While they may have a strong following in Seattle, Waxwing is a relatively unknown band. Tragic really, considering their homegrown brand of rough and ready hard rock is so thoroughly enjoyable. Then again, maybe it’s not so tragic. See, the band’s third album, Nobody Can Take What Everybody Owns, reeks of anonymity. There’s no guaranteed hits here, no showcase tracks primped and pruned for the big time, only nine painful songs of emotional battery. And each one’s a fucking masterpiece.
Hailing from Seattle, Waxwing formed in 1996 from the ashes of Lying on Loot, which featured Rocky Votolato on guitars and vocals and Rudy Gajadhar on drums. The boys recruited bassist Andrew Hartley and guitarist Cody Votolato (Rocky’s brother) and the new band was born. So far, the guys have released two rock-fuelled albums, For Madmen Only (1999) and One For The Ride (2000), that were successful enough in Washington to see them gain a loyal following.
Nobody should see this fan base spread. On the album, Votolato’s melodic wail leads Waxwing through songs of loss, regret, anger and desperation—with comments on adultery, alcoholism, and domestic violence mixed in. It’s a hard album to listen to, being essentially one man’s struggle out of his own darkness. But hell, if you make it to the end, you’ll find there’s joy in this gloomy ride.
Votolato and his band refuse to conform to ideals of modern, chart topping rock, sticking steadily to the principals of energetic punk instead. Though songs like “Records” and “Everything’s on Fire” feature strong hooks, they could never be mistaken for pop tunes disguised as rock like much of the music springing from Waxwing’s more popular contemporaries.
The band’s striking ability is especially apparent on “The Worst Kind of Liars” with Votolato screeching through the opening of the song which starts out as a painful ballad, and winds up a thumping rock number, compelling in its structure and execution. Votolato is so thoroughly into what he’s singing that his commitment to his words is felt with every missed note.
His desperate passion is obvious again on “Schoolmaker”, another song blending careful balladry with heavy rock. “Whining maybe, love you definitely / I’m sorry / I don’t know why I get like this so often / I’m killing myself / I’m killing us both / I can’t afford not to take these risks”, he sings, purely for himself. This is genuine, uncompromising music at its very best.
Just as ballsy are Waxwing’s haunting experimental instrumentals such as those on the album’s hidden track (which shows up in the middle, of all places), and the gripping “Delaporte”, a song probably meant to sound like it’s coming from a dusty old Wurlitzer, but sounds more like an orchestra playing in the rain.
Ludicrously engaging and undeniably talented, the Waxwing boys are a kick. It’s about time Seattle shared them with the rest of us.