In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Wax Trax! Records started as a humble Denver record shop but morphed into a cultural epicenter in Chicago during the 80s and 90s as a label and store. It was home to the city’s misfits, and was a wildly influential hub of punk, new wave, and a pioneer in industrial music. Thanks to label founders Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher, who met at a David Bowie concert and quickly became life partners, with their pervasive humor and unmatched ears for undersung talent, the label would sell over a million albums by its wide network of artists like Ministry, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Revolting Cocks, and Front 242. Combining locally signed acts like Ministry as well as licensing overseas artists for US releases like Front 242, Underworld, and the KLF, Wax Trax! is forever solidified in Chicago’s musical fabric. Though the label had rocky years thanks to loose handshake deals and bankruptcy, the music stayed the primary focus for Nash and Flesher until their deaths.
Even though the founders have long passed away and the original Wax Trax! Records storefront is now a dentist's office, the label's kept alive by Nash's daughter Julia, who re-launched it in 2014. Nash also directed the forthcoming documentary Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records, which will be released on DVD on April 16 with an accompanying soundtrack. In anticipation of the release, Nash has picked her ten favorite Wax Trax! Records releases, ranging from full-length LPs to EPs and 12-inches. She says, “There were just so many different kinds of sounds on the label, which is what is so great about it. My dad would get really pissed when people would say Wax Trax! was just putting out industrial music all the time. It's not!” She adds, “Some of these records really struck a lot of memories for me. So many of these are side-projects but they are my personal favorites.” Read on for her full list.
Noisey: This EP has an incredible cover of one of the best Black Sabbath songs.
Julia Nash: You’re right. This is a kickass Black Sabbath song. I think these guys just rock it. It was actually picked for the end title credits for the film but when we went through all the commercial licensing for the documentary, Sabbath wouldn’t let go of this song without having us pay a huge amount of money. We had to ultimately get rid of it which really bums me out because in the original version of the film, it’s so badass when that song kicks in. That whole compilation 12-inch—"Supernaut," "Hey Asshole," "Apathy," and "Better Ways"—is so awesome.
It's fascinating that Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails recorded the original vocals for the "Supernaut" cover but it wasn't actually released because his label at the time, TVT, wouldn't allow it to happen.
I just remember the controversy around it but I didn’t really give a shit to be honest. I suppose now that Trent became a much bigger superstar that it’s a big deal. I remember them talking about it and that it couldn't be released because of TVT. But I don't remember really much more than that other than stuff you would read.
What else sticks out from the release?
Paul Barker has such a just kickass bassline on "Better Ways." He's the king bass crusher in my opinion. Fine. He is like the king based crusher in my opinion. I think just like the bassline through that seriously hits you in the chest.
There are two drastically different versions of the same song on this 12-inch, one by the members of Ministry and one by Cabaret Voltaire. Which side do you prefer?
The first one. I don’t really like the Cabaret Voltaire. I know they’re part of the Acid Horse band but their remix didn’t really hit me as hard as the original did.
Because you’re Jim Nash’s daughter, did you grow up having similar music taste as him or was the Wax Trax! Records catalog something you began to appreciate more as you got older?
It kind of went both ways. Coming from a divorced family and seeing your dad during breaks and holidays or whatever, I’d always want to make the other parent happy. So yeah, I loved whoever it was that he loved, sure, but he would give me shit about liking Dinosaur Jr. or Madonna or whatever I liked at the time. We would always fuck with each other.
I love that song “Human.” I don’t know what else more to tell you about it—just that I saw Front 242 for the first time in 1984 so I was only like 15 years old. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. They played their first US show at [long closed all-ages nightclub] Medusa’s here in Chicago and when I went to the show I was just like, “What is happening?” There were no instruments on stage and it was such a cool experience. For me, it’s a really great marker of time and that’s why I picked it.
This was also a really important band for the label because there are two sides of Wax Trax!: the local Chicago label and the European bands who were licensed for their first releases in the US. Front 242 started working with Wax Trax! after the success of Ministry’s “Cold Life” single in 1981.
“Cold Life” really kind of made the label and made things start happening for them. But Front 242 were a band my dad brought into the store and wanted to license it here. He got in touch with the band’s record label in Belgium and made it happen. That was the first time Wax Trax! had licensed music from overseas to release here.
This couldn’t be further from being called “industrial music.”
So that Chill Out record is a complete departure from any other thing on the label. If I smoked pot, it would probably be such a great record to just kick back to. What I love about this is also second to the KLF's house music jam "What Time Is Love," which I just love. But then they put out this album which is very trance-y, almost like a movie soundtrack. It's a beautiful record. It is like a really fucking beautiful record. I love it.
You brought up The KLF’s “What Time Is Love?,” which was way more inspired by house than Chill Out. Since house music started in Chicago, what was the label’s stance on it? I remember reading that Jim and Dannie weren’t the biggest fans.
That I don’t remember. If anything, maybe my dad would poke fun at it because he poked fun at everything. I don’t recall any animosity towards house music or towards selling house records.
Chris Connelly! He is so talented. It reminds me so much of Bowie, which is crazy because Chris Connelly now has a David Bowie tribute band. Chris Bruce and Bill Reiflin are both on it, two also phenomenally talented guys. The title track on this record is in the documentary at a really poignant moment in the film.
It’s funny because your father met Dannie at a David Bowie show so it must’ve been a full-circle moment to have a record like this on the label.
Exactly. That album was actually the first Wax Trax! release that roped my mom into the label. She actually liked that.
Chris Connelly worked at the label and the record store when you were working there. Same goes for a lot of the artists on the roster. How was having him selling Chicagoans his own records?
A lot of people send me emails and letters about this exact thing. Recently I just had one where someone wrote about going into the store with his girlfriend and being the biggest Ministry fan, and when they left the store with a Ministry 12-inch, his girlfriend told them, “Do you know that Al Jourgensen just rang you up?” These stories are so great and there’s so many of them.
The biggest thing for me on this record is the cover. I think it’s genius. This was the collaboration between Luc van Acker, Richard 23 of Front 242, and Al [Jourgensen] from Ministry, and every song on it is great. “Union Car Ride” is a badass song.
What about the LP art makes it your favorite?
I loved the three guys on the LP. They’re old photos of Dannie’s relatives. I just love how they position them in those bubbles with the Big Sexy Land banner that goes across the front. It’s hilarious. They made this 3’ by 5’ poster that was so cool.
It’s crazy to think about how much influence Wax Trax! had on these artists. These three probably would not have met if not for the label.
Exactly. RevCo was basically the first homegrown Wax Trax! artist and this was 1986. This was just really fun dance music that I hadn’t really heard before. It’s still one of my favorites. They were so crazy live too. I remember seeing them at Metro. It was almost frightening. There were so many things wrong happening on stage. Everyone was fucked up on stage. I asked my dad on the balcony, “What is going on here?” I remember being scared because I thought someone was going to die.
It’s such a shame that this is the only collaboration between these musicians.
Yeah, I agree. It’s also a shame that Ian MacKaye would never sing these songs live. Man, Ian is such a cool dude. If I were to do my rankings again I’d probably make this one first or second. There’s no one song because I love every single one of them on the EP. God, what can I say? It’s Ian MacKaye! Minor Threat were the kind of music I really gravitated to as a kid and when Ian was brought into the fold, I was so excited. Also the fact that Eric Spicer of Naked Raygun played drums on this record really sold this all-around amazing collaboration to me. Wait ‘til you see Ian on the bonus disc of the documentary. It’s so good. He is so rad. He journals everything and during the meeting of the documentary he’d pull out his journals from when they were making this and it’s just so cool.
I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be a fly on the wall with Al Jourgensen and Ian MacKaye in the studio together considering their drastically different philosophies on substance use.
Me either. I cannot imagine. That just shows how cool and tolerant of a guy Ian MacKaye is. I probably would’ve just been like, “Come on, man. Get your shit together. Let’s finish the song.”
I feel like this EP is weirdly undersung considering the caliber of musicians on it. More of my friends should know this record.
I agree, and why don’t they? It’s because they don’t play. They never played a show. I think Al played “I Will Refuse” and had a roadie or someone sing the song instead of Ian. I get so excited when Wax Trax! takes mail orders from people who order a Pailhead shirt that I include notes or extra things like a sticker for them in the package. This band is it for me. It’s such a great collaboration.
If I hear PTP’s “Rubber Glove Seduction” come on in a club somewhere, I fucking love it. Totally. It's such a great song. It’s the best possible dance jam.
So many of Al Jourgensen’s side-projects ended up in the top ten but there’s no Ministry.
I like the side-projects! They’re awesome! This song especially, with Chris’ vocals, is just so awesome. It’s the first collaboration that Al did with Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy if I’m not mistaken. Their song “Show Me Your Spine” was in RoboCop.
Several of these side-projects featured these ridiculous pseudonyms. Here, $corpio was Chris Connelly, Alien Dog Star is Al Jourgensen, and Frenchie l'Amour is Paul Barker.
I think it's just funny, more an example of the sense of humor that everyone had and the creative freedom my dad gave everybody just to fuck around with stuff. He didn't care and he wasn't like, "No, you have to have your name on it for it to sell." He did not give a shit. That's one of the coolest things about that label all together. He just let people do what they wanted to do.
That sense of humor, which comes through in the documentary a bunch, feels like a good segue to talk about My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.
I’m so glad you noticed that because that was my big struggle making the film. I really wanted that to come through because it was such a huge part of everything Wax Trax!. With that band, Frank’s lyrics are so funny and he’s such a great songwriter: A true artist in every sense of the word. This is his creative outlet and every single song on that Confessions of a Knife… album had something tongue-in-cheek on it. There are songs called “Cooler Than Jesus,” “Daisy Chain For Satan,” which is just so hilarious. That creative freedom my dad gave them was so crucial considering the backlash they got from these evangelical Christian groups. You have to see the humor but not everyone gets it.
The opening track on this LP also kicks off the documentary soundtrack. I’m sure narrowing down the Wax Trax! catalog for the film must have been even harder than just choosing your ten favorites for this interview.
That is so true. Originally, we were going to do a double album for that very reason. It was just super hard to narrow it down. I really just tried to pick my favorites and things that weren’t going to break the bank and kill us time-wise in the licensing, which obviously became an issue. There was also a challenge on top of everything to curate it in a way where it’d fit with the flow of the film and keep up the momentum. It was just hard.
Underworld was your father’s last signing to the label before he passed away.
Yes, it was. This record, and the song “Cowgirl” in particular, has a lot of meaning for me. This was the last signed band that my dad was just so in love with. You could not get him to stop playing them. My dad and Dannie went to Hope, Arkansas, where Dannie was from, to buy some Klipsch Speakers which are made there. They bought a pair of speakers, these massive things, and they drove ‘em back to Chicago. And not far after that, this record came in and they would just blast this LP in their living room. The sound system was amazing. It just takes me back to my dad’s living room. These guys, Underworld, are just wickedly talented. I still haven’t seen them, which pisses me off. I tried to get them for the [2011 Wax Trax! Records Retrospectacle] event at Metro, that three-day show, but they were working on music for the Olympics so they couldn’t. Every single thing they do is so good. They rarely have a song under ten minutes but they’re all beautiful, super textured, melodic, and beat-heavy. They’re a great band. I’m happy this my number one.
This album had such an influence on electronic music and you could say similar things about a wealth of Wax Trax!-affiliated artists. How have you seen the label’s legacy survive through other artists being influenced by these acts?
People have told me how much it's influenced them. There are some really great bands out there that you can tell if the label were around today and my dad were still doing it, which, who knows, that's a question that comes up all the time too, that you know that they would be on the label. Some bands just have that feel and that Wax Trax! vibe. But on a side note to that, I think you could really listen to any of these records that are on this list that came out in '84, '86, '90, or whatever and they could be released today. They still resonate today. They do not sound dated or old or of the time. They sound amazing today. And I think that's super cool.