I first learned of the Wends on Darrin Lee’s Janglepop Hub blog and was immediately captivated by what Lee describes as their “intense, slightly frenetic, dark jangle-rock” sound. Explaining their name, the band writes that “the wends” refers to the “frustration that you’re not enjoying an experience as much as you should, even something you’ve worked for years to attain and you feel as if your heart had been accidentally demagnetized by a surge of expectations.” Their music offers everything from what they describe in their press materials as “the reflections of everyday life” to “the quest for an alternative after the meltdown looking for what philosopher Mark Fisher called ‘post-capitalist desire.’”
Let’s start with the meaty philosophical stuff. I’m a bit of Jean Baudrillard guy myself, but I’m not really familiar with Mark Fisher. Who is he and what does he have to say about post-capitalist desire? And while we’re on the topic, what exactly is post-capitalist desire?
I like to start with this one! I really was into the work of Jean Baudrillard when I was attending my Ph.D. His work is mandatory for everybody who wants to understand how contemporary society has been shaped. At the same time, Mark Fisher was (unfortunately: he committed suicide in 2017) one of the main voices who pushed ahead the contemporary philosophical debate also trying to go over the academic boundaries: he made a name of himself a k-punk, a blogger who puts together Baudrillard and dubstep music; cyberpunk and Joy Division; Jacques Derrida, videogames, and Mark E. Smith: for those who don’t know him yet, I suggest to google some of his free pieces online. Reading his Capitalist Realism was enlighting: some years ago I started to think and to mumble around the idea of the incapability of music, politics, and popular culture as well to build any sort of alternative scenario but the mainstream. This book offers a wide range of analyses on how capitalism works all around us to destroy what I call the “togetherness”, but I don’t want to over-summarize his writings because they deserve a deep understanding. Post-capitalist desire is what may be considered some antidote to the existence and the status quo: if it’s true that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, the idea to put “desire”, “non-productivenes,” “the commune” and “culture as a political act” (also to paraphrase Godard) is something we can think about to oppose to this.
I promise I’ll get to your music in a minute, but let’s linger on Fisher a little bit longer. I don’t see a whole lot of musicians quoting contemporary philosophers in their press materials, so I’m curious as to how you came across Fisher’s work.
I think music, and art/culture in general has to be intended as a political act. Even if you don’t write a political song in the most explicit way, you have to make clear you are making a statement and you’re taking a stand. Fisher was a fond connoisseur of music. He dedicated tons of pages to the new wave, the post-punk scene, and the rising rave electronic and dubstep culture… he was a friend to Simon Reynolds. He wrote some of the best pages I’ve ever read about the Joy Division (one of my favorite bands ever) and I really love how he tried to use music and culture around the music to analyze contemporary society. I think artists should be as aware as possible of what they are playing and how playing in a certain way determine a certain political significance. Being so critical on post-modern society, neoliberal economical framework, and capitalist realism, we have to shout out loud that the “everything is the same as everything” era should end.
So how do Fisher’s ideas appear in your songs?
Of course, it’s not a direct consequence. To be honest: I think Fisher wouldn’t have loved our music, but what he wrote about deeply affects the way we see the world. He influenced the way we think and the way we see everyday life now more than ever: we are in our thirties, we all have full daytime jobs where we have to face pointless bureaucracy, the impossibility to gather and “unionized” to face the uprising fascism and far-right politicians who keep winning the elections (Italy is just the last paw of the game). Also, and here I am speaking for myself, I always try to play the guitar in a meaningful way, to suggest feelings and to empower lyrics that deal with alienation, boredom, and frustration
Before you were the Wends, you were called Smile. Does the name-change reflect a change in attitude toward music? To put it another way, is there any way in which you feel like you worked years to attain a certain degree of success as Smile but didn’t enjoy the result as much as you thought you would?
Of course it does! We changed the name right before it became impossible. It was a now-or-never moment. As Smile, we were beginning to build something. A record. Some thousands of people listening to us and like us. Some growth perspective… and then, the most important person from the last 25 years of indie music, the one who wrote some of the music we love the most, put up a new band with the name of… The Smile. Ok. Deal. We tried to make fun of it, but song after song and gig after gig it became inevitable for us to face the truth: in the modern age rock’n’roll, you can share the name even if you live in some different universe.
How do you stay joyful with respect to music? What do you do to keep it fun?
We love music. We love what we do and we are proud of it. When we listen to our new album It’s Here Where You Fall, we feel pride. We also really love to play together: almost all the songs of this album were born out of jam and improv. We really trust each other as musicians and we challenge each other always to do better. We write songs. We write pop songs. We share the idea that the best great pop song is yet to be written. So we work hard to write always better songs. That’s what fuels us: a deep respect and love of music, the will to write great songs.
You’ve also noted that along with a change in name, your sound changed, shifting from jangly arpeggios to sharper post-punk guitars. What accounts for this change?
We were aware we were changing. The first songs we wrote for this record, Excuses, and World of One were born as our attempt to write some indie rock songs with a sort of electronic feel. We were responding to input from our everyday life. Personally, I didn’t want the second album to sound the same as the previous The name of this band is Smile. I love jangle-pop, I can’t see myself as a guitar player if I hadn’t listened to Roger McGuinn in my youth, but I need/we all need to imagine some evolution, some shift. And we wanted to be honest: we wrote the album in some dark, nervous, fierce, and tense moments of our life, and we wanted the songs to sound like the way we felt.
What do you like about the music of the post-punk era?
On one side, how artists and bands pushed beyond and in total freedom pop music through its boundaries. On the other side, how this music, this feeling reflects the political and social situation of the “interregnum” from the late 70s throughout the 80s.
Similarly, is there anything about the post-punk ethos that appeals to you philosophically?
I know you can’t say it immediately, but we refuse labels, boundaries, niches, and genres. We wanted our music to sound as weird as possible even if we write pop songs. Also, the idea of music as a specific act, “an act of resistance” and opposition. Speaking of indie-pop, everybody in The Wends love the ethos of Sarah Records.
You’re signed with Subjangle (UK and South Africa) and We Were Never Being Boring (US and Italy). What’s your arrangement with those labels? What do they do for your, and what’s expected of you in return?
We only want to work with people who love our music and who share the same values. We don’t ask for anything in return. We just want our music to fit in the right place and to get to people who can really dig into it.
A tour. We want to play as much as we can. Everywhere (if anyone reading has ideas, places and want us to come to town, please contact us!). We are a band who lives on stage and we want to fill the gap the fucking pandemic put in everybody life and fill this blank space with loud noises and great songs. Oh… I almost forget… we are almost done with record number 3!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!
You’re welcome, and thank you for your questions and all those who will read my answers!