Without Waves – Intent and Perspective

Thursday, 31st March 2022

Chicago act Without Waves continues to push the parameters of progressive metal album after album – their third record Comedian another shining example of diversity, atmosphere, and power through the vocal and musical interplay track to track. You can’t find many bands that have influences across the board like Porcupine Tree, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Devin Townsend to Gojira and beyond – intertwining them in such a focused way without losing the plot. We caught up with guitarist Zac Lombardi again to discuss the experiences and time that allowed Comedian to come into being, the good times shooting their first video for the record, the viral element to their album cover, plus thoughts on a burger being made in their honor at a local eatery and hopes for touring.

Dead Rhetoric: Comedian is the third full-length for Without Waves. Five years removed from your previous effort Lunar, can you discuss the collective growth and seasoning that helped shape this set of material – and where do you see the major differences for this record compared to your last outing?

Zac Lombardi: Major differences. I feel like it’s a little bit more concise, and more focused. I also feel like it’s a lot more honest, if that makes sense. These songs were written probably over a two-year span of time. Not that we didn’t put a lot of time into writing the last record, but since these were written in a shorter period of time, I think that helped. It’s not a concept record, but I feel like it’s very whole. There are reoccurring themes, and intent from start to finish.

We’ve all been through a lot these past five years. At the end of the day, I think we would all agree, and speaking for myself at least, one of the greatest pleasures is the time in this band itself. We go to practice two to three times a week – that’s something that we have been doing since we were teenagers. Just the way life has evolved since then, it dawned on me that’s the most dedicated time I spend where I am not staring into a screen. The hours we are at practice, it’s great. It’s hanging out with your old friends, growing together, evolving. A big part of starting this band, and I think we are living this now in truer fashion than we ever have previously, was that we got pigeonholed in other genres in previous bands. But with this band, if we write something, and we like it, we just go with it. We had that mindset for Lunar, but with Comedian we have found ourselves in a place a bit truer and more focused.

Dead Rhetoric: Tackling socio-political experiences from the toxic nature of living through the information age, handling personal fears and overcoming them, and other emotionally driven fare, do you feel a sense of catharsis channeling these thoughts along with the experimental nature of progressive metal you perform? What do you hope the listeners can get out of the topics you discuss?

Lombardi: Yes. It is cathartic. To a large degree there are several reasons why we chose to name the album Comedian. One of the reasons, at least for myself, when I was younger, I would look at the world in a way where I would see it for what it could be. And I would be pretty bummed out. Nowadays, I’ve gotten better for seeing it for what it is. And human beings are a silly bunch. I wasn’t able to stop and laugh at things, including myself first and foremost. I hope the listener can get that out of this too. They will take whatever feels natural and right to them, but the title, and comedy to a certain extent, a lot of what’s funny is pointing out the obvious. It’s always under the surface, never to be revealed, and when it is- the audience and the comedian can make this connection. It’s my hope that we have that with the listeners on this record too. They can find stuff that identifies to them, or what feels right to them. It’s that intercourse between the two parties that really brings something to life.

Dead Rhetoric: Are there specific comedians that you yourself enjoy and inspire you?

Lombardi: Oh boy! All sorts. If I would name one, this is just me personally, I would go with George Carlin. My dad was a big fan of his, and I have been a big fan of his for a long time. Actually, now that I am thinking about it, look at the world these days – it kind of seems similar to how George viewed his world at the end of his life. He described himself as a watcher and felt himself removed from society. He had a front row seat and took notes – and he expanded upon them.

Dead Rhetoric: The first video for “Good Grief”, directed by Dustin Smith, allows the band to showcase a bit of their personalities against the conventional band performance sequences, playing a competitive basketball game. Tell us how the video shoot went, any special/funny memories, and your thoughts on the visual medium these days as a promotional tool to further the reach of the band?

Lombardi: Yes. I was really happy that we went with that video concept. It was interesting, Dustin is a super talented guy. At first it was going to be the Without Waves team against a team with a different cast of people. Dustin had the idea of being an alter ego, negative version of ourselves – which kind of fit the record better than anything we could have come up with. We had never done a video shoot that elaborate before. It was a lot of work. Those were two twelve-hour days easily. The video opens up with the band Without Waves outside – that was shot at 7:30 in the morning and 18 degrees out (laughs). We were doing jumping jacks between takes. The dunk at the end, that was the first time I’ve ever dunked. (laughs). I’m really happy that OSHA wasn’t there to see us film that.

The visual medium is hard to gauge. I know there isn’t MTV like there once was. There are so many ways to interface with people these days. I looked at like a long-term investment. It was hard, but we are going to have this forever. It was a ton of fun, and really good to portray a bit more about who we are in reality. When I first posted the video on my Facebook page, I said, ‘when serious music happens to silly people’. That’s who we are. At the end of the day, it’s four long-time friends hanging out just doing what we want to do. I hope that people watch it, identify with it, and I am thankful for having that experience.

Dead Rhetoric: Which songs do you believe took on the greatest transformation or overhaul from initial demo stages to the final completion? How does the band balance out the intricacies and technical sequences while also creating strong hooks and melodic moments that can catch the ears track to track?

Lombardi: Good question. What evolved the most. Probably the one that comes to mind is “Do What Scares You”, one of my favorite tracks on the record. Anthony came up with some of those riffs, and to a large degree that was a communal band effort. Especially with that ending. The song, we get to this middle point where we break things down, build it back up, and build it up more. A lot of that was improvisational at practice. Sometimes that’s where we get the very best material. It gives us a chance to catch lightning in a bottle. Not exactly sure where the song started, but I know where it ended, it evolved the most.

There is a breakdown in the middle of the song where there is a clean guitar part for a moment, the bass comes in, I sit back and do a simple ‘de-do-di’. It’s exactly what needs to happen there, but I wouldn’t have written that on my own. That is a response to what Anthony and John are already doing. The ending of the song, the two guitar parts are similar, but they are different. I wouldn’t call it a true polyrhythm. It is kind of complex, although each individual part is pretty simple. That tends to happen more when we are vamping off of one another.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you find the improvisation ends up developing some killer organic moments in rehearsal, that couldn’t happen otherwise?

Lombardi: Absolutely. And we do have times where Anthony or myself come in with nearly completed or complete compositions. I enjoy the freedom of playing in a response role gives me or other members of the band. And to a large degree between Anthony and I guitar-wise, it’s where we tread a lot of the time. There is only one song, maybe two where we are in the same tuning. We have that a lot, just having similar but different voices. I think that’s a benefit to our overall sound.

Dead Rhetoric: Pulling from a wide array of influences across broad musical spectrums, do you believe you’ve been able to pinpoint specific elements that identify as essential to make the final grade for a Without Waves song?

Lombardi: I would say no. We all have to like it. We did some things differently on this record. On the song “Worlds Apart”, that song is almost entirely Anthony singing and playing guitar, that’s something we’ve never done with drone space, and everyone comes in at the end. Having something that stripped down or minimalistic, I don’t think we would have ever considered doing that in the past. When we started jamming on it in a full band setting, it didn’t quite feel right. It needed to remain that stripped down. When it feels right to the four of us, that’s a Without Waves track. However we get there, is how we get there.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the cover art this time around?

Lombardi: We knew what we wanted theme-wise out of the cover art. We were very lucky that we were able to stumble back upon that image. I was aware of this when it first went viral, and it came back across my radar, and I brought it to the guys. It really clicked, it went viral initially because it looks like an act of violence, but in reality, it’s an act of nourishment, so it’s exactly what we wanted. There are a lot of themes about intent and perspective on this record. I love the fact that the cover can be interpreted in many different ways. At the end of the day, using that image versus talking to an artist, give those thoughts, and come up with something new – we wanted to go with this.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the biggest differences in how you handle the world coming out of this two-year plus pandemic for COVID-19 that we have been dealing with? Are you concerned with how people may handle crisis, stress, and turmoil differently – or do you think it is going to bring people closer as a society?

Lombardi: I hope it brings people closer. The reality is it probably will be a short-lived experience, if that. I can remember briefly after 9/11 everyone was on the same team. That didn’t last long – at least in Chicago. Overall, I’ve probably benefited from this on a personal standpoint. Certain things are out of one’s control. It’s good to take personal responsibility for what you can for oneself, but you only have so much energy to worry about what other people are doing. I can’t change the direction the wind blows, I can only do what I can as an individual and take it from there.

Dead Rhetoric: What have you been enjoying or listening to for music over the past few months? Do you believe your outlook on heavy music in general has changed from when you first got into this as a listener to being a creative musician today?

Lombardi: Lately what have I been listening to? Nothing too new and exciting. A lot of Nine Inch Nails, Strapping Young Lad, and classical music. That’s where I’ve been at personally. From when I started. I started playing guitar in high school as I was friends with Anthony. At the time I wasn’t even into music, I changed high schools, gained a new friend group, and he encouraged me to try it. When I was getting into guitar at the time, we were into Metallica and Korn. (My tastes) have definitely changed over time.

Dead Rhetoric: I understand at Kuma’s Corner in Chicago, they are serving up a Without Waves burger. What’s the special condiments or ingredients that make this up, have you had the chance to sample the product yourself, and what are specific staples you like to consider for dining fare when on the road with the band?

Lombardi: We did, actually. We had a listening party there for the record, it was so much fun. I can’t speak highly enough of Kuma’s. Everyone is super positive. Sometimes when you go to a cool spot, people are very into who they are – it wasn’t like that at all. The burger was really tasty. We had cilantro, a fried egg, smoked gouda, arugula, and a secret sauce. It was great.

We made a commercial for our burger night. We haven’t had McDonald’s since being on the road. We like to get fruit cups at the gas stations to break things up from the normal road food fare. Diners are always really helpful. I just run on coffee when I am on the road.

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you assess the career arc of Without Waves currently? What types of goals or aspirations does the band have, do you have a vision of where you want to see yourselves over the next say two to three years?

Lombardi: I would love to make it to Europe. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it – we plan to do more touring than we have ever done before. We want to do this in a safe fashion. Playing out more, finding some cool bands to tour with. We did 70,000 Tons of Metal just before the pandemic hit in January 2020 – that was the first real music festival the band was a part of, and I loved it. It was such a positive attitude – everyone wanted to check out different kinds of music.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the worst advice that is given to other musicians regarding the heavy music industry? And if people seek you out for advice, what types of thoughts do you discuss and wish to impart on them?

Lombardi: I haven’t really received any bad advice. Feel like usually when I talk to more established artists, it’s more about not doing things. Joe’s Garage came out from Frank Zappa about forty years ago, and he warned me, not to do it. Any advice I would give – be honest with yourself as a songwriter. Don’t lose focus on why you do this in the first place. I spent a lot of time when I was younger working on my craft as a guitarist, physical technique. I came to realize technique is great and all – but there needs to be emotional content as well. I am grateful I have a whole box of tricks I can pull from, if there is a sound I want to make I can do it. I just don’t try to do it for the sake of doing it.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Without Waves over the next twelve months to support the new record?

Lombardi: Ideally, we are working on some stuff right now. Touring is on the horizon. No real specifics to share at the moment. We want to be out there, take the show on the road. We are proud of this record; we want people to just hear it.

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