Randy Hutchings and Conrad Walz, two members of the band the Wax Poets, sit around Walz’s living room waiting for drummer Paul Bennett to show up. The fourth member, Cameron Purvis, phones from Winnipeg and waits patiently on speakerphone. Bennett, they say, is usually late. “What do you know, our drummer can’t keep time,” says Hutchings, as he and Walz share a laugh.
To break the silence, Walz looks over to Hutchings and says that he heard their song, “Can’t Slow Down,” on the radio this morning. Hutchings doesn’t seem all that surprised. “Every time I turn on the radio, I hear one of my songs,” says Hutchings, the band’s guitarist, as he turns back to his laptop resting on the side table.
“I still turn it up when I hear it, though,” Walz says, laughing. Purvis, the bass player, on speaker phone, jokes that every time he hears their songs on the radio, “it’s like a gentle massage.”
Since forming in January of 2007, the indie rock band from Calgary has been getting an increasing amount of radio play on college stations and the CBC. They just recently finished up their Canadian tour and released their self-titled debut album. The band has played consistently in bars and clubs across the city and even opened for the Violent Femmes at Flames Central.
The album has been generating positive reviews from both mainstream and underground sources. It was hailed by the Calgary Herald’s music critic, Heath McCoy, as, “an energetic, infectious collection of roots rock and power pop tunes,” and FFWD Weekly proclaimed their harmonies as “Beatles-esque.”
“We’re proud that we’d be compared to anyone like that,” says Purvis. “I don’t know if we live up to it, but it’s a compliment.” The quartet combines infectious melodies and four-part harmonies over energetic guitars and pulsing drums. “We have a distinct pop sound, which we like,” Walz says.This past November and December they set out on their first cross-Canada tour and drove from Calgary to Newfoundland in 30 days. It’s something they are proud of. “This was the first serious tour for all of us,” Bennett says. “Next time we’ll know a little more and it’ll be even better and smoother the second time around.” Purvis adds, “Touring was a lot of work.”
The hard work is paying off. The constant touring has resulted in more interviews, more radio play and more fans at their gigs. “We got more hits on our MySpace page after we came back from touring than Sloan had,” Hutchings said, with just a touch of pride at beating the long-established Canadian rock group.
Currently, the band is not signed to any record label. They produced and financed their debut album independently and have already sold out their first batch of pressed CDs. When asked how many CDs they’ve sold, Hutchings replies with a smirk: “Well under a million.” They don’t see that as a bad thing, though. In fact, Walz sees it as an opportunity to keep getting better.
Purvis agrees: “Bands who are signed to a record deal don’t magically spring out of nowhere. They work hard to get noticed and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”
Being an unsigned rock band in Calgary has its benefits, the band says. Purvis explains that the Wax Poets had the good fortune of starting up during a time when the city was willing to embrace independent music. “It’s a great advantage to play here because there’s a good mixture of music fans that like to take risks and come out to see bands they’ve never heard before,” Purvis says. “With less diverse cities, it’s usually the opposite.”
This diversity is best illustrated with the band’s two favourite venues: Flames Central and The Gateway. Walz says that while the crowd at Flames Central is more diverse, with young and old music fans alike, The Gateway at SAIT is smaller and attracts more of a college contingent. For the next couple of weeks, the band will try and find quiet time to write songs for their second album. They plan on touring again this year—in the summer.—Richard Saad