The Internet tends to get a lot of love for helping upstart, unsigned artists find their audience and share music with unprecedented immediacy. What often gets ignored, though, is that this growing online music community is really just as anarchist as it is utopian. Take Nathan Williams, for example. The mastermind of the lo-fi, noise-pop outfit Wavves has become one of indie rock’s new DIY heroes virtually overnight, but it’s not because he’s the most gifted, dedicated, or hard-working artist tossing his tracks around the blogosphere. In fact, Nathan Williams is just a lazy skate-punk stoner kid from San Diego—and he’d be the first to admit it.
“That’s actually one of the only accurate things that people say about me,” Williams says. “I mean, it’s true. I grew up in California and I smoke a lot of weed. And I quit my job and dropped out of school a number of times. I just kind of hang out with my friends, not doing much of anything. So I’d say that’s a fair description.”
Appropriately and predictably, Williams is stoned as he’s saying this. I’m not even guessing by intonations, either. The dude is literally toking up as we speak.
“The Internet is f--king insane,” he says, pausing a good 30 seconds to cough up what sounds like a hell of a chronic-induced hairball. “Of course the Internet helped me. That’s what started it all. I put some songs up on the Internet and people started to listen to them. I never meant for it to become what it did, really.”
What it became isn’t that uncommon in the modern age of indie music, or even mainstream music, for that matter. Before he had ever inked a deal, recorded a proper album, or even played a legitimate show, Nathan Williams was the next big thing. The 22-year-old San Diegan had struck pay dirt with his equally catchy and abrasive tunes about, you know, just hanging out and stuff (song titles include “So Bored” and “No Hope Kids”). The blog gods passed his piping hot mp3s around until, within months, Wavves had its self-titled debut available for purchase. That was December. Just three months later, Williams and his drummer Ryan Ulsh have already signed to Fat Possum Records, released a second LP (the triply over-spelled Wavvves), and toured Europe from one end to the other.
“We played 33 nights in a row, every single night,” Williams says of the tour, which included the first 33 shows he’d ever played. “It was a whirlwind—just sleep in the van, drive to the venue, play the show. We didn’t have time to do anything touristy at all. I didn’t even get to see the Eiffel Tower.”
If Williams doesn’t seem to appreciate the enormity of what’s happened to him in the past year, it’s probably just the jet lag and reefer talking. Skate-punk stoner though he may be, he is far from stupid. Williams’ musical touchstones are informed and diverse, from Sonic Youth and the Breeders to less obvious fare like ’60s girl groups and old school hip-hop. His guitar playing and vocals communicate a visceral purity that was likely key to his viral success in the file-sharing world. Of course, timing was a big factor, too. For whatever reason, distortion is en vogue again at the moment in indie rock, and Wavves’ sound followed perfectly in the wake of similarly minded buzz bands like No Age and Times New Viking.
“I just wrote songs that I liked and that I thought were fun,” Williams says, a bit defensively. “Every f--king interview I do, it’s ‘What do you think about lo-fi or this band or that band?’ I don’t know. I like Times New Viking and I like No Age, but I don’t know if I feel a part of anything. I mean, I guess I can see what they’re saying. I do feel a little bit of a community with some of the bands I’ve played with—Abe Vigoda and No Age and some others. But yeah, people want to group things. Everybody needs an easy name. I don’t know. I’m Wavves. In the end, it’s not going to help me sell records to be compared to other bands. It’s not going to make people like me.”
Actually, quite the opposite tends to be true. But Williams deserves his props. He is the face of a new age in underground music—a self-made man who reads about himself online and uploads his own videos to YouTube. He’s a kid who absorbed the new online music world and got absorbed by it in return.
“I don’t want to be a rock star at all,” he says. “But I don’t have another job anymore. I make enough money playing music now, and that’s all I wanted in the first place. It’s the only thing I like to do, and without it I’m basically f--ked anyways.”