The Cover Story

WARGASM: “We don’t give a f*ck about winning people over. This is for us and our fans. That’s all that matters”

Though online haters will forever “chat sh*t”, WARGASM are continuing to ignore the noise and focus on causing global chaos with their fans. And with that, 2023 has been their best year yet. From touring with Corey Taylor to befriending Fred Durst, playing the most exciting shows of their lives and finally releasing debut album Venom, there’s simply no stopping Sam Matlock and Milkie Way…

WARGASM: “We don’t give a f*ck about winning people over. This is for us and our fans. That’s all that matters”
Words:
Nick Ruskell
Photography:
Jessie-Rose Lena

Sam Matlock’s 2023 started on a waterslide. On a cruise ship. In the Bahamas. With Randy Blythe.

“That was fucking amazing,” he excitedly remembers. “It was part of the Shiprocked cruise. It was us, Parkway Drive, Nova Twins, loads of bands. Randy was there in this band The Stowaways. The weather in the UK in January is shit, so that just made going to the Bahamas even better. The whole thing was just a massive party.”

“I was thankful for the invite, but I get so violently seasick that I just couldn’t enjoy it,” laughs his WARGASM partner-in-crime Milkie Way. “But everyone else had a great time.”

Even back on dry land, though, this has been a year in which the pair’s feet have barely touched the ground. They’ve been out in America for a good chunk of it, hitting the road with Corey Taylor, with Bloodywood, with Limp Bizkit. The latter like the pair so much they had them out for their UK stop at London’s OVO Arena Wembley. Before the end of 2023, they’ll have done a massive, homecoming victory lap of the UK, screeching to a halt at the enormous O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Somewhere in all this, they finally released their long-awaited debut album, Venom, in October. Last month, they played Kerrang!’s aftershow for Fall Out Boy’s mega-gig at The O2. And on and on and on it goes…

“My mum says to me, ‘When are you gonna come home?’” admits Milkie. “And I’m always like, ‘Yeah, no… See you at Christmas, I guess!’”

For a bit, anyway. First thing in 2024, WARGASM are off to Japan.

“We just kind of keep moving,” says Sam. “Never let them catch you standing still.”

On the day Kerrang! hooks up with the twosome, they’re in Haarlem, in the Netherlands, between stops on their massive Euro tour with BABYMETAL. Most days off have featured a headline show of their own. On a rare evening without a gig, last night they went to see The Prodigy in Amsterdam (“Fucking amazing,” is the verdict), while Sam went shopping for luggage as a present for his bandmate’s upcoming birthday.

Even at the final squeeze of a year that’s had them at home for an amount of time that one wonders if it wouldn’t be more financially prudent to sack off having a fixed address altogether, both Milkie and Sam burst with energy today. Never the shyest of wallflowers anyway, they also radiate the confidence that comes with knowing you’re onto something. “Playing live sharpens you like a blade,” says Sam, noting that, “We’ve got pretty fucking good live now – I don’t have to think about what my left hand’s doing on guitar or whatever. If I see something going on in the crowd, I can go and get involved, sing with someone, and make the night about creating those special moments.”

So many gigs and so many road miles have WARGASM tallied since the return of live music after COVID, in fact, that their seemingly constant movement and presence on festival bills made it easy to almost forget that… where’s the album?

“There was a point at the beginning of the year when we didn’t even think that it would be able to come out this year,” explains Milkie. “Just because there always seems to be complications with labels and distributors, and all these people who don’t seem to be able to do their fucking job anymore, for whatever reason. Yes, you can print that!”

“It’s very strange, because in some ways, it’s been a very quick process to create. In other ways, it’s been a very long process to create,” muses Sam. “If you look at it on a timeline, technically it was in the works for a year and a half. However, throughout that year and a half, it was never really, ‘Sit down and work on the album.’ It was, ‘Come off tour, spend a week in the studio, go back on tour, come off tour, spend five days in the studio…’”

A long-winded way of working it may have been, but such a timeline affords opportunity, too. Having already got their mate Fred Durst to make a live intro for them, their blossoming friendship was such that they asked him to do a proper song together. Bang Ya Head – a Break Stuff-ish stress-relief-banger about, Sam says, “My time working shitty minimum wage jobs and never having enough to get by. So you bang your head to break your neck. You just hit your head on a brick wall all the time trying to basically live” – was the ideal opportunity.

“We just messaged him, and he was like, ‘This is cool,’” recounts the guitarist. “He sent back some vocals, and we were like, ‘That’s fucking brilliant.’ We had a little chat, a little chop around, and we thought, ‘This sounds great. Let’s release it.’ Everything like that, it’s very natural. You’d be surprised how many collabs are actually just bands DMing each other.”

“I believe so greatly in the power of, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t fucking get,’” adds Milkie. “So many people are like, ‘How did you get this?’ And I’m like, ‘I asked for it.’ That’s literally it.

“Fred has this whole aura around him, and rightly so because he is a genius,” she continues. “But he’s super-down-to-Earth, and he’s surprisingly open and happy to help new bands. Every time we see him and we hang out, he’s always sending us stuff. He’s like, ‘Have you heard this? These guys are awesome. This girl is sick,’ all this kind of stuff. He’s always championing new music wherever he goes. He picks all the line-ups, so it's not surprising that he's wanting to get involved with little old fucking us.”

When Bizkit came to London, Sam says WARGASM spent time in a studio they know in Soho with DJ Lethal, “just making noises, because believe it or not, that’s what musicians do”. Lethal had a massive bank of samples he takes with him everywhere, something that particularly appealed to the band – Milkie points to Beastie Boys’ 1989 album Paul’s Boutique as one excellent example of the skill (“You can’t even count the amount of samples on there!”). Why not, they reasoned, bring sampling and metal together more? It’s one of the ways WARGASM have built up something that’s away from the usual path. Most visibly, this comes up on Venom in the track Death Rattle, which slithers along on the bassline from Army Of Me by Icelandic genius Björk.

“We could have had an Army Of Me-inspired riff, but it never would have been as good,” says Sam. “We could have written one as close as we could have got, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a sample, it’s a homage, it’s a nod to something that we fucking worship.”

“I really yearn for that era where you could just take whatever the fuck you want and put it into your song,” says Milkie. “Bands shouldn’t be afraid of it, because it’s cool and there’s so much you can do.”

And did Björk like what you did with it?

“We had to get it cleared, and the email that we got from her team said, ‘Björk is happy with this,’” she smiles. “I’m gonna take that as a yes!”

Lots of people have said yes to WARGASM lately. Their fans have become legion, their shows a meeting point of weird, wonderful people who are, “as scatty as we sound”.

“They look fucking incredible, they’re a great looking audience,” enthuses Sam. “And they go fucking hard in the pit. Everyone’s always jumping off something or climbing on someone. There’s always nudity and blood and stuff like that. It feels like what a crowd looks like in like an old punk movie. We just did our first shows in Poland, and that was one of the best nights of my life. It felt like a time machine.”

“There were kids with mohawks, there was this kid who had the Keith Flint green hair,” picks up Milkie. “Everyone was just dressed incredibly and giving every single ounce of energy. No-one had their phones. Everyone was just giving it 100 per cent, and it was it was absolutely insane.”

At home, meanwhile, gigs have all moved up a level from their tour around this time last year, that saw them headlining the O2 Forum Kentish Town as a cherry on top. Bigger gigs means you get more production and luxuries like an extra crew member, says Sam, but at heart the pair still peg WARGASM as a visceral, sweating, up-in-your-business beast.

“Our fans go f*cking hard in the pit. Everyone’s always jumping off something or climbing on someone… there’s always nudity and blood”

Sam Matlock on the chaos of WARGASM’s live shows

Last time they played Glasgow, says Milkie, “It was the day they broke the crowdsurfing record for that venue. Which was terrifying.”

“I couldn’t even do it myself, because there were too many crowdsurfers!” hoots Sam. “It was people jumping on top of people, but they were all sideways. The audience is meant to be standing upright, but there were loads of horizontal people on top. I wanted to jump in, but I didn’t actually fucking know where to land!”

It’s America where WARGASM have grafted hardest this year, though. Between three separate tours and a clutch of massive fests, they’ve begun to make it work out there. Takes a certain type of band to hack the relentlessness of it, mind.

“America is crazy, because we have been there so much, but I feel like we haven’t even scratched the tip of the iceberg,” says Milkie. “It’s so, so big. I don’t think people understand how big it is until you have to drive across it for two months.”

“There’s an attitude in America that I like,” adds Sam. “You’ll announce a tour of the UK, you’ll be playing Bristol and people will complain you won’t go to Cardiff. In America, someone will show up and be like, ‘Man, I just checked you out tonight. I drove four hours and I’ve got work in the morning.’ I’m not saying everyone needs to make that much effort. I’m just saying there is an attitude where if they want to go and do something, they go and fucking do it. Which I think works with the WARGASM attitude.”

They also found that American festivals aren’t like Download. You’re less at the mercy of the elements, for one thing…

“It’s a different kind of vibe completely,” says Milkie. “People aren’t really camping – they’re all in motorhomes and stuff. It looks amazing.”

“If you’re in Sacramento in California, where Aftershock fest is, you don’t have to worry about the mud or the rain,” laughs Sam. “All you have to do is make sure you’ve got enough shade and enough water to not get heatstroke, that’s about it.”

“Survival is less on your mind than it is at Download where you have to think, ‘Okay, how am I going to make it to the Sunday in one piece?’” chuckles Milkie.

“Yeah,” adds Sam. “You’re not like, ‘Do I have trench foot? Is the water safe?’”

With everything on the up-and-up, and with future plans they can’t reveal yet but are mentioned with knowing smiles and in tones that say it’s something spicy, there’s also all the more to lose. But something would have to go pretty wrong to knock things off course anytime soon.

“In my brain, at least, I feel like there’s a lot of pressure,” admits Milkie. “Especially considering post-COVID everyone’s being put out on the road at the same time. I feel like there’s potential for a lot of people in bands to feel pressure to compete. You can definitely feel that pressure. But I feel like I just want to play these shows, and for us to prove we’ve done this album, it’s fucking great, this is what we have to offer as a band.”

And as a guide, and an experienced voice to turn to when you need help making a decision, or need to get a vibe check, you could do worse than having some of the biggest rock stars of the century as your mates.

“They’ve been really cool at passing down knowledge,” enthuses Sam. “Any time we’ve had things that we might not agree with in the industry, getting an insight from someone who’s been through it can tell you what to do, or tell you about their mistakes and how to learn.

“I enjoy hanging around older male presences who do similar things to what I’m trying to do,” he continues. “Musician life, especially the singer life, can be quite a lonely one. And the world is a very strange place at the moment. And I find it very encouraging that we get to hang out with these guys who seem to have found some sort of peace and happiness later on in their life. It’s definitely something that that I’m looking for. Dude, sometimes as a young man, you feel a bit mental. And it’s nice to see that it calms down at one point. That’s probably the coolest thing about talking with these people that I grew up watching – just seeing how they are as people, less about music, and maybe more just how they live.”

Not that Sam was always so relaxed around people like Limp Bizkit’s man in the hat…

“I lost my voice in front of Fred the first time we met him!” he recounts. “Our tour manager was like, ‘I haven’t seen you like that before.’ I said, ‘No, I’m normal.’ He went, ‘You don’t look normal…’”

“Your face was red, bro!” laughs Milkie.

“Fucking hell. And the first time I met Corey Taylor, at this festival in Florida, I just had to go sit in the dressing room because my face broke. It froze and there was no smile. It wasn’t a good look. But all your favourite bands are just fans with guitars. That’s it. We’ve said it before and we’ll stand by it: the second you stop being a fan, get the fuck out.”

Ask WARGASM about the highlights of the year, and you’ll get a lot – singing with Corey Taylor at The Wiltern in LA, playing Wembley with Bizkit, an endless list of names hung out with at festivals, the album, their biggest headline tour yet – but they’ll also say it’s blurred from doing so much. There’s not a lot of time for reflection. When they do stop and look around for a sec, it’s quite something.

“I’m just constantly moving,” says Sam. “It’s healthy to not have time to analyse [too much], but sometimes it’s good to have time to reflect, and we haven’t had that yet. I’m looking forward to that. Sometimes when we’re at an airport or on a plane and I’m bored, I’ll go through my videos and my phone and I’m like, ‘Jesus Christ!’”

“You don’t think about things at the time,” agrees Milkie. “On tour a lot of stuff is in the moment. We haven’t had proper time off to relax and look back, but after this tour’s done and we get a break for Christmas, it’s probably gonna feel surreal looking back. Surreal, but amazing.”

“If people want to chat sh*t on Twitter then go ahead, we’re doing what makes us happy”

Hear Milkie on not giving a flying one about the haters online

Mad as it’s been, the work has also found WARGASM succeeding to their own satisfaction, on their own terms. There are still those who would criticise, but the past 12 months have been a year of not just ignoring haters, but simply transcending it all, as they carve their place in the world. Hard to hear, after all, when you’re too busy winning…

“WARGASM is a polarising band, but we’re Marmite,” says Sam. “There’s loads of people who call us fucking industry plants and all these stupid things, and they decide to make their personality hating it. You know, [with] these shows, we don’t give a fuck about winning them over. The shows aren’t for anyone else. They’re for us. And our fans. That’s all that matters. We only care about the people that hopefully want to feel something with us.”

“I always say, ‘Don't be bitter, just be fucking better,’” says Milkie. “If people want to chat shit and say all their things on Twitter that we don’t even see half the time, and waste their energy doing that instead of channelling it into actually doing something with their lives: go ahead. Go ahead, because we’re doing the thing that makes us happy.”

She grins.

“And we’re selling shit-tons of tickets doing it!”

Ask them about where they feel this tour capping off such a run positions them, Sam has an analogy. It’s not just a big show. It’s doing a big show again, knowing it can be done…

“Remember when you used to play video games, and they didn’t have a memory card or a save point, or whatever? Doing The Forum was great, but it felt like one of those dreams, but we couldn’t hit save on the game. Now, we’re doing Shepherd’s Bush and all these venues, on an album cycle. When we come offstage in London, I feel like for once, for the first time since we started this band, I'm gonna press ‘save’, which is really cool.”

And when that’s out the way, come Christmas, Milkie says she’s going to “switch off my phone for two weeks and not talk to anybody”. Sam, an evident workaholic, reveals that once he’s bought some plants for his flat he’s going to do some production for another artist.

After the Japanese tour, there’s a couple of months with no gigs – “You don’t want to give people too much of what they want,” teases Milkie – but don’t get to thinking WARGASM are slowing down.

“Man, next year is already fucking packed,” she grins. “You’ll see.”

There is, apparently, no rest for the war-kids.

Venom is out now via Republic. WARGASM are currently on tour in the UK.

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