Diss Tracks, Depression, and Divorce: An Interview with Hether Fortune of Wax Idols
Male privileged cis-bros, beware. This one's for you.
Photo by Chloe Alexandra Thompson
Forget about those other diss-tracks for a second, because L.A. dark-rocker Hether Fortune is here to show you that no one airs grievances through music like a goth-band. When your relationship with the world is steeped in extreme emotional chaos, all of life is a fucking diss track. With that in mind, this third LP from Fortune's dark-pop outfit Wax Idols feels pointed at a particular issue. Her self-described diss-track titled "Deborah," premiering below, cuts into cis-bro male privilege like she’s wielding a knife.
“‘Deborah’ is about discovering that someone is not at all who they present themselves as,” Fortune explains, her voice gravelly and sore over the phone. She takes a sip of tea. “This song is a big ‘fuck you’ to people who capitalize on the vulnerability of others and, more specifically, to straight cis men who take advantage of women and queer culture by posing as 'one of us' and then consuming our identities and ideas in order to make themselves seem more interesting.”
This one-against-the-other mentality is nothing new for Fortune. Her band Wax Idols has grown from scrappy garage beginnings into socially combative and sophisticated goth-rock. But even back then, her words have always scratched with a purpose. Fortune has long-since been one of the more vocal women in the punk scene when it comes to calling out and dealing with misogyny. Her no-bullshit persona is oft conflated with her secondary career as a working dominatrix. Misunderstood as angry, Fortune insists that she’s just a cry-baby at heart. As we speak about the new Wax Idols record, our conversation veers into her remarkably candid struggles with depression and anxiety in light of her recent divorce. Despite the concscientous producition and silvery veneer of American Tragic, the record at hand is raw and incredibly open, not unlike Fortune herself.
Noisey: Hi Hether! Americn Tragic is so far from the garage rock sound the first Wax Idols album, No Future. That said, I feel like you’ve been slowly approaching this sound, with Discipline and Desire as a stepping stone in between the two records. Would you agree with that?
Hether Fortune: I mean, in hindsight, yeah. I can see how it might look that way. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’ve just been writing as it comes naturally to me. I had no plan ever really. I just was trying to write songs as best as I could using whatever tools I had available and whatever felt right for me. I think now looking back in hindsight, I can see kind of a line between the first album to this one for sure. Definitely was just kind of exploring texture and ways to write pop songs that aren’t like silly or too simple. I like to challenge myself. I mean I could sit down and write a hundred pop songs like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom and just follow the formula. Pop music is formulaic, but I think it's more interesting to try and to push the concept of pop some place a little more challenging without alienating your audience. That’s kind of where I'm at.
I understand it that you played all of the instruments on this record except for the drums?
Fortune: Yeah, this record was actually super minimal instrumentally. What you're hearing texture-wise is just production. Great production. There’s not that much going on. With my last record, there's so much guitar. On Discipline and Desire, there's like one million guitar tracks. With guitar on the last record and on this record, I wanted to focus more on my voice and post production technique. I didn’t want to like hide behind guitar so much. There’s much less going on actually. There’s just guitar, but like, usually only one or two guitar tracks per song, if any. On songs like "Glisten," there's like no guitar. There's one guitar part that’s like that weird dissonant.
What kind of music were you listening to while writing these songs? I personally hear a lot of 80s darkwave, like Siouxsie and Bauhaus.
When I’m working on an album, I actually don’t really listen to anything. I try not to listen to anything because I want to keep it pure as possible. So, I try to not listen to that much music and if I do listen to music, I try to listen to something that’s so far away from what I’m doing that it wont like—I don’t know. I just don’t like to oversaturate things in any way. When I’m working on an album, it's kind of like I’m so consumed by it that I don’t even want to listen to other music. I'm trying to think though. I mean honestly, last year, I think the album I listened to more than anything was the Beyoncé album. For real! I didn’t do a thank you section cause I was trying not to clutter it design wise but my plan all along was to be like thank you and it's just gonna say like, “Beyoncé.” I don’t know why. It just really struck a chord with me. So yeah. I listened to a shit load of Beyoncé I guess like in 2014 after it came out.
That is definitely not what I what I was expecting you to say but amazing regardless. Switching gears a little bit, American Tragic is so intensely emotional. There's a part in the single about not going down where the vocals literally become the guitar. It's immersive in every way.
Fortune: Wow, I'm really glad that you feel that way. That’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted the vocals to turn into the guitar. Yeah, we did that on purpose that’s why there's like a little second, a little moment of silence you know? Like right when I say “I’m not going,” that high note and then everything cuts out right there for a split second because it pushes the tension forward into the guitar so it becomes like on thing.
I didn’t even notice that because it felt so intentionally seamless.
Fortune: Production, baby!
You spoke to us in your last interview with Noisey about how writing this album particular kind of healing for you. You've been pretty open about your recent divorce and having dealt with some pretty serious mental issues. Did making American Tragic help you though that in the way you thought it might?
Yeah, it did. It helped me through a lot. I mean the last two years of my life have been incredibly difficult and doing this album has helped me give back to myself and get back on the right path towards what’s going to make me happy. Towards my own self actualization. I kind of got led astray for a while due to various circumstances and it definitely helped. Although to be totally honest, I’m actually still struggling really hard with the mental illness stuff.
Do you have any advice for people who are also struggling with anxiety and depression?
I don’t know if i'm in the position to give advice because it's still so difficult. I'm still struggling with it so much. But I mean, I really think that it's important to deal with it. A lot of people I think have these issues and they just kind of swallow it and keep it inside and don’t talk about it. They don’t want to work on it and they just try to self medicate and push it down. That’s what I did for years and years and years and then it resulted in me having a nervous breakdown. I would really suggest that if anyone has problems with panics or anxiety or PTSD or depression or anything that they just really face it head on as best as they can and as quickly as possible because the sooner you start dealing with it the more likely you’ll be to actually be able to over come it. I kind of waited too long and it's really hard for me.
That’s interesting because this album even feels like a pummeling release. You can hear your voice pushing up against the flood gates. It seems to me like you are taking your own advice.
Fortune: Well, thank you. I’m trying to. I am trying to for sure. It's just weird when you do everything you can to have control of yourself, to master yourself and have control of your life, and you feel like you're in control but then your brain sometimes just decides, “nope, you're not.” Just don’t be afraid. You just have to face it head on. Get through it. Find the right therapist. Start journaling all of your thoughts. Start dealing because panic attacks are like demonic possession. If nobody is around, I’ll call somebody or whoever is around .I’ll have them read off the symptoms of panic to me because it helps me like get back in touch with reality and acknowledge that what I'm having is a panic attack and I'm not actually dying.
Your previous work specifically addressed power dynamics, reflecting your experiences working as a dominatrix. But American Tragic instead revolves around classic gothic imagery like martyrdom and loneliness. I know that goth women in particular are drawn to the dominatrix lifestyle and that those sub-cultures tend to intersect. Do you personally feel the over-lap of goth culture and women who domm?
Fortune: I think that women who explore punk and gothic sub-cultures tend to also be interested in exploring power dynamics in sex. I don’t know why that is exactly. I think a lot of it's like subversion, testing boundaries. There's similar themes in underground music communities and the BDSM world. There's tons of bands who use BDSM imagery and themes for their artwork or their music or whatever who are not actually involved per say in BDSM culture, but there seems to be a general overlapping theme, and I think especially is the case with women. It's empowering. It's empowering in a lot of ways. There are a lot of feminists who might say that it’s not and that you're objectifying yourself and blah, blah, blah, but I think that women who come from a more punk or like a darker point of view. They’re not so much interested in that kind of thing. They want to like subvert themselves and their bodies and their experiences in any way that they can in order to process whatever dark things are going on in their heads or to process trauma. I don’t want to stereotype goth people or whatever cause there are a lot of people who are drawn to goth stuff just for no reason just because it's cool or whatever, but I do think that a big part of gothic subculture has to do with people being drawn to create art in that realm. People who have dealt with intense amounts of trauma. You don’t really get morbid for no reason.
That’s a good point.
Unless you're like born a sociopath or something. Or if you're like a serial killer, then maybe you're born morbid, I guess. But you’re usually led towards it. I know that’s my experience. When I started getting into dark music and dying my hair black, I was like a teenager. I was angry and sad and had endured a lot of trauma already at that point. I think there's a connection between that and probably dominatrix stuff too. Although, I will say that not every dominatrix has been the victim of abuse or trauma. That’s a really common stereotype and a misconception and i'm in no way trying to push at all because I know that’s not true.
Do you kind of feel like the music community stereotypes your goth persona? I know you’ve said in other interviews that people seem to have a lot of misconceptions about you.
I don’t know. I mean, I think I used to be in the past, maybe whatever interviews your referring to, I was a little more—I had my guard up. I was a little more concerned with what people think of me or what their misconceptions might be and now I don’t really care, I’m not really sure anymore what that is.
I just read one interview where you were like people think I’m really mean because I look a certain way but I’m actually really loving and I thought that was interesting.
Oh yeah. That’s still really common but that kind of traces back to the classic aggressive female a.k.a. bitch thing because I’m outspoken. I’m aggressive and passionate and driven in a lot of ways. I’m not afraid of speaking my mind, ask for what I want, or tell the truth. A lot of people think I’m a bitch or I’m mean or I’m something. I'm actually not a mean person at all.
You don’t strike me as mean. But because you have a distinctly goth look and play in a goth band, it might be easy for people to just assume that you're pissed off and sad.
Fortune: Lets not get it twisted. I am sad but I'm not mean. But I am sad. That is true. I mean, I am a sad person. I'm super grateful for the things I do have. I'm alive I'm relatively healthy, physically at least, I have good people in my life hwo love and support me. I definitely count my blessings. When I talk about sadness I don’t mean that everyday I'm like, “Ugh, my life sucks.” I just have a well of sadness. It's old stuff mostly, but it's just part of me. That would be a fair assumption if someone’s like, “Yo, this person seems like a cry baby.” I am a crybaby! I am.
Bryn Lovitt is a Contributing Editor at Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.