By Andy Downing
RedEye special contributor
12:09 AM CDT, September 24, 2013
Rowdy punk rockers Wavves might have embraced a more mature sound on their latest studio album, “Afraid of Heights,” but that doesn’t mean frontman Nathan Williams is ready to grow up just yet.
On a recent U.K. tour, the singer and bassist Stephen Pope got in a drunken fistfight, breaking a hotel bed in the process (“I guess we were laughing the whole time,” he said, “But I don’t remember any of it”), and he frets about getting old even though he’s just 27 (“Isn’t that old?”). At the same time, he’s also a homeowner who enjoys gardening (“I planted roses, but they died”), and he approaches his music career with a seriousness that belies some of his more publicized antics.
In a recent phone interview, we chatted with the LA resident about growing up, ambition and why sharks are so damned terrifying.
Comparing your set at Lollapalooza this year with your 2009 performance at Pitchfork, it’s almost difficult to comprehend you’re the same band.
[Laughs.] Yeah, we’ve definitely gotten better. It was not the best in the beginning. It was a trial-and-error thing, and I also didn’t have enough money to pay people to come out on the road with me.
Has the steady growth been noticeable to you? Or is it like when a relative says “Look at how big you’ve gotten!” and you don’t feel any different?
I think we’re a much better live band than when I started. I don’t know if the songs are better or not, but they’re not as straightforward and they don’t rely as much on studio trickery or just plain noise.
“Afraid of Heights” is a really ambitious record, yet a lot of the press about the band still falls back on this idea that you guys are somehow slackers.
It’s really not fair to call us slackers anymore, but people still do it. I think a lot of journalists don’t even try anymore, honestly, I think they just say, “Someone said ‘slacker pop’ so I’m just going to go with it.” It is what it is. It’s not like I think about it all the time, like, “Goddamn it! Give me credit!” I’ve always been very ambitious. I don’t ever want to feel like, “OK, I’ve gotten to the point I wanted to get to.” It’s not like I’m trying to blow up and be the world’s biggest band, but I’m not done writing music yet. I haven’t even hit the halfway point.
How literally should people take the title “Afraid of Heights”? Is that a legit fear of yours?
It’s not necessarily so literal. It could have just as easily been called “Afraid of My Future,” and it’s almost a more apt title, I suppose.
What kinds of things are you afraid of then?
Failure? That’s definitely one. Dying? I’m afraid of dying. Everybody is probably afraid of sharks. They’re pretty scary. I’m not like super afraid, but if I was walking down the street and a shark walked up to me, I’d be pretty freaked out.
There’s a lot of self-loathing in your music. What’s one thing you’re really good at?
I used to be really good at soccer. I was going to play in college and eventually professionally; I had scholarships and such for it before I decided to play music. I’m not super good at soccer anymore, but I could probably [bleep] up anybody you know. Once in awhile I’ll juggle [a ball] and see if I can get up to 200 or 300, and it leaves me winded. I’m in the worst [bleeping] shape.
The cover shot for the new record came from a book on early tattoo art. What was your first tattoo?
My first tattoo was my little sister’s name. I got it at 15 from a friend who was apprenticing, and he wanted to practice shading, which he did not know how to do.
You said you have nearly 50 tattoos at this point. Do you regret any of them?
No, I guess not. There’s nothing crazy.
So you don’t have a set of yin-yang dolphins tattooed around your bellybutton or anything?
See, that’s the thing, if I had that one I would be so stoked. If you pay for me to get that yin-yang tattoo when I’m in Chicago, I’ll totally do it. Sign me up.
With King Tuff and Jacuzzi Boys
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Park West
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