There are bands that dive deep into issues like emotion, society and existentialism in their music, and there are bands that just keep their music basic. Wavves is of the latter persuasion. Yet the indie surf-rock band has managed to capture the attention of critics early on with its genuine, no-need-to-impress-you approach.
Founded in San Diego by Nathan Williams in 2008, Wavves began as a solo project. Recording a bunch of demos that would later form the self-titled debut album (with a lot of demos to spare), the primary thing inspiring Williams at the time was his boredom. It's said that you can succeed if you do what you do best. For Williams, that seemed to be singing about the routine life of a stoner. His simple yet very relatable songwriting earned him some stripes in the music world early on — especially amongst the hipsters who can't seem to get enough of his lo-fi sound — and before he released his follow-up album Wavvves in early 2009, he had already formed a band in order to tour.
It wasn't until 2009 that Wavves would finally get its second cardinal member: bassist Stephen Pope. Though Pope wasn't a part of Wavves for the first two albums, he fits as if he was destined to be Williams' partner in crime. In fact, their affinity for pot was evidence enough that they would have good chemistry. "What brought me and Nathan together initially was smoking weed," says Pope.
However, the way they bonded was the only simple thing about their paths crossing. The series of events that led to Pope becoming a part of Wavves was a rough time for both Williams and Pope. At that point, Pope was the bassist for the garage-punk singer Jay Reatard. While it wasn't the very first band Pope had ever played in, he acknowledges that it was the first big band he was a part of. And from touring with Jay Reatard, he would finally meet Williams for the first time during the most infamous moment in Williams's career.
Pope and Williams paths first crossed at the Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival in 2009. This is most commonly known as the show which Williams had a drug-induced meltdown on stage. It's where he got into a fight with his former drummer, Ryan Ulsh, and berated the crowd, who began to throw things at him in retaliation. All the while, Pope was oblivious to the horrible day Williams was having.
"I was playing with Jay Reatard at the festival, and I was pretty fucked up myself," Pope recalls. "I didn't even realize Nathan had a bad show. And I went backstage to smoke weed with him and say, 'Hey, good show," and we just ended up getting along."
And just like that, in the eye of a shitstorm that Williams had caused, a friendship was born. Keeping in touch after the festival, Williams asked Pope to join Wavves in July of 2009. Pope was still with Jay Reatard at the time, but that would soon change.
Both Pope and Billy Hayes, the drummer for Jay Reatard, would leave Reatard's band in October of 2009 and would both join Wavves a month later (Hayes would leave the band later on in 2010). "It was becoming too much work, it just wasn't fun anymore," Pope says of his time with Reatard. Of course, their decision to leave would create tension between themselves and Reatard, whose version of the story of Pope and Hayes leaving includes him kicking them out and deleting the recordings he did with Pope's earlier band, The Barbaras. But Pope goes on to say that it didn't take very long for him and Reatard to get past their bitter break-up.
"I was hanging out with Jay a couple months later, even when I joined Wavves," says Pope. "Jay and I were friends long before I started playing for him. So there was hostility at first, because it was like breaking up with a girlfriend, and Jay was a very emotional girlfriend," says Pope.
And though his rough experiences with Reatard, who died in 2010 from a drug overdose, proved to be very trying, it would actually help Pope develop thicker skin and would ultimately help Pope decide to join Williams, even after considering how Williams was known to be a "loose cannon" with his on-stage meltdown.
"Jay was a handful to deal with, so I think that prepared me for anything, really," he says.
After joining the band with the main purpose of touring, Pope wrote a couple tracks on Wavves' third album, King of the Beach, and would later co-write the entire upcoming album, Afraid of Heights, with Williams. Pope's joining would also coincide with Wavves moving from the indie-noise sound it was known for towards an alternative feel (one where you can actually hear what Williams is singing). But the content of the material remains the same: songs about the ups and downs of twentysomething stoners. What was once a project of one guy writing about being bored now became a project of two guys writing about being bored.
It's been smooth sailing for Williams and Pope ever since. Pope says that though the writing and recording process for Afraid of Heights was long and arduous, he and Williams work well in the studio together (perhaps because of the amount of booze they were drinking while recording). And even after the 15-hour daily studio sessions, Williams and Pope enjoy spending their free time together, whether it's playing FIFA, ping-pong or bowling. It's the good-hearted goofy friendship of Williams and Pope that makes the simple appeal of Wavves even stronger.