There is a short list of bands that I carry around in my head—bands that are incredible but, sadly, defunct and forgotten without ever getting the recognition I felt they deserved. Until recently, Waxwing were near the top of that list.
In the late '90s and early '00s, Waxwing were a staple in the Seattle music community—they regularly played all-ages shows at the Paradox, the Old Fire House, and various basements. People were drawn to their songs, which carried moments of both subtle, delicate beauty and overwhelming guitar onslaught. While the band was able to develop a cult following—there are more than just a few tattoos of the band's logo out there—Waxwing ultimately took a backseat to its members' other musical careers. Singer Rocky Votolato was, rightfully, finding more and more success as a solo artist; Rocky's guitarist brother, Cody, was part of the Blood Brothers' snotty sonic storm. The band announced their official split in 2005, but their albums One for the Ride and Nobody Can Take What Everybody Owns still stand up today.
But emotional hearts burst open with happiness earlier this year when Waxwing announced that they were reuniting! For those who are just learning about Waxwing, here's a brief history lesson of how four teenagers came and left, like so many bands do, but were ultimately able to cultivate an impression big enough to call for a reunion nearly a decade after their demise.
1996: Waxwing are born. The band starts out as a trio with singer Rocky Votolato, age 19, bassist Andrew Hartley, and drummer Rudy Gajadhar, both 16. Rocky asked Andrew to join the band after the two became friends in their high school cartooning class—"I remember giving Rocky a Grieg tape—yes, a tape—to try and impress him with the fact I listened to classical music," says Andrew.
1996: Waxwing play their first show at the Velvet Elvis in Seattle, but no one can remember the exact date of the show. "I must have been really nervous," says Andrew. "I seem to have blocked it from my memory."
1997: Rocky's 15-year-old brother Cody joins the band. "When I first met Cody, he was probably 12 or 13," says Rudy. "He was totally the annoying younger brother who wanted to be in on everything! Not to worry, Code, I don't think of you that way anymore."
Summer 1997: Waxwing go on their first tour. "We had to get my buddy Justin Deary to fill in on guitar because our mom didn't feel like Cody was old enough to go on tour yet," says Rocky. "I booked the tour with phone numbers I compiled from different people I met at punk shows—it was pretty sketchy at best. The first show we did out of town was in Portland, and I remember looking out and seeing only one person there, and that was the girl running sound! I remember the moment that she went out to have a cigarette, and we were completely alone in the room... I asked the dudes if we should keep playing. We said, 'Fuck it,' and just tried to have a good time and treat it like a practice for the next night."
1998: Waxwing release their first 7-inch on Henry's Finest Recording.
Fall 1998: The band goes on another tour, this time with Seattle's Sharks Keep Moving. "We played at a place called the Pickle Patch in Goleta, California, with a band called Mile Marker," Rocky recalls. "After the show, I remember hanging out with Steve Aoki, and he made us all hand-screen-printed Dim Mak T-shirts. I wore mine 'til it basically fell apart."
1999: The band releases their first full-length, For Madmen Only, on Second Nature Recordings. A local following begins to grow, as does a seemingly relentless show schedule—their turbulent, emotional sound earns them spots on bills with everyone from Hot Water Music to Boy Sets Fire.
March 11, 2000: The now-Grammy- nominated Death Cab for Cutie opens for Waxwing at the Kirkland Teen Center. "That is crazy to think about now," says Rocky.
August 2000: Cody's other band, the Blood Brothers, release their debut full-length, This Adultery Is Ripe.
October 2000: Waxwing appear on the cover of beloved biweekly newspaper the Rocket. The paper suddenly folds just a few weeks later.
November 2000: Rocky stars in the straight-edge-versus-punk cult classic Edge of Quarrel, alongside other local music luminaries including Dann Gallucci and John Pettibone.
February 2002: The Blood Brothers release their second album, March On Electric Children. The Blood Brothers' popularity would play a role in Waxwing's eventual demise. "Blood Brothers started getting more serious around the same time that Rocky was putting more energy into his solo project," says Cody. "We fit Waxwing in when possible, but eventually we felt that it would be best to have a final couple shows and put the band to rest. We wanted to have a poignant finish rather than just have the band fizzle and die."
October 2002: Waxwing release their last full-length album, Nobody Can Take What Everybody Owns. The Blood Brothers sign to V2, a subsidy of Virgin Records, and Rocky releases two solo records and one EP in two years.
November 2005: After being inactive for some time, Waxwing announce, "We are finally calling it quits."
December 16—17, 2005: Waxwing play their farewell shows at the Vera Project and the Old Fire House in Redmond, respectively. "It was real sentimental for a lot of different reasons" says Rudy of the last show. "We played songs from every album, played a cover from one of our favorite bands, Jawbreaker. It's cool that it was at the Old Fire House, which is an all-ages club that we all grew up at. I saw my first concerts as a kid there."
Adds Cody: "It was a really organic decision to do those last two shows. It wasn't dramatic, but really surreal. It was cool to feel that things were coming to a close with a positive intention. It made everything feel special. The energy of the whole night was moving, sad, powerful, and hopeful."
January 2013: After talking about it for about a year, Waxwing quietly have their first practice since breaking up nearly a decade ago. "There wasn't a real pretense with the first rehearsal," says Cody. "We just wanted to play the old songs and see how they felt. Rocky and I had already written a few ideas for new songs, but we wanted to make sure that the band felt right before making any solid plans for a show or new album. Everything came naturally and felt great. I feel like we immediately knew it was gonna work out."
"I have to admit I was feeling a little out of shape and mad at my younger self for writing such intricate drum parts," adds Rudy, "but it was great playing together again. I think we were all surprised at how easily it came back to us on playing the old tunes."
March 2013: After some successful practices, Waxwing announce on Facebook," It's good to be back..."
August 2013: Waxwing will play Friday, August 23, at the Black Lodge as a warm-up, and then Saturday, August 24, at the Vera Project. Rocky confirms that new music is on the way, too. "When some of the new ideas we've been working on started to take shape, I knew we made a really good decision getting back together. It's been a really great time so far, and I'm super-excited to start a new chapter for the band."