Playing free shows in pub corners and bar basements, building a word-of-mouth reputation as something quite special, The Wants have recently been following in the time-honoured tradition of hype bands across the decades, busily laying the groundwork for their full-blown arrival in 2020. The post-punk trio, consisting of Madison Velding-VanDam, Heather Elle (both also of Bodega) and drummer Jason Gates, have already been pricking up ears with the dark, slinky grooves of ‘Fear My Society’ and the angular rhythms of ‘Clearly A Crisis’.
There is a good feeling surrounding Madison as we speak, our chat coming the day after the band’s debut album was finally finished and handed in. Three years in the making, it’s a surprise when he reveals just how long ago The Wants came into being. “Oh yeah, The Wants started at the same time as Bodega. We completed [the record] once before, it had a lot of similar songs, but we ended up refining the skin of them this time around.”
Having met Jason back in 2014, he instantly forged a strong relationship with the drummer before the final piece of the puzzle slotted into place when bassist Heather joined the band. Playing primarily in their base of New York, the trio began to lean heavily into some classic post-punk sounds as well as a love for performance itself. “I fell in love with Gang Of Four obviously” he begins, “And I’ve always known and loved David Byrne. I saw ‘Stop Making Sense’ [Byrne’s 1984 concert film] so much when I was a kid. I always appreciated that he incorporated elements of theatre into his music. Bands like Gang Of Four, they recognised the artifice and had a real ability to give a message and create a universe with their lyrics and visuals.”
Revealing a love of Madchester and trip-hop, it’s clear that with the Wants, Madison has managed with to fuse a very Anglocentric slant on post-punk into elements from his family heritage. “I think that it all started to come together more fully once I went back to Michigan,” he explains. “I am not from Detroit, but my mother lives there. It has a really specific energy, a toughness that comes from a real economic struggle.”
Details on any particular ‘concept’ to their upcoming album are being kept deliberately vague, all forming part of the theatre of the release itself. But he does reveal a few nuggets. “When we did the video for ‘Fear My Society’, we sought to find these sort of domestic mid-western blue-collar spaces. It made me realise that thing y’know, when you go back home and see how interesting your home was through the eyes of an adult, all these amazing cultural things that came from where I grew up.”
That part of the country, full of families affected by devastated industries, gives the record much of its impetus and focus. “I think it’s about people trying to function in an economy where you succeed just by surviving really.”
The band patiently built their reputation on the local gig circuit, slowly crafting their style and sound. “You can develop yourself and what you want to do here in New York. But it’s a little different to London, where if you’ve got your vision ready and your sound down, you can move really quickly. I don’t know if that’s the case so much here.”
Citing the likes of Black Midi and the sheer wave of hype that swept them to sold-out shows with what seemed like a handful of songs to their name as an example of what can happen on this side of the water, Madison feels it is harder to break through at the same speed Stateside. And of course, the last few years have brought with them another huge factor to slow things down. When it comes to Bodega however, he treads carefully and respectfully.
“I love Bodega, and my role in it. Ben [Hozie, the frontman] is my best friend and has been for a while. But with them, it’s the first time I’ve ever been in a band and not been the front person. And I’ve been in a lot of bands” he laughs. The swirling, frenetic guitarist of Bodega is a different beast altogether to the captivating frontman of The Wants. “It’s actually helped me to think about the guitar completely separately, to add a texture that isn’t there.”
Speaking passionately about the music community that has sprung up around Bodega, it’s clear that this is only the beginning as far as he is concerned. “There was a period where it was taboo to be in more than one project, but that’s not the case any more. You’ve got Crack Cloud and NOV3L, Tame Impala and Pond. We just have a really great pool of people, and I think we’re stronger as a community than we are as a single band.”
Talk turns to what 2020 will bring The Wants. A short tour at the start of the year (“It’s too short, I’m very bummed”), and then the album itself. With just two singles so far and a handful of tracks scattered around Youtube, trying to guess what comes next can seem like a futile task. One thing seems clear, and that is ‘Fear My Society’ proving to be an outlier to a much stranger record.
“Oh yeah, that one was certainly the most instantaneous, the poppiest. A lot of the record is more experimental, a mashing of electronic sounds,” he warns, although their debut single ‘Ape Trap’ showed that the band can always be relied on to turn these eclectic inspirations into something captivating and heady. “We’re just trying to reflect our live show, be more similar to the electronic stuff that inspires us” he explains, “We learned so much from those shows, you can’t just record an album in the vacuum of your home or rehearsal space. It has to be workshopped.”
As anyone lucky enough to have caught them in the flesh can tell, that ambition of sticking to the live experience is a very promising one indeed. Moving down more overtly rhythmic side of post-punk, The Wants are a band that, in a genre that is sometimes a little too earnest and a little too static for its own good, forces change and movement. The Wants could easily become A Need in 2020.
Taken from the February issue of Dork, out now.