A lot has happened to Nathan Williams, front man of the lo-fi trio Wavves, in the past two years. He’s gone from being the blogosphere’s darling to its most divisive figure in the space of a year. His 2009 self-titled album channeled San Diego’s beach weather as much as downcast mopey-ness on its fuzz-fog-shrouded surf-punk, leading to rave reviews. Then, his onstage meltdown at Barcelona’s Primavera Music Festival turned him into persona non-grata for a season or two.
But now it’s deep summer again, and Nathan has a brand new album, King of the Beach, with a cleaned-up, poppier sound. Needless to say, he’s a little lukewarm on the subject of the professional gossip mill, but they seem to be giving the schadenfreude a rest. Everyone loves an underdog, and with King of the Beach, Nathan seems to have returned to the public spotlight a little older, a lot wiser and maybe just as high as before.
He returned to San Diego on August 12 for a performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art, speaking to Verbicide the next day about being a hard-working slacker, why the music press always needs a story, and weedy, peanut buttery pot brownies.
Hey, Nathan. I saw the show last night, and it was really good.
Nathan Williams: Thank you very much.
Is it good to be back in San Diego?
Nathan: I’m back in LA now, but it was good to be back for the short period. In my old homey.
It was a really packed show. Maybe it was just a fluke, but it seemed like there were a lot of high school kids who were up on the balcony. Do you have a younger fan base coming to your shows?
Nathan: I hope so. I like kids.
What were the stand-out shows you remember seeing in high school?
Nathan: Stand-out shows? Before I was in high school, I saw Everclear, my first show. Everclear and Third Eye Blind. I saw Wu-Tang Clan in high school, then I saw them a month ago; we played at the same venue as them in Amsterdam.
Was that pretty trippy, seeing your idols up there?
Nathan: Yeah, that was awesome.
So Jay Reatard’s old band are touring with you — how did that come together?
Nathan: I’ll let a great storyteller storytell that. Here you go.
Nathan hands the phone to Steven Pope, the band’s bassist.
Steven Pope: Hello, this is Steven.
Hey, Steven. I was just wondering how you and Nathan came to touring together.
Steven: Let’s see — at [Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival] last year, Billy [Hayes, the band’s drummer] and I went to go see Wavves — oh wait. We met before that, we met in San Diego. And Nathan brought us weed when we were playing in San Diego with Jay. Then we met again in Primavera, and we brought him weed. So then we watched the show, and we thought it was fine. Nathan and I kept in touch, and we had talked about joining at the Pitchfork Festival last year, but Jay threatened to fire me if I did, so that didn’t work out at the time. So Billy and I ended up quitting Jay, and a couple months later, Zach Hill [the band’s former drummer] broke his hand, and so it worked out — we were already planning on playing together anyways.
Nathan comes back.
Hey. So reading through interviews, I get the feeling you think indie-rock bands tend to take things pretty seriously. Is part of what you’re doing with your music just trying to loosen people up?
Nathan: I don’t know. I mean, we’re definitely not serious people, any of us. So maybe that just comes out in the music.
There’s a lot of references in reviews and the press to you being a stoner/slacker. Do you ever get irritated with that?
Nathan: No, I don’t care. I mean, it’s pretty funny, because we’re definitely not slackers. We tour nine months out of the year.
You do this pretty seriously.
Nathan: Yeah — we’re pretty hard-working slackers, I guess. I don’t know. People are always going to try and come up with a name for anything. We’re eating weed brownies right now.
Nathan: They’re very weedy. And they’ve got peanut butter in them with weed in it, too.
That sounds delicious. Are you a pretty good baker?
Nathan: Oh, I didn’t bake them, my friend did.
That’s a great segue. On the role of drugs, do you feel personally like they help your music, or hurt it?
Nathan: I don’t know about drugs in general, but definitely, for me, I’ll smoke weed. And definitely, it’s fun to play and write music stoned.
Is that your cat on the cover of the new album?
Nathan: It is, yeah.
So Beth from Best Coast put her cat on their album. I was wondering, did you guys plan that out in advance?
Nathan: Nope. It was a fluke, I guess. It was like when two people wear the same outfit to a party and when you get there you’re like, “Oh, fuck.” But it’s a really good outfit.
I think so. I love the album cover, it looks awesome. What’s your obsession with Mickey Mouse?
Nathan: I don’t know, I just think that he’s a cool character. And he was on the first tab of acid I ever took.
Do you do your artwork yourself?
Nathan: It’s done by a lot of different people. The album cover was done by the drummer, Billy’s girlfriend and her friend Kelly. It’s done by a lot of different people, but they’re all really cool artists.
It’s kind of an old cliché that the music press goes through a cycle of building up artist and tearing them down. It seems like that was a lot of what you went through in 2009, but much faster than ever before. Do you think that’s something that didn’t exist before the Internet?
Nathan: I don’t know. I’ve never been on the Internet before. I’d like to get dial-up sometime soon.
I mean, do you think that whole process of the music press on the Internet is making things happen a lot faster?
I think people, a lot of people generally, not just in music, want people to fail. Watching somebody fall is pretty entertaining.
It’s just the schadenfreude of music critics, they enjoy picking at people?
Yeah, I guess it’s their job, to kind of do that, but there always has to be a story behind everything. It’s never okay to just be like, “Oh, you wrote this song. What did you do?” and you say “Oh, I watched ‘Seinfeld’ on mute. I didn’t do anything.” People are like, no — they want a story. Where did it come from? I feel like so many music journalists are responding to something. But whatever, it’s the game.
After that whole experience you had, do you pay attention to what people say about you at all, or differently at all?
No, I don’t pay attention to it at all. I read reviews here and there of the first record. I read a couple of this one, too, but I generally stay away from them. I mean, it’s just such a waste of time to go soul-searching on what people’s opinion is of you. It doesn’t make any sense.
Were you like that before, or is that something you learned through the process of last year?
I learned a lot of things last year, probably. And yeah, that could be one of them.
Random question: You had five different tracks on the last album with “goth” in the title. Do you have some affinity with goth or something?
No, it was just a really lazy way of naming the songs. How’s that for a story?