Whether or not Nathan Williams, the 22-year-old San Diego native who records under the guise of Wavves, becomes this year’s model is beside the point. On the dawn of the release of his second album in six months, with only a handful of U.S. live shows under his belt, he’s already toured Europe, been given the Pitchfork tag/curse of “Best New Music,” and is about to become the unintentional band of the moment at this year’s South By Southwest festival (playing a total of 12 shows in four days). But speaking with him, he seems indifferent to the buzz, simply along for the ride. And listening through his small (for now) collection of work, it’s easy to tell—if you ignore the hype and dig beneath the thick layers of fuzz with which he shields himself—that he’s just a shy, hip-hop obsessed skateboarder with nothing better to do than sit in his bedroom and let it all pour out. There’s no front, no stylized aesthetic, no stunt, no soapbox from which to yell—not even call for “romantic nihilism” to align him with contemporaries like Times New Viking and No Age (through they’re similar in sonic scope). Instead, he smothers simple pop and three-chord punk in syrupy feedback squalls, a great mass of volume and irritatingly infectious, doo-wop by way of lo-fi hooks. And when he’s not rattling through instant two-minute classics like “So Bored” and “Get in the Sun,” he’s channeling his humor and rage simultaneously into multi-dimensional, cheekily titled (“Surf Goth” “Spaced Raider”) chunks of noise, if only to break the thought that his albums are merely new takes on an old form.
Whether or not Williams wants all the attention is also beside the point, as for now there’s no indication he’ll be making any giant artistic leaps in the near future. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any hurry in his voice. Such is the way of the industrious slacker with a knack for fucked melodies: just soak up the sun and enjoy the ride.
How was your first trip to Europe? How was the reaction compared to your first trip in the States to the East Coast? I know that was a big deal before the holidays.
Nathan Williams: It was awesome—by far the best experience of my life. Generally speaking, we hadn’t played any shows before the East Coast, so in going to England the reaction just got better and better because we were getting better and starting to mesh. We began to hit our stride in Europe.
I’m very familiar with the music—the two albums and the singles—so I think the hype is justified, if not a bit blown out of proportion before people even get to see you play and by people who only have heard a song or two. This type of internet buzz has almost reached a boiling point, and it’s too bad that an artist as new and unassuming as yourself has to take the blunt of both sides. Is there anything that you can attribute to why this happens so fast and why it randomly happened to you?
NW: I have no idea why, how, or what the reason was for all of this. People like music, so that’s a reason. In the end, whether I’m taking blunt ends from “hype band” to “hype band suck” or “this is a fad” or “this is different live” or “this is different recorded,” whatever the fuck it may be, I’m just trying to have fun and play the songs in a way I think they sound good. You can’t listen to what people say. Everybody’s got a fucking opinion.
I do think it has a bit to do with the fidelity being a talking point these days. Yours is almost beyond the parameters of lo-fi. Is that something that you use as an artistic choice or is it out of necessity?
NW: It was really necessity for me because I had no other way of recording. I had no money, no people to record the other instruments with, I was all by myself. I quit my job, dropped out of school, and had no real direction. I just wanted to record some songs for myself because I had nothing better to do. I only started recording a year ago. I had a record in three days. It’s hard for me to work with other people. I’m creatively hard to deal with, and I always feel like I have to protect my music from others. It’s easier to do it by myself. At first, though it sounds cheesy, I didn’t really believe in myself, but here I am, and I just got back from 32 days in Europe.
Songs like “So Bored” and “No Hope Kids” project that you feel a kind of despondency and indifference towards your future. Do you feel that’s an accurate communal battle cry amongst your peers?
NW: That sort of thing is definitely attributed to maybe why there is a lot of hype or something around it. Most of the interviews I do, people ask me, “So what’s deal with the double and triple ‘V’s’? What’s the deal with the lo-fi sound?” But nobody ever asks about the lyrics, because I think they’re so buried in the background that they can’t hear them and then don’t think about it, or they don’t try to think about it. People at shows, though, who pay money to get in and come see me, approach me after the shows and tell me how much the lyrics mean to them and that they feel the same way. It’s cool to me because when I wrote the songs that’s how I felt and to have someone 3,000 miles across the ocean tell me they felt the same way is a pretty cool feeling.
I assume the artwork that has accompanied your music so far is your work as well. Have you been drawing and painting before you were making music?
NW: No, that’s actually not my artwork. The artwork is done by a girl named Emilia who is in the band Pens, who I just toured with. She’s from London. Her art is really cool and we started randomly talking on the internet. I loved the style of her art and thought it went well with the songs. It’s all her; I’m an awful artist. She has the idea that I have in my head, but can’t put onto paper.
I’ve noticed that Ghost Ramp has pretty much been restructured as your tour blog and not so much about classic hip-hop. Did hip-hop have a big influence on how you write songs?
NW: I don’t think they relate. I’m an avid record collector, and I don’t just like rap. If you were to talk to me four years ago, I was really getting into drone and I would have had a blog about heavy drone music. Hip-hop has just kind of taken over. For me it’s the same thing as the punk music that I’m influenced by for Wavves. It’s something that I remember growing up that I listened to but wasn’t allowed. It’s parallel to punk rock. In style especially, rappers are more like characters, these super over-the-top WWF characters. Now some of them even say they aren’t real.
Do you have big plans for the rest of the year that don’t involve touring?
NW: As soon as I get back from South By Southwest, I go to Europe two weeks later. After that I come back here and do some American festivals, which will likely involve another U.S. tour. Hopefully, when that’s all done, I’ll record another record, and get some sleep.