The Resiliency Of Wax Idols Continues With ‘Happy Ending’

Interview with Wax Idols vocalist Hether Fortune | By Tim Anderl | Photo by Danielle Spires

When Wax Idols singer-songwriter Hether Fortune released American Tragic via Collect Records in 2015, she probably assumed she was putting the most tumultuous experiences of her life behind her, including a heartbreaking divorce and a battle with depression. Little did she know that the relationship between Geoff Rickly’s Collect Records and its financial backer, the notorious “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli, would put the album—and the health of the label—at risk just weeks prior to its release.

“We were put in a really difficult situation with that, obviously,” Fortune remembers. “It was heartbreaking and sad, but it’s not the first time we as a band have had to push through difficult circumstances. [Following the controversy], I set out to focus on building a strong but small team of young, motivated people to work with who get it and believe in the project. That includes making the band Wax Idols a ‘real band’ for the first time ever, in the sense that it is no longer being used primarily as a vehicle for my songwriting.”

“We are all in this together, equally, and that has been enormously helpful in every aspect, from songwriting to managing the business side of things,” she continues. “There is a lot more business to manage now that we don’t have the support of a record label and the services that come with that. We are more hands-on than ever before, which is wild considering that, for several years, I was personally booking all of our shows and tours, managing the band, etc. We are all working every day and wearing many hats.”

Today, Wax Idols are a four-piece based out of Oakland, California, with a sound that harkens to post-punk and songwriting elements from dark wave, Factory Music and Rough Trade Records pioneers, as well as post-hardcore. Additionally, the band have launched their own record label, Etruscan Gold Records, which is reissuing American Tragic on cassette March 10 and issuing their forthcoming record, Happy Ending, sometime this spring. “The band and I are co-owners [of Etruscan Gold], and our manager is involved as well,” Fortune says. “We want it to eventually be more of a collective, but we are starting small so we don’t overwhelm ourselves.”

“I’ve always wanted to have a record label,” she notes. “I started out as a teenager interning at recording studios and fantasizing about being a ‘behind the scenes’ big shot at a studio and/or a record label. It’s what I would like to do full-time when I’m too old to jump around onstage like a clown. I think my bandmates feel the same way. [Bassist] Marisa [Prietto] is really passionate about EGR and all its potential. For now, we are focusing on our own releases, starting small like I said, but we really want to focus on other artists and have been talking to a few.”

According to Fortune, Wax Idols’ forthcoming LP, Happy Ending is on the horizon, but it is still a work in progress. “We are doing Happy Ending with Monte Vallier at Ruminator Audio in San Francisco, where all of the Wax Idols records have been made,” she explains. “We wouldn’t want to do it without him, honestly. If there were a secret member of the band, it would be Monte. He’s the only person other than me who has been consistently involved since day one. We are having a lot of fun with it, but we are also taking our time to ensure that it’s the highest quality work that we are capable of.”

“Lyrically, Happy Ending is sort of a concept album that explores what it might be like to maintain consciousness without being attached to a physical body,” she discloses. “It’s sort of a ghost story, but its more existential than it is ‘spooky.’ I’ve thrown fictional narratives in the mix lyrically on every album, but I wanted to push myself to do something different and more ambitious as a writer. Exploring death and consciousness in this way can be very heavy of course, but more than anything, I think it’ll make people laugh. It’s definitely a dark comedy of a record. I’m a clown in a lot of ways. When everything feels too horrible and heavy to bear, I find a way to make light of it however possible. Comedy is a classic defense mechanism for people who struggle with depression, or so I’m told.”

Although committed to this course, the tragic fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship became cause for the band to pause and take a closer look at their subject matter. “It affected every one of us very deeply,” Fortune confesses. “We lost people we loved in there: wonderful, kind, brilliant young people. There’s no closure to be found or any sense to be made of it. No silver lining—just a devastating loss. It’s been particularly difficult for me to continue writing for this record lyrically, considering that it is so heavily focused on death. I’ve had a lot of weird experiences since the fire that have left me feeling pretty haunted, so it really doesn’t feel like writing fiction lately, which makes it much scarier for me emotionally.”

According to Fortune, managing her mental health and depression, especially in light of her losses, is a priority because of her past battles with mental health issues. It is also a fight her friends and bandmates are helping her navigate. “Every one of us battles with a range of mental health issues, which is one of the things that has helped us to bond so tightly I think,” she says. “We support each other through the dark days, and there is no judgment between us. Having the support system of the band, my close friends, partner, and family has often been the only thing that keeps me alive. Quite literally.”

I refuse to medicate myself with prescription drugs on a daily basis, she adds, so I try to go to therapy as often as I can afford to, meditate, have lots of sex with my partner—the endorphins help a lot—and am just really careful with and kind to myself whenever possible. I’ve been taking CBD [see here] tinctures to help manage depression and anxiety as well.

Today, Fortune is cautiously optimistic about the band’s, the label’s, and her own future. On the upside, Wax Idols recently announced a North American tour with the recently reunited Thursday, which kicks off March 28. “We are really excited and so honored to have been chosen,” she beams. In addition, the band have plans to test material from the forthcoming album live before the run. “We will be playing March 8 in Oakland at Starline, and our set is focused heavily on songs from Happy Ending,” she says. “The show is sort of a preview for the record.”

Purchase American Tragic here: Bandcamp (Reissue) | iTunes

Tour Dates:
3/28: Boston, MA @ House of Blues*
3/29: Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Bazaar†
3/30: Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore Philadelphia*
3/31: Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore Silver Spring*
4/01: Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore Charlotte*
4/02: Lake Buena Vista, FL @ House Of Blues*
4/04: Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade*
4/05: Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works*
4/07: Houston, TX @ House of Blues*
4/08: Dallas, TX @ House of Blues*
4/10: Tempe, AZ @ The Marquee*
4/11: Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern*
4/12: Berkeley, CA @ The UC Theatre*

# with Dead Sara, Kera & The Lesbians, The Tambo Rays
* supporting Thursday, Touché Amoré, Basement
† wth Pop1280, Decorum

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