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Wake interview (08/2022)

With: Ryan Kennedy
Conducted by: musclassia (skype)
Published: 08.08.2022

Band profile:


Wake's evolution within the past few years, across records such as Misery Rites, Devouring Ruin and Confluence, has been one of the more remarkable in the extreme metal scene. Following the release of their newest album, Thought Form Descent (released on 22 July 2022), I spoke with bassist Ryan Kennedy about the band's recent history, developing style and musical ambitions.

Of note, I edited a couple of snippets of this interview in which we encountered sound issues using my non-existent video editing skills, which will explain any awkward transitions in the video. I've also copied the edited transcript of the interview below for those who prefer to read, or who enjoy listening to my voice as little as I do:

Matt: Alright, good to meet you Ryan. To start with, probably the main reason I chose to interview you out of all the guys in the band is the convenience of the time difference for the slots each of you could interview during, but I was also interested in clarifying some information in our database that Metal-Archives has as well that may or may not be true. You were originally in Wake as drummer from 2011 to 2013, and in 2017 rejoined as bassist, is that accurate information?

Ryan: It is, I probably know who put that in Metal-Archives, actually.

Matt: Very good. To me that’s interesting, because there’s quite a stark difference in how Wake sounded back on the early records like Leeches and False, compared to how they’ve sounded since you’ve rejoined. Did you feel like there was a shift that had been ongoing when you rejoined the band, or do you think that mentality to expand was there even in the early years you were there?

Ryan: That’s a really good question, and I really do think that when I came back, it was a catalyst for sure, but it wasn’t because of me, or me having a different instrument. It’s because all the ideas that were maybe boiling around for at least 2 or 3 years before that, there was now the perfect form to say ‘okay, we’re just going to do them’. There’s nobody in the room who isn’t supporting this anymore, so now the mentality is that we’re just going to go for it, and let the pieces of what we were working on with the last couple of records, like Misery Rites and even Sowing The Seeds…, grow. We feel that we don’t have anything from those previous albums as canon anymore.

I think a big part of that is that we’re a band that’s really big on ‘in the room’, as in what’s happening in the room as a group is what’s central to the output. I think, there had never really been anyone playing bass before who was willing to step up and take as big of a crack as I was, and it’s probably because I spent so many years playing guitar, drums and all kinds of instruments in other bands. Most people who played bass in Wake before were either just bass players or just played guitar, so they didn’t have much experience with composing music; they were great players for the most part, but playing was the extent of what they did. So the shift was in the room; when I played drums in the band, the mentality was ‘fast, grinding riffs and drums’, you know what I’m talking about. The dynamic is ‘it’s heavy’, and that’s it. In the years I wasn’t in the band, there was a lot of other experimentation, but it never had as many layers as what we wanted to do with Devouring Ruin, which was the output of when I rejoined the band. So yeah, I think that it’s not necessarily because of me having some great idea, more it was just the room was in the right place to go with it, and since then we’ve had the same ethos for every song we’ve put together, which is a fair few tracks!

Matt: It’s been five years now since you’ve been in the band, and there’s been quite a few releases since then. I was watching some other interviews you and the band had done, and I saw one where you mentioned that you’d been working on the material for this album since back in 2019. Was there just a massive glut of productivity for a couple of years?

Ryan: Yeah, oh yeah. And it comes back to what I just spent a huge amount of time talking about, of how once that dynamic was set, we just rolled with it. When you have the right group, it’s less friction really. Friction comes in weird places; it’s not just disagreeing about a part or saying ‘I don’t like that riff’, it’s like a fundamental problem with discourse that can just lead you to not finish anything. And when you have five people where there’s no problem like that at all, even when people disagree all the time, you still manage to get way more done. That’s pretty much been the reason why, and also you know, we would have been on tour a lot more in the last 2 years had we been able to, but we didn’t want to stop working on what we were working on, so we would just take that effort and push it into new material.

So yeah, we started working on Thought Form Descent pretty much right after we finished Confluence, right after it was announced we were right back writing Thought Form Descent. It was 2 or 3 years of just writing and not doing any other part of being a band.

Matt: With a long period like that, particularly while you’ve had other records to promote alongside, has there been a restlessness having these songs in an advanced stage and not being in a position to do anything with them, which might drive you to tinker with them, or did you have them in a fairly solid form that you were content to sit on while you were promoting Devouring Ruin and Confluence?

Ryan: I would say that’s something that this band has always had, as in we’re always off onto the next thing before the other thing comes out. That’s been like that since I first started playing with Rob and Kyle in 2011. Yeah, basically it’s the latter of what you said, it’s like ‘it’s done’, and we’re already off writing something completely new even while we’re promoting the record that just came out. It always feels like the ‘new’ album is way older than it actually is; the release date for Thought Form Descent was last week, and these songs already feel old to us. We never like to play songs for a long time, we always want to be working on something different, it’s part of that curiosity that comes from our group. And that’s not new at all, that’s just who we are. We’ve managed to self-select in this band for people who always have a curiosity for doing something new; they don’t want to play the same thing again, they want to do the same thing but a little different, all the time. Basically, it’s the latter, we finished it, then sat on it before it came out, and now we’re already off on another project!

Matt: That’s very fair, I kind of get the same feeling with my band [mandatory plug for Vulgaris]; by the time the album or song’s come out, I’m so done with it.

Ryan: Yeah, exactly.

Matt: But yeah, as I hinted at earlier, there’s kind of a stark contrast between that very brief-length, straight-to-the-jugular kind of grindcore/hardcore of the early years, and you’ve now got songs that are flirting with or going beyond 10 minutes. I read the Anatomy Of Wake article on Heavy Blog Is Heavy, and everyone mentioned Rush albums, so I’m assuming there’s a prog vibe in the band, but going to do these 10-minute songs, was that due to those influences, or was it like a conscious feeling of ‘if we’re going to grow, that’s an obvious direction to go as a band, to expand outwards from such short songs into how big and epic you can make yourselves’?

Ryan: Actually no, it was pretty natural. In retrospect though, it’s a really stark difference. It didn’t happen on purpose, but it happened very fast. If you listen to Misery Rites and almost all the songs are 2 minutes long, just like Sowing, just like False, like all our previous records, except for one at the end of the album, which was 6 minutes long and has some long progressions. That was about the time that I rejoined the band. Wake tends to do the same thing, where the last song on each record will be the last song that got worked on as well, so that [“Burial Ground”] had been the last one they were working on right before I joined the band, and they were like ‘we don’t want to stop doing that!’

We had this one, and now we wanted to do it all the time, so that was why the next record, Devouring Ruin, had a 10-minute song like you said, and 4 songs over 6 minutes, a lot of longer songs, because suddenly that was what we wanted to do. And that’s what happened, but no one ever said ‘I’m tired of these short songs, let’s do longer songs’; I think they just, without me, made one that everyone really liked, and then we all decided to just keep making them, because that was fun. And yeah, today, as you say, a lot of the stuff on the newer records is quite a bit longer, and there’s very few shorter songs, so I guess it stuck.

Matt: Yeah, I mean it works pretty great, I think most of the super-long ones are probably my favourites, like “Disparity And Chaos”. Still, there’s new skills involved in learning to pace out music over that length, and also to play around with subtle layering and melodic infusions that you’ve got going on with the new albums. How much like teething issues did you encounter when you were starting to bleed in these new approaches into the writing style?

Ryan: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And that, I do think, a big part of that was me and the drummer Josh. I’ve known Josh since he was like 14, and we got to do something we’ve never gotten to do before, which was to have a relationship in the band as a rhythm group. I’d always played drums before in bands that had toured with bands Josh had played drums in, so we both knew each other well and had played drums alongside each other, but we’d never gotten to actually work together in a band, and we sort of applied what we wanted to hear directly to how the rhythm parts would flow, which I think hadn’t ever happened in this band before, and I think that’s the beginning of what you’re describing as the teething issues. Before, it’s like, there’s driving melody from the two people playing guitar, and then there’s a bass that just follows the guitar, and me and Josh had said ‘well, we’re going to switch it up, I’m not going to do that anymore, I’ll do other stuff’.

At first, actually, there really wasn’t a lot of friction; there was a little bit of surprise, and then everyone really liked it. Nobody was mad, but it was a sense of ‘this isn’t how we usually do it’. But then, when we worked on, I think it was maybe the second song we worked on, which I think was “Monuments To Impiety” from Devouring Ruin, that was when people started to go, ‘now, you’re not just going to play the chord we’re playing, you’re going to play something else, which means that we can do whatever we want’. And that was a big change for the dynamic of the band; I like to compare that change for us, maybe giving ourselves a little too much credit, but it reminds me of some of “Nocturnes” by Claude Debussy, which is a chamber music piece that has a lot of good relationships between the cellos and the violins. Actually, we made a playlist when Devouring Ruin came out and I put one of the movements on there, and no one noticed, so I guess nobody got that except me! Still, the idea I had to do stuff like that, bass parts moving up and down with their own movement, and then Arjun and Rob can play the riffs and have it shift underneath.

I guess that’s not really teething; it was a pretty sudden difference, and I think it took us a long time to perfect that, but I don’t think anyone was upset. So I guess that’s a really long way of saying ‘not that much’!

Matt: Well, it’s good that it went smoothly, with everyone getting on board!

Ryan: To give you a clue, if you ask a question like that, you’re going to get an essay on Claude Debussy from me! Me giving you a 30-minute window, I’ve given you some trouble here!

Matt: Don’t worry, I think I’m on pace! It’s going to be alright. Now, before we talk more about the latest record, I’d like to go back to Confluence, just because I loved it when it came out, and I feel like nobody else talked about it, because it was only a few months after Devouring Ruin, which obviously had done really well. I was picking up quite a lot of maybe post-rock, post-metal influences in some of the lighter tremolos that are weaved in, and some of the ways that, particularly towards the end of “Disparity And Chaos”, when it’s building and repeating that pattern for minutes on end. Was that a conscious influence on that album?

Ryan: Yeah, definitely. We were all huge fans of, I guess it would be the early-mid era of Hydra Head Records, so like the second Pelican record, Jesu when he was on Hydra Head for a couple of records around 2006, stuff like that. I personally find that song really heavily influenced by some Emperor songs, that’s just me, but yes, you’re definitely right. There’s definitely, it wasn’t on Hydra Head Records, but songs from Panopticon by Isis were songs that we all share an interest in as band members, and we had done a bit with that interest on Devouring Ruin, and said we wanted to do a lot of it on Confluence. And another example would be the third track, I was heavily influenced by Godflesh when I started working on that, because I had a feeling that we could make it work in the context of our room, and we managed to kind of do that. I listen to a lot of music from that era often, 2004-2006 Hydra Head stuff, but I think other people in the band were also interested in that at the time, like Rosetta, so yeah definitely, stuff like that had its influence.

Matt: Yeah, I thought so, it’s probably why I like the album so much. In terms of the new one, I’m pretty rubbish at lyrical interpretation, so I’m interested, in terms of concepts or themes going on, your thoughts on it?

Ryan: Yeah, sure. Kyle wrote them; I didn’t write any lyrics, Kyle wrote them, but I think his high-level output is a narrative of a person attempting to move their consciousness into a different form, in some ways literally. I think it’s perhaps a Nepalese myth of the tulpa, which is like a thought form that you can conjure using only your mind, so that’s one piece of the narrative. Officially as it’s written, that’s my high-level read of what Kyle’s explained to us. However, I have my own interpretation of it, which is that a lot of it might be talking about a specific narrative like that, but I read it in a meditative way; it’s lyrics that kind of invite someone to reconsider the state of their mind and what you can potentially do to it, and how. And really, the intersection between my interpretation and Kyle’s exposition of what he wrote comes down to the consequences of what might happen if you try to adjust your consciousness in certain ways, or if you don’t pay accurate attention to what you experience, or what you can suffer. And that’s where the roll into the last song, “The Translation Of Deaths”, that is what I think he was doing with that “Bleeding Eyes Of The Watcher” into “The Translation Of Deaths”, it’s supposed to reflect any type of metaphorical consequence for what might happen if you try to change your mind or how you do it. So a lot of it is really, it’s a lot more introspective than previous Wake efforts, and that was definitely by design; Kyle really wanted to try and take some of the things he’d been working on in his own personal works and bring them into the band, and I think everyone was really happy with it. They were keen to see a different type of output. That’s my read, your mileage may vary!

Matt: The new album has got quite a different artwork to the previous ones; I saw in one of the interviews that it’s a first-time collaboration with this artist. It continues what Confluence had, that and now this have a lot more colour in the artwork compared with the fairly monochrome style of the previous albums. Is this potentially an intentional thing to reflect perhaps a more vibrant musical palette, having the colour to go along with it, or because it was a first-time collaboration and they were doing their own thing, it happened by accident?

Ryan: Great question, because the answer’s both. Confluence, we chose that piece from that artist because we wanted exactly what you said, we wanted it to be different. We wanted it to be like that, we wanted it to visually show a change, just like we wanted it to be with the music. But Thought Form Descent was not planned that way, for that album we took a real flier and just called Samantha, and said ‘we think you’re great, we’ll send you what you need, and make us something’. And when she came back, we were all like ‘this is really different’, but we looked around and asked if anyone wanted to axe it, because it’s so different, and everyone said no, we all liked it. It was not what we were expecting, or what we thought we were going to get, but we were really excited by it, because it’s like she read our minds. She definitely did her homework, she listened to all the stuff we sent her, she read all the lyrics, she definitely paid attention to it, and her own interpretation wound up being what you’re describing, really, which I guess was lucky for us, because I don’t think we would have been happy if it had been anything closer to what we’ve put on previous albums before. I think we were looking for something different, but we didn’t know how to say it, so we tried to let someone else do it for us, and it worked out perfectly: no edits, no nothing. We just went ‘yeah, this is great’. So, for Confluence, yes: we said ‘we want this’, and for Thought Form Descent, we just got it back and it wound up just being right.

Matt: Yeah, I think it works pretty perfectly for it… so I think my next question, you’ve kind of answered, I was basically going to ask, with how quickly the music’s evolving, are you now at a point where you’re maybe going to take stock over the progress you’ve already made, or if you want to push further, but I get the impression you’re eager to keep going further.

Ryan: Oh yeah, we can’t even help it!

Matt: So I think I might be in time, I’ve got to the last question I had written down. Obviously, you had two records that were released in a global pandemic, and you didn’t get any chance to tour them, and now that you can tour, you’ve got a new record out. Is there any lingering frustration that you put effort into these albums and they didn’t get the experience of being brought to life and being shared in the way you would have hoped, or are you so focused on the now that you’re kind of resigned to them being a part of history, and just want to focus on the present?

Ryan: I mean, I think it’s, we were pretty disappointed in the moment. I won’t apologise for it, it was pretty disappointing; we were pretty excited for the record Devouring Ruin to come out, and to tour on it and make it happen, and we were all disappointed that we didn’t get to do that. But it didn’t take long for us to just leave it behind, you know, as evidenced by the fact we just finished another record a few months later. It was a rough couple of months for sure, because not only could we not do the stuff that was on the calendar, but we couldn’t see each other, because we were all not allowed to do that in the country that we’re from, so it was everything together, like we’re not even a band anymore, great! But once the government said we could practice again, then it became the latter of what you said, where it’s done, it’s in the past. Is it what we wanted? No, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to sit here and worry about it, we’re just going to do something else, we’ll just keep going. We don’t really do well with slowdown time, it tends to cause more problems than it solves, so we try to hit the ground running all the time, and it gives us really short memories, which is a good tool in the context of what happened in 2020!

The truth is, while we didn’t get to do all the things we wanted to do, we were still really lucky; the team we had supporting that release was awesome, Drew from Translation Loss and Shannon from Perfect World Productions are amazing, and they still poured their hearts out supporting that record, and it still went really well, it was still a good rollout that everyone was happy with. So, I guess what you’re basically getting at is ‘yeah, but what could it have been’, and that’s a fair question, and I don’t think we think about it at all. Speaking for everyone in the band, I think we just feel lucky to get the opportunity to do this at the level we’re doing it at, and as long as someone keeps letting us do it, we’re just going to keep going forward; we’re not going to sit there going ‘ugh, can someone put that one out again so we can give it another try’? It’s done, it’s past, let’s forget it, that’s it. I sound like a broken record today, cos that’s like the story of our band, just running forward headlong into whatever’s coming next!

Matt: Yep, that’s good, I mean, I think that’s a good point to finish on, pushing forward to the next opportunity, which is your next interview in three minutes, so I’ll wrap this up - I think I’ve done pretty well timing-wise!

Ryan: It was amazing, that was great, you crushed it! Me, I’m the problem, like I said, you give me an inch and I’ll take ten minutes of your time!

Matt: Well, cheers, this was great, I was looking forward to this and it was a really great discussion.

Ryan: Yeah, I appreciate it, appreciate the great questions.

Matt: Awesome, cheers!

Ryan: Have a good one!

Posted on 08.08.2022 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 2   Visited by: 56 users
08.08.2022 - 18:35
That's pretty cool insight into their songwriting process, and I'm only curious to see where they take their sound from here, since they're probably already working on a new album.
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
09.08.2022 - 10:00
A Nice Guy
Unfortunately I couldn't get into their latest release, I guess there's too many layered structures for my taste but his undeniably a talented musician and a top bloke also. After hearing this interview they sound like an interesting band that have developed and evolved their style over the years, so maybe I should go back through their discography to the very beginning, hopefully I will learn to appreciate their latest release more. Great interview

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