INTERVIEW

By flouting the common rules of psychedelic rock, LA trio WAND have released three albums in a little over twelve months. They’re all very good.

wand

It’s hard to believe, I know, but some bands just aren’t talkers. Some bands might make electrifying albums and perform searing shows full of athletic bravado and musical vim, but also consider the idea of spending an hour sat around a Dictaphone to be one rung up the comfort ladder from autoamputation. And while it’s impossible to differentiate a sparkling personality from a monosyllabist based on performance personality alone (while also necessarily acknowledging the fact that Terry Wogan could doubtless draw 2,000 words of great copy from a trappist monk) sometimes, you know, bands just aren’t talkers. Then again, a lifetime of fannish observation suggests that a reluctance to play along is sometimes exactly what we like.

With all that in mind, as we’re arranging my imminent interview with Los Angeles psychedelicists Wand, I confess to my editor via email that I’m not sure the three-piece will exactly be the Michael Jordan of loquaciousness on a muggy Tuesday night in September. Despite a terrific new album, ‘1,000 Days’, that thunders through fuzzed-out, wide-eyed guitar squall with a Lennon-esque snap, I can’t shake a hunch that they might’ve given all they’ve got to the music – their record sounds like three people who have rejected the real world, and all its social interactions, for frequently thrilling expressions of themselves through music – and that, consequently, we might all be staring down the barrel of a rather long hour together.

“I know exactly what you mean,” replies my editor. “In my experience, some of the best bands can sometimes get bogged down in talking about the technical or – worse – the spiritual side of making music.”

We mull over the options. My editor’s suggestion, if he turns out to be right? “Ask them why Americans like guns so much.”

In the end, the firearms reserve was never needed. Indeed, after an hour in their company, it becomes abundantly clear that Wand aren’t at all as you’d expect: this is a band formed at art school (the bohemian, Walt Disney-founded CalArts just north of LA) who won’t do art-rock; a psych act whose songs are concise and defined; and a group of musicians who release spontaneous-sounding albums yet confess to analysing every shred of their output to within an inch of its creative viability.

Even the way the band look is internally incongruent, depending on which member you’re observing. Singer, guitarist and main songwriter Cory Hanson is clean-cut, square-jawed and all-American in a denim shirt and sunglasses, with the kind of posture that suggests he calls his girlfriends’ dads “Sir” paired with an arsenal of facial expressions earnest enough that you sense the dads might actually buy it. On the other hand, Lee Landey and Evan Burrows, Wand’s heroically tight rhythm section, carry themselves like extras from Wayne’s World, all oily hair, unwashed hoodies and an approach to eye-contact best left at “reluctant”.

Perhaps the most unusual and exciting facet of the band, though – and something that sets them apart from almost every other current act, not just from each other or their genre peers – is the unexpected speed with which they work. In the last thirteen months, they’ve released three full-length records and played over 200 gigs (“a conservative estimate”, assures Landey). At a time when it’s not unusual for even the most energetic, newest bands to take two years to deliver a follow-up record, a pace as prolific as this is rather refreshing. It’s also, insists Burrows, necessary in the modern music industry: “If you work on a record really slowly you either have to find other work just to support being a person, to eat and sleep and stuff,” he says, “or you have to take money from someone to allow that process to take a long time. Staying busy is also the only way to keep doing this when you’re trying not to rely on scary funny-money deals and weird financial traps.”

Hanson agrees: “It’s a lot easier not to spend any money when you’re on tour and go day by day, so when we’re back home, we record as quickly as we can, and then get back out on the road. We’re just trying to maintain a consistent flow of touring and recording, touring and recording.”

But it’s not just a practical urge that’s driving Wand. “I mean, if you play by the ‘record cycle’,” says Hanson making air quotes with his fingers, “where you take a year to make a record, wait nine months for it to come out, then tour for nine months, then repeat, it’s like your life is just slipping away – that’s so much productive time that could’ve been spent writing songs.”

“I think we’re all just interested in the density of activity,” adds Burrows, warming to his bandmate’s theme. “I think we all just want to have something to work on, all the time, which comes out of the fact that we’ve all had other creative practices” – Hansom paints, Landey writes literary fiction and Burrows is a published poet – “and value the presence of that activity in life. I get restless if I’m not working on something.”

“And I get depressed!” adds Hanson, slightly panicked at just the thought of it.

Indeed, that sense of restlessness, of desperation to create, is palpable in Wand’s music. For example, ‘1,000 Days’ eschews any kind of intro or establishing track, choosing instead just to pile straight into an ascending set of rubbery chords that run away into squiggly synth work within 30 seconds; a song that, on any other album, would be track six or seven. Even slower, grander moments aren’t immune – second track ‘Broken Sun’ starts elegantly enough, but it’s not long before a key change arrives alongside heavy-heavy sludge guitar, followed eventually by that most prog-psych recipe for epicness, the synthetic choir.

It’s a terrifically buffeting, dense experience, being in such an ever-changing, almost haphazard musical space, especially given the relative brevity of Wand’s songs. But, suggests Hanson, that’s sort of the point: “If you put a load of paint in a can with a bomb and then blew it up in a room, you’d get a different effect depending on the size of the room.” It’s a deeply pleasing way to imagine Wand’s songwriting process, all Jackson Pollock chaos and giddy free-expression. Unfortunately, though, the analogy might be a touch misleading: for all the suggested lack of imprecision, the effect is no accident at all.

“Oh no. No way,” says Hanson when we come round to discussing his spontaneity. “There’s an almost obsessive level of discourse in this band. We talk, a lot”– he boggles his eyes as he says it – “about things as they’re happening, musically, socially, psychologically, philosophically. I would just work on things endlessly if I could, but usually what we do is make a bunch of decisions without really thinking about them, play something based on those decisions and then have a long discussion about what just happened, and what we want to happen next.”

That’ll be Wand doing the unexpected again, then. Although, on closer inspection, maybe it isn’t – as Burrow’s points out, this is precisely the environment where their art school training kicks in: “I think [the discursive approach] has to do with the fact that we’ve all been exposed to a lot of intense critical discourse,” offers the drummer. “At art school you’re going to find yourself stuck in a room with everyone discussing something you’ve worked really hard on and feel sensitive about, and you have to stay in that room and sort it out…” He trails off, awkwardly. “Or, not sort it out, but stay in that room, and not flee from a conflict. I think that we’ve all become pretty comfortable with remaining in a space together when things get hard, and trying to find a way to keep moving forward.”

That level of self-reflexivity surprises me. After all, the appeal of Wand is precisely its freewheeling wooziness and sense of ready splat – do they enjoy being this analytical? Would it feel like cheating somehow not to dissect their art?

“Oh of course we’d like it to just come naturally to us, yeah,” admits Hanson, “and it can be really gruelling when we end up agonising over a song. We argue with each other, but we definitely have permission for it not to be fun all the time.

“But the only way, at least for the three of us, to stay sane and keep track of what we’re doing and explain to each other how we want things to be is to keep talking, because there are so many choices at every moment of crafting each song,” he says. “There are so many choices in every moment of playing live in front of people, and even in every moment like this,” he says, gesturing at the Dictaphone. It’s not spoken like a confession, but somehow feels like it. On record, and on stage, Wand are feral, disconnected from reality, gloriously runaway and starry-eyed; to achieve that process day to day, however, their approach is, apparently, almost the reverse. Some bands, believe it or not, talk when you least expect.

wand2

LIVE AT ELECTROWERKZ, 9TH SEPTEMBER 2015

“We’ve just become very comfortable with fucking up,” says Hanson when asked how he copes with so much playing live, just before climbing on stage at Electrowerkz. “Because who says you can’t, you know?” This is perhaps more the flavour of Wand that you’d anticipate from their latest record: impulsive and freeform, retaining attention to detail and with some deliciously virtuoso playing, but also letting the music breathe a little more freely than that of the studio incarnation.

Landey agrees: “From the get-go, with our live show there’s never been any excessive impulse to try to exactly recreate the record. It’s always been important that they stay as two separate experiences.”

And it turns out that they are – in a way. By no stretch is the onstage Wand playing straight facsimiles of their recorded songs, as diversions and extensions fill out their 90-minute set, and it’s also abrasively loud: if their album is, in Hanson’s head, the results of putting “a load of paint in a can with a bomb and then blowing it up in a room”, Wand’s live show more closely resembles the detonation event itself. On the other hand, though, the untamed Wand do capture the recorded sound in spirit, if not note for note.

“We all get bored very easily,” Hanson admits, “And when we feel inactive or lacking presence or just zoned out, it lacks generosity on our part – generosity to the people who are listening to the music. I mean, who wants to come to shows just to watch some zombies go “gnnn gnnn – have a good night!” And then maybe there’s an encore of “gnnnn.”

“Also,” adds Landey, “it can be boring to watch a band who is totally incredibly proficient.” He has a point: giant bands with everything pre-planned to the microsecond, with spontaneity surrendered for lighting synchronicity and venue curfews, are surely one of live music’s great disappointments. None of that tonight, thankfully: Wand’s show matches the scuzz of Elecroworkz’ UV-lit upstairs room: enthralling, unpredictable and wild.