The San Diego–based band fearlessly traffics in beauty and guilt, while ringed with an exquisite wilderness of noise.
At the climax of a blistering performance at New York City’s Irving Plaza, Nathan Williams of Wavves has scaled the ramparts of the theater and is perched precariously on the railing of the second-floor balcony. His guitar quivers, discarded on the stage, squealing like a chained dog pining for its master. Williams pauses for a moment, towering high above the ocean of outstretched palms, and then, in a moment of terrifying grace, executes a perfect front flip into the void. For a split second, the collective breath of the crowd is drawn and bound. He drops into the breathless air and lands perfectly—floating on the gentle swell of 1,000 supporting hands.
This, of course, is a living, kinetic, real-time metaphor for the relationship between Williams and those who love his music—those who entered Wavves by parting the fogged thickets and passing through the fields of distortion and honeysuckle that marked their first two albums; who stayed with them through multiple band changes, Rx contraindications, famous pets and notable romances; and who would eventually behold the glory, depth and confidence of albums like King of the Beach, Life Sux, Afraid of Heights and, now, the majestic V.
Six days prior to their Irving Plaza show, Williams and bandmate Steven Pope meet up with HIGH TIMES amidst the keyholes, jigs, joints and alloys that attend a private HT clubhouse/blacksmith forge. The two arrive 20 minutes early, seemingly due to the tenacity of their road manager, Dayn Reardon. The lovely and subversive blacksmith/artist Rebekah Harris—who, incidentally, creates the Cannabis Cup trophies—is hosting this heady summit, clad in a leather apron and ably casting jewelry in the background while casually throwing out references to Aleister Crowley, Throbbing Gristle and Jack “Whiteside” Parsons’s infamous sex-magick orgies.
It’s the perfect environment in which to meet Wavves: intimately creative, genuinely magnetic and potentially sorcerous. Williams and Pope are totally spent from the previous night’s gig, but they manage to exude kindness, generosity and respect nonetheless in their abundant handshakes, “please” and “thank you”–type manners, and, finally, in sitting close together on the studio’s tiny couch, in a miniature duet of intimate humor—all of which suggests that the innocence that characterizes their five heavenly, noisy records comes from a place of sincerity and a sense of fervent brotherhood.
“You can’t really do this at this point unless you’re friends,” Williams observes. “A lot of our friends that are in other bands all hate other—which just seems horrible.”
Williams and Pope seem particularly close, doing interviews in tandem, and that bond reveals itself in their live shows, with Pope transubstantiating from his sweet, quiet, warm persona to a raging, ravaging, bullish bass virtuoso. Onstage, the two seem to be pushing each other to the very edges of the music—making the songs into big physical statements from the etchings and blueprints of the recordings. They achieve scale through sonic audacity and pull visual focus from the movement of their bodies. Their choreography is not conscious; it’s not schematic or formal or governed by concept or aesthetic ideology. It is wild, primal and possessive, and it owns them completely.
Back at HTHQ, the photographer is looking for prime points of vantage and, upon spotting the roof, asks: “Are you guys afraid of heights?” A question they’ve no doubt been asked many times, given that Afraid of Heights was their last and heretofore greatest album. They are, however, fearless—and, in short order, are ripping bong hits and toking joints of Berry White and Green Crack non-stop throughout the hour-long photo shoot and subsequent video interview, making them possibly the two highest musicians ever to be interviewed by this magazine.
Both Williams and Pope, even when somewhat obligated to get high as fuck for the duration of an entire photo shoot, seem to navigate their buzz pretty fucking well. Lately, they’re light on hard drugs and alcohol, but the band behind “Weed Demon” and Weed Demon Inc. (the copyright holder of their songs) smoke the reefer “hourly.” As Williams puts it, “We like weed. The truth is that I’ve done a lot of drugs, but I don’t like doing them anymore. I like to smoke weed and record music—it goes hand in hand. I’d rather be stoned in the studio.”
Of course, it’s at those moments when you expect rampage and wreckage from a notoriously rowdy band that you get politeness, balance, humility and answers that come in full paragraphs. Which, in turn, leaves you completely unprepared for what it’s like to catch them in action from a bird’s-eye view before a capacity crowd days later, their chaotically devoted masses conjuring an energy reminiscent of the titanic early shows by Guided by Voices, Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies.
“We’re not famous by any means,” Williams demurs. “We live pretty normal lives.”
Wavves may consider themselves a group of normal guys, but they have an extraordinary advantage over most artists who find themselves in the throes of evolution. From the very beginning, they have identified where this music comes from, what it means at its simplest, loveliest and most emotional. They have wisely returned to that formidable core of sound and confession in recording after recording—always developing, and yet always putting the right bucket in the best well. Pull out their entire discography, play it chronologically, and follow along with a lyric sheet: You’ll see just how far this music has travelled, and just how well built it is in its intention and integrity. They can take the music wherever they want. They can go farther than any of them have ever imagined. And if they want it, they have the tools, grace and opportunity to become one of the greatest bands of this era.
Photo credit: Gretchen Robinette