credit: Andrew Morrison
In late 2014, Meat Wave’s 24-year-old frontman Chris Sutter found himself facing the end of the relationship he had been in since he was 12 years old. “When you’re in something like that for so long, it doesn’t shield you from the world, but it softens your reality,” he explains. “A long relation-ship like that gives you confidence.” He likens the experience of being single for the first time in his adult life to being an Amish kid on Rumspringa. “I was just going nuts, making all the mistakes that you could make. It made for a really whack, fucked up time—very confused, always unsure—and that led to a bunch of shit,” Sutter laughs grimly.
The Chicago punks had already made their second album Delusion Moon, a hardcore blast that castigated the weak excuses we ply for poor behaviour. That would come out in 2015. In the inter-im, Sutter started keeping a notebook to try and document the profound mood swings and torrents of anxiety that he was experiencing in the wake of the split, writing stream-of-consciousness po-ems about his feelings from day to day, city to city. One term kept coming out: the incessant.
“I think that was the best way to describe this feeling—and I think a lot of people can attest to this—of this overwhelming, oncoming emotion,” says Sutter. “Feeling overwhelmed by the biggest thing going on in your life and the smallest fucking thing: they’re all oncoming, like dominos. It’s a swelling. A pyramid. A crescendo. It stems from living recklessly. And selfishly. And regrettably. During this phase of my life, this feeling would come up a lot—out to dinner with my dad, in the van on tour—and I never used to have this kind of anxiety.”
Putting a name on it made Sutter feel a bit better. The Incessant became both the title and guiding light for Meat Wave’s third album, but not before some wobbles on Sutter’s part. Whereas Meat Wave’s previous albums had meted out judgements on the world, now he was writing brutally un-varnished lyrics about himself: about his self-indulgence, arrogance, fear of the future, isolation, and feeling totally at the whim of uncontrollable emotions. On tour for Delusion Moon, he began reflecting on the “grey cloud” he felt the material would cast over Meat Wave’s past and future. “I got cold feet,” he says. “I had never written music that was this personal and confrontational with the self. I expressed to the others that I wanted to scrap the songs and start over, which they re-spected. I was uncomfortable to share songs with people that reflected on a destructive period in my life.” But despite Sutter’s conviction, something in the back of his head told him he would be a fool to abandon the material.
“There was this realisation that I felt like the music I had written prior to this was more of a defence mechanism of sorts by not writing about what was going on in my life and not confronting myself, and instead looking outward at other people and what they were doing,” he says. “There are artists like Fiona Apple who I love and always look to—she bares herself and her soul and is so honest about her life, what’s going on with her emotionally. I realised I could either write something that doesn’t mean as much to me or I could write what means absolutely everything to me. I couldn’t keep doing the same thing. I had to try and grow as a writer and musician.”
And thank god he did. The Incessant is a bracing, emotional punk record that confronts taking re-sponsibility for your actions with dark humour and self-deprecation, drawing influence from acts like The Breeders, Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, and, yes, Fiona Apple, as much as Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex and the poems of Emily Dickinson and Sutter’s friend Hannah Gamble. On that literary tip, Sutter majored in journalism, and says his studies ap-plied here more than ever. “I had this amazing professor whose whole thing was—and it’s very simple, but it stuck with me—what we’re doing is trying to uncover the truth, or truths. I applied that exactly to what was going on with me, because I tended to run away from the truth or ignore it.”
He cites the assaultive vocals and terse riffs of opener “To Be Swayed” as one of the truest realisa-tions of that impulse. “My only question going into that song was, why the hell am I so wishy-washy and so controlled by my very changing emotions? Trying to describe your true feelings is really dif-ficult, really exhausting, but I feel like I really nailed what I was experiencing.” That wave of chang-ing emotions is evident across The Incessant: Sutter is self-lacerating on “Mask” (written in a 10-minute blast after seeing Thee Oh Sees live), the choppy “Bad Man”, and the spiny, drawling “Leopard Print Jet Ski”, whose ace title came from looking an old friend up on Facebook one day, to find him bragging about having bought precisely such a thing. “I loved everything about the phrase,” says Sutter. “How it looked, the imagery. It stuck with me, and I view