Messed!Up

Wavves: Returned to his roots – and out came an album full of pop punk crunch and garage rock

J.N. 16/07/2021

Named for his fear of the ocean, Wavves, the skuzzy project of San Diego born Nathan Williams, is a blend of distorted no-fi and refined sunshiny melodies. Charmingly messy, most of his lyrics generally revolve around the subjects of weed, boredom, and the beach.

Wavves was conceived just after Williams, at age 21, quit his job as a clerk at Music Trader, while he was dividing his free time between skateboarding, writing for his hip-hop blog Ghost Ramp, and making music using an ’80s Tascam cassette recorder and GarageBand software. Due to his inexperience with the program, the result of one month’s worth of bedroom recording sessions was two full albums of songs. Rather than scrapping the material, he embraced the in-the-red aesthetic and started promoting the songs online. Wavves was quickly embraced and touted as “the next big thing” by Internet music critics and fellow bloggers.

Many praised the immediacy and DIY nature of his work, and Williams capitalized on those aspects, continuously uploading free digital versions of his music, including two 7″ singles, a cassette, and an EP, all with simple self-drawn artwork or scanned photos for cover art. Wavves’ first LP, simply titled Wavves, became available around this time as well, and it was released in a limited run by Woodsist. The more confusingly titled Wavvves (note the third “V”) followed just after, and was planned for release by De Stijl before Williams jumped ship to Fat Possum. After the tracklist was revamped, the release date was pushed back a month and Wavvves was officially made available on March 17, 2009. After receiving mostly glowing reviews in April, Wavves got his share of bad press in late May. While performing live at the Primavera Sound Festival, assisted by drummer Ryan Ulsh, Williams had a minor meltdown and walked off-stage. Later, he issued an apology, chalking up the incident to poor decision-making and a drug concoction of ecstasy, Valium, and Xanax.

In 2010, after recording a few tracks with indie drummer extraordinaire Zach Hill, Williams entered the studio with Grammy-winning producer Dennis Herring to record a straightforward and surprisingly polished album. Following the August release of King of the Beach, Wavves toured as a trio with Williams assisted by bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes, former bandmates of the late Jay Reatard. After parting with Fat Possum, Williams released a new EP in the fall of 2011 under the Wavves name, titled Life Sux, featuring guest appearances by Best Coast and Fucked Up. He and Pope then began recording a new album with the production help of John Hill (Rihanna, Santigold), using their own money to finance the project. Mom + Pop signed the band and released the slickly produced, very ’90s-influenced Afraid of Heights in early spring of 2013.

The stripped-down, very hooky V was their first album for Warner Bros. and the process was painful for Williams, as a series of angry tweets sent out just before the September 2015 release date made clear. The band jumped back out on the road after the album was released, playing a series of dates with Cherry Glazerr and Best Coast. Wavves’ tenure with Warner Bros. proved brief, and the next album was released on Williams’ own Ghost Ramp label. The sample-heavy, super-poppy You’re Welcome was mainly recorded by Williams alone, with contributions from his bandmates (Pope, guitarist Alex Gates, and drummer Brian Hill) added separately, one at a time. After the album’s touring cycle ended in December of 2018, Hill left the band.

Williams soon found himself back in San Diego, writing songs in a shed behind his parents’ house, the same place where he had written and recorded some Wavves’ earliest music. He took the songs to Pope and Gates for their input, then the trio entered the studio. The sessions were less than fruitful and the band turned to TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek for help with the production. This time things went much better and the resulting album Hideaway captures the band’s pop playfulness and grungy slacker vibes in equal amounts. And today the album is out!


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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.

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