There is a pretty solid argument to be had about the pressure new bands are put under to deliver these days. They are put upon from all sides – their record companies, the media, their fans, and the blogosphere. We are now so saturated with media, with access to so much more music than ever before. Competition is fierce, and people expect results instantly – we no longer have the patience for long-term development. Bands need to deliver something brilliant instantly, or risk being dropped like a stone by their record labels. The media is also fickle when it comes to hyping bands, and bloggers are even worse, seemingly dropping bands (in a fairly blunt way) as soon as they gain any recognition outside of the blogging universe. To stay afloat, new bands have to work very hard to stay in the public eye.

Wavves’ Nathan Williams has certainly been put under a lot of strain as his music has gained more and more recognition over the past 18 months. At the end of May this year, it all came to a head, very publicly, at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona.

It all started with a long, clumsy, drawn-out sound-check that tried the patience of the crowd while Williams endlessly tweaked the sound levels, bickered with drummer Ryan Ulsh, and seemed confused about how the monitors were set up. After shouts from the crowd, Williams started to play, though not in any recognisable way – strumming out tuneless, formless noise, which eventually started to resemble the band’s song ‘Weed Demon’, as Ulsh struggled to create a beat to go with William’s guitar work. After five minutes of this, Williams dodged his first bottle. The show continued sloppily, with Williams taunting the crowd, between songs. Fed up with William’s behaviour, Ulsh eventually stepped out from behind his drumkit, walked up to Williams, and poured a full cup of beer over his head, to the biggest applause of the set.

The next day, Williams apologised for his behaviour, admitting that he was on a cocktail of ecstacy and valium that night, and ultimately that he had a drinking problem. The tour was cancelled. Ulsh then announced that he’d left the band in June.

Alhough it is easy to sympathise with the fans who were insulted by Williams, the bigger picture is much more shocking. Though William’s star was on the rise, it was still early days – the band were hardly selling out stadiums – but with in an incredibly short space of time, he was burnt out, and dependent on drink. This is hardly surprising considering that for Williams Wavves has always been a bedroom project, something he did at his parent’s house in San Diego. When we started taking notice of his work, we dragged him out of the bedroom and into the wider world.

It is difficult to see where the finger of blame should be pointed in this scenario, or if it should be pointed at all, but it is a reflection of the ultra-high expectations of our media saturated age. Alhough there are some bands making an impact now that managed to develop slowly away from the media hype machine, the vast majority are thrust before us for our entertainment, then shunted along to make room for The Next Big Thing. For the artists themselves, who put a lot of themselves into their work, this system can be very hard to take.

We spoke to Nathan Williams a few days before his very public breakdown. Some aspects of the interview hint at what was to come, but despite his short and occasionally erratic answers, he seemed fairly upbeat about the rest of the year.


PB: You’ve been touring or a while now. It must be getting pretty exhausted.

NW: Yeah definitely, but we’ve had a little break, so it’s been alright.

PB: Has this tour the first time that you’ve been over in Europe?

NW: Yeah.

PB: How have you found it so far?

NW: Uh, loved it, excited to be back. It’s nice and overcast, a little bit damp, I’d say. Yeah, I’m very excited to be back. We’re going to a whole bunch of places we haven’t been the last time around – Barcelona and Italy and stuff like that, so we’re excited.

PB: Do you have any expectations from the crowds there?

NW: No, never been, so I have no idea, but from what Mark (Wavves’ tour manager) told me it’s going to be awesome.

PB: Your approach to your work is fairly autonomous. Was that a personal choice, or was it borne out of necessity?

NW: It’s kind of easier to write it that way, I think maybe, but also I think it was borne partly out of necessity, because the people I was playing with at the time all had girlfriends, and they were doing other things, and I didn’t really know anyone else in San Diego who was into playing music, so I just did it all myself.

PB: What equipment do you use to record your songs?

NW: Just a Mac, onto Garageband.

PB: Just using the internal microphone?

NW: At the beginning I used a Tascam plugged into the Mac, and after a while I just started recording straight into Garageband, using the internal microphone.

PB: I’m surprised you can get such a good sound using that.

NW: Yeah man, you can.

PB: Do you think it’s easier now for bands and artists to be autonomous?

NW: I think so, I think the internet has changed everything. It’s a lot easier to get your stuff out there. But then again, like, people are so ADD now anyway, that there’s a new thing every day, and now it’s harder to stay around, or something. But who really cares.

PB: To what extent do you think the internet has helped you?

NW: Oh shit, I don’t know, a ton? Obviously quite a lot, because that’s how people first heard it.

PB: It sounds like the music you make is quite personal. How did you feel when it started getting more exposure? Did you feel apprehensive, or were you pleased about the attention your music was getting?

NW: No, not really, but once it started happening, I was not against it. It was a little bit nerve-wracking at the beginning, and now I’d say it’s more hectic than nerve-wracking, but going out and doing anything artistically, you always have reservations about how people will perceive it. But again, who gives a fuck? It is what it is.

PB: Your music seems to reference several different era and styles. What music are you directly influenced by?

NW: A lot of 90s and 80s stuff, a lot of American hardcore, a lot of 60s soul, northern soul, other music about weed. I don’t know, that’s basically it. Mark… Mark Byrne.

PB: Sorry?

NW: Mark Byrne (Co-director at Bella Union, Wavves' label-Ed). That guy inspires me.

PB: I’d like to know a bit more about what has shaped your musical taste. What was the first record that you bought?

NW: The first record I bought? What, ever? Shit. Something stupid probably. I think I’ve answered a question like this before and I can’t even remember the answer. The first records I owned were all like hand-me-downs from my parents – Fleetwood Mac’s 'Rumours' and some old Beatles records.

PB: What record would be a guilty pleasure for you – something that you like, but might not be perceived as the coolest choice?

NW: It’s not so guilty, but Steely Dan. And Christopher Cross, I really like Christopher Cross. Michael McDonald, from the Doobies.

PB: Right.

NW: Wait I’m not done yet, er….No, I am done, actually. Those are embarrassing enough, right?

PB: Is there any music that you find particularly uplifting when you’re in a bad mood?

NW: Yeah, rap music, I don’t know why, but it really does. Michael McDonald as well, you know all that yacht rock stuff. Do you know ‘Sailin Away’? (proceeds to sing said song). The 'Seinfeld' theme - that one’s good too (half hums the Seinfeld theme).

PB: What would you say was your all-time classic album?

NW: Talking Heads' ‘Songs About Buildings and Food’. That’s a great record. I can always come back to that one.

PB: Going back to rap music, you’re obviously very passionate about it, writing extensively about it on your blog. Is there any particular era of rap that you enjoy most?

NW: Probably the most grabbing to me was the sort of quote unquote gangsta rap phenomenon, or movement, whatever you want to call it. Not so much any more, but, 89 through to 97, maybe, there was so much… it’s just the obvious, you know, when rap was actually good – Nas, Wu Tang, Biggie, that sort of thing.

PB: The genre seems to have grown a little stale of late.

NW: It has, but I’ve been listening to this Black Milk thing over and over again. It’s pretty good, even though it came out in like 2004.

PB: There is the odd good rap act. You just have to look harder for them now.

NW: Yeah, my friend Matthew sent me a bunch of these Rich Boy songs and made me listen to them. And I kind of hated Rich Boy, but they were actually pretty good.

PB: I like some of the rap coming out of Canada, particularly Cadence Weapon.

NW: Cadence Weapon? (to people he’s with )You guys heard of him? Yeah? Guess I’m the only one. I’m out of the loop. I’m just at Nissal Local, getting some fresh essentials, and everybody else is listening to rap.

PB: Is there anything from hip hop that has directly influenced your music?

NW: No, not really. I have a sampler and a drum machine now, so I guess there’s that, but other than that, not so much.

PB: Your songs were born as recorded products, rather than in the live setting, and a lot of it is fairly layered. Was it difficult to adapt them into live versions?

NW: Yeah, Yeah, I mean…no. I don’t know. Honestly, I mean it all happened so fast…it just was… Ryan flew out to San Diego and we went over the songs for three weeks, and we’ve been touring since. So, if there was more time to plan it out and do stuff like that, then I could’ve…given myself a headache, but I think, for the time being, not over thinking it is a nice way of going about things for me.

PB: Will you be touring for the rest of the year now?

NW: Basically. I don’t know when we’re going to stop. Whenever Mark (their tour manager) tells us to stop.

PB: I know you were going to play with Deerhunter at the beginning of the year, but that ended up being cancelled.

NW: That was a bummer - we were stoked about that. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it another time, but we’ll see. I really like that band.

PB: It seems that there are a lot of interesting indie bands coming out of the US at the moment. Why do you think that is?

NW: Shit, man. Ah, I have no idea. Maybe it is the internet – maybe people are finally getting a chance to… I have no idea, I don’t know. It could be anything. Maybe it’s global warming.

PB: Or the recession.

NW: Yeah, the recession.

PB: You can blame everything on the recession.

NW:(Laughs) Yeah, everything.

PB: Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked you such a difficult question, considering how tired you are.

NW: It’s alright, I’m just along for the ride. It’s your world- I’m just living it.

PB: I know you’ve been very busy with the tour, but have you had any thoughts about what you want to do next, musically?

NW: I haven’t really had any time off to really think about any new recordings yet, but, I don’t know, we’ll…cross that bridge when we get to it. I don’t know, we’re touring until the end of the year, basically.

PB: Do you think you’ll stick with the DIY recording approach?

NW: Um, I don’t know yet. Maybe. Probably… I don’t know. I’d like to, it’s just the way I prefer to do it, by myself, just because I like to work by myself and not in a studio. Um, but then again… I don’t fucking know. In a couple of months, I could end up changing my mind.

PB: It’s still quite astounding that you got such a good sound using such basic equipment.

NW: Fucking A. It is what it is. Anybody can do it. Isn’t that the point of all this?

PB: How long do you usually work on a song? Do you work intuitively, or do plan it out first?

NW: I don’t like to take more than a couple of hours on a song. I mean, then I might go and listen to it the next day fiddle with it a bit, just like levels and stuff like that, but the actual like recording of instruments and stuff…All the songs on the last two records were put together quickly, I didn’t do like one part one day and the vocal part the next day. It was all done the same day. It was kind of like a…I don’t know, like a…the word’s not there. It’s like a flow, sort of…a flow of things. God, a flow, really? I sound like a fucking idiot. Yeah, I guess it’s a flow. That’s why it’s easier for me to work on a song for a straight hour, or two hours, or longer than that, probably like three or four hours, and just be onto the next thing.

PB: What instruments do you use when recording?

NW: Drums, guitars and bass, and a drum machine in the background.

PB: I like the spacey instrumentals that you do, like ‘Killr Punx/Scary Demons’. Is that all done with guitars, too?

NW: Uh, no, that’s actually a MicroKorg, fed through a distortion pedal. All the kind of spacey ones like that are done on the MicroKorg. I just got the new one as well, the XL. God, dude it’s amazing.

PB: I’d love to get one of those, I’ve been looking at them for some time.

NW: Me too, I got back and I just indulged. I haven’t had time to mess about with it much, though. You could always steal it man, if you can’t afford it.

PB: Steal it?

NW: Yeah, steal it. Just do it man, you’ll feel better afterwards.

PB: (Laughs) Okay, I’ll consider it.

NW: Don’t think about it, man. Just do it.

PB: Thank you.















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