Wax Mekanix – The Psychotomimetic Album Track by Track Interview

Wax Mekanix – The Psychotomimetic Album Track by Track Interview

In a process that lasted several weeks, I was joined by Philadelphia’s own Wax Mekanix to discuss the inside story on his brand new album, “The Psychotomimetic”, which drops Sept 8th from Electric Talon Records 

It was such a pleasure to be able to sit down and discuss the influences, thought processes and general in’s and out’s of this stunning piece of work. Now get yourself a cup of coffee, sit in a comfortable chair and get thoroughly absorbed into the world of Wax Mekanix and what I can only describe as Pete’s Rock News and Views Album of the Year for 2023, the amazing “The Psychotomimetic”.

Pillars of Creation

PD: The album opens with the very psychedelic “Pillars of Creation”, where you tap into The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”. Have you been heavily influenced by The Beatles, what was the thinking behind using their music? 

WM: As a typical American born in the 60s, there was no escaping the music of The Beatles.  It was everywhere at all times.  For those of us that liked it, and paid attention to it, it was a big part of the soundtrack of life and growing up.  

When I started to become interested in playing music and writing my own songs, the depth and breadth of their work was a rich source of two important ingredients for anyone interested in trying their hand at either of those….inspiration and instruction.

The Beatles were so deeply ingrained in they way I approached playing and writing, that their influence was a big portion being mixed together with other influences I was taking in at the same time. 

When I started my new record, “Psychotomimetic”, I wanted it to be heavy, with a disconcerting but melodic psychedelic character, wrapped around the themes I was writing about.

“Norwegian Wood” has always been a favorite Lennon tune, with a gorgeous melody, and sinewy classical Indian touches by Harrison.  Doing a rote cover didn’t interest me, so I decided to pump up the trippy heaviness into an area that I felt was calling me. 

I liked the idea of taking something so historically significant, revered and delicate, and turning it into a snarling vehicle for contemporary expression.  The Beatles did that all the time.  Any one with casual knowledge of Lennon talking about writing songs knows that they were doing this.  Abbey Road’s “Come Together” vs. Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch me” is a one that comes to mind.  So much so, that McCartney had to invent that stunningly brilliant bassline to try to mask Lennon’s thievery.  Imagine a world where John limited himself, where Paul and the rest of the band never had to push that envelope to get to the track the world knows and loves.

PD: I love the way that you blend different sounds into your work. The drums are especially prominent here.

There are so many examples of bold covers.  You only have to look at what Hendrix did with “All Along The Watchtower”.  He took Dylan’s terse monochromatic folky rendition cut in late ‘67, into the stratosphere, the cosmos, and beyond.  Jimi taught anyone that was listening, that a good song is elastic, malleable, and can be presented in different ways.  I saw that possibility in “Norwegian Wood”.

I told my crew that I wanted to push it so far that we’d realize that we went too far…and then dial it back just a little so that we were still on that extreme edge.  I think we got close to that.  Specifically, when I landed on the thunderous drum intro, it checked a few boxes.  It stated that this is going to be a heavy record in most places.  Next, it connected the new record with my previous one, ‘Blunt’.  That record was organic, acoustic but not timid, tribal, and with lots of drums.  Although not by scheming design, I’m finding myself in a long conversation with my audience that spans my last few records, ‘Mobocracy”, “Blunt”, and now “Psychotomimetic”.

Finally, I outfitted the track with completely new lyrics and wrote a new section.  Blasphemous, I know.  But I like to think that Lennon would approve of me paying respect to his work by bringing it into the 21st century in a completely different genre.  Beatles fans, you’re welcome 😉

PD: I like that it is going to be the lead track for the album.

WM: Leading off with “Pillars Of Creation” feels right because, sonically, it’s strong, muscular, heavy, and serpentine.  I wanted to, unequivocally, come out of the box with a reminder to me and my audience that this is the foundation upon which I express myself creatively. 

Once Upon A Lie

PD: “Once Upon A Lie” sees you with a much harder, angrier sounding voice. It almost sounds like you are challenging beliefs. This is a much heavier track to the rest of the album. Very punchy and in-your-face.

WM: From my early days with the blistering records of Nitro, to right here and now, my core is as a rock songwriter and performer.  Loud and heavy guitars, drums, and bass define my fundamental musical structure. I explore other things all the time, but I always carry with me that notion that the essential building blocks of my trip are constant.  I still get a visceral response from cranking to 11 and celebrate when I can match that up with a lyric that’s sympathetic to the tone of the music. 

“Once upon A Lie” isn’t so much angry as it is honest and acknowledging that some parts of our society will say, “Doc, it hurts when I do this”.  But then keep doing it just to see how if feels, and knowing full-well what will happen if they keep doing it.  In recent years, large parts of America, and the world, appear to me as a petulant child.  Some people are just frustrated and throwing a fit for all kinds of valid and invalid reasons.  The twist on the fairy tale title seems fitting in a mischievous way.

PD: So, why do people act this way?

It’s my impression that folks are acting out as a result of not getting their way and not knowing how to effectively address grievances, either real or imagined.  This has been going on for a few years and will continue to color society until we’ve either all gotten tired of this cultural tantrum, or we fracture in a more lasting and serious way. 

To help illustrate the duality of how this strikes me, I shifted perspectives along the way.  The first four lines are from two different vantage points.  One is outside looking in, and the other inside looking out.  Pick any line in the lyric and it serves that idea.

Am I the only one that sees things like this?  I doubt it. My role as an artists is to take things in and create something that is a result of that. If and when it’s all sunshine, unicorns, peace, love, and understanding, I’m sure you’ll get some of that from me.  For now, you get “Once Upon A Lie”.


Shrew’s Fiddle

PD: “Shrew’s Fiddle” next, I love the use of the old crackly record player at the start. The sound of this one is like a marriage of Cheap Trick and The Byrds, a psychedelic triumph. 

WM: ‘Shrew’s Fiddle” is me taking the red pill from Morpheous in “The Matirx”, and going down the rabbit hole.  More specifically, I took it and followed John Lennon down the rabbit hole.  So, strap in and remember, you asked. 

This track is the manifestation of a songwriting fantasy that I allowed myself to have.

The premise was…what if the stories were to be believed, and I placed myself at that party in Beverly Hills in August 1965 along with The Beatles, The Byrds’ McGuinn and Crosby, and Peter Fonda, as they tripped on acid, in the quintessential mythical groovy 60’s scenario?  And then,  co-wrote “She Said” with Lennon and Harrison for 66’s ‘Revolver’.  What might that look like?

I’m a huge Beatles fan and have collected bootlegs for years.  Those of us who are, know well the series of home demos John created as he was writing “She Said”, and it’s evolution.  My fantasy was that Lennon presented the demos to me and said, “Wax, I need one more song for the new record and here’s what I have so far.  It’s inspired by that daft Perter Fonda we met in LA last August.  He was creeping my me out as I was tripping.  What do you think it needs?”.

That’s a big and pretentious bite that has the ingredients almost certain to inflame Beatles fans large and small.  Would I be flirting with drawing a mustache on one of rock’s “Mona Lisa”-s, or am I continuing in the folk tradition of reinterpretation and reinvigorating something worthy of that effort?   I’m not sure, but life is short, so I was determined to enjoy the notion of doing it.  I figured that, if I was going to do this, I was going all the way, and committed to a fully-immersive experience in the spirit of the psychedelic ethos and the cheeky Beatles.

In an interview, Lennon said he was disturbed by Fonda repeatedly saying to him, “I know what it’s like to be dead”.  Imagine being high and someone saying that to you.  So, my opening lines of ‘The less you know the better you’ll be’, is my recommendation to John to just ignore Fonda.  While the other new section I wrote, ‘You’re in my heart and making me sad, you’re in my head and making me mad’, is acknowledging that Fonda is getting to Lennon.

Producers Lectriq and Machine amped-up my acoustic guitar in some of the sections of the signature call and response lick to give it that chiming Byrds-esque flair that the Fabs co-opted from them.

When it came time to cut drums with my British engineer pal Michael Cumming, I was thinking of how Ringo might have approached it, and tried to approximate his style that was unique to ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver’.  Nobody plays like Starkey, but this was my interpretation.

Since I’m a massive fan of pop music, and specifically the 60’s bubble-gum brand, I wanted this to be one of those sugary nuggets, so tambourine and hand-claps were essential.  I have footage somewhere of me cutting those claps with my acupuncturist niece, Dr. Rachel Hoffman.  Thanks, Rach!

As far as the Cheap Trick’s influence goes, yes.  “…at Bodokan”, “Heaven Tonight” and “Dream Police” are important to me, for sure.  I drew on those records’ vibe for this track.

PD: Great, powerful vocals, who else was brought in here?

If you listen closely to the first verses, you’ ll hear that I’m trading lines with Crobot’s awesome lead vocalist Brandon Yeagley.  He’s a proper dude.  When guitars start, Crobot guitarist Bishop is in there ripping along with Tom Altman on bass and more guitars.  Tom is constantly laying down amazing performances on my records and designed, not one, but two kaleidoscopic solos for this jam.  Amazing stuff that defies description. 

This heavy, crunchy, pop concoction begged for layers of tasty backing vocals to tie it all together, so Lectriq and I bellied up to the mic.  Along with Brandon, and my singing secret weapons, M11SON, and Marissa Wolner, it was full on Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, Monkees, Beach Boys, etc.  Gloriously fun and pretty effective.

In the eyes of Beatles fans, I’ll either be branded a heretic or a good steward of the legacy.  Either way, it was a blast and intended with love and respect for John, Paul, George, and Ringo, so I hope it’s received in that way.


Two left Feet

PD: So now we move on to “Two Left Feet”. Interesting that the Devil has two left feet, a term that is used for clumsiness, yet to be left handed is considered sinister… The (very) heavy and distorted drums are magnificent here and truly capture torturous torment.

WM: “Two Left Feet” is Seussian, and  metaphor for anyone that is considered ‘the other’.  This covers a lot of ground, but recent times seem to be resonating with this notion that there is some mythical archetype of what constitutes best, correct, legitimate, righteous, authentic, vetted, and valid. 

The result is demonization of those who don’t conform to whatever is being held up as the standard.  I see it as an attack on individuality and an attempt to homogenize what can’t be made monolithic.  I’m a fan of cornucopias and recoil at the idea of killing off anything that is different or unique.

PD: You seem very protective about this subject?

Social media has given all kinds of wingnuts a new megaphone to speak before they think, so the lyric has that going on.  It’s a timeless theme that can be applied to any major historical social event.  We only have to look as far back as the early 1900’s immigration to America, civil rights, the rise of fascism in Europe, Russian pogroms, vaxers vs. anti-vaxers.  right vs. left, red vs. blue, gay vs. straight, north vs. south, star-bellied Sneetches, and Yooks vs. Zooks.  This way of thinking has been percolating with me from the time I read my first Dr. Seuss books as a toddler.

Unlike others that come along quickly, fully-formed, and deliberate, “Two Left Feet”  is a song that I’ve been writing and rewriting for a long time.  Sometimes they hang around until the right circumstances bring everything into focus.  This was one of those.  It had multiple verses, bridges, intros and outros, choruses.

PD: How did you finally settle on this version?

My friend, and Grammy-winning producer, Dirty Harry Zelnick was that catalyst for “Two Left Feet” being on this record.  Once I played it for Harry, he helped me to arrange, edit, and refine what I was trying to get at.  Once we did that, he next recommended that we lay it down with Philly engineer and multi-instrumentalist, Barney Cortez.  Harry and Barney give this cantankerous track it’s unique characteristic.  Harry’s driving groove on drums and percussion are the foundation that enabled Barney to cut bass and that stinging guitar to. 

PD: Where was it recorded?

We cut everything in a Kensington church.  I stabbed away on my acoustic, and then at Harry’s insistence, wailed on some harmonica.  I even tied it more to the record by throwing in the harp lick to “Love Me Do”.  Me, Harry, Barney, and Lectriq gathered around a mic for backing vocals and foot-stomping fun.  We conjured up a creepy brew of grungy, bluesy, fuzzy, stomp that was a vehicle for me to channel the apocalyptic preacher vibe it was begging for. 

Since part of my mission statement for this tune was that I wanted it to be connective tissue between my previous records and what I’m doing now, you’ll hear familiar lyrics that are found in two jams on my 2020 release, ‘Mobocracy’.  “Mad Wold” and “Ghostland” are siblings to “Two Left Feet”, and enable me to continue my long conversation with my audience that’s been going on over these past few records.

It’s got a bit of Jack White sonics that I never intended, but am really enjoying.  It’s Psychotomimetic’s red-headed step child, for sure.


Jeremy Hilary

PD: Moving on to “Jeremy Hilary” (For those not in the know Jeremy Hilary Boob Phd, is the “Nowhere Man” from “Yellow Submarine”). This gets the full-on psychedelic treatment.

This time the lyrics haven’t been altered, we get verses and choruses from The Beatles classic, but you’ve added the “Your love defies time” section, who or what does this relate to, who or what is the ‘Nowhere Man’ to you?

WM: The film Yellow Submarine was released when I was a child, so it’s been a favorite for many years.  I remember vividly, the impact that the marriage of the animation with the songs, made on me.  It seemed so perfect and unlike the goofy throw-away soundtracks of my regular Saturday morning cartoons.  For many years, I thought that the Nowhere Man’s name was Jeremy Hillary Boo!  That tickled me, a man with the last name of Boo.

The film’s psychedelic twist was playful and creative.  The humor was easy and lovable for a kid and delighted me.  My new favorite song was “All Together Now”.  It seemed custom made for me and my elementary school friends.   “1, 2, 3, 4, can I have a little more?”  “5, 6, 7, 8, 9 10, I love you!”.  I remember singing it and “Yellow Submarine” to my music teacher.  I was convinced that The Beatles wrote songs just for kids, and I was thrilled.

PD: What is so important about “Nowhere Man”, why did you choose this track to perform?

When I was writing this record, and decided on a few Fab tracks, I knew “Nowhere Man”  had to be on my to-do list.  Another Lennon song that spoke to me in a unique way.  I got John’s frustration, and the sting of this self-evaluation masked in criticism of another.  I now know that he was writing about himself.  He was the Nowhere Man and I felt his pain across the decades.

When it came to adding my touches to it, I wanted to soften the edges lyrically, so I re-introduced the real Nowhere Man, Jeremy Hillary Boob.  Finally, the redemption and light that was needed prompted me to send a simple message to Lennon of, “Your love defies time. You free my heart and free my mind.  I remember you.”  Another section that didn’t make the final mix was, “It’s been a long time, but you’re never far from my mind.  I remember you.”  Nothing witty, no masks, no need for deceptive metaphors.  Just straight and honest.

Once rewritten and rearranged, I passed it through my Black Sabbath, Beach Boys, and Pink Floyd filters with my crew.  Lectriq and I sprinkled on some middle eastern percussion to drive the heaviness and lift the singing.  Although I will make it heavier when we pound it out live, Bishop’s long bent notes and Altman’s G’n’R solo put it into a category of it’s own.

This down-tuned gem now sounded up to me.  Darkness and light, side by side.


Key To The End Of The World

PD: On “Key To The End Of The World”, you use the ‘crackling record’ sound again to great effect. What is the countdown at the beginning about? 

WM: The countdown in Russian and English, then Oppenheimer quoting the Bhavagad-Gita, is an obvious way of reminding myself that recent events seem to be driving us even closer to midnight on the doomsday clock.

Although the Blizzard of Ozz did it better in “Crazy Train”, as did  Sting, with his somber “Russians”, my sing-songy melody evolved after I had a dream about being handed the nuclear football. 

That, along with watching “Pawn Stars” Rick  Harrison casually calling a cold war relic ‘a key to the end of the world’, triggered hairs on the back of my neck to stand up.

PD:  love the transference to the fuller middle section with the strings etc and then back to the crackling record effect. 

The arrangement and adornment of this creepy cinematic vignette is me and Lectriq copying “Wizard of Oz” director Victor Flemming’s see-sawing from monochromatic to technicolor.

The real jewel here is the gorgeous Hindi vocals by my friend, and Timbaland protege, Raje Shwari. 

PD: Why does the narrator not feel worthy to be given this gift?

A lot going on in this tiny song that characterizes the unsettling coalescing of incongruent ideas in my head.  A creepy nursery rhyme that has been fermenting in this Boomer’s brain since I was born.  I’ll answer your question with mine…is anyone worthy of this ‘gift’? 

I’ll just say, think about that, and have a nice day.


Look At You Now

PD: The album closes with the beautiful “Look At You Now”. Your voice is so powerful, yet gentle when needed, here. Is the narrator talking to someone or to himself?

WM: ‘Look At You Now’ is universal theme, right?

I also hoped it would exhibit a duality where the narrator could be viewed as having a discussion with himself about the ebb and flow of his life experience.  Disappointments, ambitions, loss of faith, and optimism.  Additionally, I tried to write it in such a way that I could be viewed from a positive perspective.  Illustrating the notion that the narrator could be talking to someone else about the same ideas as they apply to that person.  A friend, loved-one, etc.

I was hoping the delivery of the vocal would be understated, worn, imperfect, hushed, wounded, but with some varied dynamics that matched the piano and the lyric.  My producer Lectriq and a friend who sings backing vocals on many of my records, M11SON, helped me to land that vocal.  Again, I was surrounded by amazing generous talented folks.

I would personally like to thank Wax for his time, dedication and honesty throughout this interview. The insights that he has expressed throught our chats have been real eye-openers and I am so greatful that we decided to do this little ‘adventure’.

Thank you my friend.

Wax’s new album, “PSYCHOTOMIMETIC” drops Sept 8th from Electric Talon Records

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