On October 30, Ohio-based goth/post-punk band The Wake released Perfumes and Fripperies, their first full-length album in almost 25 years. Vocalist Troy Payne, calling from his home in Columbus, Ohio, says he knows this release is a surprise for fans who figured the band was permanently defunct. “From the outside, I can definitely see how it would seem like we were gone,” he says, “but we were never actually totally dead. Some portion of us was always working on things together.”
Perfumes and Fripperies is, Payne says, “Something that we wanted to do for a long time, and things just finally came together as far as everyone’s schedule and the finances and the motivation.”
The album is full of the type of lush, darkly melodic songs that earned the band international success in the 1990s, but their sound is also updated for modern times, fitting in well with the current post-punk revival. “We’re still the same guys who wrote [breakthrough 1993 album] Masked, but we’re also the guys who wrote this new record. So it’s an evolution,” Payne says.
As for why The Wake mostly departed the spotlight after they released their 1996 album Nine Ways (only reappearing to release the singles, “Emily Closer” in 2010 and “Rusted” in 2014), Payne says, “Life intervenes. All the normal stuff: people get married and have kids and mortgages and the whole deal. And then at some point, once those things are done, then I think you’re able to circle back to what you love.”
While Payne says that the band members were happy to reunite for this album, the work wasn’t without some strain because it had been so long since their last album. “You feel that pressure: ‘This has got to be good!’” Payne says. “I think a lot of that was probably coming from within as much as from without, just because that’s our own quality standard that we wanted to uphold.”
Writing sessions for this new album were different from the way the band has worked in the past, Payne says, mainly due to the fact that not all members live in the same place anymore (Payne, guitarist Rich Witherspoon, and bassist James Tramel still live in Columbus, while drummer Daniel C is in Cleveland).
“In the early days, I would say the majority of our songs would happen organically out of the band rehearsing together, out of a jam or maybe somebody would have one part and then everyone would build off of that,” Payne says. But now, “I think it’s evolved into a much more individual thing.”
Payne says this change has actually been quite helpful for him, in terms of his vocals. “When you’re writing in a jam session, I wasn’t able to really sing,” he says. “It was more screaming, just because in that setting it’s so loud that it’s difficult to have any sort of subtleties in what you’re doing because you can’t hear yourself, and the rest of the band can’t hear you. So being able to write solo has allowed me to utilize what I can do better, I think.”
Besides singing, Payne has always been The Wake’s lyricist. As is customary for lyrics in the goth genre, the subject matter tends to be rather dark. “There’s an underlying melancholy that runs through the whole thing. But with subject matter, it moves around some,” Payne says.
Gothic rock is something Payne felt drawn to do. “I have an eclectic taste in music, for sure,” he says, noting that as a child, his first musical inspiration was Elvis Presley, and he also went through a heavy metal phase. “But this style, for whatever reason, was the one that really grabbed ahold of me and spoke to me the strongest in a way that I understood,” he says.
Payne didn’t initially intend to be singer at all, though. “When I started out, I wanted to play guitar,” he says. Then he met Rich Witherspoon when they attended the same high school in Columbus, and they went on to form The Wake in 1986. “He was already an accomplished guitar player, so we didn’t need one of those in the band – but we needed a singer. And so I was like, ‘Well, I’ll try.’” As it turned out, Payne’s rich baritone is perfectly suited to the goth style, and he is widely regarded as one of the foremost vocalists in the genre.
As celebrated as The Wake have been in the worldwide goth scene, they haven’t received the same respect in their own city, however. After all, Columbus, Ohio is not exactly a hotbed for their type of music. “We’ve never been the media darlings here,” Payne says wryly. “Definitely not.” In fact, the band haven’t played a show there since 1991. Even as they gained acclaim internationally, touring with the Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy, they were still ignored by their hometown press. “So we’ve never gotten the ‘local boys make good’ headline here,” Payne says. Speculating on whether this new album might change this situation, he says, “Maybe. I won’t hold my breath, though.”
Payne says he can’t figure out why there seems to be this aversion to gothic music in certain quarters. “I don’t understand why it is, actually, but definitely for some reason goth has never gotten respect in general,” he says. “It’s an odd thing. There are some terrible cliché goth bands out there, but you could say that for every genre.”
While some people may feel uncomfortable about gothic music, there seem to be plenty of fans who welcome The Wake’s return. Pre-pandemic, the band had a European tour set for this fall, and they’re hoping they can reset those dates for next year, along with some U.S. shows. Payne also promises that the band is working on more music. “We’ve got some [new] material, so hopefully it will not be quite so long for the next [album],” he says.
For now, though, Payne and his bandmates are enjoying the warm reception that Perfumes and Fripperies (order on bandcamp) is receiving. “We’re proud of the work that we did, and the response so far has been great, which of course feels wonderful after all this time – to still have fans and to make new fans,” Payne says. “It’s rewarding and it makes all the work that we did worth it.”