Nathan Williams and Stephen Pope are slumped on a couch in the darkened living room of Williams' house in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, sporadically taking bong hits and attempting to answer questions about their band Wavves' new album, "Afraid of Heights," out March 26 through Mom + Pop/Warner Bros. They are nursing serious hangovers, which means the conversation keeps veering off into discussions about fake IDs and summer camp.
"It took us a couple weeks to figure out what record we were actually going to record," frontman Williams says of the album, which was produced by John Hill, known for his work with Shakira, Rihanna and Santigold. "We went through a couple pretty bad demos. Trust me, it was bad. But we recorded 'Afraid of Heights' and slept on it, and the next day we came back and decided it was a good start."
The musicians' attitude may be casual, but "Afraid of Heights" marks a notable step forward for Wavves, an act rooted in DIY sensibilities that's often known as much for Williams' rock-star antics and love life (he's dating Best Coast singer Bethany Cosentino) as its expressive music. The group, which released music on various indies in the past--including 2010 Fat Possum set "King of the Beach," which has sold 36,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan--now has the backing of a major label.
But Wavves is moving into the mainstream its own way: The band and Hill funded the new album themselves, intent on not signing with another label until it was completely finished. The members' relationship with the producer was close and productive, but tumultuous. Williams even accidentally beamed Hill with a bat during one tension-filled session. "He's mean," notes bassist Pope, who officially joined Wavves three years ago. "[But] a producer shouldn't be timid. They should be able to tell you that what you're doing sucks." (Hill couldn't be reached for comment.) The resulting album is different for Wavves, continuing a progression away from its early lo-fi material, like "King of the Beach."
"Afraid of Heights" is still punk-tinged beach-rock, but brings in cello, 808s and even some urban field recordings that the members found in Hill's studio. For Mom + Pop, which partnered with Warner Bros. to market and distribute the disc, it's the act's most accessible set yet, yielding new possibilities of Âradio play.
"That's something that hasn't historically been a really big component of a Wavves campaign," says Mom + Pop head of marketing Robbie Mackey, who notes that "Demon to Lean On" went to alternative radio on March 12. "We are taking a single to radio. That's definitely been a difference between this campaign and some of [Wavves'] previous releases."
The labels are also banking on Wavves' spring headlining tour with Fidlar, which kicks off after a slew of South by Southwest shows, and an extensive online campaign.
Williams, meanwhile, is taking it all with a grain of salt--an attitude that doesn't appear to be hangover-related. "I'd like the most amount of people to hear [the album] that could possibly hear it," he says. "I don't know if that's a realistic thing, to be on the radio. They might be trying to do that, but every record that has a label behind it is trying to get on the radio. I'm not holding my breath."