Wallows are coming into their own with their new album ‘Tell Me That It’s Over’.
Words: Martyn Young. Photos: Anthony Pham, Dillon Matthew.
“I actually do have a telescope,” begins Wallows guitarist and singer Braeden Lemasters as he tells us of his love for astrology amongst his many other interests, including golf, walking, playing basketball and researching history and ancient pasts. “Funnily enough, Atlantic Records gave me a telescope for my birthday two years ago. It’s a really nice telescope. I saw some sort of moon phenomena happening recently, but no UFOs or anything like that. Just beautiful constellations and all that stuff.” Perhaps if he continues looking, Braeden might just see Wallows’ continued success and flourishing as one of the most exciting bands on the planet written in the stars.
It’s been a swift rise for the three childhood friends – Braeden, Cole Preston, and Dylan Minnette – since Wallows became a serious concern in 2017. In truth, their journey began far earlier, back in school, but since they evolved into their current form, their trajectory has been accelerating at warp speed. Their 2019 debut album ‘Nothing Happens’ established them as something special, and they’ve continued to develop through EPs and a constant desire to constantly create and push themselves. Due to the pandemic, though, they haven’t really yet had the opportunity to truly experience and feel what it’s like to be a band in that breathlessly exciting first flush of fame where anything feels possible. With their kaleidoscopic alt-rock odyssey of a second album, ‘Tell Me That It’s Over’, the trio are ready to usher in a new era and realise their dreams.
“It has been pretty surreal,” says drummer Cole as he reflects on Wallows’ journey. “The three of us have been playing together in the same band under different names since we were teenagers. We were writing songs and playing shows when we were 12 or 13 years old and cut to now when we’re 25/26, and that’s insane. More than half of our lives have been dedicated to this mission. Our dedication and passion for this band has never really changed, but the more effort we put into it, that’s what we’re seeing back. We’re just continuing to do what we love. We had probably our biggest moment during the pandemic with our song ‘Are You Bored Yet?’ which had this TikTok thing, but we haven’t really played shows or been out into the world since then. Up next for us is this second record, and we’re back touring, and I think that will be the time when actually materialise all that’s happened.”
As singer Dylan explains, there are obviously also added pressures that arise from officially becoming A Very Big Deal. “It used to be strictly for fun only, and it is still so much fun, but it’s weird how now we’re running a company almost. Actual funds are going into this thing that we’re doing. I feel lucky that if we’re running the business of Wallows, then it’s with these two guys who I consider my best friends. We’ve come a long way from just playing fun shows in LA and just practising in our houses. It’s still just as fun and fulfilling. I’m so happy we saw it through and believed in ourselves.”
Part of the real magic of Wallows is the chemistry between the three friends that radiates between them, whether it’s on stage, in the studio, or just casually hanging out. All the best bands are built on an indelible bond between different characters who come together to create something transcendent, and you can hear that in everything that Wallows do. “We understand each other more all the time, and we can predict what each other is thinking at any point,” explains Dylan. “We can predict what someone’s opinion on a subject might be or what’s going to come out of their mouth next. We know how we each operate, and I think that helps us problem solve a lot. We know where everyone’s coming from.”
The ever-closer relationship helped the trio create their most ambitious and dynamic project yet on ‘Tell Me That It’s Over’ as they challenged themselves with a new super-producer in alt-pop production legend Ariel Rechtshaid, who has worked magic with the likes of Vampire Weekend, Haim and Charli XCX, and a burning desire to shake things up. It took a while, though, before the album’s final form came into focus. “The vision was a lot different when we started,” says Braeden. “It was going to be a longer album, maybe more lush and going down a different road. Halfway through the process, though, we had this idea because, basically, the songs changed drastically. We started recording on January 1st or 2nd or whatever it was, and a day or two after, Ariel FaceTimed us and said, why don’t you guys just come in tomorrow? And we were like, ok! We went into the studio the next day; we had talked with him, but it was never confirmed, so we were like, woah, ok, let’s go in. We did three or four songs on the first day, and I remember being so happy with it.”
As they started working, a new project rapidly began to take shape. “The songs kept changing,” continues Braeden. “When you have demos, it’s very much like the first idea is the best idea, and you roll with it. Those demos transformed through Ariel. They took on a different life with different styles, different arrangements and different ideas. It was very inspiring. We were like, why don’t we just make this album 10 songs instead of like 17 songs and make it the best and the quickest. I view the album more like you’re opening a bunch of doors versus being strung along through an elevator. It’s almost like ‘Nothing Happens’ was you’re starting at floor 1 and end at floor 10, but this album feels like you’re getting off at every floor to go get a bagel. It’s like you’re building a journey instead of just getting to the destination. This album is more like a collage.”
For Dylan, one of the key aspects of the record was emphasising a deep relatability and emotional resonance. “We wanted to make sure everything was coming from a really honest place,” he says. “It was very personal. It’s not that our songs previously haven’t been personal, but there have definitely been songs that stretch reality a little bit, but that’s just how people write. It was a goal for it to be really honest, and it was all written over a period of a couple of years when I was falling in love, and Braeden had been in and out of love during that time. The theme of the album really is about relationships.”
You can hear that theme of emotional connections and all the conflicts, doubts and swings of emotions that go along with it on the open-hearted and super melodic songs like ‘Especially You’ that give the album its emotional core. “We ended up landing on something where the theme is very obvious,” continues Dylan. “We figured out later for ourselves that this is an extension of ‘Nothing Happens’ in a sense as that was about the fear of transitioning from youth into adulthood. If you’re in adulthood, you still have those relationship insecurities and feelings, but they’re enhanced because we are in our 20s now, and any decision you make might be a lifelong decision. It makes things a little extra intimidating at times. The highs and lows of those feelings are the theme of this album. The start of the rest of your life.”
Experimentation allowed the band to have fun working from a different musical palette that offers some surprises. “For the song ‘Especially You’, Ariel had this crazy idea to bring in a banjo player,” laughs Cole. “Now, that would be like your one-hundredth instinct, but that’s Ariel’s first instinct. Throughout the process, there were a lot of moments like that where it was just, ‘let’s do harmonica’. People don’t do harmonica, people don’t have banjo and 808 kick drums in the same song, so let’s try and make this stuff work.”
“It’s bold,” he continues. “Some people might be like, what is happening here? Have they lost the plot? But that’s also exciting as at least if that’s someone’s opinion, then we’ve done something more polarising than safe.”
“I think we’re finally finding the plot,” laughs Dylan as the band revel in the thought of playfully messing with people.
“We understand each other more all the time, and we can predict what each other is thinking”Dylan Minnette
There are few bands with a more devoted and passionate fanbase than Wallows, and their reaction to such a bold statement is one the band are looking forward to. “I’m very curious and excited to see how our fans react to this album,” says Dylan.
The relationship between the band and their fans is one that they cherish and continually look to nurture. “It’s extremely important to do that as nowadays, there are just so many different avenues to communicate directly with people online,” says Cole. “Our method is that we grew up together all discovering the same sort of bands at the same time. We were in the 1% of music fans for the bands we loved. We can put ourselves in the shoes of the people who love Wallows. If we think back to what we would have wanted when we were kids, whether it was Kings Of Leon or The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys when that was dominating our lives, and it’s good that we are able to do that. It’s the most important thing. We’re always considering the fans when we’re building the setlist or doing something. It’s never about what the label wants, or anybody else wants. You have to put the fans first because that’s who is in the driver’s seat for what happens for the rest of your career.”
We’re currently in a musical moment when there’s an exciting new generation of bands and artists capturing what it’s like to be young and engaged in the 21st century, and Wallows are at the heart of it. The time now feels very different to when Wallows were inspired by a different era of indie rock bands. “When I think of Wallows and contemporaries, it’s funny because I always think of solo artists and never bands. Rex Orange County and Clairo and those sorts of people,” says Braeden. “I don’t know if there’s a common thread between artists representing something particular. When I think of our band, I think of the bands we grew up with like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys, which is obviously not our generation, but it’s funny how that’s what I relate to the most.”
Expanding on the subject, Dylan attempts to put his finger on what it is that links so many disparate people. “With artists that are in our lane in this era and the space we exist in right now, I think it’s interesting that genre is so bent now,” he says. “Fans are so open. People listening to Clairo and us are very different, or Rex and us are very different. It’s harder to think of bands in the way we were fans of those bands growing up. There are fans of ours that are equally fans of people like Clairo and Conan Gray. It’s an interesting time. You used to have fans of certain genres, and that’s not really a thing anymore. It’s really cool. That’s what allows us to feel comfortable experimenting for our fans.”
They are only five years in and have a long career ahead of them, but it’s always fun to try to gaze into the future and wonder what your legacy might be. “I wonder in 15 or 20 years’ time, when you’re looking back on music in 2022, who are you still talking about, and what are you saying about it? Who’s going to be in the conversation? Are we going to be in the conversation?” When we’re talking exciting alt-rock in the 2020s, it’s clear that Wallows’ position at the top table is assured.
The year promises to be a big one for the band. “I cannot wait to be on the road and see everyone and play our music for people. It’s been so long since we could play shows,” exclaims Braeden excitedly.
“I’m excited to keep writing and seeing what comes next,” adds Dylan. “Now that the record is close to release, I’m already thinking past it a little bit. We have some extra songs from the recording sessions we want to finish, so hopefully, that comes out this side of the year. I’m excited to extend the album a little bit.”
Consider this year a belated global straddling victory lap for a band firmly at the top of their game, challenging themselves and their audience and having the time of their lives doing it.
Taken from the April 2022 edition of Dork, out now. Wallows’ album ‘Tell Me That It’s Over’ is out 25th March.