HotWax are blazing a scorching trail on the UK’s live scene

15 mins read
HotWax (2023) Fiona Garden

“You know, any time we do something with NME, someone always notices something I have that’s related to Paramore!”

Well, it’s impossible to ignore the giant, framed poster of the band that fills HotWax bassist Lola Sam’s little Zoom square. With her bright orange hair and leopard print beret, it’s clear the 19 year-old is inspired by the band’s frontwoman Hayley Williams, in more ways than just her vivacious live performances. “Look, I’ve got the confetti [from their most recent tour] in my phone case, too!” she says with excitement, flashing her phone to the camera to show strips with the words ‘This Is Why’, in reference to the rock legends’ recent album.

HotWax on The Cover of NME. Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Joined by her bandmates, vocalist and guitarist Tallulah Sim-Savage and drummer Alfie Sayers, the trio relay the story of the astounding six months between their last EP – awarded four stars by NME – and their upcoming release ‘Invite Me, Kindly’ (out October 18). Over what Sam refers to as a “cursed Zoom call” – bogged down by shoddy WiFi connections and microphone complications – HotWax relay to NME how it feels to be one of Britain’s buzziest break-out live acts. With a support slot on Royal Blood’s UK tour kicking off next week, they’re inching their way up towards the venues that Paramore play – and when you see their live sets, it’s no surprise why.

Much of it comes from their bond, an ironclad one at that: they know each other inside out. Whenever one member disappears from that cursed Zoom, another can easily guess what they’d say, and it would be confirmed, word-for-word verbatim, upon their return. It’s the kind of understanding that only comes with years-long friendship. Those intoxicating, intertwining, all-consuming relationships formed in our early teens, forming your personalities like a double helix, wrapped around each other.

“We think about that all the time,” Sam agrees when this is pointed out. “We’re living the same life basically… We kind of have done it since we met.”

“Our new EP feels new, and fast and uplifting” – Lola Sam

Together they have endured the ups and downs of teenage friendship, and came out stronger than ever. “We went through like a year where we didn’t wanna talk to each other because we’d argued, but now that’s out of the way, it’s like nothing can really hurt the friendship anymore, which is good. I don’t think so, anyway… I don’t know what the hell it would be!”

Sam and Sim-Savage were 12 when they were brought together and their journey to growing a musical and emotional hivemind began. They were introduced by their music teacher with the intention of getting them to play an event on Hastings pier with two other bandmates. That gig was the catalyst event for their musical careers, spurring them on to play more local shows as a four piece. Two years later, Sim-Savage took over as the vocalist after their previous singer left. Sayers joined later on, when they met him at music college in Brighton.

HotWax (2023) Fiona Garden
Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

Music has been their whole life, confirmed by the fact they were having inter-band drama only a year into their teens. The band have been at their craft from an early age: Sim-Savage and Sam both started on their instruments aged 8, the former, encouraged by the fact her father was a musician with a studio in Hastings, a privilege the band have taken much advantage of over the years. “That was amazing growing up. We’ve been able to do loads there, and we still rehearse and record there all the time,” Sim-Savage says.

Their ascent has been on a steady and sharp incline since the pandemic, but especially this year. Following the release of their debut EP, they’ve played huge stages across the UK and across Europe, including Mad Cool Festival, Germany’s Reeperbahn, and a headline slot on the BBC Introducing stage at Reading & Leeds.

“We’re playing festivals we never thought we’d do,” Sam enthuses. “Up until very recently we were a band who’d just mostly played the English south coast, and now we’ve gone all around the country and across the seas.” Sim-Savage adds that their formative festival appearances arrived as performers, not as punters.

Tallulah Sim-Savage of HotWax (2023) Fiona Garden
Tallulah Sim-Savage of HotWax. Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

It must be surreal to have barely any festival experience – as a punter, even, let alone an artist – and for one of the first you go to, your idol dedicates a song to you. At London’s All Points East in August, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ frontwoman Karen O dedicated ‘Maps’ to them – “this is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ love song,” she stated, “and we’d like to dedicate it to HotWax!” Earlier that day, the band had opened the stage they were gazing up at.

“I don’t know if it was because we were like, going insane at the front of the stage and she just felt bad for us…” Sim-Savage begins. Sam jumps in: “It’s Tallulah’s [Sim-Savage] biggest inspiration ever! When we arrived there was literally no one there but Yeah Yeah Yeahs soundchecking. We were just in the middle of the field screaming, it was just crazy. I feel they could tell we were so excited so I think they knew it was gonna make our day.”

Perhaps Karen O was just being nice… but maybe HotWax are worth the hype. Live, they are a force to be reckoned with: a real whirlwind of a band that sweat with teenage angst and searing punk energy. “We’re a three-piece that sound raw live. Young people just love it, especially in Hastings – there isn’t loads of guitar music. Some older people have said we remind them of how bands used to be…I think a lot of it is that we really love it, we’re really good friends and we’re having a good time,” says Sim-Savage.

“Being a teenager is always weird but especially at the moment” – Tallulah Sim-Savage

In increasingly precarious times, live experiences like these – the kind you can just scream and shout and free the feelings of despair from your body – feels essential. Guitar music’s appeal is that it allows us to centre our rage in the face of political hopelessness. In 2023, that seems all too real: whether it be the attack on independent music venues, rampant transphobia, climate change or the cost of living crisis. It’s physical, healing, empowering – but it’s also very fun.

“Being a teenager is always weird, but especially at the moment” Sim-Savage says. Much like the grunge movement of the early ‘90s and their concerns with corporatism and capitalistic greed, modern rock made by Gen Z seems to be inseparable from a sense of apocalyptic doom.

Their new EP ‘Invite Me, Kindly’ is a scuzzy, blistering examination of how to make sense of yourself and your relationships in the face of an uncertain future. “It’s also all about guilt, accepting people who’ve hurt you, and letting go of any horrible feelings. A lot of the songs feel quite freeing. We wrote a lot of the songs really near each other, so it’s all kind of from the same burst of creativity.”

Lola Sam of HotWax (2023) Fiona Garden
Lola Sam of HotWax. Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

‘Invite Me, Kindly’ is tighter thematically than their previous release. Sam says they’ve flipped the focus on its head: “It feels new, and fast and uplifting. The bass and the guitar have switched roles a bit. The bass is more driving, and the guitar is leading…” The young musicians flourish into their own, slicker sound. The sleazy two minutes of ‘Drop’ spotlights each of the trio’s talents before breaking into an explosive chorus; jangly ‘Phone Machine’ takes a step back from the rage to create a warped pop-rock track built on softer, groovier climes.

The EP was mixed by Alan Moulder, who also mixed Yeah Yeah Yeahs album ‘Fever to Tell’ – which Sam notes was “a proper full circle, crazy moment”, not least because Sim-Savage can thank that album for turning her on to the ways heavy music can “give you a feeling that other music doesn’t – a special feeling.”

‘Invite Me Kindly’ certainly celebrates the scope of what can be considered ‘heavy music’, with their tracks seemingly taking influence from everyone from Pixies to Nova Twins to Wolf Alice – the latter of which the band have been repeatedly compared to.

Alfie Seyers of HotWax (2023) Fiona Garden
Alfie Seyers of HotWax. Credit: Fiona Garden for NME

“I think a lot of the time it’s because we’re female-fronted,” Sim-Savage rolls her eyes. But Wolf Alice are a welcome comparison, because the trio admire their ability to consistently reinvent themselves while remaining uniquely themselves.

“They incorporate so many genres,” Sam explains, before Sim-Savage adds: “A lot of the time, when we’re writing a song, we’re thinking ‘how can this be different to what else we’ve done?’ We always want to incorporate as much as we can, and try different things. We definitely don’t want to be a band where all our songs sound the same.”

They’ve already demonstrated their ability to achieve huge artistic leaps in a short span of time. Sayers says their hopes for the future are “just being able to live from what we’re doing…that’s the dream.”

However, Sam adds: “And that our music doesn’t end up becoming synthpop because we’re bored.” She pauses, then smirks: “Unless we’re gonna do it really, really well.” We can’t imagine they wouldn’t.

HotWax’s new EP ‘Invite Me, Kindly’ is released October 18. They tour with Royal Blood through the UK from October 20

Listen to HotWax’s exclusive playlist to accompany The Cover below on Spotify and here on Apple Music

Words: Tilly Foulkes
Photography: Fiona Garden
Label: Marathon Artists
Location: Studio By The Sea, Brighton

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