Wax Idols' Hether Fortune on Challenging "Pretty Packages," and Her Genre-Busting Sound
The night before our meeting, I saw Wax Idols' Hether Fortune at The Lab in the Mission. We were both attending the Goth Prom where it crossed my mind to introduce myself as the guy who was supposed to interview her the next day at Philz Coffee. I figured that was too weird, so I didn’t.
Instead, I danced around while the fog machine pumped simultaneously to the DJ’s mix of industrial, techno, and other dark-synth samples. Giant balloons bounced on top of the decked-out audience and every once in a while I’d catch a glimpse of her and her husband (Tim Gick from the band TV Ghost).
As if her presence alone wasn’t commanding enough, the two of them combined, both tall and lanky, seemed indomitable. Her persona precedes her and terms like "attention starved", "intimidating" and "psychotic" are some of the more insulting criticisms I’ve seen and heard thrown at her. While she admits to being confrontational, I knew I wanted to do this interview in person. I asked about some of the ruminative fodder over her, but I also asked about her music with Wax Idols.
After the obligatory chit chat, she settled, laying in with, “So whaddya got for me?” For the next hour she spoke to me, never removing her sunglasses.
An opening tale about “wilding out” on acid in Tahoe and bonding with Some Ember (the band we’d both seen the night before) was a good frame of reference for her current music taste and where she fits in to the local scene. She explained it wasn’t always easy fitting in.
"I’ve been here six years. When I first got here I went through a lot of self realization.” She’s been affiliated with different social groups and said when she first arrived, most bands seemed to be making psych and garage music. To her, the community that was filled with “bros” and “straight dudes,” felt weird to her and wasn’t really her scene. “I’ve always loved Thee Oh Sees,” she assured, seeming to only have patience for the oddball bands that are doing something heartfelt.
A natural chameleon, Hether had the foresight to latch onto the gothic scene, once buried on the peripheral, which is on the rise. She agreed the music has taken on a darker tone in the last year or so. But with the most recent Wax Idol’s album (which is excellent), Discipline & Desire, we gain a glimpse of the songwriter’s outlook, which she said is positive, despite her depressive nature.
Their song “Dethrone” reminds me of how music sounded in the 80s–whether that means catchy pop hooks, a familiar vocal, or something sentimental, I can't pinpoint. Hether breaks it down as a song for those who don’t belong, who actively resist in order to create change rather than to sulk. “You can apply it to anything social.”
A few months back she notoriously engaged in a social media war on Twitter with the SF Weekly music editor over her performance with Blasted Canyons (who subsequently broke up) at Noise Pop. She took plenty of flak for what appeared to be a meltdown where she threw down her guitar and walked off stage.
“He totally trashed me. He was a misogynist,” she said about the writer. “If I was Ty Segall he would have applauded me, but because I’m confrontational, when I do it, it’s a gimmick.” She said the moment of tossing the guitar was real, emotional, and that it sucked.
It’s apparent Wax Idols is the creative outlet that allows her to stay true to herself. “I’ve been really messed up and depressed my whole life. There are a lot of things about the formative years in my life and more emotional things that goes into my art.”
Yoga, meditation and staying busy are her more holistic solutions rather than to medicate. “I’d be playing Pitchfork [Festival] now if I was medicated,” she said commenting on the dulling effects of anti-depressants and how she challenges the “pretty packages” of marketability.
While on one hand she mocks marketing, she embraces it from an artistic approach, by delving into her own androgynous looks and crafting that into part of her evolving stage performance. She’s getting into more transgressive forms of art, embraced the gay community (although she’s a self-identified hetero) and considers it an honor to be apart of it. “It’s been a struggle to find my place.”
She’ll appear at an upcoming drag performance as part of Club Fist, a bi-monthly queer cabaret held at Oakland’s Stork Club.
And yes, she does want your attention. “No one can watch us play and say we’re not a great band. I’ve honed it for years.” I find another one of her tweets amusing, but once again she has to defend herself, making the obvious point that if she’s on stage and releasing records, that of course you had better be paying attention.
She left me with a simple warning to not get any of her quotes wrong, and was off to band practice.
Wax Idols at the Independent tonight with Weekend (record release) and Chasms. 9 pm. $14 at the door