The three twenty-somethings in the indie pop band Wallows initially got their start as actors.
“Acting for me, felt like something that was fun, and something that I was used to, and something that, you know, brought me to L.A. I definitely had amazing times, and it’s still something I love, but, when I think of passion, I think of music,” says singer-guitarist Braeden Lemasters, a Warren, OH native, via phone from an Atlanta tour stop.
The 26-year-old lived in Ohio with his family until he was 9 years old, at which point he moved to California and began his acting career. Not long after, he began his musical journey.
“My dad has been in bands my whole life. So, I grew up listening to music and my dad playing music at local places around Warren. I always loved music, but I remember starting to really love music when he introduced me to the Beatles,” says Lemasters. “When I was about 10, I started to pick up the guitar a little cause he’s a fantastic guitar player and wanted to teach me. By the time I was 12, I was playing every day, writing songs in my room every day for hours.”
At age 13, Lemasters began making music just for fun with singer-guitarist Dylan Minnette, whom he met in L.A., and immediately clicked with. They practiced consistently for several years, cycled through a few band names and eventually settled on Wallows in 2017. When the indie pop trio began releasing music under that name, it was finally able to build a fanbase and a team to back it, as well as scoring a record deal with Warner’s Atlantic Records.
For the first couple of years, Wallows had to schedule its tours, recording sessions and rehearsals around the band members’ individual acting schedules, including Minnette’s lead role on Netflix’s wildly popular drama series, 13 Reasons Why.
In recent years, the band has focused its attention solely on propelling its music forward.
“When Dylan’s show ended, we decided that we wanted to pursue the music full-time for a good amount of time. Cause we never had the opportunity to actually tour year-round or make songs or record all year round,” says Lemasters. “We’re always gonna balance it out. I think one of these years we’re gonna devote more to acting, or take a break from music, just so we can write more, or live more. It’s not something we feel like we have to do; it’s something we love to do.”
The commitment is paying off in a big way. The band is fresh off its second Coachella performance slot. This time around, Wallows played the outdoor theater, which is the festival’s second largest stage.
“I remember watching bands when I was a kid, like 15 in the crowd, [and thinking], ‘Damn, if I could play this stage someday, that’d be just unbelievable,’” says Lemasters. “Right before we walked out onstage, I had that thought. I was like, ‘Wow, walking out on that stage that I thought it’d be cool to play one day. Just being back there, seeing the people, having people sing the songs, it was great.'"
Devoted Wallows fans have been enthusiastically showing up on the band’s headlining tour to sing along as well. During Lemasters’ phone conversation, he paused to say hello to starstruck fans who spotted him walking around Atlanta before that night’s show.
“When we see people, and we get to talk to people, or we see people in line for our shows, it’s unbelievable,” says Lemasters. “We’re just in a really blessed position, so I’m really happy for all of our fans and so appreciative.”
The trio pushes itself to think outside of the box to create new and different music for fans to enjoy. Following 2019’s debut album, Nothing Happens, and 2020’s EP, Remote, which was written entirely virtually, Lemasters says the band was ready for a new approach when it came time to write this year’s sonically diverse sophomore album, Tell Me That It’s Over.
“We wanted it to be spontaneous. We wanted it to be all over the place stylistically. We put a lot of thought and cohesion into our first album. We had all these songs, and we made this specific album with Nothing Happens. And then I think for Tell Me That It’s Over, we really wanted to let each song find itself. Like a big inspiration would be The White Album, the Beatles album. Like that. Kind of stylistically all over the place, but it all kind of works together,” says Lemasters. “We thought that was fun to put into a 10-song album ’cause it really makes each song feel like its own identity, which is really special.”
After having admired his work with HAIM and Vampire Weekend, Wallows were excited to work with producer Ariel Rechtshaid on Tell Me That It’s Over.
“I think we knew from the get that ‘I Don’t Want to Talk’ should be the first song that’s out from the album, because we felt it had the most kind of like Wallows identity, cause it’s kind of fast, it has a nice riff. We all kind of sing it at certain points. So, we thought that was a great song to introduce to the world,” says Lemasters. “We went into the studio and [drummer-keyboardist-singer] Cole [Preston] laid down a drum beat, just for fun. Didn’t know what we were gonna do. There was no idea present. I just picked up the guitar, and somehow, the first thing I played was the riff. And then we all sang a melody, and then each of those melodies made it into the song. It literally just wrote itself, very quickly. I remember Cole— the first thing that he did was [the lyric] ‘Tell me that it’s over, tell me that it’s over.’ Like right off the bat, the first thing we wrote, it just became the single and the album title.”
But not all of the tracks on Wallows’ sophomore full-length came about quite as easily.
“’I was listening to Harvest Moon the night before I wrote ‘At the End of the Day.’ So, the original idea had a very acoustic like Neil Young-esque thing about it. But then it turned into like this synth-pop song, which is hilarious,” says Lemasters. “When I started writing the song, I was kind of imagining myself in sort of a breakup situation, where you’re not actually breaking up with the person yet, but you fear that’s inevitable. The first half of the song was just written from a place of me pretending, ’cause I wasn’t in a relationship. But then, before the song was complete, I was in a relationship, and I did go through a breakup. I think the last half of the song, like from the bridge on, was all from a real place — which is really interesting, to kind of have a song where, you haven’t finished yet, but it kind of happens in real time. So, the lyrics, they got more and more personal. And then I got to revisit some of the first lyrics and got to change those around to better reflect the situation I was in too.”
The band shares the workload when it comes to writing, from both the musical and lyrical side. Lemasters feels connected to all the Wallows’ songs, even if he wasn’t the one writing the lyrics.
"'Especially You’ is about being in a relationship with someone, that you feel like you’re kind of sabotaging. You feel like you guys could be a great thing, but everything you do is making it weird. Some of my favorite Dylan lyrics are in there.” says Lemasters. “I think the song is about not wanting to feel that way and feeling that way around this person because it’s so great. The song is basically trying to say to let everything go and just be in the moment.”
Wallows’ approach to writing each project is distinctly different. For the debut album, the band had four-years' worth of cohesive songs that it'd saved up. The sophomore album was much more in-the-moment.
“Tell Me That It’s Over, for the most part, is like a relationship album. Nothing Happens is more like growing out of your youth into adulthood,” says Lemasters. “We wanted [Tell Me That It’s Over] to be more sonically diverse. We just went with the flow. I think for our next album, we’re gonna go the opposite route. I think it’s gonna be more concise. But we wanted the second one to be kind of a little oddball that’s fun to listen to.”