- Words: Josiah Hughes
Pre-tour Wavve-Jumping with San Diego Fuzz-Pop Prince Nathan Williams.
As Wavves, 22-year-old Nathan Williams has spent the last year recording and releasing some incredibly fuzzy pop music from a pool house in the San Diego suburbs. His self-described “righteous beach jams” pair traditional pop sensibilities with noisy production and punk-rock abandon in a way that’s unique and instantly lovable.
The Wavves oeuvre is diverse, and runs the gamut from The Beach Boys and The Beatles through Bad Brains, The Wipers, and Sonic Youth. For Williams, that wide palette is a direct result of his upbringing. His parents, ex-folkies from the ’60s band Summer Wind, raised him on a steady diet of pop originators. “My parents listened to a lot of Beatles and Beach Boys stuff,” he recalls. “I remember being young and watching A Hard Day’s Night and thinking it was the coolest movie ever.” Meanwhile, his grandpa brought the soul. “Growing up, my grandpa always had Motown,” he says. “Every time we went over there, it was just Motown. Those things just sink in.”
Still, Williams started his own musical journey listening to what he considers bad skate punk. “I had a Fat Wreck Chords sampler—so what?” he admits, laughing, “I just had a conversation about Guttermouth with somebody last night. We were trying to remember the song where he calls his mom a cunt.” As skate culture evolved, so did Williams’ own taste. “I first heard a lot of the stuff that I listen to now because of skate videos. I heard my first Wu-Tang song in a skate video.”
Wavves started just over a year ago, when Williams was growing tired of his slower, “kinda dreamy” indie-rock band Fantastic Magic and decided to branch out. “I started recording some demos just for fun. I showed them to one of my friends, and he was pretty adamant about me sending it to a couple of people.” Almost immediately, Williams released a now highly sought-after cassette on Fuck It Tapes, which was later released as a self-titled CD and LP through Brooklyn boutique label Woodsist. The start of 2009 has brought a whole new onslaught of releases, including his second self-titled album (this time with a third “V”—Wavvves) on Fat Possum, and four seven-inches on four different labels.
Because they were recorded together, the full-length Wavves albums act as a double album. Between the two albums, six tracks contain the word “goth” and the majority of them relate to the beach and skateboarding in one way or another. “I wasn’t even thinking about it too much, I was just writing the lyrics as they came along,” he recalls. “A lot of the songs are about a certain summer in my life, but I try to keep it as vague as possible because I don’t want to sound like a sappy asshole.”
The albums are also connected by their distinct, lo-fi production. This comes out of necessity, as Williams’ pocketbook keeps it that way. “Sometimes I’ll use a 4-track recorder into my Mac, but sometimes I just use the internal mic,” he explains. “The only reason I do it this way is because I don’t have the money to go into a studio and do it any other way. I like the way it sounds right now, but at some point I’ll go into a studio.” Nevertheless, Wavves’ layered fuzz and muffled vocals are a significant part of its charm, adding a sense of mystery and timelessness to the melodic pop gems. It also unites Wavves with the current resurgence of lo-fi indie rock spearheaded by Times New Viking, Psychedelic Horseshit, and Woodsist label-mate Blank Dogs.
Williams will spend a significant portion of 2009 with Blank Dogs, as he embarks on his longest tour ever, including stops in Europe and across the U.S. This is a huge and nerve-racking proposition for Williams, who has never left the country aside from a few trips to Tijuana. With the unknown, however, comes a sense of optimism. “If we can break even at the end of the year and see the world, I’ll be happy,” Williams says.
Joining Williams on tour is his best friend, drummer Ryan Ulsh. The two have known each other since they were 11, and Ulsh moved from Virginia to Williams’ San Diego home just one week before this interview. For him, Wavves is an ideal passageway into music over adulthood. “After high school, I was hanging out with girls, skateboarding, and pursuing college a little. I decided to drop out of college and pursue music more,” Ulsh says matter-of-factly.
As a duo, Wavves will be able to expand on the songs’ initial ideas, which were written and recorded hastily. “For some of the songs, I kind of wish they were longer or shorter,” Williams says. “It’s a bit more free [when it’s performed] live. We’ll just jam the songs. There will be a skeleton of the songs live, and then we can kind of do whatever the fuck we want.”
04/11 Portland, OR - Holocene
04/12 Davis, California - DAM House
04/13 San Francisco, California - Bottom Of The Hill
04/14 Santa Cruz, CA - Crepe Place
04/15 Los Angeles, California - The Echo
04/17 San Diego, California - The Casbah
0525 Barcelona, Spain - Primavera Festival
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