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Hope Rituals: an exclusive interview with WACO

14th December 2020

WACO have long been one of our personal favourite bands on the roster (I know, I know…we aren’t supposed to have favourites, but we do…) and it was a joy to be working with them again in 2020 on their second album Hope Rituals. A truly experimental and joyous record packed full of that much needed H word in a year that felt decidedly lacking in hope at times, it was an equally important step forward for the band both musically and personally, as they grappled with the tragic untimely death of their former bassist Chris Cowley. As part of the campaign we conducted the below exclusive interview with front man Jak Hutchcraft before putting together the new bio, and it was so jam-packed full of unused material and poignant observations from Jak that we’ve decided to share the transcript in full.

Purchase the album now from: https://wacoband.bandcamp.com/album/hope-rituals

1. This is the first new record since Chris sadly passed away – can you tell us how being able to move on from Human Magic affected you as a band, and what you feel the writing process gave back to you emotionally? Do you think he would dig the new album?

Our first album (on which Chris plays) came out almost a year after Chris passed away, due to complications and deep mourning. For a while after he died we really didn’t feel creative. We didn’t even know if we’d keep the band going. But in time we felt ready to attempt to channel our emotion and creative energy into something. Initially, James joined us on bass just so we could play the gigs we had booked. Then when we started jamming new stuff it felt really healing and natural. As we put together a couple of songs, then a couple more, then a couple more, it became clear to us that we can use our new music and creativity to be true to Chris’ legacy and really do him proud. We know Chris loves the album, wherever he now is. He was in the practise room while we were writing it and in the studio with us while we were recording it. 

2. What new energy or feel has the new line up brought to the band?

James is a great bassist, guitarist and all-round rock ‘n roll visionary. He’s also brought in some new influences into an already eclectic mix, so some of this album sounds like nothing we’ve done before.

3. A lot of your personal interests lie in spirituality, identity, the unexplained, fringe movements…what draws you to those subjects?

I’m interested in identity and fringe movements because the stories we tell ourselves and live by fascinate me. You can literally create your own reality and experience through what you believe. Often this is intertwined with how we perceive ourselves or what movements/belief systems we associate with, so I guess that’s where identity comes in. I also have a lot of compassion for people, whether I agree with their worldview or not, which draws me to trying to understand them. After all, we all believe something, right? Even if you’re an atheist, a skeptic, or a scientist, your beliefs and experiences coalesce to create your own personal reality.
As for spirituality and the unexplained, I just do not accept that everything we’re taught, everything we’re force fed, even everything we see is the ultimate truth. I think there is so much we don’t know and I’m willing to embrace that. Certainty is ignorance.

4. What are your personal “hope rituals” and can you expand on the meaning of the title?

I believe that optimism and hope lead to actually changing the world for the better. Of course there is a space for pessimism and despair – we can’t help feeling that way sometimes and we don’t judge those that do feel those things – but if we’re talking about positive change then we have to be able to imagine it first. Imagine the world we want to live in, imagine a better tomorrow, imagine leaving the world a better place than when we arrived here. We all do rituals every day in different forms – whether it’s brushing our teeth, watching TV or going to work – and these songs are our hopeful rituals. They are small practices that when we play or sing them help us exercise our hope and imagine a better tomorrow. Maybe they’ll help our listeners do those things too.

5. Relentlessly optimistic as always, the record looks to the future – things can feel very dark in the world, especially at the moment, so what helps you step towards the light?

Humans are ultimately good and can cohabit peacefully. Most of us already do, all over the world, and have done for thousands of years. Certain ideas, industries and individualism have caused divides between us but these can be unlearned and overthrown. In fact, we are already moving out of ‘The Age of the Individual’ and into what some call ‘The Network Age’. Humans from all over the world are connected now through the internet and we have something close to a ‘collective consciousness’. There are some teething pains of this new age that we’re stepping into, of course, but ultimately we’re moving towards a more accountable, a less corrupt, less individualistic and more harmonious future. It’s always not easy, but nobody said it would be. 

6. What were some of the musical influences this time around, and how did they manifest themselves?

Our musical influences for this record were Queen, The Hives, Genesis, The Bouncing Souls, Hot Chocolate, Pink Floyd, Haim, Youth of Today, Millencolin, Go West, Fu Manchu, The Village People and Rush. 

We wanted to write some absolute classics so we only listened to absolute classics. We then put them through the weird WACO mashup machine in our skulls. God knows if the result is good, but we like it!

7. Can you tell us about the recording sessions? Where / when / who, and how did they go? Did you do anything differently this time around?

We recorded it with Steve Sears Jr, who we’ve worked with pretty much since the beginning. He’s our soul brother and shares our sonic vision. We recorded it at Monolith Studios in Tottenham, the best studio in town. After recording our other music at Steve’s old place, Titan Studios in Watford, it felt refreshing and appropriate to be in a different location this time round. The sessions went really well and we’d almost totally finished this second album before our first one was released. The sights and sounds of Bruce Grove (where the studio is situated) definitely shaped the sound of this record. Long, hot days eating gozleme, drinking pop and having a laugh in the studio, nothing beats that.

8. Let’s talk about that album artwork. Iconically psychedelic.

We found James McCarthy on DeviantArt online and just fell in love with his work. This piece is called We Are Stardust and as soon as we saw it we knew it had to be the album cover. We can see themes of rebirth, transition and hope in it, which we feel represents the album in some ways. It also has a bit of a Dali flavour to it, which we love. James is an incredible artist, you can really get lost in his pieces.

9. Your sound has always been super eclectic for a “punk” band – does it come naturally to weave so many genres together into your own WACOness? Where does that breadth and depth of influence stem from?

As with most bands, we are all passionate about different music and our sound is derivative. For example, I love I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor as much as I do 1986, The Battle Continues by Conflict. I love Spiritcrusher by Death as much as I do Set You Free by N-Trance. We often just listen to a band, song or album and say to each other, “It’d be cool to try and write something like this!” We ignore what songs we’ve done in the past and just experiment with trying something new. By the time we reach the end of the process it sounds like WACO, somehow. Perhaps other bands think a lot about whether they’re a shoegaze band, or a doom metal band, or a blues rock band, but I guess we’re just a ‘rock’ band. It’s a pretty broad genre so it gives us a lot of space to play around and experiment!

10. For a band who champion collectivism and socialism, has the isolation of coronavirus been difficult, or do you see opportunity in it for change (talking about both the music industry and wider society)?

I’ve had to learn to live more slowly and quietly than I have in the past, which for me has been positive. I believe that coming out of this pandemic, many people – myself included – need to reevaluate the (lack of) value we assign to our fellow humans, the prejudices we all hold, our relationship with the earth and biosphere, and our addiction to greed and consumerism. In regards to the music industry, I think we can all take a minute to reexamine how we consume music. Writing and recording albums and playing gigs is fucking fun but it’s also hard work and expensive. All artists understand that, maybe music fans don’t always. My hope is that people will have missed venues and watching artists, musicians and actors perform live so much that they have a rejuvenated respect and passion for it. I know I certainly will.

11. What are your hopes for the future, both of the band, and the world?

I hope the band continues to grow, as individuals and as a musical unit. I’d love to keep making music, creating art, experimenting and performing until I’m old. My hopes for the world? I hope that we can progress together, gain a deeper connection with each other and our living planet, dethrone the false idols we have running the world and dissolve the positions of power they hold, increase unity between all peoples, nations, genders and religions, and have a fucking good time doing it!

12. Anything else you’d like to add or feel is central to the story of the record?

It was a joy to make but it wasn’t without its difficulties. We hope that it resonates with somebody out there, in some small way. It is a communication across time and space. A record of our emotions during the second half of 2019. A time capsule.