Stephen Pope of WAVVES on His Five Favorite Albums

Interviews
11/15/2018
KEXP
photo by Brittany Brassell (view set)
Transcription by Io Salant

Wavves may have started as the solo recording project of frontman Nathan Williams, but since 2009, he's had Jay Reatard's former bassist Stephen Pope by his side. Over the past decade, the band's surf-slop sound has gotten more refined as evidenced by last year's aptly-titled LP You're Welcome. With the band stopping by Seattle this Saturday, November 17th at Chop Suey, KEXP's Dusty Henry asked Pope to share his five favorite albums of all time.


 

Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)

KEXP: When did this album come into your life? 

Stephen Pope: I feel like a lot of my favorite albums came from when I was in high school or even before that, in middle school. Maybe because those are your formative years, I don't know. But I think I first heard a Devo album in college. I was probably 19 or 20. Before that, I had only heard just, you know, like "Whip It." But I guess I was starting to get into punk way more and this is a really good starting point for punk music, like certainly different from the punk that I had been listening to. It's nothing like Black Flag punk but it's still... I don't know why I connected with it so much but I've probably listened to it a thousand times. "Space Junk," I think is my favorite song on there. I've tried to rip off probably every song from the album and probably have a demo of a song that you can trace back to one of the Devo songs on this album. I like that they did a Stones cover. That's cool. I think a lot of the albums I picked have cover songs on them, but all the covers are very unique. 

What about Devo was punk to you? 

Well, their whole aesthetic is punk. They're just... I mean, the name is punk: "de-evolution." They're certainly more on the artsy side of punk than other things. I was going to a lot of garage rock shows in Memphis when I was a teenager and then into college, and "Mongoloid" — that song is just a rock club DJ favorite. They'll always play "Mongoloid," and then the next song will be like Wire's "I Am The Fly," and then you'll have The Sonics come in. They're just like the three standards that every DJ has on their playlist; but it's for a reason, I think. 

Do you think we're all still catching up to Devo? 

Yeah. Tons of bands try to sound like Devo. Probably because they're so talented and just crazy singers. It's a fun thing for a guitarist, just how staggered and janky they are. It's really hard to emulate correctly.

Alex Chilton - Like Flies on Sherbert (1979)

That's definitely coming from me growing up in Memphis. Big Star was everywhere throughout my life, but in a different way. I had no idea that Big Star was a band growing up. There was a chain called Memphis Pizza Café and it was kind of Big Star themed. And they had lots of pictures of the Big Star album covers and the star logo, and then there was a grocery store named Robilio's Big Star — and that's where they actually got their name. I guess I had just unknowingly been listening to Big Star throughout my life, just being in Memphis; and then, once I actually started paying attention, they became one of my favorite bands.

"I feel like you really get to understand Alex Chilton's personality with this record because it's hardly produced at all."

 

Then I guess I just started digging in more and started listening to Alex Chilton solo stuff. I think Like Flies on Sherbert... it's super sloppy and soulful and just like the first takes, and I really like the feel of the record. I feel like you really get to understand Alex Chilton's personality with this record because it's hardly produced at all. It's like they recorded themselves just learning the songs. But there are some really beautiful moments captured, like the title track "Like Flies on Sherbert" has a really cool vocal melody and he was trying to hit super high falsettos that he can't totally hit. I don't know if it's because he was getting older here, or maybe he's just really heavy into drinking here, and just — I don't know — but it sounds really cool. It's all off. Most people would not want to keep the takes that were kept on this record, but it's great. 

Was that influential on you, that kind of anarchic approach to music? 

Yeah, definitely. I'm very drawn to sloppy music probably because I'm not very musically proficient. So, I like things that sound like I could possibly play them maybe. And, I also heard "Hey, Little Child" on here. That also became a big cover song in Memphis. Different garage bands that I'd see... that was a big song to cover. So I think I heard different local covers of "Hey, Little Child" before I actually heard the song, and when I when I heard the song, it just really made sense because it felt like it was recorded at just that small show at a garage rock club at like 2:00 in the morning. Love it. 

The Halo Benders - God Don't Make No Junk (1994)

How'd you find that one?

I've always been a huge Built to Spill fan. Once I found The Halo Benders, I had already grown attached to Doug Martsch and his voice and guitar style. He has a really weird... he's a really great guitarist, but he's very sloppy sounding, which I guess I'm drawn to a lot. For some reason, this album — maybe it's the way his voice works with Calvin Johnson's voice, the back and forth — but, I just like this album way more than Built to Spill albums, even though some Built to Spill albums are my favorites.

"...there are lots of really ugly guitar chords happening, and if you don't do it in just the wrong way, it doesn't sound right."

This, like Like Flies on Sherbert, sounds like it was a lot of first takes and just experimenting and having fun. It's a kind of very haphazard, sloppy album but also has beautiful moments. Like "Snowfall" is an awesome song. That's one of my favorite songs ever written, I think. That's the first song on the album. What else to say about that... "Canned Oxygen," "Don't Touch My Bikini," are other standout tracks. I've tried to learn how to play these songs before, but it's... it sounds like it'd be really easy to play, but when you start playing them, it's just — there are lots of really ugly guitar chords happening, and if you don't do it in just the wrong way, it doesn't sound right. 

Yeah. It's a super interesting, crazy album because it almost feels like a lot of the songs are two songs mashed together. Especially with Calvin and Doug's voices singing completely different things and you've got all these weird sound effects. 

And a lot of competing melodies happening. I know a lot of people who absolutely hate, just hate The Halo Benders, and I understand that. I think it's kind of jarring when Calvin's voice comes in... I love it. 

Pixies - Doolittle (1989)

I was going to put Weezer's Blue Album in this place, but, I mean, not that everybody doesn't list the Pixies also. I feel like everybody around my age lists Weezer's Blue Album for a reason: because it's great. But I was a huge, huge Weezer head — they were my first, like just, super favorite band that I would cry to and stuff. So I think I found the Pixies from the Weezer message board also, and I soon found — or figured out — that Weezer basically got their sound, or their early sound, from the Pixies basically. It was hard to pick a Pixies album, but I think I picked Doolittle because the first band I was in, we covered "Debaser" and "Monkey Gone to Heaven," and those were released on the cover, and then, I think "Hey" is one of my favorite songs of all time, just really really pretty song and I love it. 

When I listened back to Doolittle before this, I was listening especially to Kim's bass sound, and I feel like her sound on this record, it's pretty iconic as well. It's hard to imagine any of those breakdowns without her like kinda low droning bass parts. I was curious if this was influential on you at all?

For sure. Yeah, I think my style is very close to Kim's, or at least I hope it is. She always has really memorable bass lines and a really memorable tone, but at the same time it's like — they're the easiest bass lines to play. There's nothing super technical. You're not gonna find a studio musician who would play her bass lines on top because they would feel self-conscious and think like, oh I'm not being busy enough or something. I don't know, she's a super tasteful bass player I think. 

Björk - Homogenic (1997)

This one stands out to me. This was another high school album for me and it's super different, I know, from my other picks. When I was saying earlier how attracted I am to sloppy sounding, bad players, first takes, and stuff — this album is the exact opposite of that. It's super over-the-top produced and perfect but... I don't know. I wasn't a giant Björk fan before this album, because I think the only song I had heard was that... What was the big hit that I think Spike Jonze did the video for? I don't know. But yeah, I heard this album and every song is so good and anthemic. I remember this was the first album that I would space out to, like before I smoked weed or anything. I was like twelve when it came out. I think this was the first time I listened to music that made me feel high. I remember laying down and closing my eyes and listening to it on headphones all the way through. It's a really beautiful album and it's just so well produced. The sound on the album is like a sound you hadn't heard before. Also, I think I was consciously trying to put something that wasn't just a rock album on the list. I was picking between the Aphex Twins' Drukqs album or Prodigy's Fat of the Land. But, I picked this because I think those other two just have certain songs I like to listen to. But this whole album, I will listen to the entire way through, nonstop. And, I've done it so many times. There's not a skip song on there for me. 

"So, Thom Yorke and I have similar taste."

Do you have a favorite song from the album or a track? 

Oooooh... let's see... "Unravel" is really awesome, and, oh! "All Neon Like," that was my main jam for a while. And, I think that's the longest song on the album, like let me look it up [ laughs ] — Oh! It's not... I mean, it is long. It's six minutes. In my mind, for some reason, I was thinking it was like 10 minutes long. It's got that vibe though. Oh, and as I look at Wikipedia, I learned something new about "Unravel" that I didn't know. Thom Yorke called the song "Unravel" one of the most beautiful songs he's ever heard. [ both laughing ]

Huh! That's a good endorsement.

So, Thom Yorke and I have similar taste. 


Wavves play this Saturday, November 17th at Chop Suey with Shy Boys and Graham Van Pelt, all ages. The band self-released their sixth album You're Welcome last year, via their own Ghost Ramp label.

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