For singer/guitarist Nathan Williams and his noise-pop band Wavves, 2009 was both a year that every aspiring musician hopes for-and every established musician dreads. After drawing critical acclaim last spring for a sophomore album recorded in his bedroom, Williams embarked on a European tour that was cut short by a drug-fueled meltdown during a performance at last year's Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain.
Williams says that he looks back on 2009 as "a really fun time and a learning experience." He's also not surprised that his speedy rise to indie prominence has been a little bumpy. "It all took off so quickly that I wasn't really ready for it," says Williams, who issued an apology following the Primavera show. "But I got to go to Europe, meet some cool people, and that's helped me get to where I am now."
Williams has regained his composure and tightened his sound for third album "King of the Beach," released digitally July 1. Although the follow-up to 2009 breakthrough "Wavvves" is set for an Aug. 3 physical release on Fat Possum, an online leak last month forced the label to bump up the digital release.
Williams met with Fat Possum founder Matthew Johnson and producer Dennis Herring (the Hives, Modest Mouse) over dinner last fall to discuss the direction of the band. While Williams' two previous albums had featured a lo-fi, DIY approach to pop music, Johnson says Williams presented plenty of ideas on how to grow as an artist.
"He was growing tired of the 'small' sound," Johnson says. "He wanted to make improvements, and we thought he was ready to leave his comfort zone."
For "Beach," Williams decided to record in a proper studio and recruit a permanent backing band after previously working with drummers Ryan Ulsh and Zach Hill. Bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes, both members of the late Jay Reatard's band, were brought in as full-time bandmates last November.
Last February Wavves began recording for three months in Herring's Mississippi studio, with the producer adding a clarity to the band's raucous summer singalongs. "Dennis sparks something in you that's hard to describe," Williams says. "I butted heads with him a couple times, but I respect him tremendously."
While "Beach" is far removed from the group's early noisiness, Williams' sneering songwriting still charms on tracks like "Super Soaker" and "Baseball Cards." Fat Possum plans to promote the album by letting fans hear the group's changed dynamic: The album is streaming on the band's MySpace page, and a zany video for pop-rock gem "Post Acid" will surface later this month. The band will also make in-store appearances and is on the cover of Fader magazine along with fellow blog breakouts M.I.A. and Ariel Pink.
As for the album leak, Johnson believes it was inevitable, and that the advanced date for the digital release has worked because of the album's quality. "If the record sucked, we'd be in a lot of trouble. However, I think people are realizing how accessible and exciting it is," Johnson says.
Williams says that he also hasn't been bothered by the leak, and that it has been fun hearing fans sing along to new tracks at his recent shows. As the band prepares to kick off a European tour July 15 in Germany, Williams foresees a much smoother, if not quite sedate overseas trek in 2010.
"It still might be a drunken mess," Williams says. "But you can expect it to be better than it was."