Practice starts at 7 p.m. in the living room—after a couple trips on foot and one by pickup to retrieve the drums from the previous evening’s open jam at the Rainbow Bar. Maha Mu Waldi—guitarist Marcus Swafford, his brother Matt on drums and bassist Dave Wilcox—want to warm up a little first. Marcus gets himself dialed in and the brothers begin pounding out new riffs while Wilcox cranks away at his tuning pegs with a pair of vise grips. After a few minutes he gives it up and joins the fracas. No one has even bothered to turn off the death metal CD playing on the stereo.
No one has any money to replace anything that gets broken or fried. Last time Maha Mu Waldi practiced, the bass amp blew a fuse that wiped out power along one side of the house, and here Wilcox is trying to make do with four of the right strings for the job and one wrong one. Matt’s drum kit includes an eight-inch splash cymbal that used to be a fourteen-inch crash—he’s played away one ring at a time, peeling it down like an onion. Marcus isn’t getting quite the sound he wants at the volume he likes, so he’s looking to his effects rack for answers: reverb and delay, testing, testing. A few quick hammer-ons unleash the sound of killer bees trapped in a Navy echo chamber.
But that’s what forges an all-out attack like Maha Mu Waldi’s—being broke and having to split it three ways. Feeling somewhat isolated from any other scene but still slugging away. For themselves, first of all, and for the handful of Hamilton neighbors who trickle into the house to listen to them practice. And having a sense of humor bred partly out of boredom—the name Maha Mu Waldi is a convoluted reference to the blaxploitation nugget Scream, Blacula, Scream.
This Maha Mu Waldi practice is a modest social occasion. Friends and girlfriends stop by. Red beers with Steel Reserve and clam-and-tomato juice. Someone’s mom made chicken soup, and there’s a roasted pork loin with red potatoes. They play for awhile, stop for a smoke, play awhile longer, eat, start playing again.
They improvise. You can’t just call it jamming when the brothers have that fraternal telepathy going on. Matt knows—and even he doesn’t know how he knows—exactly when Marcus is going to break from one free-form snarl of death-metal riffage into something completely different, and he drops right in. With the brothers locked in their musical stare-down, it’s up to Wilcox to find his own way into the improvised song—to “find his place and be in key,” Marcus says.
When that happens, and when they remember how it happened, Maha Mu Waldi has part of a song put together. Not that it happens very often. Their improvised-section-to-actual-section-of-a-finished-song ratio stays pretty high, say the brothers, because they don’t remember later what it was exactly that sounded so cool at the time.
“If we had the long-term memory to go with it, we’d be alright,” Marcus explains. “We can improvise all over the place, but we never seem to play anything the same way twice.”
It happens just often enough, though. “Moofroo’s Strange Brew” might be the best Maha Mu Waldi song, a sad melody that pops its head up between slabs of obliterating sludge, decaying into something beautiful right at the end. “Knight Rider” is a completely pulverized six-minute-plus version of the TV show theme.
You never know what you’ll get when you see them live—it could be improvised or mostly set, if not stone, then at least in Nerf. But if their next show is anything like last summer’s performance at the Wäntage Totalfest, you’ll want a front-row seat for the brutality.