Early on, Wavves earned itself a reputation for chemically enhanced mischief that sparked as much press as the San Diego band’s scuzzy surf-punk. Most of the buzz grew around singer/guitarist Nathan Williams’ rambling meltdown at Barcelona’s 2009 Primavera Sound festival—and his apology for mixing Xanax, Valium and Ecstasy that boozy night. Then there were the marijuana busts, which included bassist Stephen Pope getting booted from MTV’s 2011 Video Music Awards.
“There have been points in the past where we’ve gone slightly overboard, but you learn from those mistakes and do everything in moderation,” Pope says, though he admits that his definition of moderation is slightly skewed. “Partying is certainly a big aspect of playing rock music. But we don’t want it to be our identity.”
That’s not so much of an issue when you’ve made an album as engaging as You’re Welcome, the sixth album from Wavves (the fourth since Williams’ solo endeavor grew into a bona fide band), its May 19 release teased by six advance singles.
“I’m most excited about this record because I was excited when making the record,” Pope says from North Carolina, where he’s doing laundry on the road to a May 17 date at Brighton Music Hall. “This one was the most fun to make, because if we got sick of working on one song, we’d work on another one, and it was a completely opposite thing.”
Indeed, You’re Welcome expands beyond Wavves’ messy lo-fi sound, splintering into a pastiche of sonic processing and killer melodies. Some songs—like Pope’s favorite, old-school punk rip “No Shade”—tap into the old ideal of a live band playing in the room. But at least half the diverse tracks stem from sample-based concoctions that Williams initiated in the studio with producer Dennis Herring, realized through computerized instruments as well as bandmate overdubs. “I don’t know if that’s cheating or not,” Pope says, “but we did it.”
Those tracks include the glam stomp “Million Enemies,” which rides a synth bass part like T. Rex gone new wave, and the chorus-stacked “Come to the Valley,” which suggests a Phil Spector-produced garage band auditioning for a musical. Samples include a snippet from a Cambodian pop compilation, and Williams croons a ’50s-style ballad in the surprisingly straight closer “I Love You.”
“If he sings over anything, it kind of makes it sound like a Wavves song, so that actually helps us experiment more,” Pope says of the group’s first release on Williams’ Ghost Ramp imprint after an uncomfortable major-label ride with Warner Brothers. “I don’t have anything bad to say about any label, but it’s way more frustrating of a process to make music with a label breathing down your neck,” Pope says. “So doing it ourselves just gave us way more freedom.”
Freedom clearly marked Wavves’ conception, when skateboarder and hip-hop blogger Williams hatched a one-man project out of his parents’ San Diego home. In the wake of the Primavera fiasco, he enlisted Memphis punk-rocker Jay Reatard’s rhythm section of Pope and Billy Hayes, who contributed to 2010’s King of the Beach (guitarist Alex Gates and drummer Brian Hill now round out the band).
“Nathan and I started making music together not because we had a similar backgrounds, but because we had similar tastes,” says Pope, 31. “We were the same age, so we grew up liking all the same bands… We both went to punk and hardcore shows and then were in weird high school bands that were kind of goofy and didn’t take themselves too seriously.”
In a sense, that hasn’t changed, though Williams has shifted lyrically from glum jabs at goth subculture and self-loathing to the new album’s aforementioned love song and political overtones in the anti-establishment “Animal” and “Exercise,” where he sings, “We’re dancing while the world is burning down… I can’t believe the shit they say to us. They’re lying to our face.”
It’s all setting up for a busy spring and summer for Wavves, who are preparing to shift from arena shows opening for Blink 182 to a spate of club dates with no break from the road. “I have a disgusting amount of laundry,” Pope says. “I just never stop.”