Punk rock is a hell of a drug. Countless young minds have been altered, opened and liberated by the sounds of power chords and political unrest. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong once said “My education was punk rock,” and director Mike Mills noted that when he heard punk for the first time, it was “freedom.” New Jersey punk outfit The Gaslight Anthem even wrote a song—“I’da Called You Woody, Joe”— about hearing The Clash for the first time.
The members of Chicago’s Meat Wave had their collective minds blown by the rebellious sounds of punk at a young age. In a phone interview, guitarist and vocalist Chris Sutter remembers the time and place where punk rock left its biggest impression on him.
“When I was in seventh grade—I was probably 12 or 13 years old—I was taken to a skatepark in Elgin, Illinois, and I saw this band The Breakdown,” Sutter says. “It kind of changed my world around. It was super raw and they were super funny, and it was a great community, and I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Meat Wave, whose name was inspired by a story in The Onion (“Dozens dead in Chicago-area meat wave”), are still a relatively young band, but it’s easy to see how they, in turn, could leave an ass-kicking impression on youthful ears in search of liberation through noise and rhythm.
The band’s second album, Delusion Moon, is 38 minutes of scrappy, driving garage punk with taut rhythms and a unique take on melody. From the opening pound of the two-minute title track, their most immediate quality is sheer force. It’s pretty obvious in just a few notes that this is a band intent on making some formidable noise.
It’s not all about power or volume for Meat Wave, however. The songwriting on Delusion Moon frequently avoids a straightforward approach to two-minute, threechord structures. The band sometimes stretches out into slow-burning, tension-building verses as they do in “Sunlight,” and they showcase a more complex interplay between guitar and bass on tracks such as “Cosmic Zoo” and “Witchcraft.” Since they’re a trio— comprising Sutter, bass player Joe Gac and drummer Ryan Wizniak— Meat Wave has built-in limitations as a band. But instead of relying on overdubs, they use those limitations to their advantage.
“We’re a three-piece band so we can really only do so much,” says Gac. “We write around the fact that we are a three piece. There are certain limitations that we need to overcome. But that’s half the fun of it. I think that’s the essence of the band…just trying to capture that more or less.”
“We’re kind of on the spot since we’re the only people playing instruments,” adds Wizniak. “We kind of have to think very specifically of doing everything we can to support the song and make it sound as good as possible.”
In the same way that Meat Wave doesn’t follow convention when it comes to songwriting, they also explore a vast array of lyrical territory that extends beyond the earnestness or politics that so often defines punk. Sutter does occasionally veer into the realm of politics, critiquing right-wing talking points in “NRA” and “The Gay Contempt.” But Sutter often uses strange news stories or peculiar real-life happenings as inspiration for lyrical narratives. One song in particular, “Witchcraft,” seems to literally be about occult rituals: “Now inhale the fume/ dazed and deranged/ blaze up my pain/ I see visions/ I envision something different.” The story behind it, as it turns, is even weirder than that.
“Usually it begins with a weird story or experience that I have,” Sutter says. “A song like ‘Witchcraft’ is based on real things that happened. My dad was going through a divorce with my mom and was seeing a therapist. And the therapist was practicing witchcraft on him and the other clients she had. So they all took her to court and sued her.”
Meat Wave play February 13th at Soda Bar
Delusion Moon, as a whole, is tied together by the common thread of people behaving in strange ways, and it can be tied back to the album’s title, which Sutter explains is founded on the superstitious belief in the lunar effect, or moon sickness.
“There’s the old adage of moon sickness—it’s like a medieval kind of concept,” Sutter says. “When the moon is fully exposed people will behave wildly or their deepest kind of delusions or desires will come out. It’s that in kind of a modern concept.”
On many levels, Meat Wave are an unconventional kind of punk band. And yet, at the core of their music is the same kind of time-tested and universal intensity and brevity that stretches from The Ramones to Fugazi. It’s not hard to imagine a kid today hearing Meat Wave for the first time and feeling the same way that Sutter did back at that Illinois skatepark. But when that happens, he says, he just hopes that the music resonates beyond that first, aggressive impact.
“I hope it hits people a little deeper than just mindless punk. It’s not mindless,” Sutter says. “There’s some emotive qualities to our music, I think. We’re really loud, but we don’t just want it to be loud. I hope people can actually feel something.”