Wallows Isn't Overthinking It

Wallows Isn't Overthinking It

by Camille Bavera

In just under five years, LA-based alt-rock band Wallows has released over 50 songs, three EPs, their debut album, Nothing Happens, which includes the two-time certified-platinum Clairo feature, “Are You Bored Yet?” and performed Coachella — twice.

So, frankly, it feels hard to believe that their latest album, Tell Me That It’s Over, is only their second full-length release.

Yet, middle school pals-turned-bandmates Braeden Lemasters (vocals, guitar), Dylan Minette (guitar) and Cole Preston (drums) somehow managed to come together — though not physically, due in large part to the pandemic that arrived shortly after their first album’s drop in 2019 — to create perhaps Wallows’ most intentional, considered project to-date.

“There are five, doing their jobs, giving off a sing-ey kind of vibe and then there are five that are more creative,” they tell PAPER of the tight 10-track offering. “We really believed in the album being just these songs, so at a certain point we wanted to make sure that we made those as good as we could.”

Tell Me That It’s Over, which released earlier this month, is in effect a testament to growth and change; processing the end of relationships on “That’s What I Get,” and trying to move forward — scars and insecurities in tow — on “Permanent Price.”

And just as the album’s throughline signals steps forward, the same could be said for the band itself. Tell Me That It’s Over has all the California ease and emotionally charged lyricism that fans have come to love them for, with some more experimental mix-ins, thanks to the addition of lauded producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has worked on honing the sounds of Haim, Vampire Weekend, Sky Ferreira and more.

“If we wanted to capitalize on the moment ... I think we would have made a very different second album,” they said. “By letting go and not overthinking this and just creating what we thought was exciting we can hopefully get more credibility or respect. We feel like we still have something to prove to a lot of people.”

While there's admittedly "a lot going on in the album," (influences span decades, from '80s New Order to '90s Weezer) the trio is surrendering to the sound and you should too; so long as you’re listening "with your ears, from start to finish, or blasting it in a car with friends," their newest album will hook you.

Between Coachella weekends, and ahead of their big tour, PAPER catches up with Wallows to find out more about the men behind the music.

How has re-emerging into a world of going out and seeing people shaped the songs? Has your approach to music changed since your last album?

It really hasn't changed much. I mean, I think songwriting in one sense is made an isolation anyway. Yeah, I mean, since I was 14 or 15, I have just been in my room writing songs. And sure, there were definitely moments where I didn't write or even see these guys, which made it a little weird. [But] like, maybe we actually managed to finish songs or something, you know?

Overall, we got a lot of sessions with other people in collaboration before the pandemic started, and then we kind of felt like we were a little jaded when the pandemic started, so it wasn't like "oh, man, we can't go to these sessions," because we were just doing it so much that it, actually, was a much needed break in a way. Obviously, the world is so different. But like Braeden said, I think our method with songwriting has remained the same.

That's great. So how do you see people listening to your new album? Is there a particular way?

Probably their ears! I think loudly and maybe just get a bunch of friends together and sit in the car. I don't know, this album sort of lends itself to any sort of listening environment, to be honest, because there's a lot going on in the album. As long as people are putting it on and listening to it, like, fairly loud and focusing on it front to back then I'm happy no matter where. Really pay attention. But then also, I could imagine it being like, you're like walking through a Ralph's?

Explain what your inspiration is in terms of era or decade because I know your newest music video "Dont Want to Talk" is pretty 1960s with the mod colors and the grandpa cardigans. But then I hear a lot of A-ha and that 1990s sort of Duran Duran kind of music, with a jolt of 80s as well. It's a mixed bag. Did you pull from one decade in particular?

There were definitely specific inspirations for each song. But that was all over the map. I think a lot of it is musically the 80s and 90s — I mean obviously we listen to a lot of music and appreciate a lot of our contemporary artists and artists that are coming up right now. But looking backwards, I think it was the '80s bands like New Order, The Cure, but then also '90s, like Nickelback and Guided by Voices and things like that. And Weezer, of course. We were never like, let's make it sound like the '90s. It was more just let oh, let's get into it. Let's give it a discord of distorted guitar sounds. You know, we just sort of let all the songs find what they needed to be for our starting point and really put our trust in Arielle, our producer and in ourselves. We didn't overthink it.

Or if the song should sound like it came from the '90s or the '60s, then you just roll with it and find a way to make it feel really timeless and not a parody of anything; we try to make everything as legitimately as possible. If the Blue Album or Gin came out tomorrow, I'd be like, "Oh, cool." It's weird to me that that album came out in the early 90s.

I see the timelessness you’re going for, and it’s true, you do a great job of mixing iconic sounds and letting them evolve into their own melody. Is there a song that you think changed the most from when you started it versus when you finished writing?

I would say there's two. I'd say ‘It Hurts Me” and "That's What I Get." I mean, theoretically, that's what changed maybe the most because it went from a totally different musical structure with the band and all of these guitars to just strings and drums.

Then "Hurts Me" as well. When we did that demo a long time ago and it was 30 seconds of music. We were big Frank Ocean heads at that time. I mean we always will be, but it had this dreamy morose kind of sleepy vibe and that and when we showed it to Arielle he said "let's make this like a slapper," which was good, because why would we shy away from making this a more anthemic, happy, energetic song? So it has that crying at the beach kind of sad energy thing going for it now, but it's ultimately a pop-pop song.

It has a really good lead-in I think, too. I mean, it's big pop but also A-ha from the 90s. It goes from "Turn the Lights Down" to "Take on Me" after a few beats. Energy aside, though, do you find you start with lyrics or music first?

It's pretty much always music, and with lyrics we find ourselves in a trap after having come up with very specific music and a melody, and then find ourselves having to force fit the lyrics in. So that's sometimes our biggest hold up with the writing — filling in the blanks because we're still married to a melody that we're having a hard time fitting the right words into. But yeah, it's always music and melody first. Most of our demos are just gibberish, like Kanye style, or just like mumbling over these melodies. And then sometimes you get so used to how your gibberish sounds that you find yourself trying to write lyrics to sound like that, and it just becomes so hard.

Did anything not make it into the album that you were really married to?

There were a number of songs, but at a certain point we just knew which 10 we wanted to focus on and finish. We had about 17 in the works but we wanted the album to be 10 songs. There are five, doing their jobs, giving off a sing-ey kind of vibe and then there are five that are more creative. And it’s funny, because the ones that didn’t make it in are more of the digestible ones, too. But I think we really believed in the album being just these songs, so at a certain point we wanted to make sure that we made those as good as we could. Those other songs aren't finished yet and we don't know what we're going to do with them exactly, it's nice to know that you have them in the pocket and have a head start on the next one [album].

One more thing I’d like to hear your thoughts on is whether or not you consider yourself a "boyband?" Is it just an assumption, these days, that if you’re a musical group made up of a few guys, you naturally fall under a certain category. Do you feel like you categorically fit?

I mean, I think on one hand if someone viewed this as a boy band, I wouldn't say "no," you know, because we're three boys, and we play music — it makes sense.

In terms of boy bands, I don’t really see us as, let's say, Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire — all these bands that take like five year breaks between. It’s not that we're necessarily gonna take five year breaks. But what I'm saying is like, there's this thing where I feel like we could be 35 and might still be playing music festivals. But I'm not saying boy bands are only restricted to trying to capitalize on a moment in time. We're young and just making music and I'm cool progressing on our own and playing festivals at 35 on our fifth album, not trying to make five albums in like five years. So I guess I'm cool being both in a way.

We have a long haul vision and I think we're not anywhere near the peak of our success yet.

If we wanted to capitalize on the moment, sort of like what Braeden is speaking on right now, I think we would have made a very different second album. I think by letting go and not overthinking this and just creating what we thought was exciting we can hopefully get more credibility or respect. We feel like we still have something to prove to a lot of people and still have so many people to be introduced to.

I feel like hopefully, we're not just a moment in time. I hope that we're out there still making music and people are still talking about us in two decades, three decades.

I hope so, and I have no doubts. I mean, you guys have put out a lot of music, and it’s only been four or five years, right?

That's one thing I'd say about ourselves very confidently is we're prolific. We're definitely bullish. In just about five years, we put out nearly 50 songs with only two albums out. So technically if you stretch it out, it’s about four albums, which is crazy.

Tell Me That It’s Over

Photo courtesy of Wallows/ Anthony Pham