Wax On

The Waxwings are the best band you've never heard of, even if you've heard it all

Dean Fertita had lots of time to kill and plenty of willing assassins; he was, after all, in a record store. A drop of the needle could either chase the blues away or invite them to stay awhile, depending on his mood and which Stones record was on the turntable. The snowstorm had made his job irrelevant to almost everyone in Detroit, staying warm ranking much higher on their list of priorities than buying records.

Everyone, that is, except for Bobsled Records' Bob Salerno. Visiting from Aurora, Illinois, Salerno was stopping by local record stores to meet the buyers, helping convince them to stock the album he was about to release by Adventures in Stereo, which also happened to be the first release by Bobsled. As Salerno waited for the storm to clear, the conversation revolved around exactly what you'd expect--music in general, Detroit specifically. Fertita told Salerno about The Go and The White Stripes and a handful of other local bands, but neglected to mention one important group: The one in which he sang and played guitar, The Waxwings.

"He was really inquisitive about Detroit and what was going on there," Fertita remembers, calling from Seattle, where he's finishing the last few dates of a tour with fellow Bobsled bands Adventures in Stereo and the Chamber Strings. "I didn't tell him anything about what we were doing, and it wasn't until a few months down the line that I just decided to see what this guy thought, you know, because I thought he had good taste in music and liked what his idea for the label was and everything. We just kinda hit it off from there. We were just sold on the way he wanted to do things, and kind of felt like we were developing the same way he was as a label, so it would probably be a good fit."

The Waxwings keep it Low to the Ground on their debut album.
Jeff Tisman
The Waxwings keep it Low to the Ground on their debut album.

Details

September 28 at Club Clearview, with Tahiti 80 and The Deathray Davies, and September 29 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, with Lynx

In retrospect, it makes sense that The Waxwings' relationship with Bobsled--which resulted in the release of the band's debut, Low to the Ground, a few months ago--began at the record store. After all, that's where Fertita's relationship with The Waxwings started a couple of years ago when he formed the group with fellow employee Kevin Peyok, now The Waxwings' bassist.

But Fertita and Peyok's record store experience has an even more direct effect on Low to the Ground than just a cute-meet story and a record deal. They play rock music like you'd expect former record store clerks would, keeping in only the good parts, and leaving the rest in the cutout bin. You can hear it on every note of the album, a 40-minute history of rock and roll that doesn't sound like one, mainly because they remember to include the sweat and the cigarettes.

Like Wilco (fronted by another former rack jobber, Jeff Tweedy), The Waxwings' respect for the past doesn't mean they are willing to merely build from the same blueprint. They can't decide whether they want to be Rolling Stones or the Stone Roses so they split the difference. They filter The Byrds through The Plimsouls and back again until you can't tell which direction they're heading. They play like the Davies brothers and sing like the Beach Boys. They do all these things, and yet, somehow, it still sounds like something new.

Which is all part of the plan, what there is of one. In any case, Fertita expects criticism for leaning too hard on his record collection, letting Mick and Keef and John and Paul and everyone else do his talking for him.

"I totally expect that," he admits, before the complete question is even posed. "I worked in a record store, I know how cynical people are. I expect that, because I was like that too. At the same time, it's something that we believe in, and we feel like if we keep doing what we do and try to make records that we like a lot and play like crazy, that people will come around and get it. I don't concern myself with it too much, because I know it's not like us just trying to capitalize on something that's kinda having a resurgence or something, or that all of sudden people are interested in making records that sound like that or whatever. If we keep doing what we do, that will go away.

"When I go back and listen to how those bands developed, when you go back and listen to the Rolling Stones' first record or whatever--a lot of covers, really wearing their influences on their sleeve," Fertita continues, hitting upon a comparison he likes. "Over the course of eight or 10 records, they really develop into making totally unique sounding things. But at the same time, you can see the procession of where it started from. And that's what I hope happens with us as well. We're just getting to know each other and the way we play and the way we write and all that stuff right now. We're a pretty young band as far as how long we've been together. I just see that as trying to learn, using things we really love listening to as a starting point."

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