Words by David C. Obenour
From the opening squalls of guitar feedback, Wednesday sweep you in with the undertow of their title track for their third album. The haze of Twin Plagues naturally ebbs and flows before finally breaking, letting you up for air with the gentle twang and slide guitar of track five, “How Can You Live If You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do”.
This balance of indie and Americana plays out throughout the rest of the album, but in the loud and the soft, vocalist Karly Hartzman helms the songs with her personal yet familiar sung stories. With a band around her every bit as committed to finding their own place, the album is as amazing for what it is as for what it hints that it could be come the next storm.
Off Shelf: Throughout the pandemic I’ve been starting interviews off by asking how people are doing. Between all of the events of the last two years, it’s been an incredibly weird and challenging time to be alive.
Karly Hartzman: I’m doing okay! “Weird and challenging” is definitely right on the money.
I feel like when I’m not worried about pandemic related stuff, I’m worried about climate change or political shit. It’s exhausting. Gives very little time for a person to think about themselves which is maybe a good thing? It’s hard to tell.
It just makes me very nostalgic for the time – high school essentially – when I could just really settle in thinking about questions like “who am I?” and the human condition and stuff. Maybe that’s why I keep channelling that time of my life in my songwriting? I feel like now we only have the space to think about all this stuff outside of ourselves. [laughs] I don’t know if you were looking for me to get that in depth with that question but, what are ya gonna do?
OS: Maybe it’s a little on the nose but why the name Twin Plagues? Was there any consideration on changing it – like Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American turning into a self-titled release after 9/11 – or was it more purposeful?
KH: No, actually I don’t have any intention of changing it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the pandemic, “Twin Plagues” actually refers to Christmas and New Years. I read it somewhere – I told myself I would remember where but I somehow managed to forget – in a book of poetry. I should probably look into that so I can give credit where credit is due. Knowing me it was probably Richard Braughtigan who I was obsessed with during the writing of this and the last album. I actually haven’t been reading as much of him recently, I guess cause I ran out of books of his to read.
I gravitated toward that title because I love the idea of days that are like any other having heavy emotional weight. Christmas, New Years, and birthdays are the best examples of that for me. So many expectations! I think that is why I chose “Wednesday” as the bands name also. I like how unassuming and low pressure Wednesday is as opposed to, I don’t know, Friday? Has nothing to do with the Addams family as many people assume.
OS: Being your third album, was there any consideration to how it related to your previous two? How do you feel you have evolved your sound?
KH: I don’t think this album really relates to the previous two intentionally. I think I just see each album as a stepping stone to me becoming a better musician and songwriter. I didn’t know how to play guitar at all when I wrote the first LP in 2018. I basically just fucked around with open tunings til I found something that sounded musical. Since then I’ve learned sooo much and most of the songs are in standard tuning, which is a lot easier to manage on tour.
My songwriting has really progressed monumentally since then. Twin Plagues is the first album I’ve ever written without any intention of “pleasing” anyone, if that makes sense. I really just wanted to make the thing I wanted to make without questioning any of my ideas or intentions. I obviously didn’t want to alienate any people who really loved “I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone” but also my goal wasn’t to create another album that all of those people would love just because it was similar. To be honest I thought more people would hate how noisy these songs are, but I had to go with my gut. Luckily people are into it!
OS: It’s also the second album that you’ve recorded as a band. Has the songwriting process changed at all? What have you come to appreciate more about each other?
KH: Our songwriting hasn’t really changed! Our formula works pretty good for us at the moment. I usually just bring chords and words to band practice and my bandmates Margo, Jake, Alan and Xandy work their magic!
I guess the one thing we did change was I asked Xandy if we could make a song he wrote, “One More Last One” a Wednesday song for this album and luckily he said yes! Jake wrote the chords for “Three Sisters” also. It felt sooo good to share the voice on this album with them! I’m glad they trusted me with their stuff.
I think we appreciate everything about each other at this point! We’ve become closer than ever through this album cycle and really bonded over the fact that we might be able to live off of music – live our dreams together?! We aren’t afraid to tell each other the cold hard truth sometimes also which I think is totally essential. I love them, it literally makes me cry! I’m trying not to cry in this goddamn coffee shop as I type this out. [laughs]
OS: Albums from 2020 and 2021 have an interesting journey from recording and writing to release – with months and sometimes a full year of delay from quarantines and shutdowns and record plant delays. Can you talk about the journey of Twin Plagues?
KH: Urgh, yeah honestly having to wait a year after recording has not been ideal. We’ve done it twice. It took a year to find a label to put out “I Was Trying…” and luckily Orindal – my first choice – was interested! I delayed emailing them for months cause I was so sure Owen [Ashworth, label head] was gonna say no or not respond. But instead he was super into it which was fucking wild! But yeah, of course as soon as we put it out basically we toured for two weeks and then everything shut down. We didn’t get to have our album release show for that one.
By the time we released that one, “Twin Plagues” was pretty much written. We recorded in May-ish and then waited a billion days until there was any sort of possibility to tour off of it, which ended up being this August! So over a year after recording. But we used that time to make/commission a video for each song which was fun!
We played in NYC and Philly recently and it was fucking sick. Our audience has grown a lot even though we’ve been totally unable to play out. So it’s a startling jump from where we were last year.
We have a few small tours planned in the next few months, with masks and vax required obviously, we’ll see how it goes! It is getting pretty dire for us to tour at this point though, cause I used my stimulus/unemployment to pay for recording. [laughs]
OS: You have an amazing mastery of a sort of a guitar-centric, chugging and crunchy indie rock sound. Do you have any favorite bands – even of the moment – for how they use guitars in songs?
KH: Unwound is a band who has stuck with me recently in an instrumental sense big time. They have so many cool ideas. Luckily I’m not good enough at guitar to outright copy any one, and I think that works to my benefit. I mostly just listen to a song and think “I want to find this feeling in my own song” and then fuck around til I can find it.
Swirlies are super important to me historically. Another band with great ideas, and a great attitude over all when it comes to their recordings.
Watching Jessica Lea Mayfeild live shows on Youtube was how I taught myself guitar, so an obvious influence there! She followed me on instagram recently, I’m tryin not to make a big deal about it though… sooo exciting! [laughs] Created another moment of crying for me! Her album “Make My Head Sing” completely reinterpreted for me how I understood electric guitar, especially what a woman can do playing one.
OS: There’s also some slower moments that sometimes lean into Americana. What resonates with you about these songs? How did you think about the album’s sequencing to allow for both?
KH: I write songs pretty much any way I feel like they have to be written for me to get across the emotion of what I’m saying. The lyrics usually have more power over what the instrumentation of the song ends up being than I do. “How Can You Live if You Cant Love, How Can You If You Do” was a slow country song from the moment I wrote those words down.
Something that resonates with me for those slower songs is witnessing how much Jake’s [lead guitar] presence and music has really dug into my psyche. His project MJ Lenderman really affirmed my love for country music. I’m surrounded by country music in the south, but when me and Jake got together we just discovered double the amount of incredible country music together. Any slow lovey songs on the album are love songs about him, and anytime I think of him its country music song.
Margo [bass] is the sequencing wizard actually! So I can’t take much credit for that. The one thing I insisted on was putting “The Burned Down Dairy Queen” as the third track. Otherwise I just let her take the reins on that pretty much.
OS: It’s a little inside baseball, but Hanif Abdurraqib wrote the press release for Twin Plagues. Knowing that he would write what would be read by others – who you hope will write more – what about his descriptions resonated with you?
KH: I will never get over the fact that Hanif is a Wednesday fan. I will never get over it! It’s still so wild to me…
I just love the songs that stuck with him. He chose some deep cuts on the album to discuss. I like that he picks “moments” to discuss in these songs as opposed to just lyrics or guitar riffs or whatever. Because I see these songs as a collection of moments. So the way he could see that and reflect it back out with his writing is priceless to me.
Also the fact that he took specific lyrics from my life that I sing about and was able to identify and correlate them to his own life is so sacred to me! Like a few people have been able to take images like “The Burned Down Dairy Queen” and connect it with the Dairy Queen of their own lives if that makes sense? I’m just so glad there’s so much empathy in his words. God, I love his writing so much!
OS: Stereogum wrote that this was the album where you were trying to leave your childhood behind. Do you have any thought for what that means for the next Wednesday album and where you’d like to go?
KH: The next Wednesday album is already written! I won’t talk too much about it but I can tell you I didn’t leave my childhood or upbringing behind on it in any sense. I am starting to take more of my present life into consideration in my writing now though.
OS: While the Delta variant has put another astrix on live music’s return, what do you look forward to most whenever we reach “the new normal”?
KH: Playing shows is the biggest pay off for me! It’s one of the only rewards of this process I can truly feel totally. I can’t wait to play shows without feeling the weight of the possibility of compromising peoples safety. It’s a hard time to make decisions about this stuff right now. Especially when you are barely scraping by [laughs] I expect to keep my retail job for a while longer at this point. It hurts to stay realistic right now, but it’s also extremely necessary.