Written By Jordan Reisman
Photo by Katie Hovland.
Back in the ’70s, punk was so easy to define. It was just loud and nihilistic, a movement that stood for everything it wasn’t. Over time though, punk branched out, mingled with other genres, and eventually had the label “post-“ slapped on it.
Which (generally speaking and a few decades later) brings us to now. Though the punk moniker is still a bit ambiguous, there are just some sounds that will always be recognized as punk. Meat Wave from Chicago, Illinois makes some of those sounds. They’re not punk in the traditional sense though — they neither possess the look nor the penchant for attitude laden interviews, but give their self-titled LP a listen; you’ll hear it.
Meat Wave is a nine-track arrangement of blistering post-punk in the vein of Women and Hot Snakes, two of the band’s primary influences. The lyrics sheet sports a cynical view of the world and their chord progressions are dark and evil, but lead singer and guitarist Chris Sutter is so …nice.
BTR caught up with Sutter in the wee hours of the morning when most musicians are dreaming of new equipment, but he remained chipper. In fact, he admitted that he tried out a morning regimen where he would write a new song every morning and eventually those experiments became a lot of their LP.
When discussing the band’s decision to make darker music, Sutter says, “There was a lot of cynicism when I was writing it and just a lot of anger towards things that were going on that I had no control over and things that I did have control over too. ‘15 Years’ is about incarceration.”
He explained that the specific incarceration he was referring to was of a homeless man in New York who robbed a convenience store for $100 then quickly returned the money because he felt guilty. This was coupled with another article about a man who embezzled millions of dollars and only received 40 months in a white-collar prison.
Though Sutter places an interesting spin on a zietgeist tale of inequality in “15 Years” by turning the song into a first-person narrative.
There is a line before the chorus that goes, “I tried not to lie/What’s the difference?” which after hearing the story, represents the lack of power that the disadvantage have the eyes of the law. Instead of doing what most punk bands would do, i.e. rail against “the system” in terms of how they personally feel, Meat Wave turned that anger into a story.
Though being a punk band themselves, they differentiate quite a bit from their Midwestern peers. Aside from Chicago’s history with the blues, right now it is the hotbed of a national emo-revival movement. Bands like CSTVT, Into It. Over It., and labels like Swerp Records are breaking out of Illinois and becoming sought after entities. This is not to mention the city’s long standing history as the home of the gruff-punk sound with older bands like the Lawrence Arms and The Brokedowns (for more on the greater history of the city and genre, you can check out a great 2007 documentary, You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977 to 1984).
However, Meat Wave lies on the fringes of all of these trends and legacies which is what makes them truly unique. They’re not overt in their avoidance of emo, it just never seemed to be part of the equation for them. Though like the nice Midwestern boys that they are, they appreciate everything going on in their city.
Sutter commented on Meat Wave’s place outside genre constraints, “I would say we’re more on the fringes of a couple of scenes — garage rock is huge and [there’s also] the punk scene. We’ve played with more punk bands it seems than any other kinds of bands. We’re kind of open to it all and not leaning any way.”
Ever the loyal hometown heroes, the band’s name is derived from an article in The Onion about a Chicago “meatwave” that paralyzed the city back in 2003. With this information, we had to know their favorite meats.
Sutter considers this a worthy inquiry.
“Ryan (drummer) loves buffalo chicken, Joe (bassist) likes burgers, I like burgers too. That might be a bit boring. Burgers are dope. Ryan also likes crazy meats too, I know he eats bugs.”
The band released their first offering to the world in October of 2012 on Bandcamp, the (somewhat improved) MySpace Music platform. Eventually, they found a home on Let’s Pretend Records based out of Bloomington, IN and Meat Wave decided to release their music on cassette.
In some circles, cassette is still considered the “new vinyl,” where collectors are finally giving the long-gone format the appreciation it never fully got. The format is incredibly cheap to distribute and like vinyl, it lends well to a certain attention in that it’s harder to skip tracks and you have to flip the thing over.
Sutter says about the format, “It’s fun, it’s a different sound. it’s a little faster. The copy I have, I listened to it, and the cassette speeds it up a little bit and makes it a little more higher pitched. It’s fun to listen to that way. There’s no digital aspect to it, which I like.”
The album was cut in one day in the Chicago suburbs of Algonquin, IL. The band performed the whole record live sans vocals, which added to a sense of innocence that most bands have when they do their first album. Sutter says that they didn’t have to over think the process and even pointed to a little recording mishap in the first song “Keep Smoking,” but that only made the first release more scrappy and off the cuff.
Also, an added anecdote made the experience even more memorable. On the way to the studio, the van broke down so they pulled it over to the side of the road. After driving further, the van finally died in the driveway of the house they were recording at.
“It was kind of simple and easy also, so it wasn’t this big stressor,” says Sutter of his band’s vehicular woes. “After it was done, after hearing it all that went into it, it was amazing to hear.”
They are going on a West Coast tour in August and September, and so they’re banking on a van that should work, but remain fearful.
They also would like to just put it out there to the BTR listeners that if anybody had a van and just so happened to want to give it away to a hardworking musical trio, they’d be more than happy to accept one.
Check out the latest edition of Discovery Corner on BTR for more from the band!