By Joy Ramirez
Wavves Take Control
Nathan Williams and Stephen Pope, the front man and bassist respectively of San Diego-based surf-pop duo Wavves, know what makes a successful collaboration. The two have been working and hanging together since they met in 2009 and recorded 2010’s critically acclaimed King of the Beach. For their new album they spent more than a year in the studio working with producer John Hill (M.I.A., Santigold, Rihanna) and notably, without a label. The forthcoming Afraid of Heights, due out in March, is Wavves’ fourth full-length album and according to the early buzz, their most honest and ambitious. Williams explained the decision to go it alone saying, “I had no one to answer to. We recorded the songs how and when we wanted without anybody interfering, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.” Stephen Pope answered these questions.
It has been reported that your new album Afraid of Heights includes some “unexpected surprises.” Are you moving away from your previous sounds and if so, in what new direction are you headed?
We’re not really moving away from the old sound, some of the songs are built on demos from 4 or 5 years ago. We did experiment with a lot of different sounds on this album though. We also built a few songs on top of samples, but we’ve done that in the past with “Mickey Mouse” and “Baseball Cards.”
Rolling Stone called your song “Demon to Lean On” (your) greatest song yet. Do you agree?
I can’t say I agree or disagree with that. I like all the songs on Afraid of Heights more than older songs now just because they’re still fresh and new. I’ll have to play these songs live for a few years before I can judge which songs from our catalog I like the most.
How did the collaboration with John Hill come about?
John and Nathan had worked together before writing songs for other—more pop—artists. They had a good working relationship and John seemed really excited about the idea of recording an album with us. He was also willing to do it with no guarantee of a payday since we financed it ourselves. We didn’t want any label involvement in the recording process, but that also meant we didn’t have any label’s money to pay a producer. John was ok with that. We were able to work until we thought it was finished and get exactly the album we wanted out of it. Only after that did we start talking to labels.
According to Nathan, “The general theme of the record is depression and anxiety, being death-obsessed and paranoid of impending doom.” What are you paranoid about right now?
I can’t really speak for Nathan on that one, but he is a paranoid freak. I’ve gotten, over the past few years, extremely paranoid and anxious about things. Not anything in particular, though my fear of heights has gotten pretty bad. It’s more just a general feeling of impending doom. I’m 27 now—not that old, but I’ve had a lot of friends die around this age so I guess I’m just thinking about death way too much. Stay posi, though.
What are your top three favorite albums?
That’s tough, but my favorites at the moment that have been consistent favorites throughout my life are: Wire-Chairs Missing, Metallica-Master of Puppets and Guided By Voices-Alien Lanes.
Who are your musical influences?
So many, but off the top of my head: R Stevie Moore, Colin Newman, Gary Numan, Weezer, Metallica, Roky Erickson, Can, Hawkwind, Gary Glitter, Alex Chilton, Ariel Pink, Black Flag, Pixies, Deerhunter, Parliament…
What was the most important lesson you learned when you were starting out?
Don’t take anything too seriously... and don’t trust anyone.
How does the process of songwriting work for you two?
What do you think makes your collaboration so successful? Working with Nathan just seems pretty natural. We both have pretty similar tastes but our backgrounds/styles are a little different so we both bring stuff to the table. Nathan still writes most of the songs. I wrote or helped write five (songs) on the new album, but we both add our influence to every song. Even when we’re not working together we still hang out pretty much everyday because I think we’re scared of other people. At least I am.
If you weren’t a musician in a band, what would you be doing?
Oh god, I have no idea. I’ve been a touring musician for almost 7 years now. I’ve held down various part-time jobs throughout but now I’m full time (doing) music. Hopefully if music doesn’t work out I can continue doing something creative—maybe sell weed and start painting or something.