Back when the clock struck midnight at New Year’s Eve in 2019, the year to follow was supposed to be filled with countless festival appearances and another headline tour for the LA-based indie-wonder Wallows. But life never goes the way you plan it, especially at a time when you have a pandemic rolling over the year like an apocalyptic series of monstrous plagues. Still, despite all odds, the sunny band managed to emerge out of the crisis with not only an en masse of new fans but also a fresh new EP in tow. Oh, and a whole lot of hair colour changes.
“The pandemic has made us realize what we can get done away from each other,”, explains Braeden Lemasters, vocalist and lead guitarist of the glamourous trio, while talking about the past few months that instead of studio hangs and live shows, had been filled with Animal Crossing sessions and a whole lot of time spent alone. “On a personal level, it’s interesting, because everything is closed down and you realise that little routines like going to the mall with friends aren’t possible anymore. But then you try to take it in a positive way, as much as you can. We’re living through history, no matter what that means, just hoping we’ll come out on the other side better.” Admittedly, quarantine turned out to be a weird and uneasy one for the whole group – a band that has been a decade in the making.
Comprised of Lemasters, frontman Dylan Minnette (also known for his role as Clay Jensen of the Netflix biggie ‘13 Reasons Why’ and now famous for his iconic hair colour switch in the latest twist-rich video for their hit number ‘Nobody Gets Me (Like You)’), and drummer Cole Preston, the Los Angeles-based trio has spent the better half of their lives playing in bands together, with Minnette and Lemasters having met as child actors when they were just eight. It’s only one of the many reasons why the group has already near perfected their trademark brand of hypnotic indie pop, with their newest surprise, their latest EP ‘Remote’, turning the page to a brand-new, exciting chapter of Wallows.
A sentiment, plus a restless searching for the next thing, that led to the EP being packed with one fizzy hit after the other, while also glimmering with different, hidden meanings behind the fun, guitar-led and electronic-heavy instrumentals. Take ‘Virtual Aerobics’ for example, a definite band’s favourite and winner of the “which song has the deepest meaning”-championship. “During quarantine, I had been doing a lot of virtual aerobic classes with my girlfriend,”, recounts Minnette. “So I just wrote the name down once, but the story behind it is about the time when you’re first starting to speak to someone virtually, with all the typing and flirting. It’s a bit like walking around the bush, so it resembles dancing around each other online.”
“We’re living through history, no matter what that means, just hoping we’ll come out on the other side better.” – Braeden Lemasters
But the group’s latest triumph inclusive a matching virtual aerobics video to keep their fans active during a time of social distancing and never-leaving-the-house wasn’t the guys sole surprise lurking in the depths of ‘Remote’. Incomes a secret feature that is so secret it has never even been mentioned before. “Our song ‘Dig What You Dug’ is basically two songs put into one that we wrote together with Albert Hammond Jr (known as the guitarist from famous rock band The Strokes). During the session we had this inside joke of “I dig what you dug and you dug what I dig”. Afterwards, Albert sent us a voice message of him saying exactly that and a few months later we asked him if we could use it for the EP. That recording is now what connects that song with ‘Nobody Gets Me’,”, remembers drummer Preston with the certain excitement in his voice that only fans can have. Which comes to no surprise for a band whose music was once described as how the members of The Strokes would sound like if they had been lying under the Californian sun for a little too long.
A lot water has gone over the dam since then though, with their full-length debut ‘Nothing Happens’ breaking through all barriers in 2019 and marking them as the top band on everyone’s “ones-to-watch”-list. By the time their ultimate star ‘Are You Bored (Yet)’, featuring the magnificent Clairo, had crossed the 200 million streams mark on Spotify, practically the whole world realized that Wallows didn‘t come to play. An achievement that would have many bands bathe in self-pride or even freeze in the light of the overflowing attention, but it feels like more of a very fitting motivator for the Los Angeles trio. “If you would have asked me as a 14 year old, I would have said yes, we’re going to be this big once. But that’s just fun childhood dreams. But then you get older and start making music and putting it out there. There’s an element that you’re doing it because you love it, where you just hope that it resonates with people,”, states Lemasters, while fronter Minnette points out that “the pressure is on more though, because there is more attention on that song now. Our hardcore fans seem to be a bit tired of hearing about it, so we’re giving them a bunch of new music in the meantime. But we’ve always loved that song, it is still our underdog song.” An interesting way of describing a track that might just be the ultimate lockdown Tik Tok anthem of this year and their biggest hit to date.
“I think there is a lot of creativity in limitation.” – Cole Preston
But it is this way of staying firmly rooted to the ground and always coming back to their beginnings and to the place they originally came from that has had Wallows grow to be one of the not only most intriguing artists out there right now, but also one of the most relatable ones. They are a band that still enjoys to laugh about their very first shows, back when having two beers used to knock them off for the rest of the night and when only the Frisbee club at Preston’s university used to know them: “They had cancelled prom for the Frisbee Club, so we just had it at my old house. It was loud, sweaty and nobody even knew it happened, but it was a very exciting first Wallows show.”
Having managed the trick of seemingly emerging out of nowhere while still making it feel like you’ve known them forever, Wallows has moved to become one of the bands showing all the signs of having a glittering future. And with a masterplan set for when things will finally be ready to go back to “normal” (or as normal as they can be) and a constantly-expanding kaleidoscope of talent, one thing is for sure – only the sky’s the limit for this dazzling trio.
Wallows’ EP ‘Remote’ is out everywhere right now via Atlantic Records.
This interview was part of the October issue of GEM – read here.
Text by Laura Weingrill // photos by Nikoli Partiyeli
This article was previously published in LDN Magazine.