COMING CLEAN: If you’re familiar with indie rock sensation (and bloggers’ darling) Nathan Williams, you’ve probably already made your decisions about Wavves. But if you’ve yet to get acquainted with Williams and his San Diego-based moniker-cum-band, a little backstory is necessary.
In 2007, after falling out with his high school bandmates, a 20-year-old Williams took to his parents’ house and cranked out two discs’ worth of lo-fi, punk-tinged slacker anthems (2008’s Wavves and 2009’s Wavvves) that were too naïvely catchy to ignore. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on whom you talk to—the blogosphere took note, and quickly turned Williams from obscure California skate rat to international music commodity. A backing band was formed, tours were lined up, and before long, Wavves were playing some of the largest music festivals in the world. Of course, as all good stories go, the band had its necessary fall from grace; in this case, a drug-fueled onstage implosion of Behind the Music-size proportions during last year’s Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain. Williams’s band members threw in the towel, the semi-unapologetic frontman cancelled his tour, and the future of Wavves lay in limbo.
Not long after, though, the singer recruited former Jay Reatard backers Billy Hayes and Stephen Pope and headed back into the studio to prove his worth. The result of Williams’s efforts, this month’s King of the Beach, finds the three-piece teaming up with big-name producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Counting Crows) for a studio-made album well worthy of all the praise it’s been receiving. The songs are bratty, buoyant, and filled to the brim with Williams’s signature adolescent ramblings. But in place of all that gritty tape noise, we get loud and furious guitars (“Idiot”), a strong and steady rhythm section (“Take On the World”), and just a hint of totally awesome Animal Collective-style loops and synths (“Mickey Mouse”). Rather than make a comeback, Williams has reinvented himself, almost forcing us to forget all the childish shenanigans that made him so notorious to begin with … almost.
En route home from the airport the afternoon following their show at New York City’s famous Bowery Ballroom, Williams and his bandmates sound more like a carful of kids than world-famous musicians. They pass snacks, smokes, and conversation around like the potheads I remember from college, joking in place of finishing their sometimes serious, but mostly apathetic sentences.
“At first it was pretty weird,” Williams says of heading into the studio with Herring. “He got mad at us for smoking weed behind the studio one day, and when we were slacking off, he would yell at us. But for the most part, it was cool. Once we all gained a rapport with each other or whatever, it worked out really well.”
The homemade sounds of his two previous efforts having been ditched, it stands to reason that the big studio setup was more than a bit daunting for Williams. “It was exciting, but it was a little bit scary, too,” Williams recalled. “It was a little uncomfortable to be able to actually hear my voice, but I was really excited.” “We thought it was bangin’,” add Hayes and Pope without missing a beat.
Later, Pope gets dealt the phone and gives me a rundown of his recent grocery buys (a smattering of produce and water), explaining that Williams is demanding his bandmates slim down and “get hunky” for their next string of dates. They’re joking (I hope), but the sarcasm is so deeply entrenched in these three, it’s difficult to ever know for sure.
“When [Hayes, Pope, and I] toured in Europe together, the vibe just felt like it was right,” Williams says of his new bandmates. “As it’s always been with Wavves, it was kinda like, okay, this is a good idea; let’s do it.”