Five Questions With… Wax Mannequin's Christopher Adeney
The Hamilton songsmith is releasing a sonically ambitious new album this week. In this interview, he reflects upon its creation, the changes in his compositional approach, and his wish that radio and festivals would pay more attention to local artists.
By Jason Schneider
Wax Mannequin (aka Hamilton, Ontario's Christopher Adeney) is many things to many people. A lyricist, songsmith and self-effacing showman certainly, but also a student of the human psyche, continually finding fresh and interesting ways to frame the people we are and the things we encounter.
All of that is gloriously displayed on the seventh Wax Mannequin album, Have A New Name, out June 22 on Coax Records. It’s the result of Adeney reuniting with producer Edwin Burnett, with whom he made some of the first Wax Mannequin recordings in the early 2000s. Working in a small east-end Hamilton industrial space containing an array of vintage and modern gear, the pair—along with percussionist Mark Raymond—crafted Have A New Name’s eight songs out of semi-impromptu sessions that eventually expanded to become the most sonically ambitious Wax Mannequin album to date, and also arguably the most powerful.
With Have A New Name, Christopher Adeney has made a Wax Mannequin album utterly necessary for this moment in time. Challenging and earthy, funny and heartbreaking, in search of answers yet rooted in hard-earned wisdom. Wax Mannequin launches Have A New Name with a show at This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton on June 23, and his cross-Canada tour kicks off July 14 at The Rivoli in Toronto. For more information, go to waxmannequin.com
What makes Have A New Name stand apart from your previous work?
This is the first record I've done that involved a 12-piece choir for several songs. It was awesome to get them all into the studio, horseshoed around a couple of mics in that little industrial space. I got to play choir director for an afternoon and pretend to know what I was doing. This is also the most storied record I have made to date. By that I mean four songs are narrative in structure. I feel like I managed to explore the same kind of lyrical symbolism that runs through all of my music while framing these ideas in a few very human stories—some satirical and whimsical, some weird and brooding.
What songs on the new album are you particularly proud of?
“Someone Fixed The Game” is timely and political. I have been playing it live for a couple of years now and have had a few false starts with recording it. I found it difficult to find an effective way to sing it and communicate the message without sounding heavy-handed. Live, I often do this song with a lot of bombast, but this wasn't working in the studio for some reason. I opted for a more intimate, subtle delivery to let the lyrics speak for themselves.
“People Can Change” is another one that finally clicked on this record. Again, I had recorded this song a few different ways. Bringing Ev [Whatever] in to play the double bass on this track made it for me. They came up with this incredibly melodic, soulful line I would have never considered. Ev's bass in that song keeps the piece moving towards the crescendo at the end. That's when my dear pal CA Smith comes in with his choral line. CA used to tour Canada as the one-man-band Mayor McCA. He's a former Hamiltonian who has lived in London, England for most of the past decade, where he recorded this vocal part from afar. Edwin Burnett, the producer of the record, surprised me one day by just putting that track in the mix without telling me where he got it from until after I heard it. Andy Magoffin, another long-time collaborator, mastered the record immaculately for vinyl. The whole recording process was sort of a coming-together of old friends... and a few new ones that I'll likely collaborate with for the rest of my creative life.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
My earlier work was very avant-garde and performative—complex arrangements and challenging guitar-work. Years of travel and live performance forced me to focus on the core elements of each song; to write in a way that allowed the lyrical messages and melodies to carry in a rowdy live setting. My composing became, on the one hand, simpler, melodic and more poppy, while my lyrics, I think, became far more refined and pointed. Now I am beginning to explore more ambitious and experimental compositions again while retaining the lessons I have learned through simplification.
What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?
In this past year, I was working a day job that was very emotionally challenging. To cope, I rekindled my meditation practice, something I hadn't done much of since high school. I have found this practice incredibly helpful to practically every area of my life, and in particular my songwriting, and my comfort-level onstage. I feel like, through meditation, I've been able to reconnect with the feelings and ideas that inspired me to become a songwriter in the first place.
If you could fix anything about the music industry, what would it be?
I would hope that commercial radio would concentrate more on local and regional artists. In the early days of radio there was a lot of active digging through vibrant, local scenes to find content—diamonds in the rough.
I would hope the same thing for larger festivals too, that they would more frequently make it a rule to hoist up developing, local acts to be seen and heard alongside established and worldly artists. Many music festivals do this already, but often as events grow in size and reputation, there is pressure to strive for ever more prominent and more recognized artists, leaving less space for their local community of musicians and creators who are, in fact, the lifeblood of these larger events.