WARGASM’s Sam Matlock and Milkie Way talk us through the making of their highly anticipated debut album ‘Venom’, out October 27.
And to celebrate, we have teamed up with the band to bring you this exclusive t-shirt design.
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Wargasm are a band meant to be experienced live. Formed by founders Milkie Way and Sam Matlock in 2018, they say that the project “found its feet” in lockdown, when they had time to, as Sam puts it, “evolve as a band and find out what [we] wanted Wargasm to be about as a project, as a feeling, as an energy.” However, says Milkie, they felt as if playing live was snatched away just as they were getting started. As a result, they became more thankful for live performance and hit the road the second they were allowed. “Being on the road is tough, especially in America, it’s fucking massive. It throws a lot of challenges at you, but it’s my favourite part of the job. It’s my favourite part of being in a band. Because it was taken away, it’s more important to us,” says Milkie.
“Maybe because Wargasm was born out of so much detachment, we look for extra attachment,” says Sam. Their live shows became sweatier, sexier, and even more visceral–but it didn’t leave much time for writing. Their debut record, ‘Venom’, was written in-between tours over a year and a half. It gave them time to nail down the sound and craft it the way they needed it to: “I do not respond well to being rushed. In life generally, but also in the creative process,” laughs Milkie. “It’s been a long time coming for this and I don’t think any of these songs were written in one day.” Sam agrees: “Everything came together super organically, and I think you can hear that. When you rush people, you can take away the authenticity.”
‘Venom’ is a labour of love, and it’s woven through with that tangible live feeling–perhaps in part because it was written and recorded alongside those unforgettable live shows. We went deep with Milkie and Sam on the record and their process pulling it together.
Wargasm fans won’t be disappointed by 'Venom'. It still has the tone and feeling of their earlier work; a near-indefinable, chaotic blend of techno, punk, nu-metal, and anything else that gets a crowd going. The biggest surprise to fans might be the same thing that surprised the band–how heavy it’s ended up. “I’ve always been a big metalhead,” explains Sam. “When everyone was trapped inside we’d sit down, get a bottle of wine, and watch a DVD of Megadeth live. It makes sense to me that we ended up with this sound.” The heavier sound, says Sam, just amplifies everything else that’s so good about ‘Venom’. “The sexy bits become sexier, the playful bits become more playful. The screaming and heavy bits have become really obnoxiously heavy. It surprised me when it was coming out, but I’m not gonna lie, it felt fucking good doing it,” he says. Despite being their first “proper” record, it’s kept the raw authenticity Wargasm are so known for. “Most of the vocal takes on ‘Venom’ are from the first take that we ran through,” says Milkie. “You can try and recreate a vocal as much as you want, but it’s never going to sound like the first take.” Sam adds: “If you’ve got the magic, leave it alone. Then live, you’ve got all the free energy that gets fed to you from the crowd.”
While Wargasm were getting tired of their label encouraging them to do features, when it came to their debut album, they wanted to give their audience a pretty memorable one. “You want a feature, you’ll fucking get one!” laughs Milkie. That special guest? Fred Durst, who Wargasm toured with earlier this year. Durst features on the cathartic ‘BANG YA HEAD’. Sam started writing the song about his experience bartending and struggling to scrape enough money together: “You get your paycheck and you’re like, cool, I can have half a night out. Now I’m stealing food from the pub. The song is about wanting to bang your head against a brick wall until you break your neck.” The original plan was to have Fred Durst and Jason Butler from Fever 333 on the track, but after they slid in Fred’s DMs, he sent them more than enough for two. “We had to say, sorry Jason, there’s not any left for you. He was like, ‘I don’t care, this is so good, you’ve got to release it,’” says Sam. “It was very cool of Fred to provide so much so that I could sit down with a little scalpel.” Plus, says Milkie, “you don’t want to take any of Fred’s bits out!” The collaboration was a dream, says Sam: “It was an extremely affluent artistic relationship. It flowed like water.”
Wargasm songs are often like a back-and-forth; a chaotic, sexy, argumentative conversation. To achieve that natural dialogue, Sam and Milkie worked together on the lyrics for ‘Venom’. “We definitely both contribute lyrically. It depends on the song, but generally, we’ll have at least some kind of skeleton of an instrumental lined up, and then we’ll start working on the lyrics to flesh it out,” says Milkie. Other times, she adds, “we’ll start with a lyrical concept. I’ll say I want to write a song about this, with this lyric being the crux of it, and then we’ll flesh it out around that. We do both contribute, it’s a conversation. It has to come from both sides, otherwise it’s not going to be authentic.” Sam agrees, adding that Wargasm songs are a true conversation. “Sometimes they’re a stupid, fictional conversation, sometimes they’re a flirtatious conversation, but they are always a dialogue. I think that might be why people like it. You can pick a side in the dialogue or join in as a musical counsellor.”
The artwork for ‘Venom’s cover features two Japanese-style mecha robots battling out. They’re colourful, violent, and almost fleshy. The piece is by Quentin Gomzé, a Paris-based artist whose work Milkie fell in love with after seeing it on Instagram. “I saw these mangled robot demon kind of characters that he was drawing, so I bought a bunch of his prints that I now have up in my bedroom.” They knew that they wanted something at once human and robot for the art: “When we came to the idea of something robotic and something mechanical, I thought, this guy does good robots. But they still have a human element to them. They’re kind of oozy.” “They’re flesh machines,” Sam interjects. The artwork is a way of rebelling against the AI and 3D-generated imagery that many of their peers seem to prefer. “The world is too digital as it is, and there is this huge sense of lack. Everything is super overwhelming and detached and what we really wanted from the artwork was someone who does something for real.” Milkie points out that Gomzé creates art with pens, so you can see it spilling over the lines. “You can see the work that the guy has put in. It’s made with someone’s hands on a physical thing and then people are gonna hold a physical record and all of it is real. It actually exists. For a band that is so live and so about humans in a room interacting, to try and recreate that with an artwork was kind of a life or death thing for us. It has to feel real, the whole way through,” says Sam.
The title of ‘Venom‘, in all its simplicity, is taken from its title track, a song Sam calls his favourite on the record. When they were recording ‘D.R.I.L.D.O.’, the band had a disagreement about how it should sound. “Milkie wanted ‘D.R.I.L.D.O.’ to sound like it does now, but I wanted it to sound something like ‘Venom’.” Sam kept his own version for backup, and when it came to recording, Milkie says it just “fell out”. It seemed like the obvious shout for the title, and not just because it’s Sam’s favourite. “I really lobbied for the title to be ‘Venom’ because it captures our generation and where people our age are at. I think our energy is not political, it’s disenfranchised, it’s pissed off. It’s angry. It’s us versus them,” he explains. “Although there are different themes on the record, it says something about our generation and hopefully people can resonate with it. I think it says something about how we’re all feeling and where everyone’s at.” He adds that the record itself is venomous: “It does sound poisonous. It does sound like something you might need an antidote for.”
When we speak to Wargasm they’re on tour again, scrambling to find Wi-Fi at the Detroit venue they’ll be playing at that evening. They spend a lot of time on the road, and over the winter they’ll be headlining across the UK and Ireland. Keen eyes might have noticed that the tour has a month missing out of the middle, because they’ll be supporting Babymetal during that time. “When Babymetal beckons, you don’t say no,” says Milkie. While they’re doing that, though, they don’t plan on resting on the success and excitement of ‘Venom’s release. Instead, they’ll be finding pockets of tour to record and work on new stuff. “We’ve got a couple of collabs that we’re trying to flesh out while we’re on the road. We’re gonna take a couple of weeks at the end of the tour and go to a studio and see what happens,” says Milkie. She adds: “We’re not putting too much pressure on ourselves.” But, for a band so hardworking, that seems unlikely to happen.
‘Venom’ is out on October 27 via Republic.