If you’ve been following Wavves over the course of the last few years, you know that frontman Nathan Williams is famous for unpredictable behavior: Last year he had a meltdown at a Barcelona music festival where, under the combined influence of Ecstasy, Valium and Xanax, he fought with his drummer and insulted a crowd that then pelted him with bottles. Soon after, Williams apologized, and admitted a drinking problem — a confession promptly removed from his blog, Ghost Ramp.
You may also know that late last year he got together with bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes, who quit Jay Reatard‘s touring band shortly before that garage rocker died this past January, and made a relentlessly fun album filled with skewered allusions to classic Californian pop, King of the Beach.
Speaking from the San Jose residence he shares with girlfriend and Best Coast leader Bethany Cosentino, Williams again descends into the unpredictable. His conversation with eMusic’s Barry Walters starts civil, but slowly unravels — owing either to Williams personal attitudes or, er, “outside influences,” ending finally with Williams abruptly hanging up the phone.
Follow the fracas below:
How are you?
I’m pretty hung over. [To the room] Guys, how are you? Billy’s cool. I don’t know what happened to Steven. Steven is enjoying his freedom.
How was making the album with them?
It was a lot of fun. We went on tour together, came back, and immediately went into the studio. We all have the same vibe and interests in music, so it wasn’t hard. Nobody had to adapt.
You also worked with Dennis Herring [who produced Counting Crows, Jars of Clay, and other mainstream acts]. Were there times with him when you had to bend a little?
Yeah, we argued about pretty minimal things. In the beginning, I kept wanting to bury my voice, and he stood strong on that one. After a couple of songs, I got used to it.
How was it to make a record that was more collaborative, and work with experienced musicians and someone who knows a lot about recording?
Dennis has been working a lot longer than any of us, so yeah, it was cool to work with him and maybe learn something new.
You write happy melodies and match them with frustrated lyrics and thrashing sounds. Why put those things together?
Maybe they complement each other because they’re polar opposites or something. Not all of the songs are bummer songs. “King of the Beach” is kind of boastful. It depends on the mood I’m in when I’m writing.
Many of your songs seem as though they could only come from southern California. Did you have an English teacher who told you to write about the things you know?
No, I had an English teacher who threatened to hit me with a golf club.
How did that end?
I dropped out the next year.
I know Bob Mould likes your new album.
Oh, really? How do you know that?
He’s a friend and neighbor.
Oh. That’s cool. [to the room] Hey, Bob Mould likes our record.
But you’re like Brian Wilson in that you’re not an actual surfer, right?
What do you think he’d say about your music?
I bet he’d like to smoke a couple of bong loads with me. That’s what I think.
Do you apply the feelings you get from skateboarding to surfing and being at the beach?
You can skateboard at the beach, and you can skateboard to the beach, but then I’ll get in the water and I don’t know. I tried to surf, but it’s really fucking hard. I gave up.
Do those songs reflect where you’re at? Or do you end up writing about things you know back home?
I guess it depends if you miss home. You could write a song about home or a song about missing home or a song about butterscotch sundaes.
Do you and Bethany have a pact not to write about each other on your albums?
Yeah, we have a pact. We had to draw blood.
Her songs seem as though they’re more about you than your songs are about her.
I don’t know. You’d have to ask her.
Are you familiar with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album?
I am, yes.
Would you two consider collaborating on a similar kind of record where you document each other’s relationship beefs and entanglements?
It seems as though you and Bethany listen to some of the same records when you’re together. Or do you have different tastes?
We don’t listen to music. We just watch Space Jam on repeat. [His tone gets progressively more sarcastic] All day. While we shoot each other up. With morphine. It’s so fucked up.
What about your tastes in movies?
I can’t even sit through a movie anymore. I just fall asleep. Oh, I wanna see the movie with T.I. that’s coming out. That looks like a real piece of shit. [To the room] What’s it called? Takers. I wanna see Takers.
What do the two of you do to get away from music?
I don’t wanna talk about my personal life.
Okay. What are the misconceptions people have about you?
That we just go out and party and it’s this big fun thing. Which it is: Sometimes it’s really fun. But other times it’s like really hard and, like, tiring. And work. [An angry growl from Snacks — Williams and Cosentino's cat and album cover icon — cuts the momentary silence.] Hold on a sec.
[A different voice comes on the phone.] You said earlier that we’re going to have fun every single day on this tour and you’re making that your goal.
[Another person comes on the phone; this one speaking in a wheezy voice while holding his breath and coughing — as one might after a big bong hit.] Hey, it’s me Willie. [More pronounced coughing] Whassup?
I’m sorry. Who am I talking to now?
The drummer of Wavves, Willie. Nathan handed me the phone; I don’t know why — I was watching TV. So the simple question is, do you wanna talk to me?
I’d rather focus on Nathan, if that’s okay.
[To the room] To be perfectly honest, Nathan, he would rather talk to you. [Silence] So Nathan, what’s your response to that?
[Yet another voice.] Hell-o? How’s it goin’?
You don’t sound like Nathan.
[Now the actual Nathan] Hello. I think this phone’s going out.
How do you tune out people whose impulse is to judge your every move?
I don’t really think about it. But it’s weird that people care what I do.
Well, they like your music —
I like that they like my music. That’s why I made it. The personal stuff, I don’t really get.
Are you still learning to put the glowing reviews and hostility in perspective?
Yeah, you just don’t even look at it. I think that’s really the only way to do it, to avoid it 100 percent. It it’s something good, it’ll give you a big head, if it’s something bad, then it makes you feel bad.
How did your parents react to your Barcelona meltdown?
[Suddenly agitated] I gotta go. I gotta go now.
I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?
No, no. But I really do. We’re driving to Pomona. I gotta go play a show.
All right then. Thanks.
Yeah, no problem.