Nathan Williams, leader of San Diego garage-punk band Wavves, has always had an ear for music. In between managing a record store and writing about hip-hop on his blog, Williams began creating music of his own, releasing an LP and becoming one of 2008’s breakout acts. Since then, he’s released three more albums, including this year’s acclaimed Afraid of Heights.
You’ve played Las Vegas before, for some kind of Mountain Dew sports show, right? Yeah, like, three years ago.
And you haven’t been back since? I’ve been back gambling, but I haven’t played.
What can we expect from your show at the Boulevard Pool? We’re going to be playing all of the new album, and we might be playing a new song that’s supposed to come out in September.
I’d expect your Vegas experience to be a little different, now that you’re a bit more famous. I don’t know … hopefully I can stay out of a cop car this time. [Note: Williams was escorted back to his hotel by a police officer last time he was here.] But I don’t think it will be that much different. I’m not famous in the way famous people are. I’m not gonna get stopped on the street. No one’s going to notice me.
I’m sure it happens occasionally. Yeah, it happens from time to time. I’m such an awkward person … I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. I’m very thankful that people care, but I’m the most socially awkward person that you could ever see.
Why doesn’t that shyness carry onto the stage? Or does it? It’s a little bit easier, because it’s like a set-up arrangement where I’m supposed to go and sing these songs that I’ve written. That makes more sense to me. Like, you know, going to get something to eat at a restaurant and someone wants you to stand up and take a picture with them—it’s just weird to me. It’s cool, but I feel like performing onstage is something that I’m definitely more used to, and I’m definitely not that shy about.
You recently released the album SV with your side-project, Sweet Valley, which sounds far less rock-oriented than Wavves. How did that project start? Me and my little brother [Joel Kynan Williams] made it. We started the project last year when I had bought my house, and I had an extra room. He was looking for a place to live, to come up to LA and play music.
What’s his role in Sweet Valley? He is more like an engineer of sorts. He’s very good with Ableton and stuff like that. He’s really good at playing instruments. He’s a classically trained pianist and guitarist. I basically hired him as an engineer at my house for a year and paid him salary so I could just come home and work on music at any time of the day.
When did you start working on the Sweet Valley album you just released? This stuff is kind of an amalgam of songs we’d been working on over maybe a year or a year and a half. But my mom’s house got robbed, and my computer was there and it got stolen. The backup hard drive got stolen as well, so all of these songs were stuff that we couldn’t go back or remix, so we kinda just released it.
So this album could have sounded different. Yeah, if we were to go back and mix the stuff it could’ve sounded a little bit bigger.
So what’s the deal with this project? It doesn’t sound like you’re trying to target the same kind of fans you have with Wavves. I’m not trying to target anybody—I’m not hunting. I’m just trying to make music that I think sounds interesting or fun.
You had a hip-hop blog before Wavves got big, and you’ve done a handful of collaborations with some big-name hip-hop artists. Why did you go the garage-rock route rather than a hip-hop one? I always liked hip-hop, and I wrote about it for a while. Prior to becoming a musician I managed a record store and thought maybe at some point I’d catch a break and become a journalist, a music journalist. I was always playing in kind-of punk bands and listened to hip-hop. But it was just two separate things. I wasn’t trying to be a rapper.
It must be kind of surreal that you’ve already collaborated with GZA and Big Boi when you were just writing about them a few years ago. Yeah, it’s really strange when I sit and think about it. It’s still very, very strange to me that I’ve worked with GZA and Big Boi, two guys that were like, my heroes basically. OutKast and Wu-Tang were definitely two of my favorite groups.
Do you have anything in the works with any other hip-hop artists right now? Yeah, we’re doing a couple things here. We’re producing, like, four albums right now for some hip-hop and other artists, so it should be a busy year.
You mentioned that your brother was a classically trained musician. Do you have any formal training? I don’t have any training in anything.
So you just started messing around with instruments and, essentially, blew up. Is it hard finding a balance with that kind of a lifestyle change? I mean, I’ve been doing it for a little bit longer now, but I think, generally speaking, sometimes staying out of my own way can be a hard task.
Why is that? I don’t know. I don’t have that barrier where I think about what I do or say, and that gets me in trouble sometimes. I never thought that anybody would care about anything I did or said, really. So now that there are people that’ll scrutinize the stuff I do, I have to. Or, I should be more careful. But sometimes I find that a little bit hard, and I’d rather just live and deal with the consequences.
In the past, you’ve had some issues—particularly Pitchfork 2009, when you left the stage in the middle of a performance. Did you expect to bounce back so well from that? It’s nice that I still have a career and am able to make money. That’s good.
What does the future look like for you? A lot of touring. We have a couple of TV spots that are coming up pretty soon, and some other stuff. Soundtrack work and sh*t like that. It’s definitely a busy year. Mostly touring though.
Wavves August 29, 8 p.m., $15. Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool, 698-7000.