By Dom Sinacola; photos by Cat Roif on March 4, 2013
When Wavves—the duo of founder/songwriter Nathan Williams and bassist Stephen Pope—went into a studio in Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood to record Afraid of Heights, their fourth full-length and first for emerging label Mom + Pop, they didn’t know they’d be spending an entire year there.
“A part of it was working at our own pace,” Williams says. “Since we were paying for it ourselves, I thought deadlines would be counter-productive, so we just recorded until we felt it was done. That just happened to be a year; luckily it wasn’t longer than that, ’cause I’m broke.”
Pope agrees: “If a label had been involved, I guarantee they wouldn’t have let us stay in the studio for that long…it would have fucked up the creative process.”
That “creative process” proved fruitful before, when they self-financed and -recorded the Life Sux EP, so it was only after Heights was finished that the two took up with Mom + Pop to hash out the rigmarole of distribution. An ideal situation, maybe, for a band to mine, but not without a measure of good faith: “Our producer, John Hill, was willing to work without getting paid until we had a label,” Pope says.
“I had done a couple writing sessions with [Hill] for various artists that are more famous and make more money than me, and the idea came up,” Williams says, “and we both just kind of said, ‘OK, let’s go for it.’”
Hill, typically aligned with spit-shined pop acts like Rihanna and Shakira (the “more famous” folks who “make more money” than Williams), abetted in the sessions’ sense of precision, ensuring each sound on the record was exactly how Wavves wanted it. It meant string sections, looped beats, even what could be their first acoustic ballad; it meant rabbit holes and endless trial and error. “If we couldn’t achieve a particular sound, we would research how to get it and usually spend way too much on a random instrument on eBay,” Pope says.
What Hill brought to the table wasn’t so much blockbuster breadth as it was his knack for guiding Wavves to the kind of record they always had in them. “The sound [of Afraid of Heights] is inspired by what Stephen and I first fell in love with about music, I think,” Williams says. “A lot of alternative radio-ready stuff: Weezer, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr.”
Although their fourth LP isn’t a drastic departure from their third, 2010’s King of the Beach, which also exploited Williams’ primordial gift for punching out hooks in a hurry amidst the detritus of laid-back pop and surf punk, Afraid of Heights may just be the sound of Wavves—a band known for dredging the shallows of early-20s bacchanalia—taking some responsibility. “I guess instead of, ‘I’m drunk, let’s party,’ it’s more, ‘I’m drunk, what the fuck am I doing with my life?’” Pope explains.
Williams dials back the drama a bit: “I want to continue to evolve musically and experiment with different things. I would get too bored otherwise.”
Further staving off boredom, Wavves will set out on tour with stoner acolytes FIDLAR, starting at SXSW a few weeks before the release of Heights. Then there’s Williams’ Sweet Valley project with his brother, Joel, who, in between a spate of hip-hop-leaning mixtapes, are working on a record with the rapper Killer Mike, having just finished one with Bay Area emcee DaVinci. “And we’ll release a couple more tapes this year, I’m sure,” Williams adds.
Whatever feels right, right? It’s left to Pope to sum up the band’s journey thus far: “Life’ll get you down sometimes. Stay posi. Don’t worry, be happy.” F