San Diego slacker Nathan Williams, the man behind Wavves, turned heads in 2008 with a self-released cassette full of low-maintenance, high-energy anthems for the young and the bored. Since then, he's released two more albums on Mississippi label Fat Possum, toured extensively, and undergone an intense amount of public scrutiny. It's a testament to his sincerity that, two albums later, Wavves is as effortlessly fun-loving as when he began.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Williams' project has been his dedication to indie music's do-it-yourself aesthetic. For many listeners, this style raises questions of quality: Which lo-fi garage/punk/pop band deserves attention? And when Internet buzz boosts group after group of self-proclaimed instrumental amateurs producing similar homegrown sounds to the top of the blogosphere, those questions gather force and validity.
Williams' answer is King of the Beach, released earlier this summer and decidedly more polished than his first two albums. For one thing, King of the Beach was put together at Oxford, Mississippi's Sweet Tea Recording, whereas his earlier recordings were more of a laptop-in-bedroom thing. That's not to say that the essence of the music has changed much, though. While it may sound cleaner and more focused, it's still thick with a hazy California restlessness.
"These songs were written around the same time that my first two records were written," Williams says. "The biggest change, probably, is just that I've had time to sit with them."
Another big change rounding out the Wavves sound these days is a pair of familiar faces. Memphis' own Billy Hayes and Stephen Pope — veterans of Magic Kids predecessors the Barbaras and former members of the late Jay Reatard's band — joined Williams in late 2009. Williams credits Hayes and Pope for lending a hand in the songwriting process and being supportive bandmates.
"Having Billy and Stephen is great," he says. "They're both very hardworking musicians, and they definitely have a similar vibe as me. I don't think any of us take anything very seriously."
It's an attitude that's convenient when faced with a 2009 like the one Williams underwent: A breakdown onstage at a Barcelona music festival followed by a barrage of insults flung via the Internet from a member of the Atlanta garage-rock band Black Lips left people talking about Williams' social life more than his work. King of the Beach manages to both circumvent that track record and justify his reputation as an apt songwriter while keeping Wavves smack in the middle of the DIY sphere. As the album's title flippantly suggests, Williams isn't interested in separating himself from the rest of the summer-obsessed indie music world. He's merely graduated from his earlier ennui — a Pitchfork review called early track "I'm So Bored" "a total bummer" — and is now, as the new single "Post-Acid" puts it, "just having fun."
Hayes and Pope have also played a part in Wavves' tour schedules, now bringing the group to Memphis for the third time in 2010. The band's set at the Hi-Tone Café in April was followed in June by a free (and largely unpublicized) house show with Memphis bands Magic Kids and Bake Sale. The latter opened Wavves' first Hi-Tone show and will do the honors again this weekend, and Williams gives them props for their own dedication to Memphis' blooming young indie scene.
"I've played Memphis a good amount of times, and it's always pretty stiff," he says. "But I think over the past, like, two years, there are a lot of younger kids that are bringing more energy to things. Every couple of years, you have a little change in the scene."
Bake Sale's members, though obviously more rooted here, are also out-of-towners who've found something interesting in the goings-on of Memphis music. Core members Charlotte Watson, Natalie Hoffmann, and Carly Greenwell hail from Miami, rural Missouri, and Murfreesboro, respectively. And while their dreamy, mildly grungy retro girl-pop doesn't exactly scream "Memphis," the group has found themselves at the fore of a burgeoning sound that defines a younger subset of local musicians.
"It is saturated with musicians," Hoffmann says of the band's entry into the local music scene, "but you do feel like there's room for things to expand or new projects to start."
"People here are, generally speaking, very open to collaborations," Watson adds. "If you try, people here love that, and they really encourage you."
Bake Sale and Wavves are both examples of the kind of legitimate projects that found footing in the world of homemade music.
"Success seems to be very loosely defined here," Hoffmann says. "There are so many projects that are like, 'we all just sat around and wrote three songs and now we're a band.' While I may have different standards for what I'm going to spend my time listening to, the fact that they exist and that there are a lot of young people trying out new things, I'm behind that all day."
Wavves With Bake Sale and Christmas Island Hi-Tone Café Friday, September 10th. 9 p.m., $10