It’s safe to say that Wavves (or at least frontman, Nathan Williams) have had quite the busy 2015. First, Williams’ Sweet Valley released a split EP with MNDR, and then went on to release his debut LP as Spirit Club, Wavves’ collaborative album with Cloud Nothings, and soon will release Wavves’ fifth LP aptly titled, V, on October 2, which will include a North American tour this September. Williams was gracious enough to find time in his schedule to pick up the phone for a quick interview – nothing was off the table in this discussion.
NT: Hey! Thank you for taking the time to talk to Northern Transmissions. Where do I reach you now? What are you up to?
Nathan Williams: In the studio. I did a Beats interview early today at the radio spot they have in LA, and yeah I’ve been doing a couple interviews and working on a new Spirit Club record in downtown LA right now.
NT: Congrats in advance on the forthcoming release. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it and it’s nothing short of amazing. I wanted to get right into that actually; can you tell me about the approach you took towards it and recording process of the album?
NW: Sure, the approach…well, Steven and I go together before we starting recording the record and talk together about what we thought we could do differently from the last record. Afraid of Heights was the last one and it took us a little over a year to do, so we kind of didn’t want to basically make that same mistake, because I think it’s just too long to spend recording a record. I had been in the studio a lot with Woody Jackson who ended up producing this record. So I was just working on Grand Theft Auto back with him and it kinda just came up in passing that I was trying to find a place to record and he was like maybe you should just use my studio. So I talked to Steven about it and – it was kind of a more hands-off approach to doing it. He definitely offered his knowledge but kind of gave us free reign over which way we wanted it. So that took us three months as opposed to a year, I think the product ends up better and kind of saves my sanity.
NT: Are you at liberty to discuss the disputes with Warner over the album’s release?
NW: I mean ask me and I’ll tell you [laughs].
NT: What was the process with that? How did the feud start?
NW: There were just a couple of things that we basically disagreed on and they had approved art that couldn’t be used and then they pulled it the day before it was supposed to be released and they had sent the song to a bunch of journalists already and then the song leaked and then they kept trying to pull the songs from getting leaked but it was already out and, you know, several different journalists had already covered it so. They wanted to push back and try and do – I don’t even know what they wanted to do! But at that point I was kind of like no it’s out and I don’t really give a shit what you say. I don’t know if even now Warner Brothers is the biggest fan of me, probably not I’d say.
NT: After that was the rest of the process …?
NW: I don’t know, honestly I haven’t talked to a single person from Warner Brothers in maybe a year, and that’s not because I’m not – I just don’t know what’s going on and I’m not gonna put words in their mouths I don’t know what they think.
NT: Now you were making the current record (V) at the same time as the Cloud Nothings collaborative album (No Life For Me), right? Did this have any effect on the process of either record?
NW: Well the process of doing that record was much different, even going into it, we kind of knew we wanted to have a more home recording sounding record and just something that had a lot of character and so we just recorded it in my living room, so the process was a lot different with [No Life For Me]. We recorded that in – it took us less than a month to do it, so a little bit different.
NT: Personally, what would you say are some of the differences between your new album and previous Wavves records?
NW: I think this one is a bit more focused energy, like I was saying earlier, Woody was really great at like when we would ask him like we want this sort of sound or we want this and Michael Harris, the engineer. They were great at getting us what we asked for and great mixing it and stuff, and also a couple of ‘maybe we should do this or this’ but generally speaking we just had free reign to do what we wanted so I think that was kind of the biggest difference. The only other time I’ve been in the studio and had such free reign was the work when my studio was my parents’ garage and that’s where I was able to do the most like had the most control. I felt like I had a lot of control this last record, which I liked a lot.
NT: Were there specific influences that you drew from on this record?
NW: Yeah, well one of Woody’s biggest things when we were doing it and one of the things he said to me even before we got into the studio that he hates Weezer, and he hates Nirvana and he hates all these things and ways we’ve been compared to in the past. So we knew going in there that we weren’t going to make a record that would be kind of more in the vain of our Afraid of Heights record, kind of the 90s alt sort thing and Afraid of Heights was forty-five, forty-sixty minutes and generally speaking the songs were a lot slower. These songs [on V] power-pop and a lot faster and they get to the point quicker.
NT: Stereogum has called your single “Way Too Much” quote “a Blink-182 song without all the corniness”, what are your thoughts on that?
NW: [laughs] I don’t know… I mean I think it’s supposed to be a nice thing. I don’t know, I like Blink-182! And I don’t necessarily agree with that. I don’t think “Way Too Much” sounds like a Blink-182 song, but I do like Blink-182 a lot.
NT: I have to say, for me, “All the Same” has got to be the catchiest song on the record. How do you generally approach writing a song? Is it more important to lay down a good hook or get your message across lyrically, so to speak?
NW: For me, generally speaking, the most important part is the vocal melody in most cases. Yeah, there are instances were it’s not but that’s what I want to – that’s what people hear the most, that’s what people digest the most I think especially people that aren’t avid music listeners, you remember that the vocals in the song. So I’d like to try and get that one first and foremost. But I mean with that song in particular that you’re talking about, “All the Same”, Steven sent me a demo that was just like a GarageBand, kick and snare and it was just these three chords in the verse, and I did some work on it and sent it back to him, and he’s like this is actually good, and so then he wrote a few other little parts for the chorus on Garage band and sent it over to me and I recorded the vocals on the chorus and it was easy as that for that one.
NT: How hard is it to find a balance between some of the less pleasant themes and a more upbeat sound or is it almost second nature by now? Do you hope people look deeper into the songs?
NW: I mean people do look deeper into the songs, there a lot of people that – I mean it happens now more than ever, younger kids will come up to me, even the 20s and 30s will come up and talk to me and said lyrically this song or this song has helped me through suicidal thoughts. There are people that are listening. I think that’s kind of the juxtaposition – between the sort of sunny melody and the darker themes that I sing about – is that I just wanted to do from the beginning, so I try to keep that in mind when I’m doing it, but of course you know I won’t start a song thinking I wanna write this song about breaking up with my girlfriend or something like that. Most of the time it’s a single line and a melody, that’s where a song starts.
NT: I’d like to finish off by asking you something that speaks to all the stuff you’ve been doing with Sweet Valley, Spirit Club, the collaborative album, your own album, V, and then you’re going on tour in September. How do you keep yourself level headed, or just… sane?
NW: I think going back on the road is actually going to be pretty good, because I’ve just kind of been working in LA and I feel like it’s the right time to leave and take a few months off from being here. It’s great, I’m just super excited that I’m able to do the Sweet Valley and Spirit Club stuff and have Ghost Ramp, the label up and running and Ghost Ramp is putting out this Wavves record as well with Warner Brothers and the Cloud Nothings thing. I don’t know, I mean I have a lot of people now around me, a lot of friends that are helping me do this, because I obviously can’t do it by myself, so it’s cool. I’m just excited to be doing it which is why I’m at the studio as we do this interview. When I’m not at home demoing out songs, this is where I am and I mean, I bet Duncan is listening to this but he’s in LA, and you can ask him, I don’t go out, literally I just recorded all day.
Interview by Sean Carlin