Nathan Williams is borrowing his sister's Jeep to make a road trip up the California coast. Over the weekend, he'll eat some pizza, get drunk, rummage through record stores and play a couple shows with drummer Ryan Ulsh under the moniker Wavves. When they return to San Diego, the two will head back to Williams' parents' house in Point Loma, where they'll catch up on sleep and maybe even score a home-cooked meal.
The only differences between Williams and the average 22-year-old is that he just signed a deal with Fat Possum Records (home to Andrew Bird and The Heartless Bastards, among others) and that, two weeks from now, he'll be playing concerts throughout Europe on his first tour. Pretty amazing for an act that's only played two concerts in its home base.
“Those shows were just me trying to put the pieces together to see what the live show was going to be like,” he says. “It was all just a learning experience until now.”
Williams may have a lot to learn, but if those two shows were any indication of Wavves' potential, then San Diego just might have one of its most talented breakout acts in years. Ripping through a brief set of melodic punk gems like “Beach Demon” and “So Bored” at his recent shows, Williams' natural enthusiasm and crowd rapport was immediately apparent. The vibe, the songs, the performance—it all just felt right.
Growing up, he was always surrounded by music. His parents met while playing in Summer Wind, which Williams calls “weird '80s pop,” and his mom teaches music to underprivileged kids.
“When I first started, the idea in my head was to make sort of a cross between Sonic Youth and a Motown or Beatles thing. I definitely like pop music a lot. That's what these [Wavves' songs] are to me, underneath all the distortion and stuff—they're just pop songs,” he says.
After a friend convinced him to send out early demos to a few labels, Williams' blearing, home-recorded tunes grabbed the attention of bloggers, DIY freaks and eventually, music mags like Pitchfork and Fader. But there's no way he could've predicted the amount of praise Wavves has amassed since playing its first show in October.
“If you had asked me seven months ago if I wanted to get more press coverage or something, even if I lied to you and said, ‘No,' I'd still think Yes in my head,” he says. “But there's a ton of bullshit that comes along with it, that's all.”
The “bullshit” Williams is experiencing is somewhat of a premature backlash from local music gossip circles about the attention he's getting. Especially when Wavves appeared on a new-music segment on ABC World News, where the album (Wavvves, and, yup, that's three v's) was picked by Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber as one of the most anticipated of 2009. But he's certainly justified in downplaying the hype.
“People are blowing it out of proportion. I don't know how many people go to ABC News to find out new indie bands. I'd say maybe nine or 10,” he jokes. “You can't let shit bother you. I said that to myself at the beginning, but it kept getting more and more stressful, because [the success] was so unexpected. And then it turned into this fuckin' thing.”Still, he manages to stay levelheaded about the attention.
“I should be grateful for everything, and I am,” he says. “It is a mind-fuck to see something like that, though. Now my parents actually think I'm doing something. They're like ‘Oh [ABC news anchor] Charles Gibson—we know him. Cool.'”
Although it's essentially been finished since last February, Wavvves is plotted for release in mid-March on the Oxford, Miss.-based Fat Possum.
“My main goal is—I figure most musicians can relate—I want as many people as possible to be able to hear the songs I've written. That's it. Without selling my soul, however I can do that, I'm into it.”
His recent success can be largely attributed to the Internet, where a few cheap recordings posted on a MySpace page (www.myspace.com/wavves) can create a sizable ripple effect. In addition, Williams' Ghost Ramp blog sees him posting random tour photos and exorcising a hip-hop fixation that doesn't appear to have a place in his music.
“The Internet has changed everything. It's just a big mesh of weirdness right now,” he observes. “That's why I think 2009 is going to probably be such an amazing year for music. You'll get to actually hear some of these bands that normally would never get a deal.”