Wallows have a song called ‘Scrawny’ that starts with a five-beat guitar lick, doubled down by drum beats, done to imitate a suckerpunch. It’s the musical equivalent of a total beat-down: all three members of the group, Dylan Minnette (guitar and vocals), Braeden Lemasters (guitar and vocals), and Cole Preston (drums), get together to yell their own self-doubts and insecurities via frenetic guitars and crystal-clear vocals for a few electrifying, confessional minutes.
It’s a self-deprecating anthem on par with Wheatus’s Teenage Dirtbag – a sincere release of past anxieties for listeners to yell along with. This, the boys tell NME over the phone from LA, was kind of the point. “Part of me feels like our songs are scratching an itch we had when we were 15,” Cole starts. “Not just lyrically, but taste-wise, little bits and pieces of what we liked. But I want people to feel good when they hear our songs. Even if you were a high-school kid who felt like you were less than everybody else. We want to remind you, it’s gonna be chill, nothing really matters, be yourself. It’s literally the only thing you can do.”
It’s good advice, the kind it seems the boys are working hard to follow themselves. They look back on a shared history of bad band names (The Feaver, Cole laughs, for Braeden’s obsession with classic rock, The Narwhals to imitate the Arctic Monkeys) and first songs written as kids after sleepovers with smiling nostalgia. “I remember the first song me and Dylan showed Cole was this really random, really hilarious one called ‘Sweet Talkin’ Love’, Braeden says. “It was the most random, literally the dumbest, most 13-year-old song in the world.”
But having the space to dwell on the past seems a hallmark of the Wallows sound. Their first album, ‘Nothing Happens’, seamlessly evokes the bittersweet process of growing up in its 11-song-run. It touches on the glow of first experiences, and documents the fading of this glow, with infectious guitar riffs and a thrilling authenticity. Songs like ‘Are You Bored Yet’, a dreamy synth-ballad made human by its anxious perspective, and ‘Only Friend’, an energetic addressal of loneliness and belonging, could easily score a teen film’s most cathartic and climatic moments. With two members having considerable acting experience Minnette (Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why) and Lemasters (T@gged ) this now makes more sense.
“It’s funny, because a friend once told me that there are moments in life when your mindset completely changes,” Braeden says, of the bands’ need to document those fleeting feelings. “Obviously, you’re the same person, but the way you see the world starts becoming completely different. I was young, so I was like ‘that’s not true, I’m always gonna be like this!’ But of course, you get older, go through your teens, your twenties. Everything is whimsical when you’re a kid. It gets HD-real as you get older. You kind of understand things more, so it’s hard to get super-surprised by anything anymore. Especially first loves, first whatevers. I think the beauty of it is keeping your childhood perspective. Just holding onto it.”
“The best music comes from an honest place. It can be so apparent when a song comes from that place or not”
“The best music comes from an honest place. It can be so apparent when a song comes from that place or not,” Dylan says. The vulnerability makes every one of the bands’ songs both danceable and deep – it’s little wonder they were chosen by Vampire Weekend to support the band on their recent UK tour.
The best example comes on the album’s closer, ‘Do Not Wait’, a gutting addressal of perfection-paralysis and the unknowability of the future, with unflinching familiarity. After all, it’s his experiences of ex’s, sex, and familial changes that mark the song’s poignant spoken-out bridge.
“I was just trying to strip everything away. It was very extremely personal, and I didn’t think anyone would relate completely to that song. I wanted to say, y’know, you shouldn’t wait in fear of growing up. Don’t stall. Don’t halt things in your life in fear of growing up.” The song loops a memorable phrase in the chorus, almost lullaby sweet: ‘Do not wait, I’ll be there’. “We’ll be there at the end of the day, no matter what, we’ll be the same person. And everything you go through in life needs to happen in order for you to be happy later on in life. You know? Do not give into fear. You’ll still be there at the end of the day.”
So why ‘Nothing Happens’ for an album title? The boys admit the contrast is strange, for all they’ve written into a sound that is emphatic and multi-layered, sometimes bringing in synths to add to the nostalgia, sometimes brass instruments and features from fellow Gen Z hero, Clairo.
“It’s such an ironic baby album title,” Dylan agrees. “It opened the door to a lot of bad reviews, which I like, but it does go hand in hand with the whole fear of growing up, loss of innocence. I think that no matter what things happen in your life as a teenager, it all feels like the end of the world, it’s all such a big deal, but at the end of the day, nothing really happens. It doesn’t have an effect on the grand scheme of life. But those things need to happen in order to get to things that actually do matter.”
That there is an element of responsibility at play here seems obvious. It’s no wonder their shows are packed out and a community is steadily growing. And it’s unsurprising that the band often partner with non-profits to fundraise donations at their shows, too: “I don’t want us to be silent on these things],” Dylan adds. “I’d like for people to put on our songs and feel good, but I want us to be public about what we think is important, [and] speak up, have a voice, inspire with a good example.” Soundtracking the spectrum of Gen Z’s every feeling is no mean feat – and Wallows are, in their own words, only getting started. But they’re already proving themselves responsible. They’re already making it look easy.