Milkie Way and Sam Matlock on the death of the album, the beauty of chaos, and why WARGASM are bringing attitude back to rock
Since the release of their fiery debut single ‘Post Modern Rhapsody’ in 2019, WARGASM have had one simple mission objective – to cause sheer chaos.
Tearing up the fabric of the alternative scene and stitching it back together to form their own unique style of electro-infused heavy music, the buzz behind the duo has been rapidly building since their formation. Comprised of former Dead! frontman Sam Matlock (vocals/guitar) and model Milkie Way (vocals/bass), the band’s shared desire to re-energise rock music saw their vision emerge throughout the global lockdown, exploding onstage at 2021’s Download Festival Pilot event.
With a point to prove after spending months locked inside their respective homes, their main stage performance unleashed rock ‘n’ roll carnage on Donington Park, and since then WARGASM have been riding an unstoppable high. Touring with artists such as Limp Bizkit and Enter Shikari whilst dominating the festival circuit both at home and internationally, in 2022, the band released their riot grrrl-inspired EP, whilst working on their debut album behind the scenes.
Ahead of their biggest headline shows to date across the UK and Europe this winter, and the release of Venom – their boldest statement so far – we sat down with Sam Matlock and Milkie Way to reflect on the road to WARGASM’s debut album, the importance of chaos, and their refusal to settle for mediocrity.
The pandemic may have slowed down WARGASM’s start on the live circuit, but last year the momentum around the band significantly increased. Did 2022 feel like a turning point?
Milkie Way: What I can remember of it was pretty consequential for us. We had a lot of formative tours, and it was our first proper year on the road after lockdown and everything. We were really able to hit the ground.
Sam Matlock: After the Download pilot, we were basically on the road for 14 months. This band found its footing in the lockdown, which was a very negative time for the brain, but it was great in terms of our creativity and the work we managed to get done. To finally be able to take all of that out on the road and cut our teeth through 2022 was extremely formative for us.
You put out EXPLICIT: The MiXXXtape last year too, which felt like a summary of everything WARGASM stood for. Knowing that a debut album was on the way, what purpose did that release serve in the journey of this band?
Milkie: It was a bridge between the singles and the album that we knew was going to come. The mixtape featured a couple of songs that we’d already released mixed in with a couple of new ones, so it was our way of bridging the gap really.
Sam: The main reason that this project exists is to see what we can get away with. When we create, we ask things like, ‘Can I put that noise in there?’, ‘Can I fit in another breakdown?’, ‘How stupid can I make this guitar solo?’ We’re trying to push the boundaries of everything whilst still getting away with it within the alternative community.
That mixtape was a last chance to experiment in that regard. It felt like 2023 was the right time to drop a debut album, so 2022 was an opportunity to see how we could push the edges of our cage before we started existing within the template that we built for ourselves. When we make our next record, we’ll have to start pushing against the walls of the cage again before we get comfortable with the size of it.
Having found your sound during the pandemic, you weren’t really able to test out new material live when you made the mixtape. Have you had a different experience over the last year?
Milkie: To be honest, doing things that way was just out of necessity. When we were starting out, we’d just put out one song at a time to see how it went, then we’d move onto the next. People are always like, ‘Where’s the album?’ or ‘Where’s the EP?’, but it takes time. We haven’t been a band for a long time, and I know people are eager for an album, but we’ve been happy to take our time and find our sound without rushing it.
Sam: It’s interesting, because bands used to always test out new material on the road, and the toilet circuit used to be a real thing. We played a couple of them before the lockdown, but honestly, I’m not sure if you need to anymore. I think the new toilet circuit is the battle of the Spotify playlist, and in that environment there’s something to be said for just dropping a single whenever you feel like it. It’s a good way to test yourself, and it gives you an incredible chance to pivot. You don’t have to commit to a sound for a whole EP, so you can wake up the next day and say, ‘Burn it all, I want to sound like something else’. That’s something I do often, and at least in those scenarios – you’re only trashing one single.
Knowing the success of taking that route so far then, why make an album?
Sam: This is actually where we have opposite opinions. I think the album is a completely redundant business model, because once you drop your album, your campaign is over. For WARGASM, we wanted to drop an album because the songs felt like they went together. Having an album allows us to have singles that are accessible, singles that are super energetic, and other pieces of the puzzle that fit it all together.
I look at the debut album as more of a DJ set. It’s about keeping the vibe up and hitting what people are feeling at the right times. You can even think of it as one long song. You can keep drip feeding little singles, or you can release a 45-minute-long song. That’s what the album is to me, and it’s made up off these components that speak to each other and complement each other’s energies. It all started slotting together over time, and we eventually realised that despite the business model being dead – there should be a full album.
Milkie: For me, I like long form media. I think albums are important for bands. I understand why artists are leaning into short form media now that people only watch things for ten seconds, but there’s a beauty in albums. There are so many albums that have come out just in the last two years to prove that. The bottom line is that musicians love doing albums, and I’m not doing this for anyone else.
Having had time to figure out what this band is about, from the sound to the visuals to the feeling of it all. What did the vision look like for the debut album when you first set out?
Sam: Honestly, it just fell together. Everything we do is almost by accident – we’re just moving forward and hoping for the best. When we were working on the mixtape, there were moments where we thought, ‘This is exactly what WARGASM sounds like right now’, and a lot of the tracks that have ended up on the album were actually written for the mixtape. We were building two separate pools of tracks, the first pile we knew was going to be for an album, the second we knew we wanted to drop immediately. There has never really been any key modus operandi with WARGASM, it’s very chaotic. We’re just two particles bumping into each other to see if any little bangs happen.
What’s exciting about this project is that you’re channelling the same spirit bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park brought to rock in the early 2000s. It’s abrasive, it’s honest and it’s overflowing with this fervent energy. Do you think that deeply unapologetic attitude has been missing from rock music recently?
Sam: There are a lot of people who will say that they write songs for themselves, but they’ll always put it on Spotify and start hitting up their friends to ask about getting an agent or a manager. They didn’t write it solely for themselves if they released it for the whole world, surely? A lot of bands seem to have forgotten that it’s good to just go into a rehearsal room, play music with your friends, and scream your head off into a microphone.
Milkie: That’s where a lot of the joy is when it comes to making music.
Sam: The world has crushed artists into a place where we have to be our own everything. We have to be our own PA, and we have to be content creators, which is fine if you enjoy doing it like we do. A lot of artists seem to have this attitude where they structure everything and plan it all out, but I think they’re killing their own joy. Part of the attitude of WARGASM comes from keeping it natural and keeping it honest.
In the nicest way though, we’re just not the nicest people. We don’t like tolerating mediocrity, and if we haven’t done anything wrong, why would we apologise? Limp Bizkit and Korn weren’t like that, and none of the punks were like that. Do you think Keith Flint went around saying sorry to everyone? We get sh*t done and we’re never sorry unless we’ve done something wrong, which I think would be a healthier attitude for a lot of people to have, not just musicians.
We’ve had a taste of the upcoming album with ‘Do It So Good’, which encapsulates a lot of what we’ve come to know from WARGASM. It’s heavy, melodic, aggressive, electronic, and confronting…
Sam Matlock: That’s not even one of the heavy ones on the album!
Milkie: I would actually say it’s one of the least heavy songs on the album…
Sam: We’re not just saying that either. We thought it was a vibey introduction to what comes next, and a little bit of a more refined version of what we do. I wouldn’t call that song heavy compared to what’s coming. Chaos is truly the intent, that was just the neatest chaos we could get.
Thanks to that chaos, WARGASM have been able to slot into countless different scenes since you started out. You’ve played on some tours and festivals where you’ve been the heaviest band, and some where you were the poppiest. Are you hoping that Venom can guide you more towards one end of that spectrum, or are you keen to remain sonically ambiguous?
Milkie: Honestly, I think it’s going to broaden the horizons even more. It takes all the sounds and attitudes that we already have, and moves them in so many different directions.
Sam: We do alright in the UK, and people like us in other places now. You don’t set out to be famous, but with bigger shows and bigger capacities come certain freedoms. I’m sure this album is going to propel us into different worlds and onto different festival stages, and I’m really looking forward to that. I hope it takes us to a place where we don’t have to have conversations about whether we fit in with the rest of the scene. I would love to just exist in our own bubble with our fanbase, because they’re very cool people. They do exciting sh*t and every time I log into the WARGASM social accounts, I’m excited to see what they’ve been up to and what they’ve tagged us in. It would be lovely to remove the need to be a support band and just play shows for our fans.
A lot of what we’ve heard from WARGASM so far has been impacted by the lockdown mentality of longing to be back in a mosh pit surrounded by like-minded people. Is that a spirit that continues on Venom, or is the energy a little different this time around?
Sam: We’re back now. The original energy was like, ‘Let’s get sh*t done’, but the new energy is more, ‘It’s time, motherf*ckers. Take out your keys, put them in their locks, and everyone push the red button at the same time’. This is when it happens.
We’re playing Shepherds Bush in London this December, and we’re super excited to unleash it. I remember looking out at the crowd at Slam Dunk earlier this year and thinking, ‘F*ck me, I wouldn’t have gotten in that mosh pit even when I was 18!’ It’s so cool to see that, but worrying as well, of course. I hope they’ve got some good insurance!
I think we’ve hit the boiling point now, and when people hear the record, they’ll understand what I’m saying. When they come to our shows, that power will switch, and it’ll be our turn to see them hit their boiling point.
How much has the live experience, the energy of your performance, and the energy you’ve received back from your fans impacted the sound and spirit of Venom?
Milkie: There’s actually a song on the album that we’ve been playing live for at least ten months now. Obviously, no one knows the lyrics, but I like seeing people pretend that they know them. It’s hilarious because I know they’ve never heard the song.
I think it’s a good sign that people are enthusiastic about a song they’ve never heard though, and I hope they see it in a different light when they hear it on the record. When you play a song live, it manifests in a completely different way. We’ve been rehearsing ‘Do It So Good’ to start playing it live, and we’ve noticed so many changes because you alter things for a live performance.
Sam: Nowadays though, if you play a new song live just once it’ll end up on YouTube with a high-quality recording. That’s what dissuades bands from testing out new material. We would have loved to put some of the new songs in our set before the album release because they represent us more than some of the other things we play. However, the exciting thing about getting the record out and doing all this touring at the end of the year, is that we can bin off one setlist and bring in a new one that feels more like what’s in our brains at the moment.
Whilst a certain sonic chaos has come to define WARGASM, another key component of this project is the dynamic between the two of you. Rock music duos are often defined by their contrast to one another, but it seems as though you have a similar energy. How important has it been to develop that partnership?
Sam: Characters are important. Milkie helped me realise that maybe I shouldn’t just wear black skinny jeans, a black denim jacket, and a black t-shirt all the time. She used to tell me that it was boring, and it is f*cking boring.
The dynamic between two people affects everything about the creative output. This band isn’t run like a company where we make decisions on the branding based on what would make the most money, it’s two people with their own ideas, arguing and coming to an agreement through conversation.
Milkie: There are also certain perks to only having two cooks in the kitchen. The two of us are so similar in some ways, and dissimilar in a lot of other ways. Decisions get made between the two of us in interesting ways.
Sam: From the outside, people sometimes think that I’m the calm one and you’re the mad one.
Milkie: Yeah, that’s not always the case…
With the world as chaotic as it is right now, there’s something to be said for providing an outlet for unrestrained energy. Thinking about WARGASM’s purpose, especially with this new record, is this about giving people a space to expel the anger of their everyday lives?
Sam: You hit the nail completely on the head there. We’re not about escapism in the form of writing concept albums, even though that would be cool. We’re providing escapism in the form of a healthy way of dealing with the world. You can shout into the void, but all you’re going to do is hurt your voice and stress yourself out, so why not come and shout along with us?
My mum regularly apologises to me for the state of the world that we’re living in. It’s scary to think that there are people younger than me in the UK trying to navigate paying their bills, eating food, having a social life and building a career – especially if they’re self-employed. The world is on fire, the news is telling us bad things every day, and it’s a waking nightmare. I think it’s good to have someone to scream along with, and everyone can hold hands and scream together until we feel a little bit calmer. Art is therapy, and that’s what we aim to provide for people. Hopefully, they can hear the lyrics to this album and understand that it’s not weird to be pissed off all the time.
This project has been evolving since you first began, and there’s been a lot of build-up to this moment. Do the songs on Venom now feel like the truest reflection of WARGASM to date?
Milkie: It’s been nearly two years now since we wrote the first song for Venom, and I still listen to the album at least three or four times a week. I always listen to it when I’m flying, and I don’t know why, but it seems to make the time go by much faster. One of our collaborators also told us that he was listening to it whilst driving and ended up with a speeding ticket! It seems to have the power to warp time and reality, and I love it. I’m absolutely not sick of it yet, which has got to be a good sign.
WARGASM begin their 2023 UK tour in November. Find tickets here.
Venom will be released on 27 October.