In the life of Nathan Williams, the year of 2009 will go down as both a highlight reel and a total shit show. Meteorically, feverishly and somewhat improbably, two albums worth of naïve punk rock he recorded behind his parents’ San Diego home as Wavves became a sensation in the world of indie music. As a result, passports got filled, capers got pulled off and lots of good things got said about the music in both print and digital ink, plus in actual human voices. At the same time, fights got fought, situations got hairy and people got indignant and mean.
Oh well. Fuck it. All of it.
What’s important now is that, in the beginning of 2010, Williams has made “King of the Beach”, the new Wavves album. King of the Beach is an adventurous and ambitious record. It cuts deeper into the bleeding throat catharsis and ’60s sunshine soul that Wavves is known for. It also unexpectedly flips out with elements of primitive electronics and psychedelic studio experimentation.
“There was a conscious effort going into this that I didn’t want to make the same record again. I already made the same record twice, with the same fucking cover art,” says Williams. “It wasn’t overbearing, but I didn’t want to recreate something I’d done. I wanted to make something bigger, something stronger.”
Unlike Wavves’ previously released material, recorded in haphazard bursts on Williams’ laptop, King of the Beach was toiled over for three months at Sweet Tea Recording, a world-renown studio in Oxford, Mississippi. Sweet Tea is also the home of Dennis Herring, producer of the last two Modest Mouse albums, and the man who dismantled and re-assembled the sound on this record.
All the rumours are true: Herring is a studio perfectionist. Williams is not. “There were some definite ‘I want to wring you neck’-type moments,” Williams says of the sessions, but he also understood that, with the resources he had available to him, he’d be stupid not to make the album sound exactly how he wanted it. “When you’re not watering it down with a load of shit and reverb, it’s a lot harder to make a record, because you know every part is going to be heard perfectly. You can’t half-ass anything,” says Williams. “A lot more effort went into this than with previous Wavves records.”
Another marked difference in the making of King of the Beach was that Williams wrote and recorded two songs with bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes, the duo who became his touring band at the end of 2009. Pope and Hayes formerly backed recently departed garage rock force of nature Jay Reatard. Williams met the two after his infamously disastrous performance at the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain. “I think we all agree that they squeegeed me up, because I melted down,” says Williams.
Though there is a confidence in the scope of the album – from the title track’s denim on sand anthem-baiting to the tweaked pop of “Convertable Balloon” to the unabashed prettiness of “When Will You Come” – Williams’ usual lyrical themes of self-loathing are still impossible to ignore. “I think everybody feels that way sometimes. I know everybody feels that way sometimes. You’re a fucking liar if you don’t,” says Williams. “It wouldn’t make sense if I’m feeling a certain way to not write about it. There are songs about hating myself, but there are also songs about driving in a car with a balloon and playing Nintendo too.”
In the end, though, King of the Beach is not an album for the miserable. While the verses of “Take on the World” enumerate the things Williams hates (his writing, his music, his self) the chorus resolves into a simple, bold repeated phrase: “To take on the world would be something.”
The album title King of the Beach isn’t meant to be ironic or a self-deprecating joke. It’s a declaration. “Without sounding cheesy, we all wanted to make something inspiring,” says Williams. “It’s the type of thing where you have this much, but you could have more, so go get it.”