If you were one of the millions who became embroiled in the twisting teen turmoil of Netflix’s smash drama 13 Reasons Why last year, then you already know there are two — or even a Hannah Baker’s dozen — sides to every story.
Enter Wallows, a promising pop-rock trio from Los Angeles co-fronted by Dylan Minnette, star of the Selena Gomez-produced program that exploded last spring as the must-watch show of the season. You may recall all the “just listen to the tapes, Clay” memes — that’s Minnette, who has also appeared prominently in big-time films Prisoners (2013), Goosebumps (2015), and Don’t Breathe (2016).
Considering the 21-year-old’s rapidly rising star, it’s easy to assume Wallows is a pet project or some glorified hobby for Minnette: a vehicle to keep his face in the spotlight between movie roles. But really, that’s not the story at all; Minnette and bandmates Braeden LeMasters and Cole Preston have already been playing music together for a decade, predating puberty.
“(LeMasters) and I met when were 9 years old, through acting, and hit it off,” Minnette tells Billboard. “We shared this love of classic rock music and at 11 we were writing these funny songs, with dream of one day starting a rock band.”
LeMasters also acts for film and television; he played a recurring character on the TNT drama Men Of A Certain Age. But Preston, the band’s drummer, assures: “This is not the case where some actor just starts a pop band. We’ve been a band for a long time.”
Flash forward to 2018 and the guys, boosted by Minnette’s recent success, are recording, dropping singles and selling out esteemed venues like The Roxy and Troubadour, in the midst of their first U.S. headlining tour. The group’s recent gig at Bowery Ballroom in New York was packed full with teens and young 20-somethings, all of whom had all learned the group’s handful of available tracks — breezy West Coast power-pop with a sharper rock edge, like if The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas camped out on the beach with Weezer for a few weeks.
But that vibe could significantly shift; the band is quick to gush over Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator, and Minnette says an approaching EP, due out this Spring, will be “a little bit of a taste-tester, a departure from our other singles.”
“We aren’t going for any particular sound, it’s more whatever inspires us in the moment,” Minnette says. “We try to let the songs find themselves in the studio.”
For now, the ascendant rock star image fits Wallows just fine. At no point during their pumping New York performance did the group play up their inherent novelty, or attempt to appear particularly modish. The night’s lone cover was not some contrived hip-hop rework to which the young crowd could sing along, but a straightforward take on The Smiths’ ’80s indie classic “This Charming Man.” (Minnette’s Morrissey impersonation was surprisingly strong.)
Through the band’s original tunes, Minnette and LeMasters fluidly traded lead vocals and romped around like old pros; the hookiest jam, a riffy rock track called “Pulling Leaves Off The Trees,” was legitimately electrifying as Minnette led the bounding “woah, woah” chorus. It all felt real: the head-banging, the rocking hips, the steely glances, the raucous crowd.
As Wallows gears up for what should be a defining 2018 for the band, the guys enjoy whatever crossover success their acting brings them, but they try not to dwell on it.
“If something pops off for either one of us, it’s good for the band,” LeMasters says. “Dylan got lucky with 13 Reasons Why, and we are thankful for it. But to us, Dylan is still just Dylan.