We first met Wax Chaotic at Filk Ontario this past April, where Katt was an Interfilk guest. They took the stage by storm with a commanding stage present and powerful songs that make you go “Hell, yes!” Today we’re chatting to both Katt and Sean about their music, how they got started and their recently launched Kickstarter Campaign!
Name: Wax Chaotic
Members/Instruments: Katt McConnell (voice, bodhran, various percussion), Sean McConnell (12 string guitar, 6 string guitar, voice, bodhran when Katt suckers him into it)
Location: Indianapolis, IN, USA
Year Formed: 2011
Genre: Twisted Folk Music / Filk
Favourite Fandom: Sci-Fi, Anime, video and tabletop gaming (Sean).
Oh dear. Uh…you might as well ask me what my favorite pizza topping is (no wait—that’s a bad example, it’s bacon and feta cheese). There are too many glorious things to choose from (Katt)!
What are your geek origin stories?
Katt: My parents. I come by my geekiness honestly, just like the red hair. Mom’s into Heinlein and dad’s into dragons. There’s a smattering of Star Trek and Star Wars in there somewhere, intermixed with dashes of “Dune”, a sprinkle of “The Last Unicorn”, and a spoonful or six of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. So it was inevitable that I would grow up a fantasy/SF nerd (stronger leanings toward fantasy, m’self) that loves computers, reading, and cosplay.
Sean: A long time ago in a hospital not terribly far away I was born approximately 1 month after the release of Star Wars (“Ep IV: A New Hope”). Later when “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” released my parents went to see it at a drive-in and took me with them. I am told they had expected me to sleep in the back of the van, instead I was up front watching with rapt fascination and rocking on the steering wheel as if flying a spaceship of my own.
Tell us about your musical background and how the band came to be.
Katt: My musical background consists of various choirs throughout my grade school career, as well as lots and LOTS of filk. I read my first book by Mercedes Lackey at the age of twelve (it was “By the Sword”, and it’s now signed), and shortly thereafter discovered filk. It was like setting a flame to gasoline. I am a mostly self-taught vocalist and used Heather Alexander’s music as the basis for finding my own voice. I spent all of high school ravenously absorbing Heather’s work, as well as the work of Leslie Fish, Tom Smith, Julia Ecklar, and any and all other filkers I could find recordings of. More recently my musical world has been very influenced by the work of SJ Tucker.
As for how the band formed, Wax Chaotic came into being in the spring of 2011 when I was in the midst of working on my debut album with some friends. The album was actually a school project, and the friends were helping me with it. It got to a point where we began thinking of what would happen when the project was over and done with…and we decided that we were having too much fun with the music to just stop doing it once the album was completed.
Since then our membership has changed a few times, but the fun is still there. And I count myself incredibly lucky that I get to work with such an amazing person (though I am most definitely biased in that regard).
Sean: I started playing saxophone in middle school and continued through high school where I participated in marching band. I originally chose saxophone because a the popular music I liked most at the time had sax and/or brass instruments. I liked the sax sound best.
However, it’s hard to sing and play sax at the same time so after high school I picked up guitar. I started by learning mainstream music, then when Katt got me going to InConjunction every year and shared Filk with me I started learning much more interesting songs to play. At some point I got frustrated and put the guitar away for a while.
In November 2011 the band’s previous guitarist was unable to make it to an event. I had been roadie for the band at a couple events, Katt needed a guitarist and I had wanted to learn her songs anyway, so I gave it a go. I had about a week to learn the set list and practiced at least 1 hour every night before the event. I have since become part of Wax Chaotic and am now responsible for arranging the guitar parts on new songs.
What inspires you when it comes to songwriting? (subjects, musical influence, etc.)
Katt: I’m going to tackle these next two, as at the moment I’m the songwriter in this outfit.
I like to take inspiration from a variety of places, partially because I get bored writing about the same things all the time, and partially because I know not everyone’s interested in hearing songs about the same things. So I look to my life, I look to video games, I look to folklore and mythology (I’m especially fond of doing that), and then I also look to media. There are so many wonderful stories out there presented as TV shows, books, comics, et cetera, and as a fan, I enjoy hearing song that others have written about them. So I try to evoke the same feeling of delight I get hearing other artist’s media-based work when I write my own. It’s one of the really nifty aspects of fandom, I think, that someone can write a song based on a novel or a movie that other people know and then share it with people who Get It.
As far as musical influences, I sort of already covered that. A few more names I can add to the list are Bekah Kelso, Ginger Doss, Cat Faber, and Michelle Dockery (am I the only person, by the way, who thinks it’s awesome that there are so many well-known female artists in filkdom?). I am also constantly inspired by some of the amazing musicians from my personal life, like my friend Daisy. Apart from being an obscenely talented songwriter, she’s also fostered my love of filk in many ways. Then there are my friends Gabrielle G., and Eric and Lizzie (the latter two are also known as Cheshire Moon), Bill and Brenda Sutton, Jen Midkiff, and I’m going to stop there because I could go on.
Debs: The first thing that struck me about your music when I heard you at FKO was how rich and deep your lyrics are. Can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process?
Katt: I can certainly try! Most of my songs start with an idea that I will develop a bit, and then have to chew on for a while before I can tease the words out of my head. Then more often than not I end up writing the melody after the lyrics have been written. I am occasionally fortunate enough to get both lyrics and melody at the same time, but on the whole that doesn’t seem to be the way my brain likes to work.
When I’m working on lyrics, I work to engineer them to be, well, lyrical. Phrasing is very important to me, so I put a lot of effort into making sure I’m saying what I want to say in the way in which I wish to say it. That can be challenging sometimes because I don’t have a lot of space to work with, but that challenge is part of the fun.
When I’m working on music, I try to create melodies that are complex enough to be interesting, but not so complex that they’re a little too interesting. Basically I try to avoid doing anything just for the sake of doing it (the same goes for the lyrics—rhyming for rhyming’s sake isn’t useful to me if the rest of the line preceding the rhyme doesn’t make sense in context of the song as a whole).
Also, Fun Fact: I know very little about music theory. I just write what I think sounds good. This results in things like switching from 3/4 to 5/8 in the middle of a song or throwing in random accidentals that work but give poor Sean apoplexy when it’s time to put chords to the music. So I like to think I do ok in that area even if my efforts are sometimes headache-inducing.
Do you have a favourite song to perform live?
Katt: Again with the pizza toppings! (Wait…)
At the moment, I’d have to say “In Another Castle” is probably my favorite to perform live. It’s a good Angry Girl song with a message, and it usually gets a laugh from the audience. “9 Lives” and “Awenydd” are also on my list of favorites.
Sean: “In Another Castle” is fun and challenging to play and I love hearing the audience laugh at the game reference. It’s probably my favorite right now and one of the most fun and challenging for me to play.
You’ve appeared at many conventions (such as Penguicon, MARCON, MuseCon) and toured quite extensively around the US. What is it about touring that draws you?
Katt: I absolutely love sharing my music with people. It never ceases to amaze me that I can perform my own original songs for people and that people seem to like them. Which, don’t get me wrong— I like them. But I also like chocolate covered potato chips, so I’m never certain if I’m just being biased about my own music.
So it’s a definite thrill when people tell me that they like our music and our performances. It’s also one of my most favorite things ever to talk to people at the events that host us and find myself making new friends. I love connecting with people.
Sean: Playing music for other people and getting feedback from the audience is really awesome. It’s a lot more personal than the performances I was part of in highschool.
Tell us about your Kickstarter campaign!
Katt & Sean: We are trying to get closer to being Wax Chaotic full time, and in order to do that, we need to expand our audience. That means playing for new people in new places. In order to do that, we need some help from our current fanbase and anyone else with an interest in supporting independent music. So we set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for our 2014 tour. …which we’ve already started booking for, because Katt’s the one in charge of booking and she like to plan things really far in advance (like our wedding—she started planning that thing two years ahead of time).
Thus far we are confirmed for house concerts in Winnipeg, New Jersey, and Washington state; conventions in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio; and Pagan festivals in Indiana. We are looking at other venues in Michigan, Louisiana, West Virginia, New York, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, and the UK. We are offering all sorts of goodies for anyone who wants to help us get out into the world, including custom songwriting, studio versions of new songs, and private concerts.
Debs: And hand-knit scarves! Huzzah!
We should also point out that we are still actively looking for new events, and we’re quite happy to go wherever there’s an audience for us. So if anyone out there reading knows of a house concert venue, geeky con, Pagan festival, or any other place looking for our brand of music, we’d love it if you’d get in touch with us at waxchaotic (at) waxchaotic.com.
Any ridiculous stories from the road to share? Favourite memories?
Katt: I can’t think of anything ridiculous to share, but I can pull up an awesome thing that happened. We performed “Stepping Stones”, a song about defiantly being one’s awesome self even in the face of excessive negativity, at a small gaming con in Cincinnati, OH this year. At the end of the song, one of the audience members, instead of applauding, removed her hat—it was one of those caps that chemotherapy patients wear—and whipped it around in the air triumphantly and gave a holler. That is, without a doubt, one of the best reactions one of my songs has ever gotten. And I hope that that wonderful lady continues to get on with her bad self.
Sean:That is definitely one of my favorite memories too. It’s really awesome when a song resonates with someone in such a positive and powerful way.
I think my other favorite memories are of going to various conventions, meeting and performing for people I have been listening to for years.
Katt has released some music on her own including her debut album. Are there any plans in the works for a band album?
Katt & Sean: Yes! We hope to record our concerts during our tour next year and put the best cuts on an album that is currently titled “Vagabonds”. You can read a bit about it and about the next Katt-album projects on Katt’s recording studio’s blog.
Do you have any advise for aspiring musicians in filk/geek culture?
Katt: I would have to say that if you are an aspiring musician, that you should never stop aspiring. Never stop reaching for that dream, and don’t let the naysayers get you down. I say this because there are two ideas that are espoused by a seemingly overwhelming majority, and you would do well to ignore them:
1. If you’re not a good enough musician to be a professional musician, then you shouldn’t be a musician at all.
I would like to slap whoever decided that that was the way things should be. Music is not only part of our cultural identity—and I don’t care what culture you come from—music is part of us as a species.
2. Filk isn’t real music/isn’t what real musicians play, and is therefore not worth anyone’s time.
Again, this is incorrect. Some of the most talented people I know are filkers, and in this case I’m talking about people who have PhDs in musicology or have been playing guitar for 30 years (and it shows) or can write such poignant lyrics that they just make your soul ache—deliciously. Filk is music. And it can be just as serious a thing as you want to make it be (meaning if you decide you want to go pro with your own, kick a**, take names, and do it, sister).
Sean: Practice, practice, practice.
Wax Chaotic is a pair of lyrical storytellers who’ve been putting their own twist on folk music, weaving themes of science-fiction and fantasy in with real-world events from their own lives.
Want more? Here is their Kickstarter video!