“Tear my body apart limb by limb,” Hether Fortune sings on the new Wax Idols single, “Everybody Gets What They Want.” “Go swimming in my blood, just for fun, like you wanted to all along.” The song is a deceptively peppy gothic rock song, sung from the perspective of a recently deceased, bodiless spirit, and it’s the first we’re hearing of Wax Idols' upcoming fourth album, Happy Ending. Due in spring 2017, it’s a sort of concept album exploring the consciousness of a dead protagonist who can still fully perceive the world around her. “It’s not going to be fucking Tommy or something,” Fortune says, laughing. “But every song is from that perspective, experiencing these feelings, trying to describe what weightlessness feels like.”
Fortune started releasing music as Wax Idols back in 2011, and eventually went on to join Canadian band White Lung for a time as their touring bassist. Her last Wax Idols album, 2015’s American Tragic, was a fantastic, intensely personal ’80s-style post-punk record chronicling Fortune’s divorce; it was also among the last projects released by Collect Records, the promising independent label that shuttered this year after cutting off funding from disgraced pharmaceutical investor Martin Shkreli.
“Everybody Gets What They Want” is a fresh start — the first release from Fortune’s newly founded Etruscan Gold Records, and the first song she’s written and recorded with Wax Idols’ current lineup (Fortune on vocals and synths, Peter Lightning on guitar, Marisa Prietto on bass, and Rachel Travers on percussion). “I’m used to playing a lot of things by myself, but it gets a little boring, you know?” she says.
Happy Ending is also Fortune’s first time exploring a fictional narrative on a bigger scale for a full project. The singer spoke with MTV News to discuss the story behind the single, her collaborative process on the new album, starting a record label, and more.
Tell us a little more about the concept of the new album. It’s a ghost story?
Hether Fortune: It’s a fictional story about me, or the protagonist, who has died and yet for some reason retains consciousness. Everyone thinks you’re dead, but you can see and observe and hear everything still. I thought it would be sort of hilarious if I was trying to describe something that’s indescribable, really. One of the first things I thought of was, OK, so I’ve died, but now I can see how people are responding to my death. Would there be people who would pretend to be sad, but are secretly happy? [Laughs.] So I decided to write a song trying to describe that feeling.
Was there anything in particular that happened to you that jolted that interest?
Fortune: I think it’s fair to say at this point in my life that I am somewhat of a morbid person, so I do spend a fair amount of time thinking about death. It’s more of an existentialist thing for me. I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life that have made me think, Man, wouldn’t it be easier to just not have a body? I feel like my mind on its own could exist so much better than when attached to my body sometimes. There’s a lot of negative energy and aggression and oppression and weird things that are attached to me solely because of the body that I inhabit. And it has nothing to do with my actual mind or my consciousness, who I am really as a person.
For American Tragic, you were pretty much doing everything yourself. Why was it important to you to bring more people into the recording process this time?
Fortune: It was a challenge, I will say. It was hard for me to not always say, “I could do it like this” or “I could play it like that” or whatever. I had to sit back and let my bandmates do their thing. The reason I’m loosening control here is because they’re better than me. Rachel is a much better drummer than I am. Peter is a much better guitarist than I am; he brought the original instrumental demo for the single in and we went from there. Marisa is also a super-talented musician. I don’t feel like I’m the only thing that's strong in the band; there’s no weak link, and that’s really special to me. In order to be a good leader, you have to empower people who are working with you and not micromanage. It’s been important for me to learn how to do that for the first time. It’s also just been a lot more fun. When you’re doing everything in that isolated space, it’s very gratifying because you spend, like, no time explaining anything to anyone. But then there’s no one there to share it with. It’s a different experience with a group of people who are all equally contributing to a piece of work.
American Tragic was a very personal album about your divorce — you’ve noted in the past that it was kind of a healing exercise. Going into Happy Ending, what headspace were you in?
Fortune: When I thought up the record, we were on tour and I just knew it was time for a new record. I wanted to move quickly and I wanted to move past American Tragic. Generally I’ve been feeling more relaxed about how I [make music]. The world is so fucking insane, and there are things that are so much bigger and more important. I’ve just been trying to have more fun with my process and not have it be such a huge emotional endeavor — because honestly, my emotions are stretched elsewhere at this point in my life. I just wanted to make a record that was fun. Full band, pretty simple, nothing really over the top, no weepers, no moping. Just a straightforward rock record that’s funny and catchy.
I want to feel good while I’m playing. I think that lately that’s the only time a lot of us feel good, is when we’re onstage or at shows or with our friends or in an environment where we feel comfortable and can escape a little bit from what’s going on. I really needed music as a tool to enjoy life, which is funny because this is a record about me fantasizing about death? [Laughs.] But really, this is a lighthearted, life-affirming project for me.
When you say your emotions are stretching elsewhere, do you mean the election or something else?
Fortune: I’m very lucky. I have a great partner, I have a great band and family and friends. But the world in general ... you know, a lot of people were really surprised when Donald Trump won, and I wasn’t surprised. I knew that it was possible for him to win. I’ve always been dissatisfied with the state of things, in terms of government and patriarchy. It’s not anything new, but it definitely feels heightened right now. I feel maxed out. I’m trying to stay cool for now. I think we all are.
You started your own label, Etruscan Gold Records, this year. How did that come about?
Fortune: That’s the thing that I’m most excited about right now, because when I was younger I had no intention of being a person onstage, ever. I wanted to be a musician, I wanted to be a behind-the-scenes person, I wanted to be a producer, and I wanted to have a record label. I was just a nerdy, weird, unattractive kid. There was nothing in me that was like, People are gonna wanna look at me. You know what I mean? As I got older and my confidence grew I started performing, but always knew the back end of things is where I wanted to be long-term, like when I’m old and shit.
I’ve worked with some great independent labels who have been helpful and wonderful to us. Geoff Rickly and Norman Brannon who ran Collect Records, even though that ending was a disaster, they are wonderful people who I learned a lot from. I just decided now is the best time for us. I don’t want to go around asking, “Hey, will you put my record out?” When I want to put out a record, I throw a record out, and there’s no one who can tell me no. And hopefully if [the new label] works out, I can help other bands sell records. We’re all doing it together, so it’s mostly girls — it’s not just a bunch of dudes in an office. Nothing wrong with dudes in an office, but, you know, I would like to change that system.
On that note, you also produced gothic dream-pop artist Sacren’s record, Night Carousel, this year. How was that experience, producing for someone else?
Fortune: It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It was so fulfilling and fun. I was like a kid in a candy store the whole time. The artist, Dustin Senovic, is one of my really close friends who I’ve known since I was 18 years old and he’s a very elusive, strange character who is wildly brilliant and keeps a lot of his talent to himself. He’s helped me a lot over the years — he’s done tons of creative direction for Wax Idols, he’s done styling, photography. I just wanted to give something back to him, and he’s a trained German opera singer. I just told him, “Hey, in exchange for all this work you’ve done for me that I’ve never been able to pay you for [laughs], I’ll help you make this record.”
I’m in my most natural state as a producer. Having the focus be on an artist that’s not me was liberating. I was like, Woo, nobody’s looking at me! I don’t have to sing! I’m not naturally a great singer at all. I have to work really hard at it. I’m not a natural performer. I mean, I have become one, but deep down I’m just a fucking nervous wreck. So focusing on somebody else was just so comfortable for me.
Stream and purchase “Everybody Gets What They Want” on Bandcamp.