wave released their second full-length for Side One Dummy, called The Incessant. Recorded by engineer Steve Albini, the album finds the band refining their take on unabashed, hook-heavy post-punk. We spoke with singer/guitarist Chris Sutter about the record’s lyrics, many of which address themes like confrontation and accountability, yet there’s also a sense of dark humor that’s discreetly built-in. Additionally, we talked about the album’s writing process, what it was like working with Albini, their upcoming European tour and more. The band’s lineup is solidified by bassist Joe Gac and drummer Ryan Wizniak, and don’t forget to check out their video for “Run You Out” after the interview.
Bill – Much of the album’s lyrics deal with escapism. What were some of the things that inspired your songwriting this time around?
Chris – I think I just honed it in on a personal level, just like looking at my life. I found myself kind of running away from everything, so I feel like the album was confronting that and confronting how I would run away from my issues and run away from my problems. A lot of our music in the past was more outward looking, like my relationship with the world around me. This album was my relationship with me and my internal world. That’s what inspired it the most really, just confrontation with yourself and asking yourself, “Why am I running away from my problems or trying to get out of something when I can instead just more directly take it on?”
Bill – Given that your last record came out less than two years ago, at what point did you begin writing songs for The Incessant and how soon after did you realize that an album was coming together?
Chris – Well, we recorded Delusion Moon in late 2013. It didn’t come out until late 2015, so there was kind of a lot of waiting around. Joe, (Gac) he works really quickly and I think him and I did a couple of overdub sessions for Delusion Moon, but mostly it was done very quickly. So, we were just waiting to find a label to put that out. It was soon after that that we started writing. “Leopard Print Jet Ski” came super early and “No Light” came early too. I think The Incessant was written in kind of three sessions in between tours. After the first writing session and seeing what we had, like I was saying, these were just personal songs. It felt very strange and very different to be putting myself out there like that. We were unsure of whether we were going to take this direction or maybe start over. That was talked about, but we saw it through. It was about three sessions, probably all of 2014. We had a few songs after 2014, 2015 a few more and then in 2016 it kind of came to fruition. We were wondering if Steve Albini was available before we had our record even really written. We set a deadline for ourselves of May 2016, so the beginning of 2016 is when we really got it all together and it started making sense.
Bill – So what exactly happened that led to you guys getting in touch with Steve?
Chris – Well, we were going to do it by ourselves and maybe go somewhere. We wanted to change it up, no matter what. We were going to maybe travel somewhere and do it with Joe recording once again, or we were talking about who would be amazing to work with. I think we all immediately agreed that working with Steve would be a dream. So, through our label and our manager, because he’s worked with a lot of Side One Dummy artists, we just contacted him to see if he was available and willing to do it. It was pretty much just as simple as that. We booked four days and we did it in four days.
Bill – How would you describe your time in the studio and what do you like best about how the recording turned out?
Chris – The time in the studio was really nice. I think we went in kind of intimidated for obvious reasons. Upon meeting him and upon starting to track with him, it all just washed away. He’s just a very calm, cool, funny guy. I think he was just down to work with us and do whatever we wanted. It was kind of dream, you know? It was very smooth sailing. We knew what we had to do and I think it was the perfect amount of time to do it. There was no waiting around, we were always working. I think with how the recording turned out, it’s just very raw and we worked beforehand a lot. We recorded it a couple times ourselves just to see how it was turning out, so we kind of knew what we were getting in a sense. I think the recording is just very real sounding and it’s very raw. There’s no bullshit. That’s what I like most about it, it is what it is.
Bill – Going back to the lyrics, there’s no denying that most of the album’s lyrics are fairly personal and address things like anxiety and self-doubt. Did you ever feel apprehensive when writing about these kinds of topics?
Chris – Yeah, definitely. Like I said, we started writing it and there was just this kind of self-doubt or self-consciousness about writing about my life like I never had before. I had gone through a long relationship that had ended, so I was in a new place. It just felt very unsure, but for some reason I was writing about that, so it felt like it would be phony to do anything else. Even still to this day, like the day the record came out, it just kind of bummed me out. Journalists or writers, if they’re writing about the record, they’re going off a one-sheet, like what the record’s about. So, they’re writing about my life, you know? It’s like, there’s more to it, which I should have known going into it. And I did know, but again, the record is what it is. I’m in a better place now and I feel better. There’s still self-doubt, but I try to stand by it. I think you can find it in the record, like a moving on of sorts. That was then, I did that, and you know, what’s next?
Bill – It almost sounds like it was necessary in a sense, like a cathartic process…
Chris – It was very cathartic. And when you hold a magnifying glass up to something, you can see things that you hadn’t seen before. I think it was really helpful for me. Now it’s a little overkill maybe, but I’m in different place, again. So it was good for me. I feel good about it.
Bill – It almost feels like the songs are sequenced in a way that they tell a story. Was it your intent to do that or did it just happen on its own?
Chris – It really just kind of happened. We were actually having trouble coming up with an order for the tracks. Our label, Side One Dummy, they all sat down and listened to it. They’re like the best label in the world and they just really care. My friend Jamie who works at the label, she really took care of it. We had a lot of discussions about how we would present the record. But they sat down and they came up with basically the track listing that is on the record. They said that they saw a narrative here and an arc there, and it kind of blew our minds. We were so distracted or deep into it that we didn’t know what a good track listing would be. I give all the credit to them as far as that goes, but I’m super happy with it. I think it flows nicely and you can kind of follow a narrative in it.
Bill – Tell me about the video that you made for “Run You Out.”
Chris – We worked with my friend Ryan Ohm, who I’ve known for years from playing in bands. He used to live in Elmhurst. In Elmhurst, probably about ten years ago, they were having crazy house shows there. Me and Ryan’s old band, Truman & His Trophy, would go and play there a bunch, so that’s how I know him. As time went on, he began making all these amazing videos for bands in the area. So, we got together and he came up with the loose concept of us in the woods and winter, driving around. And we kind of just took it from there. It was really fun. We were just in a forest preserve, driving around and coming up with ideas, kind of on the spot. He edited it beautifully. It was really fun.
Bill – What were some of the highlights from your recent record release show at Empty Bottle?
Chris – It was crazy. The lineup was a dream lineup for us. I think we really respect and love all those bands so much. Paper Mice I saw years ago and they straight up blew my mind, so now to know those guys and to have them play is kind of otherworldly. And Melkbelly and Foul Tip as well are just such good friends and good people and make amazing music. So I think that was amazing for us, and also to see people respond to the new songs. I think the record had been out a week, so to see people singing and getting into it was like a dream. It was so great.
Bill – What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming shows in the UK and Europe?
Chris – I think I’ve said this a bunch, but when we go out there it’s just kind of a different world all together as far as how people treat bands. I don’t know exactly why, if it’s because we’re from out of town or because that’s just what they do. But the hospitality and the respect for punk bands is unparalleled. From the audience to the promoter, it’s just a new level of appreciation for music, kind of on both ends. So it makes it a real joy to go out there. And obviously all the history and beauty that’s there, so we always have a fantastic time. We’re really looking forward to it and to playing the new songs too.
Bill – What else do you guys have planned for 2017 and beyond?
Chris – In the summer I think we’re going to do a lot of U.S. touring. We still haven’t hit a lot of places, especially the western United States on this record. We just kind of want to hit everywhere, maybe even twice over. I think it’s going to be a hard-hitting year of touring. And just making music; we have plans to record a song for a split with a friend’s band. So I think we’re going to make music and just keep playing shows, as many as we can.