James Spray (The Wax)
The WAX is a rock/electronic band from Halifax, Nova Scotia featuring Phyl LaFerriere (Vocals/Guitar), James Spray (Keyboard/Songwriting), Doug Scurfield (Drums) and Peter Janes (Bass). After winning an Emerging Artist Recording Grant through Tourism Nova Scotia, the band recorded their first full length record Waiting Room.
The Wax put on an electric live show and have a couple of shows coming up in Halifax. They play Friday, October 4th at Michael’s Bar and Grill and on December 5th at The Carleton.
I had an opportunity to speak with members of the band at a recent show in Halifax and was immediately struck by their honesty, intelligence and reflections on the Canadian music scene. Following discussion with keyboard player/songwriter James Spray, I took the opportunity to get him to open up for “10 Questions with…”
1. When did you first decide you wanted to be a musician?
When I was 13 or so, my parents bought a digital keyboard for the family which could store and save a huge amount of music for its time. You could write songs on it with up to 16 tracks available. Like any starting musician I immediately copied my favorite songs – writing out the drums for hit songs from the Pepsi Chart in the UK (my family is British and as a result I received most of my music from the UK). After exploring original composition at the same time I soon came to a realization that I wanted to be a musician. This was more the realization that I wanted to pursue music, but I didn’t actually have any sense of the work involved or how to get there. When you sit in your living room with a few disks of music you’ve written on 1996 technology, with no band, no one to listen to it (because honestly when you start out your stuff isn’t developed properly yet), and no real sense of how to make progress, it is hard to even see what being a musician would be like. After a 4 year stint at university, continuing to compose all the while but still band-less, I increasingly felt that the university path was leading me astray from a happy life – into a life of normalcy that might include music only as a hobby. I missed my convocation to move to Calgary to start a band with 2 old friends who were getting into music themselves. After 2 years and a hell of a lot of failed progress the whole dream of starting an original band collapsed around me – a true band having never been formed, and not one gig having ever been played. There was one huge silver lining: I bought a Nord (a massive keyboard). Living by myself now, being seemingly farther from my goal than at any point before, stewing in internal anger and despair, I had to make a decision.
This was the moment that I truly decided I was going to be a musician. And I knew where I was going to go to make it happen: Halifax. I have no idea why I went there. I knew nobody musically there. I just knew it as a music hub on the east coast and I saw it as a polar opposite to the land-locked Calgarian lifestyle I was leaving behind.
2. Who are your biggest musical influences?
As a songwriter this has to be answered differently. In composing original music you can’t just leech a pop line from a hit song, then change a few notes underneath it and call it original. To be truly original you also have to negate and ignore genres. In my experience, this is rather unpopular with musicians and audiences alike and almost everyone would prefer to say you aren’t quite original anyway because it’s either unmarketable or seemingly impossible to be original in a world where every genre it seems has been explored. It is also human nature to draw similarities between things.
It is much easier, simpler, more logical, and relate-able to associate a band’s music with other popular/well known artists/sounds in order to describe the music without actually having to hear it.
My musical background is rooted in classical composition and supplemented through a love of dance, pop, rock, folk, video game, film score, and classical music. My biggest musical influences arrive from seeing people converse, communicate, and experience; from the social world to the world of physics where electrons flash in and out of existence and neutrinos fly through our bodies and even through the centre of the earth, emerging on the other side; from the incomprehensible 46 billion light-year wide size of the universe, to every TED video I have seen; from snowboarding on a mountain, to taking the bus to work; everything I do, live and witness influences the song I write on any given day. They are all about these experiences. If I have met you, then you have in some way influenced a song on some scale. If I get to know you really well, it is likely that there will be a song about you at some point only because you are infinitely more interesting than a ‘genre’ ….. we, as people are many genres all at once; our music can be too.
As a performing unit, the Wax has answered this question many times and typically has the same general answers. Phyl looks to the likes of U2, Metric, JSB, Radiohead, etc, as an example of musical achievement, and Doug explores a huge variety of genres depending on which day you talk to him. Sometimes it’s modern pop, the next day it’s an amazing atmospheric band I’ve never heard of, the next day it’s jazz. Our new bass player seems to have his hand in a lot of musical pots.
3. What is your all-time favourite song/album?
Song: Killing In The Name Of – RATM
Album: Final Fantasy VII Soundtrack
4. How did you become a member of The Wax?
After moving to Halifax I sought out bands looking for a songwriter. The WAX was not one of these bands, but they had a different spark and some unusual talent had congregated there. I replied to their ad and joined their ranks as a keyboardist. Within a year we were recording a CD in which I somehow found myself to be the composer of many of the tracks (Eon Highway, Rift, Waiting Room, Militant).
5. What has been your favourite moment as a member of The Wax?
Performing in William MacGillvray’s movie: Hard Drive. Filming was at the Marquee (what used to be the Paragon) on Gottingen. The room was filled with extras and I felt like royalty because there was a cart girl handing out leak soup to everyone. We were filming our scene for about 30 minutes and were recently invited to the Atlantic Film Festival screening of the movie. It looked amazing and we were also happily surprised to find that they had used 3 of our songs in the actual movie in addition to having us perform on screen.
6. What would your dream concert/festival line-up look like?
An all genre’s festival covering the extreme ends to the popular middle. I picture a bell curve on a graph with the likes of construction-machinery-poetic-rockabilly-jams at one end of the extreme, and classical pan flute solo’s at the other end. The headlining acts that make up the bell (and thus would represent the most accessible/popular music at the time) would be the big, popular acts such as U2, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Radiohead, David Bowie, etc. Leading up to these main stream mammoths would be the likes of more honed genres with smaller, but still large followings. Bands like Wilco, Sam Roberts, Fatboy Slim, The Verve, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic etc would perform at that level. Estimated operating budget: 960 million dollars.
7. Where would you like to tour?
England. Seriously. Canada is an awesome country. But it is waaaaay too big for a financially strapped band trying to get around. In England you have 54 million people living in an area roughly the size of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick put together. This would make infinitely more sense geographically for a band.
8. If you could invite two people to sit in with the band (living or dead), who would they be and why?
The musical opinions and ideas of Brain Eno would be interesting to see, as well as the musical/performance ideas of David Bowie.
9. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
I already somewhat break this rule by holding a full time job in an administrative role at the registrar’s office of Dalhousie University. If I dropped music completely I would be going to psychologists for therapy, but also most likely would work within various hierarchical structures, administrative/political/military, until I found my calling.
10. Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
In a cabin, in the woods, surrounded by peace and nature, with a helicopter parked outside and a full time pilot on retainer