The Wraith are not your average punk band
Guitarist Kaz Alvis explains why the band are more invested in songwriting most punk groups and how that culminated in the release of their LP, Gloom Ballet.
Image: Michelle Shiers
Being a punk band today is a double-edged sword. There’s rarely a shortage of musical inspiration, but it’s also very easy to lapse into a comfortable pattern of rinse-and-repeat songwriting. When it comes to The Wraith, the band are very conscious about keeping their sound fresh and exciting.
“I don’t want to say any names, but I’ll listen to some bands that are still current but have been together for 10 years. And I go, ‘This is literally the same record as the last one,’” says guitarist Kaz Alvis. “There’s nothing new and, like, every song is the same. So we didn’t want to fall into that – we’d get bored.”
The Wraith’s aspiration is understandable, and is perhaps the reason why the band label themselves ‘dark punk’. Musically, The Wraith retain the aggression and frenetic pace of classic punk music while simultaneously infusing it with elements of 80s new wave and goth. Their latest record, Gloom Ballet, is the band’s first full-length studio effort. Vocalist Davey Bales came up with the evocative title.
“He thought it just kind of fit the record. It’s dark and gloomy, but still has a positive aspect to it. We’re a little more melodic and a little more invested the songwriting process,” Alvis explains.
Getting the right vibe
If the songs of Gloom Ballet strike you as atmospheric, it’s probably due in part to where they first saw the light of day. The album was written, rehearsed and demoed in a former sweatshop in Downtown LA that has since been demolished.
“It was pretty gnarly,” Alvis recalls. “What drew us to it was that it was literally the only thing we could find because there are no rehearsal spots in LA, but it worked out really well. It was just this kind of weird, shady little neighbourhood that always had cops and firemen around doing something. So yeah, the space kind of added to the vibe, what with the weirdness and sketchiness.
“I think there might have been some people living in there – it was just real weird and shady. The guy we shared the spot with was never there though.”
Gloom Ballet was produced by Mat Mitchell of Puscifer, whom the band met through drummer Scott Raynor’s music teacher. “Mat was great to work with. He’s a lot of fun, real easy-going. But he weighs in with his opinion if you know, something sucks, something’s great or something’s not great,” Alvis says. “It was a real easy process. Hopefully we get to work with him again soon.”
At the time, Mitchell was also working with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, which usually meant his day started in the morning and ended at 11PM. “I think he was building Trent’s studio at the same time too. I was like, ‘How are you doing all these things at the same time?’” Alvis says.
A vintage dream come true
One of the other things that drew The Wraith to record with Mitchell was the stash of vintage gear in his studio, such as Mitchell’s mixing board which previously belonged to new wave icons Devo and a Fairlight CMI synthesiser that was owned by Michael Jackson. An original Roland Juno-60 synthesiser that belongs to Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha can also be heard on the album.
A big part of Alvis’ tone on Gloom Ballet comes from a 1980s Roland Jazz Chorus, which is fittingly reminiscent of Billy Duffy’s sound with The Cult. However, despite Alvis’ knowledge of the amp’s association with Duffy and The Cure’s Robert Smith, he had no contact with the Roland Jazz Chorus prior to recording the album.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played one. I was at Guitar Center paying for something and I hear this like clean guitar tone and I went, ‘What the hell is that?’ The chorus on those things is awesome and it just projected really well. It sounded like it was coming up around me and I was like, ‘This is crazy,’” Alvis explains. “So when we got in the studio and saw the Jazz Chorus, we knew we wanted to use it for the clean guitar tones, and it worked out really well. I think we also kind of blended [the clean guitar signal] with a distorted signal, which is what I think Billy Duffy did as well.”
While Alvis was never much of a gear guy, his experience with Gloom Ballet changed him. “I’ve been slowly getting into the specifics of my tone and trying to be a little bit different. Lately I have been geeking out about my pedals and trying different things. The next thing I want to get is a flanger because we do use a flanger on the record. So, I definitely want to get a flanger pedal for live performances,” Alvis says.
“It’s kind of dangerous in the sense that it’s addictive. At one point I thought maybe I would just ‘go digital’ and get one of those those digital [multi-effects] boards. But recording with digital stuff just sounds weird. It just really sounds kind of generic to be honest.”
Staying true to ol’ faithful
Despite Alvis’ growing gear habit, the one piece of hardware he’s unlikely to replace anytime soon is his guitar, a Gibson SG Junior which the guitarist has had since he was 12.
“It’s just so comfortable. I’ve tried to buy like backup guitars because I really don’t want to take it on tour. It’s one of the first guitars I’ve ever had. It’s covered in duct tape and I think the neck’s been broken a couple times. It’s just a great-sounding guitar with just one P-90 on it,” Alvis says. “Every time I talk to the guys in the band about getting a new guitar, they go, ‘You have to get one just as dirty as that one. It’s perfect!’”
So what’s next for The Wraith? Alvis says that the band have already started working on new material, hinting at a desire to explore more synth-driven territory while also producing heavier and more melodic tunes. As of now, the band are more than willing to experiment with their sound and see no need to pigeonhole themselves.
“We want to branch out and be creative and try new things. We’ve been playing with synth-pop stuff, like using synthesisers and things like that. We were actually working on a song that was supposed to be in Gloom Ballet but we just didn’t get it together in time.” Alvis admits. “I think we can branch out and do different things and it’ll still sound like us. We’ll go crazy if we just keep doing the same thing.”
The Wraith’s new album, Gloom Ballet, is out now on Southern Lord.