The house that Wax built: Wax Motif talks the long road to ‘House Of Wax’

On a 7:00 p.m. ET Zoom call, Wax Motif’s voice is raspy. But after a Divided Souls Miami Music Week (MMW) takeover on March 24, a debut appearance at Ultra Music Festival on March 26, a set at E11EVEN—also for MWW—on March 27, NFT LA from March 28 31, and Marquee Dayclub on April 3, that’s how it should sound.With a laugh, he admits he’s tired, but at the time of our interview, he’s got three days off before he touches down in Austin, Texas to tend the decks at “Cyber Rodeo,” the grand opening event for Tesla’s new $1.1 billion Gigafactory. This is the home stretch; post-Cyber Rodeo, he’s got just about a month off, and he’ll spend that time “sleeping all month.” Then, it’s back to business: his first headlining performance at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Palladium on June 4, with sets at ARC Music Festival and Firefly Music Festival to follow, albeit not as immediately. These circumstances are dramatically different than those of the past two years, when his calendar was empty and his finances red. “I think I lost close to a million dollars’ worth of bookings during the COVID-19 lockdown,” he says. “It was really hard to process a lot of that part of lockdown, and it mentally affected me so much. And once I got over that initial period of, ‘okay, I need to do something or I’m gonna be homeless,’ I took to Twitch and was streaming almost every day to try and just get by.”On a global and personal scale, the situation was sobering for more than one reason. His debut album, House Of Wax, had initially been intended for distribution in what would unexpectedly become a period of indefinite isolation and dusty dance floors. “We had this album planned to come out in what was the pandemic, essentially. Most people had followed me up until that point; I was kind of about to hit that run,” he recalls. “We’d started filming the music videos and doing all that and then, we got shut down.”During this period of grand pause, the show went on the way it could for Wax: via livestreaming and a slew of House Of Wax singles that sustained the LP’s pulse. “We ended up putting out way more singles than we initially planned to, and then every time we put one out, it would go pretty well, so we found it more advantageous to keep going with the singles,” he said.The 17-track project, released via his Divided Souls label on February 18, was supposed to be house-exclusive. From late 2019 on, a lot of things were “supposed to” be a certain way, only to change, including House Of Wax. So did his perspective on what the album would sound like:Among the additions is “Waiting,” a UK garage record that hadn’t originally made the House Of Wax cut. Wax Motif knew it was a good song, but how it could function as a single…that he wasn’t sure of. He didn’t think it could, and it “didn’t really fit the style” of House Of Wax‘s early form, anyway. But when Dombresky heard it at Wax Motif’s house, sometime before Wax Motif sent the initial version, he took a liking to it. And when House Of Wax hit Dombresky’s inbox, he had a question: “what about that other song, is that not on here?” It wasn’t.Fast forward to February 18. House Of Wax had surfaced on streaming platforms in its final figuration, and Dombresky’s phone was ringing. “The day my album came out, I called him and said go listen to song 11,” Wax Motif recounted. “He put it on and within one second, his face lit up. He was like, ‘you put it on here!’”That production technique is called “no real logic other than just trusting your friends,” he says. “I’m happy that it turned out the way it did. Without my friends, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do that on my own, and I think I would’ve regretted not having some really good songs out, because like I said, they wouldn’t have fit into the format of a single. So this album was the opportunity to put them out.”And now that they’re out, the Australian-born producer, lesser known as Danny Chien, considers House Of Wax to be a critical chapter that is now closed. With the LP warm in the embrace of its audience, Wax Motif can continue to “push forward” with new music—something that was difficult to do when House Of Wax was sitting in the chamber, with no space for tack-on tracklistings.For him, the difference between the pre- and post-LP release period isn’t a stylistic one, though he feels that his production and his songwriting are both evolving and improving. It’s really more of a mental shift, he says. “I can make new music and feel like I’m moving forward with it.” This motion brings with it “On The Low.” Produced alongside longstoryshort, the single—Wax Motif’s first release post-House Of Wax—was heavily rinsed on the road for months before it arrived on April 1.The wheels of this mental shift that have been turning since February 18 are likely to yield more collaborations this year, as Wax Motif retreats from the LP’s prolonged and isolating completion phase to lean into House Of Wax‘s more social aftermath. He was “just so used to being by [himself],” and during a period when solitude was more compulsory than optional, it’s fair to say that this was probably for the best. But now, as rubbing shoulders in the studio has reclaimed possibility, his hunger for the insight that follows collaborative work has returned—and he’s indulging it. “I got to work with Dom Dolla, which is something that most people probably don’t expect,” he told Dancing Astronaut.These days, moving forward is a natural process of glimpsing backwards for Wax Motif, who, despite being very firmly planted in the present, says that the success he’s experiencing feels “surreal.”“When you’re in the moment, you’re just so focused on driving forward, and when everything’s busy, you tend not to get a second to take a step back. But when I take a step back, I think the 18-year-old [version of myself] who was trying to bring his demos everywhere would be in shock. I never thought I’d make it this far; I don’t think my parents ever thought I’d make it this far,” Wax Motif says.But he was never in the business of finding out what happens to a dream deferred, in the words of Langston Hughes. At one point, he was working in a bar five nights a week while trying to DJ at that same bar in the evenings. “Choosy” wasn’t a part of his lexicon; he’d take any gig he could, playing “in a bar for a bunch of suits on a Friday night.”“Most of these weren’t shows, they were gigs. I’d do as many of those for years until I could finally get a break,” he said. He needed the money for rent. He made “too much noise” honing his skill at his parents’ house, prompting complaints from neighbors, who directed their ire to his parents. But more than that, he needed the exposure. He’d moved out under duress and with a promise: “I told my parents I’d make it work in a year,” he said. “I just worked as hard as I could to make it happen.”It was no Bayfront Park, but as an unrelenting creative with a big dream, one day, he hoped to trade the bar setting for just that. When he was younger, even when he lived in Australia, he’d go with his friends to Miami Music Week each year, demos in hand:Throughout his childhood and young adult life, Wax Motif watched his immigrant parents work toward the promise of a better life and eventually establish their own businesses. “I think that gave me some confidence to go, ‘Hey, you can start something on your own too. You don’t have to go get a job with a boss here or there or choose something just for the sake of it,’” he said.Through both the example set by his parents and a touch of the innate, he’s got tenacity and work ethic. Last year, these traits put him in a helicopter en route to Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas’ cosmicMEADOW stage. This year, they prompted a change in perspective: from passerby who watches “every big DJ going by boat to Ultra” to big DJ, going by boat to Ultra.“For me, Ultra is one of those bucketlist festivals; in my mind, it was always get a helicopter to EDC, get a boat to Ultra. I’m glad I could finally take Ultra off the list,” he says with a satisfaction familiar to anyone who’s accomplished a goal years in the making, though it’s tinged with humility.Both dreamer and doer, Wax Motif concludes that Coachella is likely the last festival of bucketlist caliber that he has yet to play at this point in his career. The route to EDC and Ultra was winding, and as it pertains to Coachella, we’ll, the car is still in drive. “I don’t think I’ve had the straightest shot to where I am, and I owe the fact that I’m still here to hard work and persistence,” he reflects. And when his time in Indio Valley comes, it will be hard work and persistence that put him there.Featured image: Sir John W. Chiaravalle IIITags: , ,
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