Nathan Williams hasn’t always been everyone’s favorite musical personality, but his past might very well be to blame. “I went to a private Christian school when I was in sixth and seventh grade in Virginia, and I don’t know, that school just really fucked me up,” the Wavves frontman admits. “Maybe it helped me to write songs because I was fucked up.” Either way, his music certainly speaks for itself.
Bearing a heavy psych and surf-rock sound, Wavves’ tunes are fuzzy, aggressive, jovial and catchy all at the same time. Where did the band’s current sound develop from? “Probably being born in LA and living in a commune in Malibu when I was younger [and] going to high school in San Diego,” says Williams. “I was just kind of always around that vibe.”
With his sometimes-belligerent vocals, lo-fi instrumentals and punk rock edge, there’s one thing that helps to keep the melodies in check: “I think that’s just my ear,” he says. “My ear has always gravitated more towards the melody in a song that I write and more importantly in the songs I listen to, which is probably why it is that way.”
He’s been influenced by a multitude of bands, both old and new, some of which you’d be surprised to hear. “The songs that initially attracted me to music when I was a young kid were from the Beach Boys and the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac—even the Doobie Brothers and Chicago, just bands with good melodies and harmonies,” Williams proclaims. “I think that’s what I always want to hear in my songs so I try to include it when I’m writing one.” Interestingly enough, he has also drawn from bands like Animal Collective. “I really like them a lot; I recorded a song for King Of The Beach called ‘Baseball Cards’ and [Animal Collective] was kind of the original idea for that one, that’s what we were trying to give off.”
As there is a new opinion-based genre named nearly every day, Wavves has sometimes been categorized as brat punk. “I’ve heard that a lot and I’m not entirely sure why; maybe it’s the vocal delivery?” Williams wonders. “But I don’t know; there are so many genres and subgenres that are coined now, especially because of the internet, that I don’t even know who I am as a person anymore. Yeah, I try not to think about it too much. Sometimes it gets annoying to hear ‘slacker’ or ‘brat punk,’ but in the end it doesn’t really matter.”
Wavves’ new album, V, immediately follows a collaborative LP with Cloud Nothings, No Life For Me, released on Williams’ own label Ghost Ramp earlier this year that was warmly received by fans of both acts. “I think the fact that [Cloud Nothings frontman] Dylan [Baldi] was just open minded and willing to fly out there was just what made it work,” he explains, “just to try and see if we could write songs and if they would come out any good. That’s half the battle.”
This wasn’t Williams’ first brush with collaboration, however; Wavves previously worked with Fucked Up on “Destroy” for 2011’s Life Sux EP while recording in Toronto. “They were in Toronto at the time, so we just sent demos back and forth,” he says. “We had been friends and had talked about doing something for a long time. [Frontman] Damian [Abraham] and I have actually been talking lately. He wants to cover a bunch of NOFX songs with me, so that’s our next outing together.”
Between his collaborative record with Cloud Nothings and his ongoing side projects Spirit Club and Sweet Valley, Williams has become nothing if not incredibly prolific. Still, he downplays his talent. “I don’t know if [these albums are] coming easier or not—I’m just in a studio more often,” he says. “[Wavves] had a year break from touring, so I’ve just been recording every single day. I think that’s probably more to do with it than there all of a sudden being a bolt of lightning that hit me and I can now write good songs.”
He can slough it off, but V is loaded with good songs—it’s pop-punk in its purest, grittiest sense, with buzzsaw guitars and Williams’ snotty vocals coexisting in perfect harmony with gloriously lo-fi production. Still, V did not see its release without a few obstacles. Williams and his label, Warner Bros., did not see eye-to-eye on many things, including the release of first single “Way Too Much.”
“Basically what had happened was that we had a release date for the song that we had all agreed upon and [Warner Bros.] had already come in and changed a couple of things in the studio which I didn’t like,” Williams begins. “I had already said it was coming out, so now it was this issue where I was telling fans that they’re going to get new stuff and I’m going back on my word. So the second or third time it leaked, journalists had already written about it and it was already out in a sense, but they wanted to pull it again. That was one of my main issues with them. There’s nothing in our contract that said they would say when and where I released the songs. It seems to be that we’re on better terms at this point. I know I’m probably not their favorite artist on their label, though.”
There were also some speed bumps with the album’s eclectic artwork. “I don’t draw the artwork, but I do help conceptualize it,” Williams explains. “It was actually a tarot card that I had and I just sent a picture of it. We had the art approved originally, and then Warner decided last minute that we couldn’t use the art, which was another issue we had with them. I sent the picture to my friend Mike Jones who’s done a lot of artwork for me in the past, and he redrew it.”
Now that Williams has navigated through the murky waters of the music industry and successfully released V, there’s really only one question left to ask: Since releasing Wavves’ 2011 single “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl,” has he ever gotten to meet the iconic Foo Fighters frontman?
“No! That bastard,” he says with a laugh. “I’d still like to meet Dave Grohl, though—that would be cool.” S
A version of this piece was published in Substream #48.