The Wavves aesthetic is the product of firing up a novelty bong packed with Californian ennui, pop-punk, Nirvana, Super Nintendo cartridges and indica. But despite paying homage to Gen X sludgy guitar-pop heroes, Wavves’ Nathan Williams has a very Gen Y aversion to subscribing to any one subculture. The one-time rap blogger also produces for MCs and makes up the oddball beat duo Sweet Valley with his brother Kynan. Similarly, Wavves’ latest album Afraid of Heights saw Williams working with seasoned producer John Hill (M.I.A., Wu-Tang Clan, Rihanna, Nas and more). Here, we chat with Williams and collaborator Stephen Pope, and are interrupted only briefly by Nathan chasing a sparrow around the yard.
Illustration by Michela Picchi.
How did you end up working with [producer] John Hill on the latest album?
Nathan: John and I had written songs for other artists together prior to that.
Who did you write for?
Nathan: Just a couple of people. We did a song for Big Boi on his latest album. Originally we had written it for him, but it ended up being a feature.
Did you see how, on that Big Boi record, there was a hook that was sung by Yukimi from Little Dragon, but then on the finished product it was Kelly Rowland?
If that had happened to your hook, who would you like to replace your vocals on the Big Boi album?
Nathan: Well, originally I wasn’t supposed to be on there – we had recorded a children’s choir for the hook. It’s actually still on there at the end.
Nathan: That’s what I would have liked it to have been.
That would have been cool.
Nathan: It was cool.
Have any other rappers hit you up to be on their tracks?
Nathan: I’ve been finishing up producing a record for this guy DaVinci right now – he’s a Bay Area rapper, and I’m gonna be working with Killer Mike, producing some stuff for him.
Who are your favourite rap producers?
Nathan: Right now I like Alchemist. I like Hit Boy; I like Young Chop. I like a lot of people.
Do you think your production style is informed by any of those guys in particular?
Nathan: Not really. Maybe Clams Casino – I’m kind of influenced by him a lot. I think he’s really good
The latest Wavves record is the longest LP that you’ve done. Was that a conscious decision to make something a bit more expansive than the half-hour-of-power kind of records like King of the Beach?
Nathan: Yeah, I mean we noticed that it was longer when we were recording it. It was actually longer than that – it was originally something like 50 minutes but we had to cut out a lot to make it fit on vinyl. So it’s like 42 minutes.
So are there B-sides that you want to release still?
Nathan: Yeah, there’ll be B sides.
You guys said that you were listening to Weezer’s Blue album a lot around the time of the recording. What sort of effect do you think that had on the record?
Nathan: I think that on a few of the songs we were not specifically citing Weezer, but more a particular guitar sound. But some of the guitar sounds we got kinda sound like Weezer.
Stephen: Like, you know, we were trying to get Weezer sounds – we were using the Swollen Pickle [guitar distortion pedal] a lot, which was used on a lot of The Smashing Pumpkins records – Siamese Dream, and Melancholy.
I mean I’ve been a huge fan of Weezer since I was a little kid, so I went through like all of their equipment list for all of their recordings and stuff.
Do you prefer The Blue Album to Pinkerton?
Nathan: Right now I’d say, yeah, I prefer The Blue Album. In high school Pinkerton was my favourite album for sure, Pinkerton is like way more personal, and emotional.
Stephen: But The Blue Album has better pop songs on it
Nathan: Yeah, I agree.
You guys share a home town with bands like Blink-182 and Unwritten Law. How much do you think that kind of Southern Californian pop-punk sound has informed the sound that you make?
Nathan: I mean I listened to a lot of Blink-182 growing up. I still listen to a lot of Blink-182 now, every once in a while.
It’s probably affected me somewhat you know I grew up in that part of California, so I’m sure it had some sort of indirect impact on how to write music.
I feel like the progression throughout your albums is to keep on going bigger with the pop stuff. Is there a limit to sort of how poppy the Wavves sound can get?
Nathan: For me I don’t want there to ever be a limit for any sound that Wavves can do, because if I had said there was a limit about pop at the very beginning I would have never recorded in the studio or done any of the stuff that I do. I would never have done any of the King of the Beach stuff, and I would never have recorded this record for sure. So I think Wavves is just whatever we want to sound like now, and this is what this year of our life sounded life. Or something like that.
Stephen: If we’re alive in 10 years we’ll be a country band.
I like your track with Jenny Lewis. Are there any plans for similar collaborations?
Nathan: No no. We’ve known Jenny for a while – we met her on tour a couple of years ago and we just needed some falsetto vocals so we called her up and she came in the next day, so it’s a pretty friendly affair.
She brought weed cookies, I heard.
Nathan: Yeah she brought cookies!
That’s good manners. I read in an interview that you were trying to book a Korn cover band to support you on a tour. Is that true?
Nathan: Yeah that’s true. We wanted one of the three bands to be a Korn cover band, because we’d all enjoy watching that.
How would you describe your style as a skater?
Nathan: Timid, afraid, broken, scared. After I broke my wrist I’m definitely not skating as much as I used to. I skated yesterday, I guess. I’m definitely not as courageous as I once was. If I went out today and skated and fell for some reason and broke my wrist then I’d have to cancel the tour, and that would really suck.
I could just sing though. That would be sick. Maybe I will go and break my wrist so I just have to sing. That would be awesome
Do you have any favourite pro skaters?
Nathan: I like Spanky. He was in the Post Acid video.
[Some strange noises are heard down the phone line.]
Is everything okay there?
Stephen: Yeah, everything’s okay. Nathan ran outside because he saw a bird, and he’s chasing it like a cat.
What kind of bird is it?
Stephen: Probably a sparrow? Oh wow – Nathan just climbed up a tree now he’s gonna be stuck up a tree and I’m gonna have to get him down.
Are there any good stories from the Weezer Cruise?
Stephen: I think all the other bands were afraid of us on the Weezer Cruise. I think we might have got a little bit out of hand. You know, when you think cruise, you think vacation. And, like, when I think of vacation I think of being blacked-out 24 hours a day, and I don’t think that was really on the other bands’ minds, so we might have frightened them. And they were trapped on a boat with us as well, so…
[Nathan gets back on the line.]
Nathan: No it was fun. Are we talking about the Weezer Cruise?
Nathan: We went to Mexico on the cruise, and everybody else went like sight-seeing and going to see the ruins and stuff, and we just went to the pharmacy because pharmecuticals don’t need a prescription in Mexico, so we loaded up, and then we had pills to barter with.
A good way to win friends and influence people. How long do you think it will be before California legalises weed?
Stephen: It’s pretty much legal. It’s decriminalised and medical marijuana is legal here, and it’s not that hard to get it but it’ll be totally legal soon. Two states already did it, Washington and Colarado.
Nathan: Once all the old people start dying out in the US you know it will be a big change
Stephen: That’s a quote – put that one in.
So, Nathan how do you make a weed pipe out of an apple?
Nathan: You put a hole in it, you pull out the stem then you take some sort of item like a screw driver or anything you have and you put it through it like halfway into the apple, and then you put another hole meeting it and you get a little pipe.
Nathan: I mean there are certain places, not Australia, but in the UK and Europe where you don’t wanna have a pipe on you, so if you have an apple and you get pulled over by cops, you can just smash the apple, put it in the trash and you’re done.
You’re like the James Bond of weed. How’s Snacks [Bethany from Best Coast’s celebrity cat] going?
Nathan: Very well. He needs to go on a diet – he’s a little fat.
Stephen: Everybody needs to go on a diet.
Nathan: Yeah everybody needs to go on a diet.
Who do you think is making good music at the moment?
Nathan: Gunplay, Iceage.
Alright, I’ll just finish it up with a few quick ones. Coke or Pepsi?
Nathan: Coke I guess, on taste.
Sega or Nintendo?
Biggie or 2Pac?
Nathan: For me personally I have to choose Biggie, but I love them both…
Stephen: I would listen to Biggie more frequently than I would 2Pac.
Nathan: We are looking at my posters in my house. Framed posters of Jay Z, Biggie and then I have this hologram poster of 2Pac.
Alien or Predator?
Nathan: Alien versus Predator.
What’s in the future for Wavves?
Nathan: A lot of touring – yeah a lot of touring for the rest of this year pretty much.
Afraid of Heights is out now through Inertia.