Wavves started out as a one-man band brainstormed by Nathan Williams, a former Music Trader manager who had dropped out of college, lost his job, and was living in his parents’ house. His early band Fantastic Magic included Heavy Hawaii frontman Matt Barajas.
His debut lo-fi album as Wavves was recorded on a laptop computer in his parents’ garage, on the trial version of Garage Band with a Macbook routed through an internal mic.
Williams became a record label signee in early 2009 at the age of 22. Posting songs for free on his blog Ghost Ramp earned him much internet buzz, as well as multiple slots at the 2009 SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas. For live shows, he frequently recruited drummer Ryan Ulsh.
MTV.com listed Wavves’ March 8 SXSW performance at Red 7 among its Top 10 South By Southwest 2009 Moments. His album Wavvves on Fat Possum Records earned an 8.1 rating at hipness arbiter Pitchfork.com. In late April '09, despite having played his first gig less than six months ago, Williams was booked to open for mainstream darlings 311 at the West Palm Beach SunFest.
A subsequent European festival was canceled, after Williams had a very public meltdown onstage in Barcelona, Spain, seemingly covered on just about every music blog and entertainment 'zine on the planet. Williams blamed the freakout on "too much drink and drugs."
In mid-September 2009, Williams was quoted in the Denver Decider saying, "Generally speaking, it's wretched playing shows in San Diego. The people think they're too cool to move around, they don't come out if it's not a party, and there aren't enough places to play besides bars, which is a real bummer...but Wavves happened, and I think it sort of shed a light on San Diego."
Asked if he's planning to stick around S.D., he says, "I'm moving to L.A. next month. I've had plans to leave San Diego for longer than I can remember, so it's about time that I finally do it."
In 2010, with Williams then living in L.A., Wavves released King of the Beach, written and recorded with new bandmates Stephen Pope (bass) and Billy Hayes (drums), both formerly of Jay Reatard's band. The album was produced by Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Counting Crows).
A sci-fi skateboarding video was shot for the track "Post Acid," directed by indie filmmaker Patrick O'Dell and featuring MTV guest star John Norris.
In summer 2010, Williams called Walt Disney a Nazi at a show at New York City's Bowery Ballroom, announcing he'd just been "mildly sued" by the Walt Disney Company over a song called "Mickey Mouse" on his band's latest album. "Walt Disney was a Nazi," Williams said. "You go [to Disney World], you feel Nazi vibes. It's disgusting!" Wavves agreed to replace the rodent-themed track on all future album pressings with an unreleased B-side.
The band was cited “Worst Performance” of the Labor Day 2010 weekend FYF Fest in L.A. by the O.C. Weekly. According to the paper, “At times, one of them was struggling to get a steady signal flowing through his amplifier while at others a loud buzzing noise emitted from the speakers. These snafus led to lots of stalling and inane between-song banter.”
Mark Hoppus of Blink 182 interviewed Williams in an October 25, 2010 post on Billboard Magazine’s website, which named Hoppus that day’s “guest editor.” The chat included Williams discussing his “special lady friend” Bethany Cosentino, of the band Best Coast.
Near the end of 2010, an Australian tour was announced for March 2011, alongside the band Bleeding Knees Club, including dates in Golden Plains, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne. The Golden Plains show was to feature Hawkwind, Belle & Sebastian, Joanna Newsom, and the Hold Steady.
“[I was] arrested in Germany by a guy w/a Metallica patch on his Polizei jacket. Out on bail fresh out of jail Munich dreamin’ #ridethelightning,” tweeted Williams on November 20, 2010. He later posted on a website “We got stopped at a roadside check and I had six bags [presumably of pot] in the car and they only found one – the fucking dogs never work. I bet it’s high from all the fumes. Anyways, they put me in a cell which was a little nerve-wracking. More so because I was an American in a German jail and not because I have long gay hair.”
As of January 2011, the band was Nathan Williams, bassist Stephen Pope (Jay Reatard), and drummer Jacob Cooper (the Mae Shi, Signals). That month, Wavves and Best Coast hit Soma to kick off their co-headlining tour, on which they sold a split seven inch exclusive to the tour. Williams and his girl Bethany Cosentino dubbed their joint winter outing, presented by SPIN and MTV, as the Summer is Forever tour. On April 16, 2011 -- Record Store Day -- Wavves appeared on a new split single “Thorns,” with a flipside track by Sacramento’s Trash Talk.
In June 2011, they played the Northside Festival, along with the reunited Guided by Voices, as well as the 2011 Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. In August, Williams appeared on Fuel TV to perform alongside Wu-Tang master beat-maker GZA.
Williams also signed on as a guest composer on a new MTV show called I Just Want My Pants Back. The series, produced by director Doug Liman (Swingers, the Bourne Identity), reportedly features the song “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl,” from the 6-song Wavves EP Life Sux, the first release from frontman Nathan Williams' Ghost Ramp label.
Based upon David J. Rosen's critically acclaimed novel of the same name, I Just Want My Pants Back follows a group of friends as they navigate the minefield of their post-collegiate years.
Released in September 2011, Life Sux includes collaborations with girlfriend Bethany Cosentino (Best Coast) and Damian Abraham, from Canadian punkers Fucked Up. Says Williams, “If you hate yourself and other people, you might like our record.”
Shortly after, they jammed with Wu-Tang Clan co-founder GZA on Fuel TV’s The Daily Habit, performing GZA’s “Liquid Swords,” as well as dropping a new single “Nodding Off” featuring Williams’ girlfriend Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast.
A new Wavves and Kynan Williams remix of “Wack But Good People” by Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) began streaming on SoundCloud in early 2012. Following that, an Australian tour ran through Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide before wrapping up May 18 in Perth.
In early 2013, a new single “Demon to Lean On” was released in advance of the full-length Afraid of Heights (out March 26, 2013 via Mom + Pop/Warner Bros), as were videos for the title track and “Sail To The Sun,” the latter directed by Black//Doctor (Chris Black and MisterDoctor).
Now a duo consisting of guitarist Nathan Williams and bassist Stephen Pope, Wavves created Afraid of Heights with absolutely no label involvement, a specter said (by the band) to have nearly derailed their previous release King Of The Beach. Working with producer John Hill (known for his work with M.I.A., Nas, Rihanna, Santigold, and Wu-Tang Clan), Williams paid for them out-of-pocket.
"In doing so," says Williams, "I had no one to answer to. We recorded the songs how and when we wanted, without anybody interfering, and that's how it's supposed to be."
Lyrically, Williams took the focus less off of his own melancholy and out into the world, with songs that deal with topics like crooked preachers ("Sail To The Sun"), relationships ("Dog") and killing cops ("Cop").
"The general theme of the record is depression and anxiety, being death-obsessed and paranoid of impending doom. I feel like the narration is almost schizophrenic if you listen front to back; every word is important, even the constant contradictions and lack of self-worth. That's all a part of this record, questioning everything, not because I'm curious, but because I'm paranoid."
Also in March 2013, as the new album was released, the band appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman. A new video appeared for “That's On Me,” directed by Brandon Dermer and starring martial arts expert and sword wielder Lynn Thompson, as the band toured the U.S., Europe, and Australia through August.
His Negative Dad comic book was on sale in the merch booth on his U.S. tour running through October, hitting San Diego for 91X-Fest on September 20. They debuted their new song “9 Is God,” written for the Grand Theft Auto V video game, on the Conan O'Brien TV show. The tune appears on The Music of Grand Theft Auto V - Volume 1: Original Music.
In summer 2015, a collaborative album between Nathan Williams and Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings was released via Williams' own imprint, Ghost Ramp. No Life For Me was recorded at Williams' home during sessions between March 16 and March 26, 2015, and June 1 through June 10, 2014, with production from Sweet Valley.
No Life For Me, a collaborative album featuring Nathan Williams and Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings recorded at Williams' home, was released in summer 2015 via Williams' own imprint, Ghost Ramp.
Wavves' fifth studio album V, produced by Woody Jackson and released in October 2015, is more of full-band effort with Stephen Pope and Alex Gates sharing writing duties with Williams. Released via Ghost Ramp/Warner Bros. Records, it was preceded by first single “Way Too Much,” followed by “Flamezesz,” “Heavy Metal Detox,” and “Pony.”
The band's 2015 lineup featured Williams and bassist Stephen Pope, with drummer Brian Hill (the Soft Pack) and guitarist Alex Gates, whom Pope knew from his native stomping grounds of Memphis, Tennessee. While Wavves started out as Williams’ solo project, all four members were now contributing to the songwriting process.
As for V, itself, “I think it’s a much brighter record all around,” Pope told the Reader. “The sound, the energy, and the lyrical content. We had so much downtime we were excited to get back into the studio and start playing music...I think most of the songs are way faster, more upbeat, more energetic and fun.”
A summer 2015 video for the Wavves track "Way Too Much," directed by Jack Wagner, was shot at a particularly violent Underground Empire Wrestling event.
Despite the high profile afforded via Warner Brothers, Williams and company had problems with the label. Williams released single "Way Too Much" on Soundcloud before the label had approved it, the label forgot to sign off on the artwork and, in the end, Wavves felt swept under the rug. "I figured it would run the same as [prior label] Fat Possum, just with more people," said Williams in a press release. "I was wrong."
Going indie once again, Williams' Ghost Ramp Records launched a monthly subscription service in late 2015, featuring exclusive vinyl releases and apparel, starting with a Wavves/Best Coast 7-inch, a Wavves/Cloud Nothings 7-inch, and a Sweet Valley 12-inch, with more to be announced.
Their 2016 summer tour with Steep Leens kicked off June 18 in L.A. and included the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago (July 28) before wrapping August 9 in Sacramento. In 2017, they spent March through early May touring with Blink 182 and the Naked and Famous, beginning March 22 in Austin and wrapping up May 9 in New Orleans.
Wavves' 2017 album You're Welcome was released on May 19 via the band's own Ghost Ramp label, made available on vinyl, CD, and cassette and preceded by singles for the title track and "Daisy."
You're Welcome is mostly comprised of Williams' oddball, sample-led brainstorms. He came up with 40 tracks, now whittled down to twelve, fat-free punk zingers. "I'd come up with an idea, fool around with it, have Brian [Hill, from the V album] come in and play drums, then figure it out." A sample nerd, Williams delved into his obsession with 1950s doo-wop and - perhaps surprisingly - international folk, including Cambodian pop and 1970s psychedelia from South America.
They promoted You're Welcome with a 36-stop North American tour starting on April 21, 2017 in Amarillo, and wrapping up on June 6 in Portland. A video for "Stupid in Love" received a darkly humorous visual treatment from director Rocco Rivetti that summer.
Late 2017 found them touring with Epitaph Records signees Joyce Manor and Bay Area band Culture Abuse, as well as releasing a garage pop single called “Up and Down” in collaboration with Culture Abuse. Early the following year, the Ghost Ramp label put out a two-sided single featuring their collaborations with Bay Area garage punk rockers Culture Abuse, "Big Cloud" and "Up and Down."
An unreleased demo surfaced online in early 2018, "All Star Goth." That Christmas, they released an unannounced two-song Christmas EP, Emo Christmas, made available via digital download and cassette.
The 2020 tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of their 2010 album King of the Beach kicked off April 10 in Phoenix, Arizona and wrapped May 28 in Los Angeles. The album was rereleased by Fat Possum Records April 10 as a purple kush vinyl with alternate art that was originally slated to be the cover, before it was scrapped and a bonus 7-inch with “Mutant” and “Stained Glass (Won’t You Let Me Into Yr Heart).”