Words by Tommy Johnson
It may seem a bit hyperbole but Wild Powwers is one of the quintessential bands coming out of Seattle. Seemingly a bi-product of the scene, the trio constantly pushes themselves to deliver a ferocious outcome. When you listen to their everlasting collection of music, you witness an ensemble that has studied heavily while carving out their imprint.
Produced by Sam Bell (R.E.M., Minus the Bear, Weezer, Taylor Swift) and mastered by Ed Brooks (Pearl Jam, Death Cab For Cutie, R.E.M.), What You Wanted is Wild Powwers most compelling work to date. The opener “…Sucks” feels liberating with its pulsating guitar riffs and pounding drums. The level of grime laying siege to “Real Deal Phil” stands in the front of the shimmery “Decades,” arguably one of the strongest tracks on the album.
Off Shelf: Several artists have told me that this past year helped them slow down and focus more on music. How has it been for the band?
Lupe Flores: If I’m being honest, this year was more than rough. At the same time, it was the most inspired I’ve ever felt in my life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe for us to practice together for much of the year, which added to the overwhelming dread of the situation. I took to writing a lot of my own music, practicing other instruments besides drums, and tinkering around with Garageband to get my ideas down. It feels really, really good to be able to practice together again. Just like riding a bike.
Jojo Gomes: It’s been a bit of a mixed bag, I’d say. Outside of a few months over the summer and fall, the pandemic kept us from practicing together most of the year, so most music I worked on was alone at home. Even that though was in fits and starts, separated by long stretches of writer’s block and not feeling creative. I’m happy that we’ve been able to get back to practicing and playing with each other again, looking forward to finishing up this batch of songs for the next record!
Lara Hilgemann: Personally I had a hard time creating anything for art, and it was a super rough time to focus on anything that required more than just the bare minimum. But the cool thing was that even though we had to take a break from practicing due to safety when we got back to it, we hadn’t even skipped a beat.
OS: I read in an interview that all of you were in various levels emotionally while writing the album. Did the writing process feel that there was a significant amount of weight taken off you?
JG: I’d say so. Writing songs, whether with the band or separately, has always been a bit of a therapeutic exercise for me. So in that sense, the writing process always feels like it’s lifting some sort of weight. It was definitely an interesting process going through and working on and finishing songs that we had started when I was in a much darker place.
LF: Me too, especially when I’m feeling low. Taking all of the swirly emotions and making them into art that’s expressed outside of your own brain and heart is extremely satisfying. When other people can relate to or are affected by that art and those emotions, I feel like we’ve done our job.
LH: I feel like I have definitely used this to outlet my emotional ups and downs. Maybe that is healthy; maybe it isn’t. All I know is that anything I get to put myself into is cathartic and an outlet. Not everything comes from a dark place, but I allow myself to express those shitty moments whenever I can to not sit in my brain building pressure. This album had a lot of built-up pressure.
OS: What would you say is something that many don’t know about the music scene in Seattle?
LH: There is so much music happening at all times. If you throw a stone, you can find a person that is doing something in multiple projects. People just want to create, and I think this city has definitely fostered that creativity for a long time. The music scene here is more than just grunge.
JF: There’s a whole lot more going on musically here than just the grunge bands of the early ’90s! There are and have always been a lot of cool corners and pockets of the music scene here, loads of great people making really interesting music. We’re very lucky to be a part of such an inclusive, inspiring music scene.
LF: Personally, I still don’t feel like I understand the music scene in Seattle. Most of my friends play music, and some of it is more brilliant and inspiring than anything I’ve ever heard in my life. But much of it doesn’t get any recognition. I guess that’s the music industry for ya? I dunno. Luckily I don’t think any of us are here because we have grand ideals that we are ever going to “make it” or something like that. [laughs] That’s not why we do it.
OS: You have dropped a handful of albums before releasing your latest effort. What did you want to explore this time around during the recording process?
LF: Personally, I wanted to focus more on the production side of things than I have in the past albums. I wanted it to still sound like our band and be more of an art piece- adding layers of sound in ways you can’t get across live. I think we are all really happy with the end result.
LH: I don’t know. I wanted to explore finding a more “live sound” while also making it unique? I wanted to get it recorded so we could keep writing?
JG: I don’t know that there were any super specific goals in mind going into making WYW. If anything, I think the main thing I hear in this album, versus previous ones, is an increased sense of space and separation between the instruments and more attention to dynamics. We try not to repeat ourselves too much, so there was definitely a focus on different song structures and trying out new ideas and sounds. Working with Sam was an extension of this; he helped and encouraged us to take time to explore all the ideas and really dive deep into each song.
OS: What could you recall about the early days of the band? What was the process like piecing this project together?
LF: This band was, and is still, so incredibly fun. I think we hang out and laugh just as much, if not more than we actually play music at practice. It’s been that way since the beginning. When we first started, we were in Lara’s basement and played more straightforward punk rock kind of shit. Now we’re in my basement and we play more dynamic, weirder, psychedelic kind of shit. So we’ve come a long way, I guess. [laughs]
JG: I joined up a few months into the band’s existence, replacing the bass player on the first record. So my first memories of the band were just being excited that two of my lovely coworkers – that had their own great bands, respectively – were making some cool new songs together! After being asked to try playing with them, the main thing that struck me was just how easy it felt. Most, if not all, of the projects I had been a part of before Wild Powwers were pretty volatile relationships. Not that we don’t have our moments, all bands fight, but it’s just a joy to spend time together and create for the most part. I feel very thankful having been able to do this for so long with these two.
LH: In the early days, we had a bit of a different line-up, and Dan was a super cool person to make music with, and he remains very cool. That was a good stepping stone for me personally to get comfortable with such supportive people in music. We were then super lucky to find Jojo when the distance became too hard for us to keep moving forward. It all just felt like it fell into place so perfectly. The process has always been collaborative and supportive. I am so lucky to have my bandmates.
OS: Being together for as long as you have, how collaborative is the writing process?
JG: Extremely! I’d say the vast majority of our songs are created at practice, with all three of us tossing ideas back and forth and forming them. When I first joined, I was just writing new parts to the songs on Doris Rising. But from HAKAOT forward, it’s all been very collaborative.
That being said, each song is a bit different; sometimes, one of us will come in with just a riff, a couple of parts, or even a fully arranged idea to work on. Other times, it’s as simple as someone playing something off the cuff while testing out a setting, which sparks an idea. We all write, listen to and think of music pretty differently, so the way things filter through each other is always really interesting to me.
LF: We allow each other the space to explore our weird and vastly different ideas and do our damnedest to flesh out those ideas into a fully realized song. This happens all the time. We are constantly writing, and being that productive and prolific is inspiring in and of itself. I get to play with two of the most interesting and talented people I’ve ever met. Plus, it’s very helpful that we all play by ear, rather than reading music. So, for example, if I have an idea for a riff, I can just sing the notes to Lara and Jojo, and they can figure it out on their instruments pretty quickly. I’m lucky.
LH: It’s 95% collaborative. Rarely do we come into the practice space with a fully fleshed-out idea, and it’s mostly us having little blips of an idea and then building up with each other.
OS: What did Sam bring to the band when producing What You Want?
LF: Besides an incredible sense of humor, he guided us to focus our art to get our point across better. Not only does he possess great skill at capturing sound, but he also has a total producer brain. He knows what makes a good song. He allowed us the freedom to be who we are as a band while also suggesting ideas or slight alterations to our songs to make them be the best versions of themselves.
LH: He felt like a wrangler of ideas. He was so good at letting us know what would work better from an objective standpoint. It is so hard to hear your own music and piece apart what would work better when you’ve been playing it a certain way for so long. He has a great talent for being encouraging and focused, and he has such good ideas.
JG: I appreciate how deep he dived with us and his openness and excitement at trying and experimenting with different sounds and overdubs. Sam is a delightful person and a very encouraging, calming presence in the studio.
OS: When listening to What You Want, I hear the experimentation of sound. There’s the wave of lush vocals and guitar riffs that push close to being a psychedelic. Was it essential to go outside the comfort zone with this album?
LH: I always want to push myself to think of writing differently. It can be so hard with my lack of music education not to get stuck in a comfort zone with writing. I often get down on myself for not knowing anything technical or where to go intuitively. I am trying to continue to improve and do different, scary things.
LF: I don’t think we’ve ever really intended to sound any sort of way on any album we’ve written. It feels more like whatever batch of songs end up on a record is a reflection of that moment in time and a manifestation of where we were all at when we wrote it. Either what excited us at that time, or what we needed to express emotionally, or usually both.
JG: I think we always put a level of importance on trying to push forward in some way and work on whatever is exciting and inspiring to us at that given time. In a way, this album being more lush and spacious is probably a bit of a reaction to the more heavy, dirty sounds on Skin. I feel like Lara and I spent more time on this batch of songs trying to separate and consider our parts and make the most out of a three-piece situation. Especially the songs where I’m playing Bass VI and playing more chords, higher frequencies, counter melodies, and such. The songs on WYW are a lot more densely layered than some of our older ones.
OS: What You Want is being dropped via Nadine Records. How did you link up with the label?
LF: I cannot say enough good things about Mandy from Nadine Records. She started a label to help get her friends’ band’s music heard by a wider audience. She is a musician – a rippin’ bassist – so she understands how hard it is to get your music out into people’s ears. I feel so so so lucky even to know her, let alone be a part of the Nadine Records family.
JG: My first memory of meeting Mandy was at a show in Portland when we were on tour with Constant Lovers. I believe she and Lupe had already met previously? And our lives have been so much better off since. Mandy is the absolute best, she has gone to bat for us a million times over, and I am so grateful for her support. Beyond running a killer label and being an excellent human, she also totally rips on bass in her band Nasalrod.
LH: Mandy is a wonderful person that came into our lives and believed in what we were doing enough to help us out. We are so grateful to have someone who will back us multiple times.
OS: You have spent a lot of time on the road throughout the band’s lifespan. What do you think it will feel like when you get back out and perform again?
JG: We’re all dying to get back on the road and back to playing shows. It might be a bit of a learning curve, unlearning all this anxiety everyone’s gotten about being up close to other humans. Still, I think it’s going to be the most freeing, cathartic experience to get back into these spaces and experience live music together again.
LH: I’ll finally feel normal again. I can’t believe I haven’t slept in a sleeping bag on someone’s floor in over a year. I just want to be playing shows again and visiting all of our friends across the US. I definitely will cry and I don’t want to do that…but I will.
LF: I’m going to be an absolute mess; I can tell you that much. I’m worried I’ll be so overwhelmed and happy that I’m going to have to take breaks in between songs just to cry my eyes out and hug everyone. Since I started playing in bands fourteen years ago, I haven’t gone more than a month without playing a show. It’s shocking that we’ve gone more than a year and that we’re all still alive. All I want to do is tour. Forever and ever. I can’t wait to get back out there.