“We’re just in the living room, man. The finals are on, so we’re catching as much ball as possible in between – and during – today’s interviews.” It’s a frank – but not entirely unexpected – admission from Nathan Williams, who forms one third of the creative core of American band Wavves.
Williams and his band mate Stephen Pope are watching game six of the NBA encounter between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies. They are so engrossed that there is little chance of them taking a break for anyone, but they’re happy to have a quick chat during halftime. They are clearly two dudes who do it their way.
To say that the Californian surf punks have had a tumultuous career is something of an understatement. Williams commenced proceedings in 2008 with two home-recorded 7-inch vinyl releases, before continuing in a flurry by dropping his debut self-titled record the same year. September 2008’s Wavves is a dark and dirge-heavy affair; cuts like ‘California Goth’ and ‘Vermin’ caught critics off-guard with rough and ready instrumentation that unexpectedly justified the early online hype.
Less than six months later Williams gifted Wavvves to the waiting masses. The album’s title involves an extra ‘v’, and the Fat Possum release packs far more snarl than its predecessor. ‘Killr Punx, Scary Demons’ and ‘To The Dregs’ recall the pure noise heroics of vintage era Sonic Youth, while poppier songs like ‘So Bored’ kept toes tapping.
As their catalogue kept growing, so did the infamy surrounding Wavves’ live shows. They were touring constantly and – perhaps inevitably – Williams suffered a breakdown on stage at 2009’s Primavera Festival in Barcelona. The singer admitted to having an addiction to alcohol, and the band went on hiatus.
Fast-forward a year and things were back on track. In August 2010 King of the Beach was released on Fat Possum, with an all new line-up including the late Jay Reatard’s former rhythm section of bassist Pope and drummer Billy Hayes. The album blew up, and lifted the band from middling scuzzy punks to festival and radio favourites. In Australia the titular track became a triple j anthem, and many of the album’s hooks were heard on the soundtracks of popular television programs in America.
King… is undoubtedly their most designed pop offering, and they happily admit that the band’s aesthetic shifts are not accidental. “I would definitely not want to ever be treading water with how we do things,” Williams says. “I’m not sure that it is our best record, but maybe that’s how we need to be thinking. Gotta keep it on the up, you know?”
The album took them into strange territory. Not only were they cool, but they had somehow become hugely popular. In October of that year the band were invited to play at CMJ Music Marathon in New York, alongside luminaries such as Dirty Projectors, Phoenix and a surprise appearance by some other famous Frenchmen. “That was pretty weird,” Pope says. “We were at Madison Square Garden, and there’s 20,000 people who are all there for Phoenix. And then we’re up there, doing our thing, and confusing the hell out of people. But Daft Punk show up for the main event, and everybody just loses their shit. That was pretty funny.” Are the band fans of the dynamic French duo’s latest funk inspired work? “Stephen’s mum is really into that ‘Get Lucky’ song,” Williams laughs.
The band’s pop bent has moved in a slightly different direction on 2013’s Afraid of Heights, for which Hayes was replaced by Jacob Cooper (The Mae Shi). The San Diegan’s fourth record is produced by John Hill (Rihanna) and his steady hand is obvious from opener ‘Sail to the Sun’. After tinkling carillons usher in the track, Williams’ vocals roar to life. He is still whining, and it all seems slightly manic, but there is an appealing clarity to the product. The album is clear without being clean, and has a muscled musicality that allows it to avoid being viewed as a rejection of their recent successes.
2013 is shaping as Wavves’ most successful year to date. They’re playing Splendour in the Grass, as well as co-headlining shows with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Their Australian tour will come hot on the heels of their second visit to Japan, and their first to Taiwan. Yet they insist such trailblazing is being done with a measure of rest and relaxation, in order to avoid the mishaps of the past.
“We just got off a six week tour,” Williams says. “We’re a little tired from that, so we’re resting up for the next little bit. Having said that, we did go hiking yesterday.” That sounds very healthy, and dare I say it, bordering on the wholesome. Is this a whole new band? “Well, it was only a small hike,” Pope says, “and you know, we still had a good amount of fun…”
The band has high hopes for the third Australian tour. “Australia is actually Stephen’s favourite place,” Williams says. “That sounds like bullshit, but it’s actually true.” “We want to be the biggest band in Australia,” Pope says, warming to the theme. “We think the title of this article should be This Band Should Be Really Famous. Or not. It’s really all up to you guys.”
“Seriously, though,” Williams interrupts: “We really are looking forward to getting out there. It’s a magical place where you live. I get there, and I just feel like anything is possible.”
BY BENJAMIN COOPER
Wavves co-headline The Standard July 25 alongside Unknown Mortal Orchestra, with a set at Splendor in the Grass July 26.