Nat and Alex Wolff Are All Grown Up

We sat down with the boys behind the Naked Brothers Band to talk about Table for Two, their evolution from Nickelodeon to a more mature sound and how they’ve remained so bright-eyed through it all

Music Features Nat and Alex Wolff
Nat and Alex Wolff Are All Grown Up

Nat and Alex Wolff enter a conference call with me and immediately start talking directly over each other. “When our publicists call on different ends, it’s like two divorced parents and we have our lawyers on [the phone,]” Alex jokes. “Direct all calls to my lawyer,” Nat replies, and the two begin ribbing each other over who will get the house. I make a mental note: jokes are not only allowed, but encouraged, in this professional setting. It’s 10 in the morning and I, admittedly, have barely gathered the wherewithal to brush my teeth. Alex, on the other hand, is wandering the streets of Fort Greene on a brief break (if one can call an interview a break) from shooting his newest project. Street noise blares nearby as he describes what’s going on around him in a cheekily nonchalant manner reminiscent of the children’s book Nothing Ever Happens On My Block, in which the tot-sized protagonist yawningly allows fires and thievery and parachuters to drift around him as he laments his neighborhood’s lack of stimuli.

Alex is, perhaps, more aware of his surroundings. He starts in on a sort of vigilante-justice bit about fighting crime amidst those ever-dangerous Brooklyn brownstones when he’s stopped in his tracks. “There is a massive funeral going on right now in front of me,” he explains in apparent shock. “There’s like a hundred people and they’re all just mourning someone.” Nat’s glee at his brother’s situation is unmissable. “Alex, where are you?” he almost yelps into the phone, and it becomes clear to me that the optimal interview here is really between the two of them.

It’s been 12 years since Black Sheep, the brothers’ last full-length LP not under the Naked Brothers Band moniker they made famous nearly 20 years ago, and almost seven since their EP Public Places. In the meantime, the Wolffs have grown up. Nat made my mother weep openly next to me in The Fault in Our Stars and now stars opposite Christoph Waltz in Prime Video’s The Consultant; Alex scared everyone shitless in Hereditary and got us squeamishly uncomfortable in M. Night Shyamalan’s Old. The boys’ music career actually began on-screen, of course, with The Naked Brothers Band, for which they are eternally cemented in many a nostalgic twenty-something’s heart. Luckily, the two seem to have escaped the growing-pain controversies we’ve grown to expect in the interim period between child star and Real Serious Hollywood Grown Up, instead opting to quit the show for their education and dive in and out of the industry as it suited them.

It shows on Table for Two, the brothers’ new LP. The album is unrushed, initially meant to come out in 2021, but Alex and Nat chose to push it back while focusing on their ever-more-complex medley of side hustles and big-name gigs. It’s coming out on their mother Polly’s birthday, a belated thank-you to The Naked Brothers Band’s O.G. showrunner. There’s some sibling bickering about the intentionality behind the date, but I’ve decided to run with it for sweetness’s sake. “When you’re younger, you’re very, very narrowly focused on, I don’t know, the girl you’re in love with, or whatever. And I think that’s definitely still on the album. But I think more than ever, our deep roots of our family and our parents and where we grew up, and maybe some more all-encompassing things that haven’t been addressed before are more addressed on this album,” Nat explains. (And here, I’ll admit that I was warned in advance that the two might be difficult to tell apart on the phone, and I realized too late how true that was. There is some sonic guesswork going on in these quote attributions.) There’s more depth, less facade, no myopia or quotidian teen strife on Table for Two; it was built to show off the bases of the brothers’ identities, a long-simmering work concocted to evoke their very ethos.

The family band is a unique specimen in the music world, and a paradoxical one: It’s rare to find a window so clear into the building blocks of someone’s personality incorporated naturally into their music. There’s also a potential for pretension in the whole ordeal, an “it’s in our DNA” bravado that’s easy to wrinkle your nose at. But not with Nat and Alex; if they have one thing going for them, it’s that they really do seem to love working together. They’re also quite well media-trained, having been at it since the ages of eight and 11, but if their brotherly adoration is a fiction, it’s one I’m happy to fall for. The comparative maturity of the album’s content is delightfully offset by the boyishness of their interpersonal antics, the phone-line giggles and jokes I’m determined to get in on. They make a club you want to join, even if it’s played up to the nth degree when they’re being recorded.

That fraternal anchoring has also allowed the Wolffs to create an internally focused album that feels simultaneously sincere and collaborative, no small feat. During COVID, the two hunkered down in a five-person pod and wrote most of the album without much outside interaction—eating, sleeping, and socializing in a world whose fixture was their music and each other. “It felt like a recentering in certain ways and us connecting as friends and brothers,” Nat explains. “And lovers,” Alex interjects. The two are marvelously aware of their fan forums, and seem to thrive off improvising little pieces of salacious nonsense when the mood gets too serious.

Other highlights include a rumor that they stole their discography from Green Day (as if Armstrong could work the lyrical magic of 2008’s smash hit “Tall Girls, Short Girls…You”!), that Ringo Starr personally taught Alex the guitar (he was self-taught, thank you very much) and that lead single “If I’m Gonna Die” was filched from American composer Dustin O’Halloran. This one’s perhaps the most enjoyable for fans, and for the brothers themselves: “‘If I’m Gonna Die’ on Apple Music was somehow credited to a guy named Dustin O’Halloran…and we were like, ‘What the fuck?’” Nat laughs. “Now all of our fans are like, ‘Pray for Dustin.’ Someone showed up at the play I was in and they had merch that was like, ‘Believe Dustin.’ Dustin actually is Nat and Alex, like Dustin wrote the album.” Alex chimes in, “Now it’s gonna be ‘Dustin wrote American Idiot.’” Apparently Dustin O’Halloran is a real guy who did write a song called “If I’m Gonna Die,” but when they reached out to them, he told them “it sucked” in comparison.

The version of “If I’m Gonna Die” I heard doesn’t suck at all. Jaunty piano (their father is a jazz pianist, after all) accompanies poppy synth and bright, easily-digestible lyricism on the self-theodicizing joys and pitfalls of young adulthood. Table for Two may be more mature than the duo’s prior work, but it is no less accessible. They’ve created a 15-song collection of mature, self-assured indie-pop with hints of alternative and folk influence, a wealth of soundtrack-ready, summery jams interwoven with softer acoustic forays. Smooth, exuberant vocal flows overlay balladic piano runs and punchy guitar riffs, spiced up by the occasional trumpet blare. The LP is thoughtful and confident, varied in a way that signals the brothers’ maturation and their multifaceted careers. If there are remnants of saccharine cable-TV tuning on some of the tracks, it’s hard to blame Nat and Alex for it: as they themselves admitted, it’s nice to go back to your roots. “I don’t feel that we have had any kind of conscious branching out. It’s more risk-taking and more raw,” Alex half-shouts, as a motorcycle revs behind him. “I think in some ways, it’s lyrically more similar to when we were kids, in that it’s very, very, very open.”

As the interview draws to a close and Nat thanks me for chatting with them, we can hear Alex muttering condolences to the 100-odd people he’s skirting past to get back to set. I catch myself giggling—I’ll justify it by noting that Alex felt the same: “Not that it’s funny; it really isn’t,” he describes of the chaos he’s weaving through. “I guess, maybe a little bit.”

Two nights later, I brave the infamous NYC summer heat storms to watch Nat and Alex perform a cozy set to a crowd of 50-some eager attendees (plus: me and my allotted guest, a friend who admittedly has never heard of the band but is down for a free show.) Rockwood Music Hall has a dark, red-draped interior, more of a family room than a concert hall, scattered with ad-hoc decor and seemingly devoid of A.C. The show is free, tickets are first-come, first-serve. The result is a buzzing mixture of family, friends (including Austin Abrams from Euphoria, which I Google to ensure was correct, and a bevy of other ex and current tween-show stars) and super fans. A man named Boris in a jauntily diagonal baseball cap sings a song called “I Wanna Wake Up in Your Mouth,” which I can’t decipher the group’s verdict on. Aperol spritzes are sipped on with reckless abandon for 6:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, and a surprisingly hodgepodge mixture of people press upon the little corner stage.

As the set begins (Boris is still around on drums/guitar, thank God) the energy in the venue becomes palpable. Though the songs are unreleased at the time of the performance, the fans present tonight are the ones with their noses in the dark holes of the Internet, sniffing out snippets and glimpses into an album they’ve waited over a decade for. Almost every track is sung along to, and it’s really quite touching. The boys themselves skip around the stage with a frenetic glee, perfectly puerile in their excitement to be performing together. “I keep saying you guys might know this one, but it seems like you know every fucking one,” Nat grins into the mic at one point, ecstatic at the reception this labor of love has garnered. Special guests include Alex’s girlfriend Rozzi, who features on the cheerfully abrasive “Lucky You,” and their father Michael, who accompanies on piano a song Nat wrote about the cancer the Wolff patriarch recently recovered from—“All My Plans (Shake).” At the end, we all sing “Happy Birthday” to Polly, and champagne is uncorked. It’s quite the affair, replete with fumbling instrument handoffs and wrong chords and total, unadulterated jubilation.

On our call, Nat spoke of a “kinetic energy” between the two of them in the recording studio, and, at the time, I was skeptical. After seeing them perform live, I get it. When they’re making music together, they’re boys again, bouncing off the walls and into each other with the pseudo-solipsistic glee they must have felt in the early days of their careers. Table for Two takes that same kinetic energy and smooths it down with the calmness of the COVID pod it was written in, the terror of illness and the very adult relationship crossroads that one might expect of 28- and 25-year-olds. It’s an album about being just barely grown up, and it carries forward the momentum the brothers have ridden to this point in their lives—and which, no doubt, they’ll continue to follow into their new decade.

Miranda Wollen is Paste‘s music intern. She lives in New York and attends school in Connecticut, but you can find her online @mirandakwollen.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin