The former Blur guitarist-turned-solo star and the former Pipettes member-turned-Mark Ronson collaborator and singer-songwriter first emerged as a new project back in April with the track ‘Something Pretty‘, before playing a debut London show and appearing at The Great Escape.
They’ve now revealed full details of their self-titled debut album, which has been produced by James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine, Foals) and is due for release in February 2023 via Transgressive Records.
To mark the launch of the album Coxon invited NME into his house to interview The WAEVE, where they told us about their collaborative journey since they started work on the record over a year and a half ago.
Asked if they’d consider themselves to be a “supergroup”, Dougall replied: “Don’t you need more than two people to be a supergroup? It’s a very strong line-up!”
Coxon agreed: “I’m not sure! Those kinds of bands are put together in a different situation. The way we came together was very different. I’m not sure if it can be termed a supergroup or super-duo!”
Coxon and Dougall explained how they first met at a Pipettes gig at the Buffalo Bar in Islington in 2004, sparking a friendship which led them to where they are now.
“I think I spoke to you briefly after the show and shouted at you to buy me a drink,” said Dougall, turning to Coxon. “I asked for a disgustingly strong drink. I was drinking a lot of brandy at the time – I don’t know what was up with me.”
Coxon continued: “So I got you a quadruple brandy and coke, said, ‘Enjoy your night’, then ran away’.”
After meeting again at a later Queens Of Noize show, the pair didn’t meet again until a mutual friend put on a benefit show in 2020. Coxon and Dougall were both invited to play at the socially-distanced gig between lockdowns to raise money for Lebanon after the explosion in Beirut.
Following the show, the pair got talking over “a dodgy burger and chips in the dressing room” to discuss the idea of a collaboration, before they started emailing musical ideas back and forth throughout that Christmas.
“There’s quite a lot of common ground in our musical influences and tastes,” Dougall explained. “Graham was playing some Bert Jansch and John Martyn covers at the show we did, which is a real foundation of the music I’ve always loved. We realised that was in the bag, but then we started to talk about all these other weird things like Van der Graaf Generator and other bits.”
Graham Coxon and Rose Elinor Dougal team up to form The WAEVE. CREDIT: Steve Gullick
Coxon then explained how they share “extremely wide and varied tastes in music”, but sought to fill one another’s “gaps in their musical education”.
“They were probably good gaps for her – a big Van der Graaf Generator and King Crimson gap – and maybe a couple of other jazzy gaps,” said Coxon. “There were also some gaps in mine that are now filled with some very tasteful music!”
He went on: “It was an interesting and educational time over Christmas, and I hadn’t had the best of years. We came up with the idea of how we could forge forward through life. Do we actually write some music, do something completely different, and out of our comfort zone, or just give the whole bloody thing up and forget about it, generally – life, music and all the rest of it.”
Dougall agreed that “it was a really tough time for everyone”, but that having a project to focus on gave them the impetus to make more of life and their creative needs.
“Just making music can be a painful process in itself,” she admitted. “It felt like a really fortuitous kick up the arse for both of us to say, ‘Hang on, maybe we could both step outside of our individual bullshit’. As soon as you get a new energy, there are all of these other things that can reveal themselves.”
Within two weeks, the pair had the beginnings of four or five songs and they realised they had “a rich well of music becoming evident”, and decided to pursue their work as a project of its own.
“I hadn’t really done any writing for 2020, so it was like a capped well,” said Coxon. “There was a lot there. It just needed the right circumstances. It was an odd time because there was nobody on the streets, time had really slowed down, and it was interesting to try and make sense of ourselves in that situation and after our experiences. To take some risks in what we wanted to express.”
Inspired by “a shared love of English folk music, storytelling and the associated landscapes of this beleaguered island”, their music soon turned into something of their own, with “a cinematic breadth while maintaining an honest intimacy” and “guitars, saxophones AND strings lifting the songs into other stratospheres”.
Dougall explained how they were more interested in “the blood, guts, sex and nastiness of English folk music”.
“I’m not interested in the twee side of folk,” she said. “We’re dealing with life and death and all that kind of thing. There’s a brutality to nature. It’s not all pastoral. Those are the visual things I feel that our music summons up.”
She added: “There’s a very strong Englishness about our references, whatever that means. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be English. It’s a very complicated and uncomfortable relationship I have with that, increasingly, day by day.
“You can divorce things from politics and society, but there are certain histories in musical culture, stories and landscapes. That forms a cultural identity that can inspire in a really great way. Those are things to hold on to when everything else feels really at odds with each other and you feel disassociated from your own place.”
Coxon agreed, adding that the England they represent is a much more raw version than the one that might have come across in his Britpop days with Blur.
“We were given the opportunity to make something and go somewhere, but go behind the veil of the experience of what it’s like to be English, of this landscape, of this country; and to go back to more of a superstitious, interesting and rich land,” he said.
“I always loved the idea of when you get a hag stone and look through it, you’re meant to see the world in a different way. You’re meant to be seeing the world of the fairies and the elves. It’s definitely been a long-term interest of mine – the elementals of the fire, the water and the earth, the landscape, the objects and the trees and what they might symbolise.”
Despite the folk-y themes, The WAEVE’s debut album was recorded in a way that gave it a “futuristic flavour, or a bit of a King Crimson of Bowie flavour”, driven by a “proggy attitude” and “loose and liquid sonic identity”. Despite wanting to keep the album intimate and personal between the two of them, Coxon and Dougall later took the songs to James Ford to “get a bit of perspective”.
“He’s just got a really sensitive ear,” said Dougall. “There’s a danger that someone might come in, start pulling it apart and put their own identity on it.”
Coxon continued: “He understood the mischief behind what we do. I like working with people who are mischievous in a sonic way, who are slightly perverse, and who aren’t afraid to make sounds that might seem a bit much. I like to be entertained by music. James really fitted in and understood in that way.”
Dougall said that The WAEVE was her “main focus for now” away from her celebrated solo career, and also agreed with former bandmate and Mercury nominee Gwenno in downplaying the chances of a reunion with The Pipettes.
After bandmate Damon Albarn claimed that the band had been in talks and “had an idea” of how to make their comeback, Coxon told NME: “I was privy to that discussion. It started as a discussion, but didn’t really end as one.”
With rumours recently circulating in tabloids that the Britpop legends would reunite in 2023 for stadium gigs, Coxon seemed less sure.
“A Blur reunion? I haven’t even talked to anyone about that; I don’t know what that’s about,” he told NME. “I haven’t talked to any of those boys for a while. Although I did text Alex [James, bassist] the other day – but he was Feasting [at his festival The Big Feastival], he didn’t get back to me.”
The band will also play a live show at London’s Lafayette on March 27, 2023. Visit here for tickets and more information.