Wax Mannequin (Christopher Adeney) is a Hamilton institution, a Canadian treasure and a world class artist. Making music for over two decades, Wax Mannequin has created quite the reputation for himself; he is known as an incredible showman and performer, a gifted songwriter and something of a modern day troubadour. He has traversed the country many times and gone to many places across the world with his funky, sometimes silly and always compelling songs. Wax Mannequin is releasing a brand new album, Have A New Name, and is about to embark on a lengthy tour to promote this record. One thing you should know right away is that this record is incredible. The songwriting is tender and nuanced and incredibly evocative. Its the kind of record that will make you close your eyes and spend an hour daydreaming. This record also features the work of other notable Hamilton musical masterminds: Edwin Burnett, Mark Raymond, Annie Shaw, and the full Earth Wind and Choir group. That’s a lot of talent on one album.
A note before the interview is that I texted Chris to set up a time to meet at The Brain in Hamilton (where else would we possibly meet?) and I made reference to getting his phone number off a truck stop bathroom wall. Hilarious joke, I know. Chris did not respond acknowledging this joke but instead in person said: “I suppose I should have LOL’d”, which was a lot funnier than whatever joke I was trying to make. The interview went swimmingly and Chris is a gem.
Q – How did this record come together?
A lot of the interesting sounds on the album are because of the collaboration between myself and Edwin Burnett. I met him when he lived in London studying music production and we recorded my first record together back in 2001. Edwin now lives in Hamilton and we worked on this album. It originally started as a collaboration between Mark Raymond and me. Mark always has had a hand in whatever I record and I oft play live. I play with him as much as I can. I like to think we get each in some unique way, but lots of people must think this about him because he is amicable and grumpy and brilliant. We were making this record and Mark didn’t want to play bass this time, which surprised me. He said he wanted to play drums and I thought whatever he does is gonna be great. His magic drums are all over the record. He did some of the early recording — some demoing — and then we decided to get Edwin in to produce. Edwin was more ambitious about the production so it has his rich, nuanced sound. Then Andy Magoffin mastered. Andy is another tasteful idea guy who I love working with. It was magical meeting between garagey rough-and readiness that Mark and I were planning and the nice production that Edwin brought.
Q – I saw something describe you as a ‘student of the human psyche’, is this accurate?
Not in any formal way. Unless first year psych at McMaster counts.
Well in that case I’m a student of the human psyche because I took that Dr. Dick Day course too.
I think that qualifies us both as students of the human psyche. They are still watching the same VHS tapes in some dungeon.Q – You touch on so much nuanced human emotion and abstract feelings in your songs. How do you convey these complicated things in songs?
I’m always striving for something really personal when writing a song. And I think the most interesting subject matter are the things I try not to think about. It’s an exorcism of an idea or a thought and that’s why some people have a reaction to my music where they think ‘is he ok?”. It’s because I take an idea (selfishness, self-loathing etc) to the absolute extreme and see if I can find humour or tragedy by doing that and then fitting that into a song. Which is maybe asking a lot from people who want to engage with something simple and dancy, but it’s just what interests me in song writing. Maybe I’m less a student of the human psyche and more… trying to expel my own psyche until there is nothing but purity left.
Maybe I’m less a student of the human psyche and more … trying to expel my own psyche until there is nothing but purity left.
Q – How do your songs typically come together?
These days I usually get tunes in my head, especially if I’m doing something around the house; cleaning or cutting the grass or something else repetitive. Then the melodies come and I will usually have words or at least vowel sounds that come out. From that I’m able to decipher words that will fit the sounds. Usually the chorus comes to me first and this gives me the neurotic little seed that I can elaborate on and tell a story about. Sometimes it’s not so organic–I do sit down and write too, and I have a little notebook of ideas for songs I want to complete. Sometimes I get around to those. So these are the two ways. One is organic and automatic and the other is more laboured. Both modes of writing produce results that I like. It’s nice when the songs come to me fully formed, though, because it’s less work.
Q – Do you do other types of writing?
I used to write short stories incessantly on a regular basis and kind of got out of it. But I have grand plans to get that part rolling again. Other people in my family write more prolifically – I guess I got burned out. I used to send out a story every week or two through my mailing list — magic realism tellings of my touring experiences. Then I drifted into more surreal stories and I’d build a mythology out of it. At a certain point it got terrifying to do that and to see people’s confused reactions. I try to avoid suffering if at all possible and writing can be pretty painful. I mean the whole thing is suffering but you know, I pick and choose my battles.
Q – Can you tell us about the song ‘Boring’?
This started off as… like a call-and-answer with the audience. Like a heckling song. It’s a ridiculous story about people who become musicians and throw away their ordinary lives to dubious ends. It is a celebration of a wayward lifestyle. The moral of the story isn’t that it’s necessarily a good idea to give up on the straight and narrow but it’s certainly a lot more interesting to live life pursuing a passion… and I think that’s true — any of us who have passion are somewhat inoculated against some of the terror of life and the jail of the routine. Some people don’t realize how trapped they become because they can’t imagine breaking away from conventional comforts, luxuries, monotonies. Early on in my touring career, my 20s, I had this fear of not being able to go back if I traveled. The idea of falling off the track permanently and not knowing where that would lead was compelling and scary – the idea of falling off the track and putting faith in my scattered brain and the kindness of strangers. I don’t regret doing it at all and I think any of us who has an interest or a passion and finds fulfillment in strange things like music and art and stories are lucky because we can pursue as far and as long as we want. It can be treacherous and dangerous and anything but boring. There are things to be afraid of when you leave the comforts behind, but there is a lot less to be afraid of than one might expect.
Some people don’t realize how trapped they become because they haven’t broken away from conventional comforts and luxuries.
Q – What do you make of that old phrase “Only Boring People Are Bored”?
I think being bored is probably healthy but at a certain point it stops being boredom and becomes misplaced, undefinable anxiety that needs to find an outlet. Sometimes people criticize other people or criticize their hobbies or pursuits because they lack an internal life. I see people finding fault in others as their hobby – small people do that and I think they can be cured through music and danger.
Q – Can you tell me a little about the last song on your record, The Longest Hour? It is beautiful and also kind of heartbreaking. Where did that song come from?
It’s supposed to be pretty bleak. I wrote when I felt trapped on tour. It’s not autobiographical, but but a storied song about someone who wanders endlessly for no particular good reason and that’s what touring feels like at the darker times. I wandered about Germany and thought about getting home to my family.
Q – You are known for your captivating live shows. How much consideration do you give to playing live and what do you think about the trends in lower show attendance these days?
I think its asking a lot for people to leave their house and attend a show. And I’m incredibly grateful when it happens but, at the same time, I think that there are always ebbs and flows in show attendance. There is more to keep us at home these days but I’m convinced that live performance is rare, valuable and life-changing at its best – things like live theater or music or art… all that. It is easy to forget that if you spend a lot of time at home with devices. When I’m home with my video games it’s hard to remember the particular magic of being part of something real — it can be hard to remember the excitement and impossible to explain.
I’m convinced that live performance is rare and is valuable and is life changing at its best.
Q – What bands do you like to see live?
I could name lots of close friends but it would seem like nepotism… B.A. Rae Spoon, Jenny Mitchell, Geoff Berner. I’m a superfan and feel fortunate when I get to become friends with them. I like the New Pornographers – they are such good song writers and so mysterious. Bands like that keep me going.
Q – What do your kids think about your music?
They like it and they are the best judges of my music. I know which songs are my best because they will tell me. They are very supportive but they will tell me what’s best for sure,and which ones aren’t as interesting. They don’t want to be rude but I can tell.
Q – How does it feel to be a working artist in Hamilton these days, what do you make of our changing city?
I was born in Burlington, grew up in Caledonia and moved to Hamilton when I was 19. I don’t think it has changed as much as people say. It’s great, fine, and there are more interesting things happening, boring and concerning things still happening. Still a right-size city for me — not too big and not too small and I still know a lot of people when I walk down the street. That’s good. It is a paradoxically tough and amazing town for music and it always has been. I always knew I’d stay — when I first moved here. As a Caledonian, Hamilton was the big city for me where we’d watch movies and go to the arcade.
Q – You have toured extensively across Canada – are there any cities besides the obvious big ones that you think more young bands should visit?
The drives are long and I wouldn’t blame anyone for flying. There are many great spots to play along the way though. Saskatoon always has a really neat scene. It took me a few years to realize how great that city is. There are so many communities throughout BC — like small mountain towns that put on events and festivals. My friends Sean and Carla run the Tiny Lights festival out of YMIR in BC — a town of 500 or so people. It’s wonderful. Sudbury reminds me of old Hamilton. Whitehorse and Dawson City is as far north as I’ve gone. I’ve toured a lot but I still think of myself as just getting revved up. Best of both worlds.
WAX MANNEQUIN TOUR DATES
Sat. July 14 :: The Rivoli :: Toronto ON (TBC)
Wed. July 18 :: The Townehouse :: Sudbury ON
Thurs. July 19 :: Downtown Street Fest :: Sault Sainte Marie ON
Fri. July 20 :: The Foundry :: Thunder Bay ON
Sat. July 21 :: Brandon Folk Fest :: Brandon, MB (TBC)
Sun. July 22 :: Johnnie’s Social Club :: Flin Flon MB
Mon. July 23 :: Regina SK (TBC)
Tue. July 24 :: Cafe Koi :: Calgary AB
Wed. July 25 :: Royal On Baker :: Nelson BC
Thurs. July 26 :: The Wise Hall (Lounge) :: Vancouver BC
Fri. July 27 :: Hootstock :: Forest Grove BC
Mon. July 30 :: Caetani House Studio :: Vernon BC
Tue, July 31 :: Williams Lake BC (TBC)
Wed. August 1 :: Remedies Lounge :: Fort St. John BC
August 3-6 :: Artswells :: Wells BC
Wed. August 8 :: Nancy O’s :: Prince George BC
Thurs. August 9 :: Vanderhoof BC (TBC)
August 10-12 :: MOM Festival :: Fort St James, BC
Tues. August 14 :: The Aviary :: Edmonton AB
Wed. August 15 :: Black Cat Tavern :: Saskatoon, SK
Thurs. August 16 :: The Windsor Hotel :: Winnipeg MB
Fri. August 17 :: The Foundry :: Thunder Bay ON
Sat. August 18 :: Lop Lops :: Sault Ste Marie, ON
*banner photo by Peter Michael Wilson