The Cover Story

Wage War: “There’s nothing better than seeing your fans connect to music you feel proud to have made”

After three years away, Floridian metalcore faves Wage War are back with new album STIGMA. In a world-exclusive first interview, we catch up with Briton Bond and Cody Quistad to get the lowdown on one of the scene’s biggest albums of the year, and why they’re all about having fun every step of the way…

Wage War: “There’s nothing better than seeing your fans connect to music you feel proud to have made”
David McLaughlin
Jeremy Saffer

For a man whose house has apparently just flooded, Wage War guitarist Cody Quistad cuts a remarkably upbeat figure. Joining us from his backyard in Nashville, Tennessee, he’s all smiles and stoicism as the sound of birdsong drifts on the breeze of a cold spring morning in the background. The band’s somewhat laconic vocalist Briton Bond is connected too, albeit safely ensconced in the warmth of his flood-free home over 700 miles away in the heart of the pair’s native Florida.

“I’ve been better, but it’s been a heck of a morning,” Cody says, admirably laughing off what transpires is actually just his latest plumbing misfortune. ”I had a spigot freeze. It gets cold here in Tennessee, so if you don’t drip your faucet when you turn the water back on after a long winter, pipes will burst. Do you want to know the bummer part? This is the second time my house has flooded! But we’re rocking, it’s all good.”

Nothing, it seems, is going to mess with the Wage War man’s chi today – even if he’s yet to determine the full extent of the damage or confirm if new floors will be in order this time around. And the reason is simple. The five-piece – completed by fellow six-stringer Seth Blake, bassist Chris Gaylord and drummer Stephen Kluesener – are currently riding the waves of a major high having wrapped up work on their forthcoming fifth album, STIGMA. In a world-exclusive first interview, they’re visibly giddy about it, ready to tell Kerrang! all about how the record came together and the toll it took, as well as the hopes and dreams forged in the fires of its creation. Or that might be the case if it was how it actually went down. The truth is, they’ve evidently had a blast making these 10 tracks. There are no hard luck stories to tell this time; no great stresses, challenges or pains to unpack. STIGMA is, they say, simply the result and sound of a band of best friends having the time of their lives making music together. Sickening.

“On some records, you have a compelling story to tell about how they’re made out of tough times, and we’ve certainly had those in the past,” Cody explains, “but this one was born out of a great time.”

“It was so stress-free, it was almost like it fell out of us,” adds Briton with a grin.

“The overall vibe of the record – and this sounds bad because we’re a heavy band – is that it sounds fun,” the guitarist offers, almost apologetically. “The themes are, for the most part, very serious and it’s still honest. I think you can listen to the record and tell that we genuinely had a really good time making it. But by the time you get to the end, you’re like, ‘What was that? I’ve got to hear it again!’”

There were two moments during the recording process when Wage War couldn’t even contain their own collective incredulity. While tracking vocals in Cody’s home studio in Tennessee, Seth struck upon the idea for Briton to try on his leather driving gloves. It was a morning session, and Briton was still wearing his dressing robe. That, a beanie and a pair of glasses. The absurdity of how he must have looked has the pair giggling at the memory even still, but it’s probably something you really had to be there for. They promise it was hilarious.

The other occasion was when the whole band were left in hysterics after Briton had laid down one of his most out-there vocals for the song TOMBSTONE. A more fragile or egotistical singer might have taken offence at such a reaction, but this was no reflection on his performance or abilities. It represented something else entirely.

“I’d done a really crazy take and so we all burst out laughing,” he recalls. “I remember just thinking, ‘What are we doing?’”

“It was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re getting to make music like this,’” Cody explains of their amusement. “It’s so special. This [opportunity] has got to be, like, a one-in-three-million chance.”

Such is the extent to which Wage War feel they’re pushing the boundaries of what people expect from them as a band on STIGMA, they occasionally wondered if they were going too far...

It all began behind the scenes in stages, conceived in the wake of heady days supporting Slipknot in arenas Stateside, the result of a whirlwind of “touring the absolute mess out of” 2021’s fourth album, Manic. An old demo of a song called STIGMA did exist, but only the title survived as the idea got pushed to the wayside over time. Similarly, the album’s eventual second track SELF SACRIFICE almost came out as a single in springtime last year, but a decision to keep their powder dry won out in the end. In reality, until the run of Canadian shows were completed last summer, there was barely even time to breathe let alone consider their next moves in earnest. They had never waited this long to put out a new record before. The every-two-years consistency streak was about to be broken, but golden opportunities kept stacking up, too good to let pass.

When it finally came time to get back into creative mode, the five-piece needed somewhere to focus and hopefully strike upon some inspiration. Having worked in log cabins in the wilderness of the mountains on Manic, this time they hit the seaside, renting a house in the city of Destin, Florida.

“It was pretty relaxing, since we were right on the beach,” Briton recalls of the album’s idyllic-sounding origins. “Some days the songs were coming together so good we’d just go swimming or whatever, then we’d wake up the next day and start writing again.”

“We probably put two or three songs together there,” Cody reckons. “It was a nice house, we set up a studio where Briton tracked some stuff, we worked on ideas and concepts, and it was great. That was a good trip to reconnect as friends in a low-pressure environment. Ideas pop out of nowhere in that headspace.”

Things got really serious, however, when they took the record out to Los Angeles in September, working with Drew Fulk (Motionless In White, Ice Nine Kills), who helped co-produce this one alongside Cody. In tandem with several other songs, lead single MAGNETIC came to fruition on that trip and when they ran the song back, that was the first time they collectively sat up and gasped at what they were cooking.

Should you require an illustration of just how far outside their usual remit the Floridians were operating on these 10 tracks, take the example of what Cody calls the record’s “anchor song” BLUR. Pressed for a moment when they felt they were really onto something, that was it; a song which the guitarist had originally demoed and worked on with some pals in his now adopted home of Nashville. Across STIGMA there’s a host of peer contributions, in fact, from country artists Devin Dawson and Mitchell Tenpenny to songwriters Kyle Fishman, Michael Whitworth and Kellen McGregor from Memphis May Fire. The idea was to “get other people’s brains on it, to add a cool flavour” the guitarist reasons.

“Cody working with country artists led us to some choruses that are really out of the box for metalcore,” Briton reflects.

“Working with country artists led us to some choruses that are really out of the box for metalcore”

Briton Bond

And if the idea of that gets dyed-in-the-wool elitist knickers in a twist, then so be it. There’s also a range of industrial influences, leftfield electronic flourishes, riffs for days and a healthy dose of hip-hop into the bargain.

“It feels like it breaks the stigma of our genre and our scene,” Cody teases. “It’s not a straight down the middle anything. God, I hate saying this, but the record has our heaviest stuff ever and our most melodic songs ever (laughs). I feel like we pushed all boundaries and went so far beyond metalcore.

“This is an exciting time in music to be doing that,” he argues. “Just look at the way things are evolving, not just in our scene. All the way up to the Top 40, genres aren’t really a thing anymore. It feels very much like a ‘this is us’ record.”

To get in the right mood for his studio sessions, Cody would choose a suitable movie to play on the screen above his console. He’d set the lights in the room to an appropriate colour, too. When someone suggested that record opener THE SHOW’S ABOUT TO START sounded like something that might be heard in the club scene of The Matrix, the guitarist adjusted the lighting to green and put the sci-fi classic on for spiritual inspiration. Blade was another one that helped inform the record’s aesthetic and sonic tone. The “chaos” of the aforementioned TOMBSTONE borrows a line or two from the eminently quotable ’90s Western of the same name, so on it went too. “It was like a live moodboard,” the guitarist and co-producer says of his thinking and process, “it’s become kind of my thing in the studio now.” None of these songs are explicitly about the cinematic source material that helped shape them, however. That wasn’t the point. They were but catalysts; another way in which the band expressed their creative freedom to the fullest.

“There are songs with common themes you might expect from a Wage War record,” Cody reassures fans. “Whether that be mental health-based or relationship-based material, certainly, there are those kind of songs on there. But we also wanted to branch out a little.”

On the subject of mental health, Briton – who has been open about discussing his struggles in the past – says he is doing much better these days.

“I’m in my 30s now and it’s been the funnest time of my life so far,” he firmly asserts. “And I feel like our band is blossoming into something new. So, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

“I feel like our band is blossoming into something new”

Briton Bond

To that end, there’s much more of a carpe diem spirit and emphasis on experimentation in evidence. The album’s penultimate track, IN MY BLOOD, contains actual sounds recorded from a real Floridian swamp, for instance.

“That was the last thing we did for the record, and it was truly the most spirited, ‘Let’s just have fun’ song of all,” Cody says proudly. “We’re all from Florida and there’s this thing about how everyone from our home state is apparently supposed to be crazy, so we wrote a song about it; about being proud of where you’re from. It’s got the most ridiculous breakdown.”

Fun, again, is the operative word. All too often it seems it’s a dirty one in modern metal. For a genre so inherently silly in so many ways, that’s a shame, too. Especially at a time when the world is already heavy, dark and scary enough. So many bands appear to take themselves so seriously these days, and how many of them can honestly say they’re enjoying it? STIGMA is the opposite, made by a band who are evidently their own biggest fans, doing what they do without care for what anyone else might think of it.

“We’ve never written a targeted song in our life,” Cody promises. “We always write from a place of enjoyment and for us. When you can find the thing that you enjoy and your fans enjoy too, that’s the sweet spot. It’s about being ourselves, doing what we want and hopefully having everyone along for the ride.”

When Wage War find themselves in the full swing of the touring cycle promoting STIGMA, they will mark a decade of doing this as a band on the world stage. Theirs is a story of friendship, hard work and doing things for the right reasons. Rather than chase anything, their focus remains on keeping a firm grip on those values.

“All five of us have always been best friends this entire time,” Briton reflects. “From being in the band to touring in buses and travelling internationally, we’ve always got along and that’s been a big thing for me at least. Having fun with my best friends? I wouldn’t change that for the world.”

“We have truly seen it all at this point. From our inception even to this day, I feel like we are more of a DIY band than most our age,” Cody argues. “We all work very hard at this, it’s not just a touch and go thing. There are things that make life easier, but we have slept in vans for months on end with no beds, no hotels, lived off $5 a day, played to nobody and come home dirt poor having to find odd jobs. To be in a spot now where life can be a little bit more comfortable, and we can make a living doing what we love is truly success to me. More than ever, I appreciate just how far we’ve come, thinking about how we made our first record and this one.”

Who knew that a band called Wage War would be all about peace, love and harmony. What gives?

“Being open and honest with each other is the key,” the guitarist reckons. “Not everyone does that in the same ways or at the same time, but ultimately we all circle up and have our moments when we come together and talk. Because things can build up and get out of hand. We are certainly not fight-free in this band. If you’re going to spend this much time away from home away from family missing out on so much, it better be with people you love.”

“I feel like we are more of a DIY band than most our age”

Cody Quistad

On June 21, when STIGMA is released, the world will be invited to join in as they embark upon the next chapter of this story. What twists and turns lie ahead is anyone’s guess. To borrow a phrase: trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no lights on while looking out the back window. Wage War have been doing this long enough now to know that concentrating on the path right in front of them is the way to stay on track.

“I mean, I’d like to play stadiums (laughs),” Cody jokes. “There are no targeted success points and of course every band wants to play bigger rooms, but there’s honestly nothing better than seeing your fans connect to music you feel proud to have made. We don’t feel there’s a world where this fails.”

And if the world should turn around and say they’re not feeling it, it’s all too much? Oh well, whatever. Wage War are already busy basking in the glow of the success that comes from just making something they love.

“I sent a meme to our group chat the other day,” Cody says, summarising the spirit in the camp right now. “Somebody had put Briton’s face over Chad Kroeger’s head with the caption: ‘Nickelbackcore’ and I was like, ‘This dude has no idea just how much of an honour that is!’”

“Oh yeah, you are not hurting my feelings with that one,” Briton chuckles.

“So, you’re saying he sounds like the singer from one of the biggest rock bands of all time? Oh, how terrible!”

Send floods, send hate… send whatever you’ve got, universe. With the winds of STIGMA in their sails, Wage War cannot be defeated.

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