The evocatively named Mountains Like Wax released a full-length album this year entitled Before There Was Plenty. This emotional debut follows their highly regarded EPs Tetrology and Are You Changing. It showcases nearly a decade of experience as one of Nashville’s best live acts. Mitchell Taylor and Sam Katz serve as the primary songwriting duo behind Mountains Like Wax and they bring on a slew of talented collaborators for this newest project including Julien Baker and Torri Weidinger, producers and multi-instrumentalists Hunter West, Jason Bennett, and Andy Park.
Before There Was Plenty is a hell of a strong debut. MLW merges a modern sound with ‘90s pop grunge vibes and impeccable audio production. On any given track you’ll hear synthesizers, strings, or horns, but you can still hear that fret noise from the acoustic guitars rooting the songs in reality and a DIY ethos.
The title track begins as a ballad before kicking into a straight pop groove with dissonant electronic undertones /You think you’re wasting your time/ And that it’s hopeless/I know we’re falling behind/ Because it wasn’t yet our time/. This track sets the tone for an album full of both melancholy and hope, folky-Americana and indie-pop jams. “Blueside” for example, has a decidedly Strokes feel–setting itself apart from many of the other tracks with its staccato, upbeat drums, rhythmic guitar lines, and driving bass.
“A Lover’s Plea (Act I)” and “A Lover’s Plea (Act II)” both feature stunning verses and harmonies with collaborator Julien Baker. These songs act as a dialog as Taylor asks /What do you say?/ Are you so afraid?/ and Baker responds /Each time
You say you’ve been in love/ You’re holding back what’s given up/And I’m so afraid/ And I don’t want you to leave/Now no lips that I kiss can match the taste/.
Another collaboration can be found in “Spit on the Ground.” The delicately plucked acoustic chords, subtle quivering strings, and rich harmonies in the opening seconds are immediately captivating. It’s one of the softer tracks on the album, with Torri Weidinger providing the accompanying harmonies.
The album concludes with the triumphant “Are You Changing?” a song that asks more questions than it has answers. /Are you changing?/Or am I?/ Are you changing?/Or are you changing your mind?/ The music however sounds hopeful, even optimistic. Taylor confronts that change head-on and maybe the answer to his question is “both.” Taylor has a history of loss and trauma. He’s noted that this project was a way for him to confront that grief head-on. It is a beautiful monument to the changes we all go through if we can face those struggles and overcome them. Before There Was Plenty is an album that truly feels like a complete whole. Every song has its’ place. You can feel the journey that Mountains Like Wax have been through.
This album sounds amazing. Can you talk a little about the writing and production process? Did the pandemic affect recording?
Thanks so much. We were honored to work with incredibly talented friends, Hunter West and Jason Bennett. Hunter used to play drums in the band for years, and Jason quite often plays bass and synth with us live, so there was a lot of familiarity already there which of course helps production a lot. Writing for these songs has been stretched out since about 2016 or 2017, and didn’t really start writing for a record, just writing to write. I can always tell when a thought or song idea is going to be important for us though – as it stays heavy on my mind for quite some time after its inception, and I want to spend more time with its development. I was listening to a lot of Daughter’s Not to Disappear when the guitar part for Before There Was Plenty was written, and I think that’s still pretty apparent in it’s progression. At that time, most of us lived in a house together in East Nashville that we would often throw DIY shows in, so we had a pretty great setup in our basement for fleshing out ideas full band and actually being able to hear (most) things. So, more often than not, this is the place where a lot of these songs were birthed or at least started.
Fast forward to 2020 – forced reflection on ourselves and a lot of time alone with a computer and instruments. I studied audio engineering in school at MTSU, but quickly got burnt out on that era of my life because I fell so quickly and deeply in love with the “band” part of music. So start of the pandemic, I ordered an Apollo twin and a Shure SM7, and Sam and myself started sending more fleshed out demos to one another to start the official process on what was to become Before There Was Plenty. We didn’t really allow ourselves to see anyone but each other after we started gaining more education on what the virus was, which expedited things pretty quickly. It was the first time in our musical career where we didn’t additionally have to work 35+ hours a week, so I think having that freedom, rest, and headspace aided so much in that process. Hope we can get back to that soon.
What’s the significance of the album title? What about your band name?
It’s the recognition that we’re still here, and a respect for the things in the past that put us where we are. It’s a lot easier to notice the valley when you’re on the peak of a hill.
The band name is that same mentality – taking all of the obstacles in life and using them to dictate the outcome you want to see in your life, not the other way around. We can shape and mold the mountains ahead, and reduce them to simple trials instead of the behemoths they can seem to be.
Do you feel like this album reflects your live sound or is it its own thing?
A bit of both. It definitely incorporates a lot of tools and moments in its production that we haven’t seen yet on the live front, but I think we always have it in the back of our mind that the live show is the endgame – because that’s what we care most about. On our first EP Tetralogy, we made it a point to not add any other instruments or pieces that couldn’t be accomplished as a 4-piece band, and with no tracks, but I think our vision was a little limited back then, in a pure way but still limited. Now I think we’re subconsciously trying to make music worthy of the spaces we see ourselves playing in.
This is an emotionally heavy album. Are there any tracks that are particularly cathartic to play? Are there any that are particularly difficult to play?
They’re all pretty cathartic to play in all honesty. I think it’s a lot more freeing than debilitating now because, in a sense, they’re not really our songs anymore – they’re yours, they belong to anybody who is connecting with them and listening to them. Their continuation of life now depends on all of you.
But I think the ones that stand out to us as always emotional are Before There Was Plenty, Boxing Your Ears, A Lover’s Plea, Blueside, and Are You Changing?
What are some of your biggest influences musically or otherwise? What’s something that you’re really into right now?
Our main influences are pretty much always going to be Radiohead, Oasis, The 1975, and early era Coldplay. Visually, we’ve always been inspired by early brit-punk and the raw emotion and grit that’s encapsulated in that movement. But during the record, both writing and recording, we listened to a lot of Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend, The 1975, Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head, Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People, The Strokes – The New Abnormal, then spots of The Paper Kites, Death Cab for Cutie, Inhaler, Broncho, Julien Baker, Elbow, Sam Fender, Iceage, and Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s.