Interview: Wages

Interview by Sofia WolfsonPhoto by Miranda Maynard

Wages is an LA-based pop/rock/experimental band who just released their debut album, titled Glace. Though this will be the foursome’s first official release, they are far from new to the industry, already placing songs in big TV shows like Gossip Girl and The Flash. Their distinct style mixes modern elements of today’s pop scene with 1960’s psychedelic vibes, most prominent in their first single off of the new record, “Gotta.” I chatted with Nick and James of Wages about their writing process, recording their debut album, playing live, and more.

First off, how did you all meet each other?

Nick (vocals, guitar): James (drums) and I first met while playing shows in different bands down South. We started playing music together later when we formed a band called Arizona in New York City. That band went on to tour for a few years, and had fun times with Band of Horses, Indigo Girls and some others. Eventually we found our way to Los Angeles, after parting ways with the rest of Arizona and starting Wages.

Once James and I began playing music together, we clicked in a unique musical way that has stuck – what we create comes out naturally.

Both Dustin (bass) and Matt (guitar, vocals) joined the band once we were based out of LA and helped take the thing to a whole new level.

What is the writing process like for your band? Where do you tend to draw inspiration from for your songs?

Nick: Every song is different. Sometimes we write as a group, sometimes I write an initial idea on my own. I may start by writing something on a guitar, or maybe a lyrical line will pop up first. Other times I might start playing with a sample on computer and that evolves into something. My favorite is when a song comes out quickly on acoustic guitar – the lyrics and music all seem to come out effortlessly in an hour or so. It’s rare but super satisfying when that happens.

Speaking for myself, I find inspiration from situations that I can’t vent in my daily life. Perhaps something is too emotional for me to easily deal with. I find that picking up an instrument in those moments alleviates that pressure while also leading to meaningful music. It’s sort of the best of both worlds – a rough moment gets smoothed out and I get to experience the joy of writing music.

James: Other times we write live in the room as a band. One of the four will bring a fragment of an idea, or sometimes a fully formed skeleton, and we’ll jam it out in the room, each of us painting our own parts over that initial framework. Even though parts of the album were demoed by Nick beforehand, we developed them as a band and started playing many of the songs live before going in to record, which gave us a chance to further retool and refine the parts, and let them evolve into the character of the full band.

What was the recording process like for this album? Could you talk a little more about what inspired the production? 

Nick: We recorded the bulk of the music over a handful of days and nights at a studio in LA called Boulevard Recording. It’s owned by our friend Clay Blair who also engineered/recorded the bulk of it. He’s incredibly talented, and helped shape the feel and sound of the songs.

The album was also mixed by Jon Ashley (who’s worked with War on Drugs, Dawes, Avett Brothers) and Miles Comaskey (who’s worked with Santigold, Gallant, Fitz & the Tantrums) – their worked added awesome color to the whole thing.

James: The songs came together in different ways. Some of them started as home demos that morphed over time before we brought them into the studio (such as “All Gone” and “Cave”). Others were worked on as a live band in the room together (such as “We Reign” and “Stalingrada”). Ultimately, most of the rhythm section tracks were recorded live, with the vocals and various atmospheric aspects layered over a period of days.

We did a little bit of tweaking to the songs afterwards at our homes – adding overdubs, and going through a couple stages of mixing. The title track itself was created during that portion of the process. So all-in-all, it was a pretty layered process.

photo by Miranda Maynard

Photo by Miranda Maynard

What I found interesting is the variety of styles in your music, how the songs can go from more Radiohead-style experimental, like in “Glace,” to something more classic 60’s rock, like in “Gotta.” Who are your main influences?

Nick: We all have pretty varied influences. For myself, I know I’ve been directly influenced by Jonsi/Sigur Ros, Deerhoof, Elliott Smith, Death Grips, Bill Viola (the video artist), and other various oddball artists that bring something unique into the world, regardless of the form.

James: We are all pretty much scatterbrained with our musical tastes. 60’s top 40, psychedelia, and soul; and 90’s top 40, psychedelia, and indie rock (in that order) were probably the biggest musical guideposts for me. I like going to hear local bands, discovering new sounds and finding what moves me. We spent some time in Asheville, NC; the local scene there is pretty inspiring, especially in experimental music- drone/ambient/noise. Villages, Housefire, Bad Command or File Name, Cumulus, Gardner. Pretty much anything that Headway Recordings puts out is great. We’re still trying to get to know the Los Angeles scene bit-by-bit, so it can’t yet be counted as influential as of this recording. But we’ve been encountering some great rock bands and experimental projects, so we’ll see how it rubs off in the future…

How do you think your style as a band has evolved throughout the years?

Nick: I think we’ve become more intentional with time. We’ve worked alongside some great artists in the past (like Hank Sullivant of MGMT, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, and members of Bands of Horses), and through watching how others approach their art, we’ve learned how to focus ourselves and create a more defined final product.

James: I wouldn’t say our style has changed all that much over the years, but I’ll just echo Nick in that we’re putting out a more focused and defined product. The lineup has changed on every release, so far, and the different personalities always add to the character of the music. But I think stylistically we’ve remained fairly consistent.

Do you enjoy playing live shows? How is that a different experience from recording?

Nick: Live shows are a mix for me personally. I come to music through recording, so that’s where my deepest passion is – sculpting sounds in a studio. I can be self-conscious about live performance. However, when a show clicks and goes well, it’s a ton of fun.
James: I prefer playing live. You get a nice emotional feedback loop between the band and the audience. It can be difficult in the studio cultivating the vibe of a song sequestered from the intended recipients. I find it stressful trying to summon the vibe from within while striving for “perfection.” Live, it’s less about playing it “right,” and more about playing what’s appropriate for the moment, which tends to come naturally as long as my ears are open.

Do you have any advice for young musicians trying to find their own style?

Nick: It’s alright to start by imitating people, but once you feel like you know what you’re doing, stop thinking about what’s right or wrong in a piece of music. Use creation as a chance to see the world through different lenses, to open your mind. And try to keep your ego out of it – if you can’t accept criticism (from yourself or others), you won’t be able to progress.

James: Once you understand the mechanics of your instruments, take the time to listen to yourself. It’s great listening to other artists and thinking “oh man, I love what they do at that part of the song” and then try and emulate it. That’s how you develop your ear and technique. Your vocabulary. I heard a quote by T.S. Eliot back in middle school that I still strive to live by. “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal…The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn…A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”

Speaking as a drummer, it’s also a good idea to pay attention to how your body naturally wants to move. And when you listen to the effects of these motions, you discover your own voice and learn how to express those musical ideas coherently. Then you can apply that to your group as a whole. Listen to music together, pick apart why you like what you do. Cover songs, copy bands. But most importantly listen to each other, and listen to how you fit in with everyone else. Eventually you will learn to express your musical ideas coherently together. ✿

Listen to Glace on Soundcloud.