Making Wavves

Another perspective on the “the epic meltdown” of Wavves at Primavera.

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“The most epic onstage meltdown a band of their small size could conjure” declared Pitchfork of the live fiasco that was Wavves’ now-infamous performance at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona at the end of May.  Onstage bickering between Wavves’ Nathan Williams and drummer, Ryan Ulsh, and stop-start renditions of songs eventually descended into bottles and shoes being thrown at the band and Ulsh walking offstage, but not before tipping a cup of beer on Williams’ head.  A Youtube clip titled “Wavves being a jerk at Primavera” now has 50,000 hits and counting. Later, Williams posted an entry on his blog, Ghost Ramp (that has since been deleted) that read: “Mixing ecstasy, valium and xanax before having to play in front of thousands of people was one of the more poor decisions I've made(duh) and I realize my drinking has been a problem now for a good period of time. Nothing else I can do but apologize to everyone that has been affected by my poor decision making. I made a mistake. Not the first mistake I've made and it for sure won’t be the last. I'm human. Don't know why I chose the biggest platform I could imagine to lose my shit, but that's life. You live and you learn.” Following that, their entire European tour dates were pulled.

Just the day before the incident, I was invited to meet them prior to a small warm-up gig at The Old Blue Last in London. Contrary to previous interviews where he has seemed stoned (and one with Dazed which was conducted in a bathroom) Williams was funny and lucid, still marveling at the amazing success of his bedroom project. And the show they played later that night was brisk but packed a punch. It’d be a shame if their disastrous performance at Primavera makes us forget why we cared about him in the first place. His self-titled album released this year perfectly captured the moment-to-moment thrills of being young and angsty. If it seemed simple, it was deceptively so. It takes craftsmanship to weld gnarly post-punk scraps of songs, heavy on the fuzz and distortion pedals to industrial strength Beach Boys harmonies and classic doo-wop melodies. It made for a potent combination that caught fire with critics and fans and set Williams on a punishing tour schedule through America and Europe. Though the interview that follows does nothing to dispel certain trueisms about Williams, (namely in regards to the drug-taking) it does go some way to highlight the speed at which things have happened for Williams and how he’d been caught unawares by it. We’ve always liked our rock stars mercurial and unpredictable – witness Cat Power breaking down onstage or anyone of Courtney Love’s shambolic gigs. But importantly, we’ve forgiven them and they’ve come back and made us proud. Here’s hoping Williams, who will be back later this year with a new band line-up, will do the same.

Dazed Digital: Last time you were in Europe, you played 35 shows in 30 days and recently you played 13 shows in 4 days at SXSW. How did that not break you?
Nathan Williams: Oh I did, upstairs I’m broke! I think one of the main things I realized, sometime in the near future it’ll all start to settle down again. People will start to forget about the record once it’s been out for long enough and the touring schedule will become less hectic.

DD: Best tour story so far?
Nathan Williams: One of the tour promoters turned out to be Nazis! We were in a castle in Germany and there were these weird signs, like they had a Pierce Brosnan cutout with a little Hitler moustache on it. (Laughs) Later on in the night, we ended up getting in a squabble with them. But it was a nice bonding experience for us.

DD: You recorded the first album in the shack at the back of your parents’ house in San Diego. How does your environment influence what you do now?
Nathan Williams: I think a lot. I wouldn’t be talking about the sun and the warmth if I lived here! I’d be making like Morrissey-type songs!

DD: You’ve done a ton of interviews now, you did one for Dazed while on the loo and once while you were high. Has your interview technique improved?
Nathan Williams: It’s funny I don’t remember either of those! The reason these interviews end up sounding the same is I have so little time off that when I do them, I try to get into my most comfortable, chill mode which is getting on a couch, getting high, watching a movie or something. Because when I’m not doing that, I’m touring.

DD: You really go for it live. Where does the wild abandon on stage come from?
Nathan Williams: Just because it’s a point in our lives, at least for me in writing the songs, I have always worked shitty jobs and never once been happy in the job I worked at. And this is something that we’ve been paid pretty well to go and do. Once you realize you’re able to sustain yourself, it’s just a really positive thing to go and do. Seeing people that get into something you created is rewarding.

DD: The music sounds influenced by surf punk and I was surprised to hear you don’t like the water! And you’re clearly not lazy or bored either. What other preconceptions do people have about you?
Nathan Williams: No I hate the water! The ocean is fucking scary! But yeah we do work pretty hard.

DD: Are you recording anything now?
Nathan Williams: We’ve just had our first 2 weeks off in many months. But I recorded a bit in New York with the Woodsist crew. We recorded it at a barbecue, in one take.  For me, it’s about the vibe.

DD: How do you feel being associated with this lo-fi movement?
Nathan Williams: When people say lo-fi I feel it’s kinda silly. It is what it is but to me, they are my friends’ bands and they all happen to be really good. It’s kinda special. It’s something that later on in my life, when I look back, it’d be like oh I was a part of that. Y’know like Blank Dogs, Woods, Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls, they’re all really good and great people and it’s amazing to be a part of that.
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