Best of What's Next: Wowser Bowser

Music Features Wowser Bowser
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Hometown: Decatur, Ga.
Members: George Pettis, Jake Thomson, Joe Crabb, Ryan James, Sam Fisher
Album: Wowser Bowser
For Fans of: Deerhunter, Reptar, Panda Bear

Take a look at the “About Me” section of Atlanta experimental pop band Wowser Bowser’s Facebook page, and you’ll find the following quote: “We’re going places, boy howdy. Or maybe not.”

It’s not exactly the kind of message you’d expect from an up-and-coming band determined to be taken seriously by a Southern music scene they’ve been courting since their latter high school days in Decatur, Ga. Then again, serious isn’t the first word that comes to mind when describing a group who uses a rhyming name, is known for throwing hundreds of balloons in the audience at live shows and who cites stand-up comedians like Louis C.K. and David Cross as influences before naming musicians like Dan Deacon or Animal Collective.

“I’m way more impressed with a comedian who puts out a record that is really pushing the boundaries of comedy,” says George Pettis, lead vocalist and guitar/synth player for the band. “I identify that more in comedy than I do in indie music.”

Pettis started Wowser Bowser with friend Sam Fisher, who he says is “technically” still in the band, four years ago after producing a handful of tracks on Logic Pro in his basement. They wanted to put the tracks online and needed a quick name, so Pettis used the first thing that came to mind.

“I’m a super nerd. I’ve played more than my fair share of Mario, and I’m sure that Mario is somewhere embedded in my subconscious at all times, so I can’t say for sure that I wasn’t thinking about Bowser,” he answers when asked about his band’s curious link to the Nintendo mascot’s arch-nemesis, King Koopa.

The band played their first show at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. in October 2009, a performance they called a “knockout,” and they found themselves readying a debut album shortly afterward.

“It was way more successful than we thought it’d be,” says Pettis, son of singer/songwriter Pierce Pettis. “People came up after the show and asked, ‘where can we listen to these songs?’ and we were like, ‘oh shit.’”

They spent the next 18 months honing their sound and lineup, adding high school friends Jake Thomson (vocals, guitar), Joe Crabb (trumpet, bass) and eventually Ryan James (sampler, auxiliary drums, bass and “weird stuff”) to the mix. And after a year spent earning the favor of young audiences across the Southeast with their energetic, balloon-filled live shows, the band finally released their self-titled debut record early last year via Atlanta’s Adair Park Recordings.

“We got way better in a short amount of time,” Pettis says, unable to hide a smile as he looks to his bandmates outside a coffee shop in East Atlanta. “I can’t believe that record came out. If it was just me, it would have never happened.”

It’s clear that the jovial musicians, roommates and friends are still reeling from their band’s recent and relatively rapid success. In between showing off their musical maturity with conversations about theory, time signatures and Gershwin, a near-constant childlike giddiness pokes through their professional coolness, suggesting that they’re still not totally used to this getting-interviewed-by-a-music-magazine thing. But that’s precisely what makes the band so refreshing. Their music inhabits a tight space between euphoric naïveté and intelligent earnestness, a duality that perfectly reflects the guys themselves.

“I think you can listen to our music and take it one of two ways,” Pettis explains. “You can think we are a band that’s taking it easy and our songs are pretty good, or you can think ‘they are serious about these songs that are actually really good, but they are also taking it easy.’” When Thomson points out that his bandmate’s assessment doesn’t leave much room for a negative response, Pettis jokes, “either way, they’re going to love the music.”

In the year and a half since the release of Wowser Bowser, the guys have found themselves answering important questions about the future of the band, including, How do they build this sound? “I want to simplify it,” says Pettis. “The first record was just add and add and add, and now it’s like ‘Okay, what can we do with just drums, a synthesizer, bass, some vocals and a trumpet?” Should they stick with the balloons? “Sometimes you feel like we’re just the background music to a balloon party, and I think we just want people to listen to the music more,” he explained on the band’s decision to nix the inflatable plastics. And, Where the hell should they go? Until recently, the guys were split between schools across the Southeast, and they knew if they were going to make Wowser Bowser work, they needed to be together.

“The question came up whether we would stay in Atlanta, and we’ve decided to stay,” James says.

“There are great bands everywhere, but that’s the point,” adds Pettis. “You can choose to move to LA or Brooklyn or whatever, or you can also choose to really make a scene instead of just jumping into one. We really like Atlanta, we feel like it informs our sound, and I feel like everything is set up for it to be a really killer music scene.”

All four guys—not including Fisher—just moved into a house together in Reynoldstown earlier this month, where they are currently in what they call a “revitalization process.” With James, Thomson and Pettis all sharing songwriting duties, they are working hard to finish up their half-completed sophomore album, which they say has a more mature sound than its predecessor.

They estimate that the new record should be released in the next nine months but expect to be performing again within two to three. And when they do take the stage again, fans will notice it’s not just the band’s sound that has undergone an evolutionary overhaul. The guys say they are crafting a new live persona that relies less on backing tracks and balloons and more on musicianship and authenticity, and they’re eager to show it off.

“When people ask, ‘when is the next Wowser Bowser show,’ I say ‘I don’t know, but its going to be great,’” Pettis says. “We are nearing the end of childhood as a band and moving toward maturity. It’s like all of the pieces are in place, and we are just getting our engines ready to blast off!”

If the enthusiastic cry at the end of that statement—yes, he actually yells it—is any indication, and if the band’s unbridled enthusiasm is as honest as it comes across, it sounds like Wowser Bowser needs to edit their Facebook “About Me.” This band is going places, boy howdy!