Over the last decade, Wavves have risen to the top of the pop-punk pyramid.
Wavves first burst onto the scene with Wavves and Wavvvves, released in 2008 and 2009 respectively. These first two releases were recorded by frontman Nathan Williams by himself in his mom’s garage.
That’s pretty evident when listening to Wavves and Wavvvves, they are exemplary lo-fi records. Williams combined his lo-fi sound with surf-rock elements, often humming or “la la la”-ing over his own vocals, creating a fun dichotomy between surf rock and lo-fi noise rock, and fashioning his own unique sound.
If the Beach Boys made punk slacker rock it would sound exactly like Wavves.
After releasing Wavvvves, Williams suddenly became an indie darling and all of the relevant blogs and music festivals came calling.
Williams hired drummer Ryan Ulsh, was booked for a massive European tour, and took off from his mom’s garage, destined for punk rock stardom
What happened was kind of what you would expect from an early 20’s kid who stumbled into sudden fame.
At the 2009 Primavera Sound Festival, Williams took a whole bunch of drugs, bugged out on his drummer, and began berating the crowd, who then started launching bottles at him.
Ulsh walked away after the incident, with Williams taking a pretty intense backlash with headlines like “Wavves Self Destruct in Barcelona” and “Wavves Meltdown in Spain” from Pitchfork and Stereogum.
In an interview with Pitchfork after the whole Barcelona debacle, it’s clear Williams felt pretty bad about what happened, most notably the frayed relationship with Ulsh, but also how quickly he became over-exposed.
He told Pitchfork,
“Yeah, it’s just weird. I feel like people forget sometimes that I’ve only been doing Wavves live for four months, and it’s picked up to this point so quickly. I never expected to have this type of exposure, and I never expected to be doing these things. I think maybe it all hit me, and it’s just kind of a lot to process so quickly. I don’t know.”
Williams cancelled his European tour, the burden of the pressure clearly weighing on him,
“In the end, the whole reason I left… it got to a point where it became so stressful and there were so many people whispering in my ear. It just got so big so quickly. I think maybe I realized it, and it freaked me out a little bit. Obviously, I handled it in the worst way possible, but it was just… I don’t know.”
In that interview it seems like Williams is pretty disillusioned, especially with the interference of money and business suddenly having an impact on his art,
“It’s weird because it’s kind of like a personal thing, and then these business-y things are all kind of tangled in it. It’s weird to say when it is fun and when it isn’t fun. And if it isn’t fun, I guess I shouldn’t really be doing it anymore. But I do love doing it, and it is fun. But with every good, there is a bad part of it.”
In the space of a couple months, Nathan Williams went from holing up in his mom’s garage with a bunch of weed and recording records for fun, to magazine covers, to a European tour, to then facing backlash from the music world for getting too drunk on stage.
Sudden pressure and fame had clearly gotten to Williams, but ever since this chaotic period, Wavves have been shockingly stable and consistent.
With the late Jay Reatard’s band members bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Alex Gates, Wavves went on to make a great pop-rock record with King of the Beach, cementing the group as a legitimate figure in a genre that was thinning out and badly in need of some direction.
King of the Beach has a much bigger and clearer sound than anything Wavves had done previously. King was the first Wavves project recorded in an actual studio at Fat Possum Records, stripped of the lo-fi purity of the earlier records.
King of the Beach showed Wavves had more versatility as a band, beyond the hazy confines of Williams’ mom’s garage.
After a couple of smaller releases, including the LP Life Sux in 2011, Wavves kept dropping fun, cool alternative rock, never changing too much from the style initiated on King of the Beach, but always changing up the approach slightly and never exactly replicating their formula.
The sound got bigger, less surfer-rocky, more grungy, culminating in 2013’s Afraid of Heights, which was a perfectly good album, but problems with the bands’ new label, Warner Bros., caused friction with the release.
Then 2015’s V came off the back of a personal breakup and heightened tensions with the label.
After the release of V, which Pitchfork wrote “sounded like a hangover”, Wavves left Warner Bros. and issued a pretty damning press release, calling out major labels’ treatment of smaller bands that aren’t “cash cows”.
An excerpt from Williams’ statement shows just how catastrophic Wavves’ experience with Warner Bros. was. Williams wrote,
“I’d never come in contact with such a poorly run company in my life. It was anarchy. Nobody knew what they were doing. Turnover rate was like an American Apparel. It was really all cons—unless you’re a cash cow. For everyone else, major labels can’t help you. Maybe at one time they could, but that time is dead.”
For all the venom in this statement, Williams and Wavves backed up their talk, starting Ghost Ramp, a record label where Williams can release Wavves music, Sweet Valley, an instrumental duo consisting of Williams and his brother, and a growing list of artists, including Cloud Nothings.
According to their website, Ghost Ramp “specializes in a diverse roster that also includes a large emphasis on video game soundtracks.”
Wavves have taken matters into their own hands, releasing their music on their own terms on their own label, releasing the band’s new album, You’re Welcome on the label.
As Afraid of Heights and V seemed to dip into the melancholic, You’re Welcome sees Wavves back to their carefree punky best. On this album Williams is singing about how cold his winter house is and drinking lemonade by the pool, as opposed to the more nihilistic material of his previous couple releases.
This record feels closer to King of the Beach than V, there’s a return to the lo-fi, albeit not close to that of Wavves or Wavvvves. “Daisy”, “You’re Welcome”, and “No Shade” are head-bopping pop-punk at its best.
“I Love You” is a wonderfully-written song about cali luv that sounds like something out of Weezer’s early discography (the two W-loving groups collaborated on a song last year).
While the sound is familiar, the techniques used on You’re Welcome are a little different. There’s some sampling, more synthesizers, and drum machine-sounding drums.
Despite all the chaos of his earlier career, Williams has found some success and satisfaction over the years, becoming a sort of standard bearer for rock bands over the last decade.
In a genre that devours and spits out any exciting new talent, leaving a sprawling wasteland of bands that never followed up their first album or succumbed to drugs and alcohol, Wavves have survived the alt-rock gauntlet.
Grab a cold one, pull up to a body of water, and rock out to You’re Welcome this summer.