Famously moody surf-punk mastermind Nathan Williams makes good on his initial promise.
Mon Jun 14 2010
Nathan Williams, the leader of Los Angeles surf-punk trio Wavves, has never strayed far from the Internet’s caustic gaze, though his powerfully punchy, melodic yet grungy surf rock is seldom the cause of controversy. “I’m a professional melter-downer,” he says, reached by phone from his L.A. home, where he’s cat-sitting for his girlfriend, Bethany Cosentino of the lo-fi pop outfit Best Coast. Said feline, an orange tabby, appears in cartoon likeness on the cover of Wavves’ upcoming LP, King of the Beach. Williams continues his thought: “I’m thankful that they mopped up all of my meltedness, and I was able to be put together into a good solid substance again.”
He’s referring, of course, to a number of well-publicized flare-ups, most notably an onstage fight with Wavves’ then drummer, Ryan Ulsh, at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival last summer. This specific spat, described by Pitchfork editor Ryan Schreiber as “nothing short of spectacular,” culminated with Ulsh dumping a full beer over Williams’s head. The crowd, already hurling beer bottles out of irritation with the drug-addled Williams, rewarded Ulsh’s beer dump with a massive round of applause. After a curt apology later that week, Williams canceled the remainder of Wavves’ European tour.
There’s no such thing as bad press, the adage goes, but for several months afterward, questions about Primavera and Williams’s drug use outnumbered those about his small but potent catalog of self-recorded anthems like “To the Dregs” and “So Bored.” Eventually, Williams resorted to nonsensical responses. “A majority of our interviews in Europe were just Steven Seagal quotes,” he says. “It was almost just to pass the time: 'Let’s make this into a joke.’?”Williams was hardly the first to adopt this sort of behavior; in a famous scene from Grant Gee’s Radiohead road film, Meeting People Is Easy, legendarily cantankerous singer Thom Yorke describes a backstage conversation with Calvin Klein, only to reveal later that the story was entirely made up. For rock’s most renowned stars, a brash attitude is in their DNA. “You do kind of want to say 'fuck you’ to people,” Williams says. “But 'fuck you’ is you write a song so good that even if people hate you, they’re like, 'It’s still a good song.’?”
Though Williams claims that King of the Beach isn’t a reaction to the backlash that soured Wavves’ rise to prominence, the album departs from its predecessors’ lo-fi garage gems and skateboard-photo cover art. Recorded with Jay Reatard’s former rhythm section in Modest Mouse producer Dennis Herring’s Mississippi studio, King breaks with a M.O. that Williams likens to “all of the instruments in a wave from one place, all blended,” instead opting for “something kind of big-sounding.” From the initial strums of the album-opening title track, you can sense a tighter, more colorful approach to songwriting, which gives way to the trippier textures of “Mickey Mouse” and “Convertible Balloon.”
Yet despite the album’s signs of sonic maturity, Williams still keeps his tongue thoroughly embedded in his proverbial cheek—the refrain of “Green Eyes” goes, “All of my friends hate my guts / So I, so I...who gives a fuck?”—and he relishes juvenilia, whether it’s reviewing video games for The Fader or publishing press images peppered with cartoon characters like Garfield, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. He scoffs at the notion that these images evoke something larger, that everything about Wavves is a delicate orchestration of elements.
“Somebody asked me if 'Mickey Mouse’ was an acid reference,” Williams says. “Which it’s not. It’s just a childhood pal! People always want to make the worst of it. The whole aesthetic of Wavves is, like, everything kind of sucks, so just have fun with it.”
Wavves plays Knitting Factory June 24.
See more recommended shows