“420? FOUR-TWENTY!?” Safe to say that Wallows approve of where they sit in Spotify’s ‘Most Listened To’ placings. “I hope we never move up at this point. Or down. I just wanna stay right here,” grins Dylan Minnette, frontman of one of the most exciting bands on the whole goddamn planet right now. Out of the smoke from the apocalyptic car-crash that is 2020, we are seeing a whole new cast of heroes emerge. Amongst them, the Los Angeles trio who have already shaken our world once with their fizzy-pop-shaken-to-perfection debut and look to be ones to rock it further in 2021 and beyond. Ridiculously excited about a new band, us? You know it.
Having managed the neat trick of seeming to burst out of nowhere while still feeling like you’d known them for ages (helped in part initially, let’s be honest, by Dylan’s ubiquity as the star of 13 Reasons Why, one of Netflix’ biggies), Wallows only started releasing music in 2017. With the arrival of ‘Nothing Happens’ last year, and the uber-banging, Clairo-featuring, keep-it-on-your-playlist-forever-ing ‘Are You Bored Yet?’, the doors to our hearts were well and truly kicked in. Nothing happens? Far from it. That first record has it all happening. Songs to dance to, check. Moments to chuck an over-priced tin of Red Stripe high into the air and bounce off your mates in the pit, definitely check. Moments of real emotion and vulnerability rubbing shoulders with anthems about turning the page from teenage life into all of the excitement and nervousness that follows, it’s all here and delivered with a classic 2020 magpie approach. Every element of modern pop music poured into one delicious pot, it was all set for Wallows. Bring on the festivals, the big stages, the global realisation of what a few of us had already noticed. And then everything stopped with a big fat COVID-19-sized full stop.
Chatting to the band via phone, it’s glamour personified. For them anyway, the band dialling in from a presumably air-conditioned LA setting. Not for Dork’s intrepid writer, sitting as he is in a decidedly un-air-conditioned van in an Esso garage forecourt amongst the boy racers and rabid post-lockdown McDonald’s devourers. Fear not, we soon bring the band down to our level though.
“What did I do during lockdown? I shredded through Animal Crossing,” admits drummer Cole Preston. “Like there was no tomorrow. I mean, I played it for a month non-stop. So there are definitely cockroaches in my real house at this point, but I have a five-star island and all the best villagers. I was going on all-night forums and chatting to strangers, making trades.”
The band dissolve into giggles, not for the only time. Like any group of friends who have known each other for so long (they have been playing together since they were eleven, Braeden and Dylan meeting as child actors when they were eight), there is almost a short-hand to their conversation.
Dylan takes the lead through most of our interview, Cole and vocalist/guitarist Braeden Lemasters chipping in regularly, but all the while it is clear that they are just living their best lives as mates in a band. “We managed to stay pretty productive during this time luckily,” continues Dylan eventually. “Like, as soon as we figured out that ‘some’, and then ‘most’ and then ‘all’ shows were going to be cancelled, we knew that we wanted to make the best use of the time as was possible and make as much music as we can.”
So far, post-‘Nothing Happens’, we’ve had two little teasers of what comes next – the most recent of which was their cover of The Beatles’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, a charity single in aid of Feeding America. But before that, ‘OK’ arrived in March, with a spookily prescient sense of timing with its chorus message of “Can we get up and try to feel okay again?” taking on new meaning in a world that was desperate for a reason, any reason, to get up and feel okay.
“We didn’t realise at the time,” admits Dylan. “We always had it planned to come out on the day it did, but then it really started to make its mark in America. We had debated delaying it for a second, but we realised that people are gonna want new music anyway during these times because they will be worrying about things. I guess it sort of took on a new meaning and became a really prominent thing.”
He undercuts a serious point with a joke, not for the only time. “I don’t know, people were bored of making Tiktoks I guess and started looking at it instead,” he laughs. Amongst all the lockdown anthem hype, ‘OK’ also shows another subtle, yet definite, shift towards the pop world. It zips and glides, its polished production and heartening message making for the very definition of A Proper Bop. All in all, it is a long way from those early lo-fi Strokes-y singles that first made us prick up our ears. A natural result of growing up and the next step in the band’s evolution? In certain respects, Dylan agrees. “With some of the songs on ‘Nothing Happens’ now, I’m like, I don’t know if I like this now or if we’re too old, or we would probably never make it now or whatever,” he boldly declares of a record that only came out just over a year ago.
But it’s this restless searching for the next thing, and ability to find it, that always gets Dork’s spidey-senses tingling. “‘Are You Bored Yet?’ though, I’ve always really liked that song, it’s probably the main one that I listen to now and go ‘yeah, I think we’d make that song right now’,” he continues, much to our sense of relief. “I think it is a song that still feels relevant to us and what we are interested in, and what we’re making. Maybe not lyrically, the narrative of that song isn’t relevant to me any more, but the song is.”
Hard to believe now but it almost wasn’t a single at all, let alone the world-trampling monster that it became – the band’s label had to get involved, pushing hard for it in one of those sliding doors moments. “I didn’t think it was a single, it didn’t make sense to me,” is how Dylan remembers it today, Cole pointing out that “Dylan just thought it was a ‘good’ song.” “Ha, I was like ‘whatever, man’ when it came to record it,” he agrees. “I liked something about it, but I just had to trust the process with the label.” “It just revealed itself to be very different as time went on,” adds Braeden. “I think different of it now when we play it live, or you hear it in the car, just knowing how it caught on. It changes the way you hear it in a cool way!”
Happy to admit that the label were right (166 million plays on Spotify would kinda back that too), Dylan calls it their ‘underdog song’. More like the one that nearly got away. But the whole process taught them not to over-think things, with their own favoured track getting a lukewarm response. “Our manager walked in while we were playing ‘Sidelines’ on an acoustic and was like ‘what is that?’ I mean, that’s a bad sign,” he laughs. (The #justiceforsidelines campaign starts here btw.) “That song could have been a super over-compressed, super-loud, super-this, super-that, synthy Tame Impala rip-off really,” is Braeden’s verdict, never quite getting off the fence, “but then it went from the single we thought it could be to more like this chill alternative song.”
It’s fascinating to hear a band speak this openly about the whole process, pulling the curtain back on how singles are born and why some fly where others fall. There’s an alarming moment when Dylan almost begins to choke while discussing Kings of Leon’s most-hated hit (by the band) ‘Sex On Fire’, which brings alarming flashbacks of the infamous and unsavoury Bad Pigeon Incident of 2010 (our advice, don’t Google it). “I feel like now I’ve learned not to think about writing songs that make me go ‘ooh, this is gonna be a smash’,” finishes Dylan simply after he recovers. “I think more now about just making the best songs we have, and if they happen to be really catchy, then that’s something we like. Let the world find what they find.”
Talk turns, naturally, to new music. Dork, being the super sleuths that we are, noticed a tweet from the band the day before our interview saying ‘some new music is almost done’. So, from that, we can almost certainly presume that new music is almost done – something the band are happy to confirm. What the ‘project’ (as they describe it) is, remains to be seen, but we are told a few things. Distinctly not about lockdown, “There’s gonna be plenty of people who reference quarantine, that’d be so obvious, so we tried to avoid it” states Dylan, in one hell of a pre-emptive burn to blink-182. It was however recorded nearly entirely in isolation, with notes and files shared around over the phone, the songs slowly built over time in a fashion that Braeden describes as ‘like a game of ping pong’. It, frankly, sounds fascinating.
“They say you put your whole life on the first album,” he begins, “so this now feels like a clean slate, in a good way. Our writing has definitely changed since ‘Nothing Happens’ for sure, and it will probably all change again after it has been recorded.” There are hushed whispers amongst the band as they discuss what can, and can’t be revealed. No spoilers here, we promise. Cole carefully picks up the details. “We did it almost entirely in our individual homes, bouncing files to each other. 90% of the vocals are just Dylan and Braeden singing into their iPhones, then I’d have to copy the takes. Which is insane and hilarious, but you would never be able to tell because iPhone vocals sound great!”
In every way, it couldn’t be more bedroom pop in the way it’s been recorded, rather than the traditional ‘band-in-a-studio’ style. This time around, each of them took turns developing and following individual ideas through before sending them to the other band-members, a style that the band describe as liberating. “It’s like how someone like Kevin Parker works, he doesn’t stop and overthink stuff,” continues the drummer. “I’m glad that it would start with one of us having an idea, and then it goes from me to them, each of us individually just working on it. I think it sort of helps shape the songs away from being over-thought.”
Classic Wallows in sound but with “more of a pop production” is how Braeden describes it, the new songs becoming a hybrid of both new and old. One track, in particular, is described as “like if The Velvet Underground made a pop song but did it psychedelic”. They drop in a few more crumbs of detail, but like we said, no spoilers sorry. Trust us when we say that everything sounds awesome and you can sign us up right now.
The band’s conversation flows even further ahead, with discussion about tracks that haven’t made it on to the ‘project’. Dylan reveals that his favourite ever Wallows track has been kept back, signs of a definite long-game being played by a band with more than one eye on the future. And this is a group showing all the signs of having a glittering future. “How big do we want to be? Well, as big as possible!” says Dylan with barely a moment’s thought. “We are super thankful and appreciative of how things are doing right now. If you had told me ten years ago what we are doing right now, it would be an absolute dream come true. It’s insane.”
For Braeden, it is written in the moments that would seem easy for others to underestimate. “We played a show in London! I was mind-blown, it’s a crazy thing. I’ve always wanted to play Glastonbury, go to Australia, Asia, all these other places. Obviously, everybody in the world’s plans got ripped up, but that is what I still want to do.”
When they get excited, which is often, they are still those eleven-year-old kids playing music with their mates. “I try to appreciate every moment to the best of my ability, because you never know when it could all just be gone, you know? So, I’m just soaking it all in,” adds Dylan. “I always want to remember these days as the really good days, and if we do get bigger or whatever, we’ll still appreciate these days just as much because we’ll be like ‘wow, remember when that felt like everything?’ Even if people stop caring about us tomorrow, I would still just look at this as the best times ever.”
If anything is for certain in a year of uncertainties, it is that people are going to be caring about Wallows for a hell of a while yet. Our new favourite band? Hell yeah.
Taken from the September issue of Dork. Wallows’ EP ‘Remote’ is out 23rd October.
Words: Jamie MacMillan