Ideation Unbound: WAKE Hones Their Singular Sound on Their Latest Creation, Devouring Ruin
Calgary's Wake has been on a unique path over the last handful of years. The Canadian quintet originally began as a straightforward grind band over ten years ago. In the years since their inception, they've gradually morphed into something, well… amorphous. No longer bound to genre or personal constraints, Rob LaChance (guitar), Kyle Ball (vocals), Ryan Kennedy (bass), Arjun Gill (guitar), and Josh Bueckert (drums) make extreme music that is uniquely theirs. On their newest endeavor—the ruthless Devouring Ruin—they build upon their machinations that have blossomed over their previous couple of records. The result is a masterclass on experimentation and untethered ideation filtered through a prism of extreme metal's most radiant attributes.
Devouring Ruin takes Wake to unexplored territories. Heavier emphasis on doom and sludge, durational droning sections, and long-form tracks are a few of many nuances and ideas that populate the band's finest effort. Help from producer and engineer, Dave Otero, as well as a guest spot on "Mouth of Abolition" from Khemmis/Glacial Tomb vocalist/guitarist, Ben Hutcherson, only heighten the brilliance within Wake's framework—a framework bolstered by exacting focus and a collective headspace. On an individual level, it marked new avenues in writing and musicianship which led to a greater fleshing out of ideas. These collectively emerge in brilliant moments like "Kana Tevoro [Kania! Kania!]," "This Abyssal Plain," and "Torchbearer" among others.
Lachance and Gill lay down numerous, fiery leads and solos while the reconfigured low-end of Kennedy and Bueckert add overwhelming grit and pacing. Ball's intimate and observational lyrics accentuate breakneck shifts in tempo and style throughout Devouring Ruin's ten tracks. Ultimately, Wake's latest display culminates into a manifesto for evolution, not only personally, but sonically. Stagnation means demise and the Calgary natives have no intention of dying out.
Listen to an exclusive stream of Devouring Ruin and read an in-depth interview with members of Wake below. Pick up a copy of the album from Translation Loss Records as well. Purchase digital copies directly from the band.
Wake—like many other bands and artists—have truly felt the economic impact of COVID-19 over the last month. You all recently announced your impending tour has been canceled on the eve of Devouring Ruin’s arrival. What kind of concerns do you all have as a band about the immediate future of small labels or independent music?
Rob LaChance: Well luckily we all come from the underground extreme metal confines so we're pretty much all used to disappointment and failure. So this is just another piece of what comes along with the territory I guess.
I can imagine coming from that kind of background it does seem like another thing for a band to manage. For you all personally, for your own health—knowing that you guys can potentially get sick—how are you guys combating the medical concerns right now and how does that affect the band as a whole? Are you guys still able to get together and practice?
LaChance: Yeah, we are. Most of us are working from home or working in places that are already isolated. Like at least on my job right now I'm working pretty much by myself all day and then coming home. The only people I see are a couple of people at work and then my bandmates. We are still practicing but I know that Ryan's working from home and Arjun kind of works for himself. Kyle, what are doing?
Kyle Ball: I work construction right now—right in Downtown Calgary next to the transit stops and train stops. But, right now, I’m not feeling too well so I’m taking the rest of the week off.
Ryan Kennedy: I have a chronic respiratory disease so my doctor was like, “the best thing you can do is hide from everyone for a couple of weeks.”
That seems to be the safest bet right now, honestly. Laying low if you have any potential risk factor that might set you up for potential contraction. It’s pretty dangerous stuff. Also, it's best to stay home if you don't have to do anything else to prevent potentially making anyone else sick.
I guess—not to make light of this virus—but, the title of the record and maybe some of the subject matter alongside the timing of its release almost makes it sound quite prophetic given current events. However, it looks like Devouring Ruin is quite the personal exploration—for all of you, I imagine. What sort of personal moments have found their way into this record?
Ball: Lyrically, when it comes to personal stuff, the first track is like a carryover from Misery Rites. It’s like the tail end of it. That album focused on cycles and everything I was dealing with then. So that song is an end to the cycle.
The second track, “Kana Tevoro,” that’s about sleep paralysis I've dealt with. I’ve had crazy sleep problems my whole life—sleep paralysis, night terrors, everything. “This Abyssal Plain” is about dealing with depression. Everything else is a little bit exterior than personal though.
Kennedy: I rejoined this band right when we started working on music for this record and I was probably in the worst place in my entire life. As Rob said, we’ve all been doing this for 20 years, so we’re used to being miserable at times and the lower side of things so it’s not like anything different than usual.
LaChance: For me, personally, it's the first record I think we’ve really come together in the same headspace for. We all had the same vision of what we wanted to create.
Not that I don’t like anything we’ve done on past records, but this one is special to me. I found that having Ryan back in the fold we really had five minds all concentrating on developing something that we all hear in our heads and had a good idea of what it should sound like. I feel a major connection with this record and the way it came together and how we created it. Just the whole process of it all was really, really nice and I really enjoyed it.
Rob, you bring up an interesting point because you guys kind of all come together in this headspace to write and figure out how this album is going to play out. Taking Devouring Ruin and comparing it to Misery Rites, Devouring Ruin feels like a fiercer array of styles. How much of a stylistic diversification is planned and thought out and how much of it happens organically when you guys enter the studio?
LaChance: I would say that the main differences in this and other Wake albums how organic and how there is no preconceived part like “Oh, this song is going to be this way… We need more of this style this way.” It was more or less we wrote parts that fit and naturally came—not worrying about any genre. What the song called for, we gave it. We just went with what suited the song best.
Ball: Yeah, when Wake first started, we set out to be a grindcore band. We were writing grindcore at the time and, over time, that evolved. I’m not really sure what that evolved into but during this record, we didn’t really focus on that. We were focusing on writing Wake songs based on a sound we did really well and embellish that a lot.
Kennedy: There’s never really a time when anyone had an idea where anyone was like, “Oh, that sounds like this or that looks like that…” Everybody would have any idea and everybody else would say, “Oh yeah, that sounds like an idea!” Then everyone would work to make it as we wanted it. There really were very few disagreements about direction. It was good.
Arjun Gill: When I first joined the band, it was prior to Sowing… right after False. I came in with the mindset instead of, “how do I write grindcore songs?” As Kyle said, we were a grindcore band at the time. By the time Devouring Ruin came around, all of us were like, “Okay, what do you want to play?” We all played what we wanted to—put it out there and whatever worked, worked. We built it from the ground up.
Along that timeline and seeing how some of the music's evolved, were there any moments along the way—whether it be certain music you all were listening to or certain ideas that came to your head—that initiated this transition away from traditional grindcore?
LaChance: Not really. I would say starting with Sowing… a lot of these parts you’re hearing on Devouring Ruin are parts that we just worked more towards. From Sowing… on, we’ve always experimented a bit more with the pretty parts or doom parts or sludge parts. I just think there is more emphasis on those parts and we slowly introduce more and more of it as it goes on. I think if you look back on Misery Rites, there’s more sludge, there’s more drone. I think we just put more emphasis on playing pretty stuff and that kind of stuff. I don’t know if you guys agree with that.
Kennedy: To answer your question about whether there was anything specific we were listening to; I think everyone can say that even way back in 2011, we were all listening to different kinds of music. There’s definitely no time where someone was like, “Whoa we discovered this band, let’s try this out.” I wouldn’t say there is a specific influence. I think everyone decided to just open the vocabulary up.
It kind of sounds like this organic evolution is more of a by-product of you five guys coming together and really just exploring your ideas over time.
Gill: This was also the longest writing period we’ve ever done. I think it was over a year, year and a half or writing this album where some other ones have been a lot quicker.
LaChance: I think this one was two years, Arjun.
Gill: Oh yeah that’s right with all of the original demos and everything.
You guys returned to work with Dave Otero for this album. What kind of influence do you get from a mind like Dave’s when you go into the studio with something written and prepared to some extent? How does someone like him ultimately influence what you guys release?
LaChance: Iron sharpens iron, I guess. He’s got an ear for everything. Dave is actually the first guy we’ve gone back and done a second record with. With him, he’s really good at creating—almost like—a flavor. He’s got an ear for all kinds of music. He’s really, really talented at giving a certain flavor to a recording. All of his records have a different vibe. He’s really good at setting the tone for a record.
Gill: One thing I thought going in was that he seemed like a really meticulous guy, so I expected a real engineer perfecting his environment. He just blew me away because he’s such a musical person. He has a really strong knowledge of theory and he’s just a really good guy to compose music with. He’s just as good as grinding through a mix on a recording as he is talking about chord changes. He’s quite a creative guy.
I was hoping to pick out some individual moments of the record and talk about them a bit or talk to you guys about what your favorite moments on the record are. Kyle mentioned “Kana Tevoro” earlier which I think is a really cool reference to a Fijian demon for sleep paralysis—kind of like being eaten by a demon.
Ball: “Kania! Kania!” is in the brackets and what it means is “Eat! Eat!” Basically, when somebody gets sleep paralysis, one of their family members sits by them at the bedside and chants that to get the demon to stay there longer so they can figure out why the demon is there. I always thought that was really cool.
A moment that stands out for me personally, “Mouth of Abolition” is really cool. I really enjoy that track a lot. It’s got one of my good friends on it in Ben Hutcherson, so it was really great to see him feature on the album. What are some of your favorite moments?
LaChance: I’d say one of my favorite moments is hearing Arjun play his leads. In the space, I didn't get to hear and as much as I liked, it’s a tight spot and it's loud and you can't make everything out super clearly. I found that I could really make out how the record was starting to sound and also where it was going. After I started to hear where Arjun was going and layering everything on top of that. Also, Arjun wrote two lead melodies in the studio which is really cool to hear. I think that’s my favorite part of the recording.
It was also the Great American Beer Festival, so that was pretty awesome.
Kennedy: I think my favorite part is in “This Abyssal Plain” where, in the beginning, it just cuts into that riff—that sort of industrial, clashing, abrasive break. I remember Rob asked me to do something like that and I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yeah! Do it!” We listened to it and it was so jarring. Everyone thought it was awesome. It was also great to be on the same page and everyone seems to dig it.
Ball: It’s hard to pinpoint certain points for me, but “Torchbearer” was my favorite thing to hear back after we recorded it. I never thought that Wake would be doing a ten-and-a-half-minute song. I never thought I’d have lyrics to a ten-and-a-half-minute song!
Gill: Going back to what Rob said, utilizing my leads and using that skillset was something I didn’t really expect to start using again. When I heard the riffs we were writing, the most logical thing to put there was a solo or a lead of some sort, so I started to do that. The one I wrote with Dave was really cool because I came in there with some really rough ideas and basically wrote it note-for-note with Dave and was really happy with the product.
I think overall, listening to you guys over the last two albums, Devouring Ruin definitely puts your talents and your abilities on display the most. No knock on anything prior to this, but it seems with each record, you all are carving out your own niche in extreme music. I think you guys are crushing it.
Circling back a bit, Ryan you mentioned you stepped away from the band for a while then came back during the writing process for this record. Do you mind delving into why you left initially and what brought you back?
Kennedy: I had some stuff that happened in my life. I used to play drums in this band years ago. I think it’s kind of interesting because I’ve been playing drums for so long up to that point that I kind of fizzled out and wasn’t really into it. What happened was everyone needed someone to fill in for a tour because one of the members was busy with their education.
I said I’d do it, but they said it was playing bass and not drums. I said, “Then I’ll definitely do it,” because I wanted to do something different. I think it wound up being better because it's a different kind of role—a different kind of voice. All of these things are dynamic, and I think me not playing drums and playing something else is a better dynamic for this band especially because Josh is a way better drummer than I ever was. That definitely helps too.
To have an opportunity to step away for a while then come back with a new perspective on the project—it’s like a breath of fresh air.
Kennedy: Yeah, definitely. I’ve played a bunch of different instruments forever. I just do whatever these guys tell me to do!
In addition to Wake, you guys are involved in some other projects. Rob, I know in the past you and I have talked and done some stuff with Mind Mold. Do you guys have time that you’re committing to other projects? Are you all working on other things that find its way back to Wake, or vice versa?
LaChance: I would say Wake is all of our’s main thing. We do have some other side stuff. Ryan and I do Mind Mold stuff. What are you doing, Kyle?
Ball: I make some noise stuff and hip-hop beats on the side. Right now though, Wake gets my full attention.
Kennedy: Rob and I definitely still do Mind Mold. It’s definitely still a band. We’re working on new songs right now so new stuff is coming.
LaChance: The Wake stuff takes up a lot of time. Between practice and trying to keep things together—writing and touring—for me, it’s constantly in my brain. There’s not a lot of time do other things outside of the small amounts of Mind Mold stuff that we do.
Given how much of a time commitment you five put into this band and how much touring you have done in the past—and hopefully can do in the future—I can imagine with it being derailed, you’re itching to get out there and promote the album.
Ball: We were supposed to be heading out in a week.
What can people do for you guys right now that would be the most beneficial for you all to support this record outside of picking up the album?
LaChance: Buy, stream, or share the record. Buy merch. Buy any merch from any band that has been affected by this.
Kennedy: And don’t get me sick.
Are you guys planning on picking up this tour again? Are there hopes or talks to get that tour back on the road?
LaChance: As far as I know, they’ve postponed it. We have plans. We have other tours booked for the rest of the year. I don’t know how far ahead this is going to affect things. It seems like this is going to go on for a little while. The Origin/Beneath the Massacre tour is postponed, so there’s a good chance—if the dates work out for us—we’ll be going on that. If not, we’ll make something else happen. This has definitely affected Wake’s entire year.
I’ve read a bunch of past interviews with you guys and it seems like you all get asked a lot of the same questions sometimes. Is there anything that you all want to talk about that hasn’t been brought up before?
Kennedy: I think we are at a point as a band where we just want to whatever it is we are doing. As we said, we’re doing our own thing and we just want to be that.
LaChance: It’s true. As soon as we took the genre limitations off, things started to run a lot smoother. I think that we’re creating better music because of it now.
I would agree. I think you guys are among a group of bands that are realizing there is no point in being pigeonholed into one kind of style. This is why I really wanted to do this interview is to chat with you guys about your sound. You’re one of a group of unique acts that have this uncategorizable take on extreme music.
LaChance: That’s the thing. If you look back to where we started with grindcore—or grindcore bands in general—that genre came out of experimentation. I’m not naming names or anything, I’m just saying in general, you look at extreme music now, there’s so much self-imposed limitation to the genre that they’re trying to play.
That’s not exactly the way it should be. It’s weird to me that it’s like that. Is this extreme music or is this experimentation? It sounds like religion—there are so many rules. It’s weird to me that people don’t experiment more and they’re just happy doing the same thing over and over again.
Ball: I think doing the same thing over and over just works for some band and they’re happy doing it. I think with us, we listen to so much different music and we’ve been a band for such a long time that we have to experiment. Otherwise, it is going to get stale and we’re not going to want to do it.
Gill: In this regard, there are two different types of bands where there is one kind of band that does the same thing. Those kinds of bands—you just choose a couple of songs or you choose an album—yeah, this is a cool album, I’ll stick with that. Then there are other bands where every release is an absolute mystery what they’re going to put out. It’s more of a journey discovering their discography, as opposed to just knowing what you’re going to expect.
LaChance: To add to what Kyle said, I don’t know bands get away with doing that. We’re going on ten years now. How are we going to get away with putting out the same record or the same thing every year? You’ve got to keep evolving to keep it fresh.
Kennedy: One of the things to remember about doing a band is you’ve got to put the hours in. I mean, there are no shortcuts for this if you’re going to play in the traditional idea of what a live band is. You have to spend so much time getting used to the people that you play with and having small victories of better communication. If you want to try and make music that you think is interesting, you really can’t just fall into a routine and if you do you’re not going to realize you’re doing it.
I think Kyle is exactly right when he says a lot of bands are comfortable with that and I always remember reading that quote from Black Flag where Henry Rollins looks at Greg Ginn in 1986 and said, “How about we put out a record that sounded like our last one so the audience can keep up?”
To me, I love the idea that there is no keeping up. I think that’s the way to go. If you’re really following your idea for your music, then you shouldn’t be waiting around for anyone to keep up. You should be going at your own pace.