Wavves’ Nathan Williams on Hip-Hop, Blunts, & Keeping Busy

Nathan Williams, the skinny frontman of San Diego noise-pop band Wavves, has built his musical career around a sort of slacker aesthetic—propped up with the morning-breath photo shoots, skateboarding, a very committed love of the sweet herb, and first-take who gives a fuckery that’s made up the bulk of his three-album catalog.

And though I buy that the guy is probably skilled at FIFA 2012, it’s obvious that Williams, 24, is getting up from the couch these days. His forthcoming EP, Life Sux, will be followed by a double LP in early 2012. He’s been hired to contribute songs for the unfortunately named MTV show I Just Want My Pants Back. And then there’s his rap production work, a passion side project that has Williams in talks with Prodigy from Mobb Deep. Whoa. I had to ask him about that during our recent interview at New York’s East River Park.

A lot of people perceive you as a bit of a slacker. You sing about it in many of your songs. But you recently tweeted about working a 15-hour day. I was making a video for the song “Bug” from our new EP. We started at 7am and ended at 10 at night—then I went home and started immediately working on the songs for the [MTV] show for another three hours. It doesn’t start to feel like work until you get these sort of days. But if I am going to continue doing something that I love—which is making music—I’m going to have to continue working hard.

This new show is basically about young people fucking in Williamsburg. What is going through your head when you’re coming up with the soundtrack? That is not really what’s going through my head. I’m trying to write songs that go with the timeline of the show. Following the mood, not really about people who shop at Urban Outfitters and fuck on the weekend.

What’s the show about? It’s basically about a guy who is having trouble with women, but hooks up with this girl and ends up losing his pants. The search for the pants is a metaphor.

Do you think he will find this woman or these pants? Well, the show is based on him finding the girl, so I guess he won’t find the girl. If it were my show, I would tell you he finds the girl and she gives him crabs.

On the new EP there is a song written about meeting Dave Grohl. Have you met Dave Grohl? I have not met Dave Grohl, but the song is a fictional song about two people’s quest to meet Dave Grohl. But, in contrast, I would love to meet Dave Grohl. I predict I will meet Dave Grohl in the next two to three months.

What will you do when you meet Dave Grohl. He lives near you in East LA. I just want to play music with him. That would be cool. Or just get drunk with him. Drunk on a golf course.

Let’s talk about rap. You’re a big fan—you just did a TV performance with GZA on Fuel TV. We have a mutual friend and he had mentioned us to GZA—and he seemed excited at the opportunity to play. I grew up listening to Wu-Tang Clan, and still do. So it was really cool. We got to hang out for a little bit and said it was the best he’s ever played “Liquid Swords” with a band. It really was a childhood dream.

And you might be working with Prodigy of Mobb Deep! Well, he just got out of jail, so we are only kind of talking about it at this time. He had heard a beat that I made and was like “I need to find that kid that made it. “

And, to be clear, you were Nathan Williams in this context, not the dude from Wavves… Yeah, it was something that I did and my friend took it upon himself to send it to Prodigy. Like GZA, I had grown up listening to Mobb Deep. It’s crazy. So we will see. We are just talking at this time.

What were you thinking with that beat? I actually had Prodigy in mind—like what he did with Alchemist on Return of the Mack. It’s got that cocaine, Peruvian rap thing going on. Lots of bongos. We will see if it works out. If it does, I will be stoked. I’ll just hang out and smoke a blunt with him.

So it’s clear that you are a fan. Since I was a kind I’ve been a fan. I can remember recording The Chronic and Doggystyle on my tape recorder and my parents wouldn’t let me listen to it. I had the radio edit, but was stoked to listen to it.

What have you been listening to lately? A lot of Curren$y. I like the soul tape that Fabolous just did. I like Watch the Throne. I like Drake “Headlines” a lot. I love Frank Ocean.

And you’re planning on a LP for 2012. What the story? It’s going to be a double LP, out in late-January.

What does a double LP mean? It means a shitload of songs. It’s building on the themes from Life Sux. Building on the lives of these two people and telling a broader story. There will be interludes and it will never stop. It will all flow.

King of the Beach was certainly not like that. No, but my first two albums were. The thing with King of the Beach was the producer had a stricter vision. And I was in a record contract and they said they were going to drop me and end my career.

No shit. That record is great! Yeah, it is. I think Dennis Herring is an amazing producer. It was definitely a good record, but on this one we had a lot more control. Steven and I produced it with a friend. And since I don’t have a record this time around, I can do whatever the fuck I want.

Super Furry Animals Singer Gruff Rhys On His Latest Album & Upcoming Film

“It has special effects, teleportation, genocide, folk music, electronic music, penguins, some pretty amazing graphics and an armadillo chase scene.” That’s how Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys describes Separado!, a documentary that sees the 40-year old musician traveling to Patagonia to connect with a long-lost uncle (who also happened to be a poncho-wearing Argentine pop star in the 1970s). It’s just the latest project derailing the endlessly creative Welshman from resuming his SFA psychedelics. The other is based on Rhys’ unexpected muse: bottles of hotel shampoo.

Over the course of fifteen years of life as touring musician, Rhys hoarded a massive collection of those miniature bottles of shampoo that are complimentary in your average hotel room. But instead of stowing them away in an attic somewhere, the off-kilter Rhys built a dollhouse-sized hotel instead. (It’s now on display as an installation in Cardiff, in his native Wales.) He also recorded his third solo album, and called it, what else, Hotel Shampoo, which he’s currently supporting on a North American tour. We spoke to the multi-hyphenate recently about his quirky artistic pursuits and the possibility of a Super Furry Animals reunion.

What inspired the hotel shampoo project? Before I started to tour extensively, I had been living off of welfare checks. So when I was being given free things like shampoo, while staying at hotels on the road, I was like wow. So after about 15 years of collecting these bottles of shampoos, I decided that I wanted to build a hotel from them. It’s about the size of a dog kennel.

Where are you staying tonight? In a hotel.

Which one? It’s like a Holiday Inn. In fact, it is a Holliday Inn Express.

Is there a particular brand of hotel shampoo that you like? I’m personally a fan of places like the Roosevelt in Los Angeles that give you free Khiel’s. I actually sort of disdain the products. It’s terrible for the environment.

Do you shampoo every day? I feel it sort of breaks down your hair too much. And you have some good hair. Yeah, sometimes. When it smells. But not daily.

And the Hotel Shampoo record. Do you feel this was, stylistically, a new direction for you? It’s still me. I usually make the solo records simply and quickly. On this record I used more piano than acoustic guitar. So that was the main style shift, which wasn’t huge.

What did you learn about yourself when you went to South America looking for your lost uncle? I get asked that a lot. The answer is I have no idea. Obviously it was a really intense experience and is going to take a couple years to process it. I learned, for example, that everybody in Argentina is a better guitarist than I am. I learned that people over there are kind and are willing to give me a listen—even though they know they can play guitar better than me.

Did you improve your guitar playing while touring there? When I figured out that everybody was a better guitar player I sort of gave up.

Did you always think you had a feature documentary in you? This is something that I tried to get together for years, but nobody would give me any money. Nobody would take it seriously. Then in 2004 a guy called Rob Stringer from Sony Records gave me $30,000 to make a film, which is not a huge amount for a feature, but is defiantly a large sum of money. But that was enough money to shoot the film.

So why did he give you the money? He said something like “I don’t want to stand in the way of a man’s quest.”

Without giving too much away, what is the arc of the movie? When I started to tour solo, I realized the [act of touring] was extremely portable. I could plot a tour anywhere I wanted. So I plotted a tour in South America that mirrored the journey of the Welsh between 1865 and 1880. The whole plot of the film is to find a family member called René Griffiths. His ancestors fled Wales in 1880.

Why did they flee? It 1865, a guy called Michael D Jones took a lot of people over to create a free Welsh state where people could have a Welsh education and speak Welsh freely, and immerse themselves in Welsh culture because the language was banned in Wales. People continued to immigrate there until the First World War. It was a colony.

What have you been doing today in New York City? I played a radio session in the Bronx. It was my first time in the Bronx. When my great-granddad immigrated to the States they took him to the Bronx Zoo. A gorilla growled at him, so he spit a piece of chewing tobacco in the gorilla’s eye. And the gorilla went nuts. So he was lead out of the zoo. This is day one of your American tour. What are you feeling? Excitement. Terror. Hyperventilation.

Do you get nervous before playing? No, but I get the feeling of “shit, did I bring everything?” I can’t run home to get something.

What’s the most unique piece of equipment you bring with you? I have these electric drumsticks that I made. My soldering isn’t very good so it sort of distorts. It’s a unique sound.

I’m a massive fan of the Neon Neon album. Is this a one-off project, or do you have another record in you? We have another record. We would have to get the right subject matter and hit the right music. Brian [Hollon] has another Boom Bip record coming out. We’ve both been pretty busy, and we both live on other continents, so it’s difficult. It was really enjoyable to make that record.

And you never played New York as Neon Neon. I think a lot of people were disappointed with that. Well, around that time I had a new baby and we were recording a Super Furry Animals album. We did Neon Neon as a studio album without thinking about playing it live. It was enjoyable because we didn’t have any expectations. And it was sort of unexpected that it sold records, especially in the UK. So it was a bit of shame that we didn’t get to tour it.

So a new album in the next two years? Well, the last one took so long and we haven’t really started anything yet.

And what’s up with the Super Furry Animals? We’re starting to slow down a bit. Three us of have families now, so it’s sort of impossible to keep up the pace. For many years it was the main thing in our lives—we were completely devoted to it. But it’s inevitable that we will make more records. We are too close. But I don’t know when that will be.

So do you still enjoy playing with the Super Furry Animals? It seems a lot of artists will strike out on a solo career when their band’s career is winding down. Of course. We have a really good time together. We are original drug buddies. When we make a record we are going to be ambitious and put a lot of time into it. We don’t want to rush it.

To that point it seems you do take a lot of time thinking about your albums. Stylistically you are all over the map. What direction are you going to take? What’s great about the Super Furry Animals is that when we make a record it’s such a collaborative process. Everybody is capable of pulling it in so many different directions. You never know how the song will turn out in the end. We definitely do a lot of refining at the end too.

Do you rehearse a lot? No, we are pretty slack. In terms of rehearsal, we take a lot of breaks. Drink a lot of coffee. We play video games. In the past, rehearsing used to get in the way of videogame tournaments.

What games do you play? Really simplistic things like Worms. It can be a five-way game, so everybody can play.

Twin Shadow on Coachella, Opening for the Strokes – & that Hair

George Lewis Jr. is about to have one hell of a summer. The Dominican-born, Brooklyn-based musician, who plays under the moniker Twin Shadow, has a king-making trifecta of festival slots this summer that will surely skyrocket his fledgling profile. Kicking off with this weekend’s Coachella, he’ll then head to Washington for Sasquatch, and then down south for Bonnaroo. It doesn’t get bigger than that. Lewis made waves back in October, when his debut album, the synth-laden, ’80s New Wave-channeling Forget (produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear), garnered critical praise. We spoke with Lewis as he wandered the streets of New Orleans (possibly while intoxicated) about opening for the Strokes at SXSW, strange subway encounters, and his famous ‘do.

You’re walking around New Orleans right now. Are you drinking one of those hurricane drinks? I’ve had four of them already.

How does it taste? It’s terrible. I can believe people do this to their bodies. Oh wait. A horse in a carriage is running down the street and not really paying attention to any of the cars. The driver is screaming. And I get this weird feeling that I am standing outside of Trent Reznor’s house. There’s a gate with a chain.

When I was waiting around for you to call me back, I was listening to your record and sort fell asleep at my desk for a minute. Please do not take this as a diss. Does this happen every time? Is this a Pavlovian response to my music?

This does not happen every time. But it does relax me. I will say it’s a woozy record. It’s kind of like that Chris Isaak song [“Wicked Game”], which used to put me to sleep as a kid. I think of the record as a small pop record, actually. It’s pop.

You had a really good SXSW with the Fader Fort and opening for The Strokes. It was a busy day. It was hard for me to remember that set at the Fort.

What do you remember? There was more pot smoke than I ever could have imagined. Waves of it. And I remember some people responding to the music. And I remember this one guy in the front row had his middle finger up during the entire set.

That’s a positive sign in some cultures, no? I looked at it like he was giving me the devil horns, but was missing a couple fingers.

And opening for The Strokes? It was a trip, playing in front of 20,000 people. Recently [before SXSW], Albert Hammond Jr. came up to me and said he had seen me play at Music Hall of Williamsburg and had loved the show. So we exchanged numbers and I invited him to my studio for the day and we hung out. Sounds like a dude date. We had a dude date! But there was a girl there too.

Lucky girl. It was actually Oh Land. It was kind of a dream, like we were starting some sort of new Brat Pack. We were just hanging out, and Oh Land and I were working on something. It’s all super casual.

You’re playing Coachella this weekend. What are you looking forward to most? Playing a big festival and seeing how many fans we actually have, I suppose. I’m excited to see Kanye.

What’s playing in the van on the way to Coachella? It’s mostly Dirty South hip-hop. Today we listened to a lot of 2 Live Crew and Mystikal. Thin Lizzy has been popping up a lot. And you know the best Pandora station, believe it or not, is Barry White. It’s opened my eyes. He goes so far beyond the pillow talk thing. You’ve lived in Copenhagen and Berlin. What does an American musician gain from living in those cities? Experiencing the European people and establishing relationships with them, one of which was my girlfriend—which was on and off for four years. It changed the way I thought about music. I was stuck in all these American, indie-slash-punk-rock ideals, which ended up building walls around me creatively. When I got outside of America, and realized there isn’t so much of this “I’m a punk” and “I’m a hood rat” label system, the attitude made me open my head up. I had put all these restrictions on myself.

What bands were you listening to over there? The Knife really excited me, even before I left for Copenhagen. I was immediately inspired. And from there, I researched what stuff they were into. All of a sudden I got into the Kate Bush “Hounds of Love” record and Kraftwerk and a bunch of the krautrock bands.

And this girlfriend. She influenced this record, obviously. Of course.

Are you on or off? It’s pretty much off, but she is amazing. A very special person, and I think she will be in my life for the rest of it. The distance thing is hard and my life choice is also really hard. I don’t have many working relationships, even with friends these days. It’s near impossible.

How did you hook up with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear? I was recording the record on my own and my manager and I had several conversations about getting somebody to come in from the outside—to give some perspective. It was more my manager’s idea than mine, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. I felt, at times, a bit stifled. So I had two people in mind—pretty much anybody from The Knife or Chris Taylor because I had been listening to Veckatimest a lot over Christmas, and was mostly into the production. I loved how lush it was and that you could still hear everything. I don’t think my music is at all like Grizzly Bear, but I thought there are a lot of layers to my music and that sometimes there is too much going on. It needs clarity and I heard clarity in Chris’ production.

What turns you on? Dinosaur Jr. turns me on!

J has that hair. He can really play that guitar. And the hair is really good—that peppered Addam’s Family Cousin Itt look.

Speaking of hair, yours is ridiculously good. It changes a lot. I get bored with it. I kind of treat my hair like a woman. I like to do as much with it as I can, and before it disappears.

Do you use some special hair spray of gel? I go to a Dominican or black salon and they usually blow out my hair with a blow drier and a comb. It gets really straight and flow-y and beautiful. My keyboard player will do my hair sometimes. You can catch me, sometimes, looking like a mess. If you look at James Brown, he sometimes looked like a mess. But it didn’t matter.

Do you shop on tour? I’m always picking up clothes, but I’m trying to move out of vintage land. I’m kind of aspiring to having a tailor who makes me all my clothes. That’s my mission. Have you ever modeled? As a kid I modeled in a Wal-Mart advertisement. I was modeling sunglasses. I don’t think anybody will find that.

Last random encounter on a subway? The other day these two girls noticed me and, very loudly, started talking about me as Twin Shadow. I assume, because I had my sunglasses on, they felt it was okay to go into a conversation like I wasn’t there. At some point it got personal. There was a comment about the shoes that I was wearing. Something like, “He wore those shoes at the Brooklyn Bowl show the first time they played there. They are kind of beat up.” Eventually it got so ridiculous that I stood up and said hey. They kind of just gulped, and the subway door opened at Bedford Ave. and they ran out. That was weird.