Artist of the Week: Wavves

Music  |  Features
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Artist of the Week: Wavves
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Album: Wavvves
For Fans Of: No Age, Sonic Youth, Nirvana

Twenty-two-year-old surf-punk wunderkind Nathan Williams, who performs as Wavves, is an unlikely candidate for the voice of a generation. But with guitar notes as ragged as his asymmetrical bangs, and with themes of apathy, financial hardship and general malaise recurring throughout his pseudo-eponymous sophomore album, Wavvves (out now on Fat Possum), what better way to soundtrack the recent economic downturn than with his static-soaked collages, recorded lovingly—and for free—on GarageBand in a backyard shack?

"I don't know anything about recording," Williams explains in a loping, Virginia-meets-California twang. "The recording sounds that shitty because I don't know what I'm doing." In concert, however, he's in full control, abandoning the lo-fi trappings of his recent release and Wavves (his actually-eponymous 2008 debut—watch those v's), for polished command, letting his flawed yet beautiful melodies rise to the surface. On record, the formerly-garbled lyrics to "So Bored" come from a faceless, tinny presence, but they're delivered live by a vulnerable voice still smarting with teen angst; Williams' sensitive rendition of "No Hope Kids" showcases a falsetto that occasionally cracks, but never gives in. Backed by touring drummer Ryan Ulsh ("We met in a gay bar in Virginia in sixth grade called The Hole," Williams says), the songs have room to breathe with cleaned-up guitar tones and vocals that aren't maxing out the microphones.

During a hectic run of shows at 2009's SXSW music conference in Austin, Texas, Williams played a sea-green Fender Mustang, a model popular among surf-guitar players in the 1960s and not a far cry from Kurt Cobain's signature Jag-Stang. The instrument choice could be a coincidence, but there's no disputing that a well-mic'ed, well-mixed Wavves performance bears more than a passing resemblance to Nirvana. Pay a real producer to record the band “properly,” and an album might sound that way, too—but at this point, Williams admits that he hasn't decided what a budget and a big name could bring to his work. "I don't know that much about different producers," he says, jokingly adding: "I know about this guy John Peel. I don't know if you've heard about him or not." And then Williams' well-documented hip-hop obsession finally shows itself: Timbaland, stay close to your phone.

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