FOR Waax frontwoman Marie "Maz" DeVita, sitting opposite esteemed hit-maker Linda Perry in a Los Angeles studio was all about getting out of her comfort zone.
Co-writing can be an awkward business. Some personalities don't gel. Insecurity is another obstacle, especially for an artist like DeVita who is renown her for brutally raw lyrical content in Waax songs like Same Same and FU.
But the session in late 2019 struck gold. It produced the piano ballad, Dangerous, undoubtedly the high point of the Brisbane punk band's second album At Least I'm Free.
Perry initially found fame as the lead singer of one-hit-wonder band 4 Non Blondes in the early '90s, before becoming a pop tunesmith in the 2000s, writing the classics Beautiful (Christina Aguilera), What You Waiting For? (Gwen Stefani) and Get The Party Started (P!nk).
DeVita says Perry helped eliminate vocal habits she'd developed. The proof is in Dangerous, easily DeVita's best vocal performance.
"Subconsciously I was masking a lot of my vocal with falsetto or tremolo tones," DeVita says. "I wasn't ever 100 per cent comfortable with my tone as it is.
"She said to me first up, 'stop putting all these bells and whistles on your voice and just embrace your tone for what it is'. She said there's a real natural darkness there, so when she started playing piano it just fell out."
Dangerous is one of two co-writes on At Least I'm Free. The other is No Doz, written with US rock artist K.Flay.
Co-writing is a widely-used practice in pop and country circles, but still carries negative connotations among some rock fans. DeVita said she and Waax aren't interested in abiding by outdated typecasts.
"A rock artist in 2021-22 is different from a rock artist back in the day," she says. "A rock artist can be anything they want. I wanted to dip my toes into expanding my experience as well.
"I'm really hungry for new experiences and being able to be in a different country and work with people I haven't met before, little alone people of that calibre.
"It was really enlightening and opened my mind and changed the way I see songwriting.
"I think it's really beneficial and I encourage anyone to do co-writes, because it takes you out of your comfort zone."
Songwriting was at front of mind for DeVita in late 2019 when Waax started making plans for album No.2.
Guitarist Chris Antolak, who had co-written debut album Big Grief with DeVita, left the band a few months prior to the record's release.
Besides the co-writes in the US, DeVita quickly built a strong songwriting partnership with Antolak's replacement James Gatling, who brought a greater pop sensibility to Waax.
"The guitar parts are more decorative and more ornate, which has worked perfectly for us because I knew from a songwriting perspective I wanted to go down a more pop avenue," she says.
"I wanted to explore how I could make guitar music work into a different space and work properly within a pop framework.
"I love pop music. I love a good hook and melody. He [Gatling] just really complemented that because he comes from a very melodic mindset."
Waax's greater pop mindset is readily heard on Dangerous, the PJ Harvey-inspired Read Receipts and the Alanis Morissette-flavoured A Man Like Me.
But elsewhere, Waax's punk instincts are still alive. Most Hated Girl, Help Me Hell and Same Bitch feature crunching distorted guitars and and a fiery Courtney Love-style vocal.
LIVE REVIEW: Waax don't miss a beat in electrifying album launch
But for the first time DeVita's rage and self-loathing features a tongue-in-cheek knowing.
"I wanted to sprinkle more of my personality on there," she says. "Evolving as a songwriter you just get better as a songwriter communicating yourself through your lyrics.
"As much as I can be a deep analytical person, I do love to crack jokes. I don't enjoy everything being super heavy all the time.
"I try to find little parts where I can be ironic or crack a joke, because it makes the whole process more fun."
Like Big Grief, At Least I'm Free is produced by Powderfinger's Bernard Fanning and Nick DiDia (Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine, Bruce Springsteen).
Waax first found national acclaim with their EPs Holy Sick (2015) and Wild & Weak (2017) and much of the attention centred on DeVita's charismatic, yet chaotic, performances.
In hindsight DeVita admits she was naive to the music industry, "very much trying to please others all the time" and being too trusting.
The one positive of the pandemic was it forced DeVita to mature and focus on what mattered to herself and Waax.
"Through those experiences I've learnt, 'OK, you're a good person and you know you wanna give to others, but make sure you're careful with who you give it to'," she says.
"For me it's been very experiential. I felt like I came into this industry like a baby.
"I was from the Gold Coast, I knew nobody, I knew nothing about the industry, I thought everything was sunshine and roses.
"I thought it was gonna be so easy, but it's really not. Sometimes I'm super surprised that our band still exists.
"I'm only listening to my gut and if my gut says there's more to say with this band, I'm gonna do it."
Waax release At Least I'm Free on Friday.
The national album tour visits Kambri, Canberra (October 6); Unibar, Wollongong (October 8); Pub Rock Diner, Devonport (October 13); Royal Oak, Launceston (October 14); The Northern, Byron Bay (October 20); Hoey Moey, Coffs Harbour (October 21); Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (November 18); Sunken Monkey, Erina (November 19); Volta, Ballarat (December 1) and Torquay Hotel (December 3).
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