Nathan Williams likes surprises.
Not only does the Wavves frontman directly say as much on single Help is on the Way, but musically, new album Hideaway is all about taking the left-turns that sometimes pop up in the songwriting process.
“When you go into a studio there needs to be like a little bit of magic, where you start to hear something that you didn't expect,” Williams explains.
“I like there to be some sort of new things, like ‘Oh, this is cool. Let's go in this direction. Let's go experiment with this. Let's see where this goes.’”
That magic was missing when Wavves first went in to record this album in early 2019, and it wasn’t until they recruited uber-producer Dave Sitek to oversee round two that things took shape.
Exploring everything from country, indie pop, doo-wop and '50s surf over the album’s nine tracks, it’s musically a bit of a curve-ball for the so-called punk-pop band, and Williams credits Sitek for taking them down some new avenues.
“Sometimes when you record with somebody new the dynamic just isn't right. And that was just one of those things. I feel like they could have been the best songs ever, and they just sort of wouldn't have turned out the way that we wanted. I don't think we had the same sort of vision. And so once we showed Dave, it just sort of clicked right away.”
Even in the writing and demoing stage, Williams was looking for something unexpected. Returning to the yard house at his parents’ house in San Diego where he recorded the first two Wavves albums to work on some new material – something he has done for every Wavves album – Williams took a pretty novel approach to songwriting.
After building his melodies around four-second samples taken from songs of the '50s and '60s, Williams would then remove the initial sample and fit chords around his standalone melody before working out the rest of the song’s structure from that progression.
“The last thing I want to do is make the same record again. I felt like if I just picked up a guitar and started singing over the top [it would just be the same]… sometimes it's got to change a bit. Otherwise, you're just gonna write the same songs.
“But that's probably why some of it was sort of surf related or doo-wop related because it probably started originally with a sample of a Ronettes song or a Dick Dale sample.”
Williams says Sitek was able to pick up on elements and themes in his songwriting that didn’t immediately stand out to him and run with them, capturing the songs through a different lens.
“That's why I always like to start with the bones of songs, because I want to do the experimenting when I'm in the studio. You know, there'll be a mandolin or a toy piano in the studio, and you can sort of just start screwing around with it. And then maybe the producer hears it and is like, ‘Let's put that down. Let's just see what it sounds like on here.’ Who knows?”
For songs that came out of minimal actual playing, a lot ended up going into Hideaway on the guitar front. Letting Sitek take the reins on the sonic side, Wavves found themselves working with a range of vintage guitars and amplifiers during the Hideaway sessions, lending to the authenticity of the styles covered on the album.
“I have like maybe 15 or 16 guitars ranging from new, pretty straightforward Stratocasters to vintage random Japanese guitars and I didn't use any of them here,” Williams explains.
“Dave is like a super, super gear nerd and he’d have a new toy every day, like something a friend had made for him or a one-off pedal, so we just had so many things going into this.”
While there were numerous guitars that ended up getting used, Williams said most of his main tracks were done on ’62 Fender Strat, while fellow guitarist Alex Gates used a rare ES-style Gibson from the '60s.
These guitars just sounded better when it came to the chicken-pickin' country licks and fingerpicking styles that pop up throughout the album, Williams says, and having Sitek direct the gear choices helped them focus on their individual performances.
The variety of guitars used on Hideaway means the band are going to be taking acoustic guitars on the road and using them as a regular part of the set for the first time when touring can resume, something Williams is looking forward to.
“I think it's actually gonna be cool. You know, we'll bring acoustic guitars and it'll be maybe not as moshable. We've always had sort of a young crowd, but there's also a crowd of people that have been my age that, that were 22 when they first heard Wavves and are still fans in their 30s now...
“I've got herniated discs throughout my neck from touring and head banging and jumping off shit so I think it'll be nice to have some songs where we're not flailing around and going crazy.
“I already sort of know how it'll play out – with one acoustic guitar and one electric guitar together, which I actually really like the sound of live. We got given some stuff from Fender, some acoustic guitars for live stuff that we never ended up using for actual shows, so it’ll be cool to finally start using that stuff.”
For Williams, the fact that he can even talk about touring again is a big positive. Having completed Hideaway in 2019, like most people he felt the Covid pandemic slam the breaks on his life, severely impacting creativity to the point he hadn’t picked up a guitar in nearly 18 months.
“Every time I even looked at a guitar case, and thought about playing it just got depressing and I couldn't do it. I knew there was nothing opening, I had nothing really on the horizon and just something didn't click,” he says.
“But now I can play guitar again and it's not depressing to me, and that’s a huge thing. We haven’t been able to play as a band since 2019, and when we get back we’ll probably be a bit rusty, but it'll probably be like the most fun we've had the last 10 years.”
- Hideaway is out now on Fat Possum Records.