Finding depth in lightheartedness: A talk with Wallows on the making of their new album “Model”

Wallows (All pictures in the article: Aidan Zamiri)

Over the last few years, Wallows have perfected to contrast an indie-rock sound one can do nothing but dance to with lyrics lying heavy on the chest. Yet their new record “Model”, which will be released tomorrow, takes a new direction – I spoke with the trio about trusting insticts while creating, the romanticizing of the troubled artist and why a sad and a happy song might not be so different from each other.

An empty leather couch, white walls, lace curtains. The reflection of the camera’s flash on the window shines like a second sun. One cannot be sure if this scenery truly feels real that functions as the cover for Wallows’ third album “Model” – but there lies a softness in it nonetheless. In that sense it seems to fit the underlying feeling of the record, which is, in the band’s own words, their most light-hearted one yet. When the faces of Dylan Minnette, Braeden Lemasters and Cole Preston, who have been friends since they were kids, popped up on my screen a few weeks ago, the release still lay in the future but the first singles had already given a foretaste. “It feels crazy once it becomes someone else’s. I sit here and I’m like ‘People are hearing ‘Calling After Me’ now’. They can go and listen to it millions of times.”, Dylan explains the excitement growing with every passing day.

Said song is a good example of the sugar-sweetness that simmers through, reflected in the lyrics and the warmth of their sound. Yet, looking back at their older music, I am curious what they think about this common idea of the troubled musician, who is at his creative best when he turns pain into art. Their answer? In some way it can be true, in another way it is not necessarily true at all. “I’m not saying it isn’t easy to write a song when you are sad, but the notion that it is better… The whole romanticized thing about artists being cool because of their sadness isn’t ideally how it should be.”, Braeden says and his bandmates nod in agreement. There was a difficulty though in trying not to write from a moment of heartbreak, as Dylan talks about the process further. “In the past, it’s been a challenge for me to make a happy love song that comes from an honest place and those were suddenly coming out of me easily on this album. That was really inspiring to me.” Referred to as ‘maybe the best songwriter we have right now’ (and I will not dare to disagree here), he mentions Adrianne Lenker who can make the most gut-wrenching tracks but once she puts out a simple love song, it can hit you just as hard. So the longer one thinks about it, the two extremes might not be too far from each other when looked at from a musician’s perspective. In them hides an intensity which feels similar, Cole adds. “A piece from a good, high place still has a deep, not sadness, but vulnerability. There is something to expressing emotions that are so intense, which can be scary as well.”

„It felt good to start that way, because it sort of closes what was before.“

– Dylan Minnette on making „Your Apartment“ the opening song of the record

With “Model”, Wallows face this sentiment and in creating music coming candidly from the honeymoon-like phase of a relationship, they might have made their most instinctual album, as Dylan describes it. The sounds seem to flow naturally along stories of growing closer with someone, their soft-footedness carrying the listener through every track. “Even if people can’t see it yet, just trusting ourselves, we know what we are making and what this is going to be.”, he reflects on overcoming a pressure to please others and Cole continues his point. “We recorded like 25 different songs this time which diluted our own expectations. Where in the past I was always aware of everything going on, having so much material resulted in relinquishing this overthinking tendency we used to have. Even though that freed us, I think it also confused our team.” “We were like ‘Here’s three albums worth of tracks, guys!’”, Dylan says and jokingly mimics the shocked face of the ones who supported them through it. Somehow the band managed to narrow it down to less than a half, with a certainty that perhaps next time they might not do that much again.

What stands out from the final selection though is their first single “Your Apartment”. Lyrically, it has existed long before the release and tackles themes of processing a break-up. When listening to it, I started to wonder how it feels having to circle back to something from the past in this way as an artist, especially when it’s rather hurtful memories. “In a perfect world, I would have had no songs like this one on the album, but ‘Your Apartement’ was undeniable for us, to the extent that it became the opener. It felt good to start that way, because it sort of closes what was before.”, Dylan explains. To him, the lyrics were highly specific so he was surprised by the various interpretations coming from listeners. With that in mind, while looking through his words again, he saw how the understanding might differ. “And that’s fine with me – I’d rather have people read into my business less!” Just a few days ago, Wallows did an intimate pop-up show in London for the upcoming release and what was the first track they played? Yes, you guessed it right. During our chat, we also talked about the decision process of putting together a setlist which does the band as well as the crowd justice. It is a balancing act between choosing popular songs people are paying to see and fan favorites, which they love to perform because of the excitement it evokes, while also wanting to share the new album with the world.

And how else can you prepare your audience for these live shows other than with a creepy little short film? “I’m so happy you found it creepy because that was exactly the goal. Incorporating some horror elements has always been something we wanted to do, whether it’s for a music video or promotion.”, Cole starts to recount and one can sense immediately how dear the project was to them. “My girlfriend [n. Nina Ljeti] directed the thing and took it as inspired by The Shining – it starts and you think it will be a normal, sincere clip of us talking about playing concerts and our dreams since we were kids. But it gets interrupted by us being haunted by what has happened to Wallows and what is to come. We had a lot of fun making it as everyone involved is a friend of ours.” And there you have a 12-minute cinematic piece to fuel enthusiasm for the tour around “Model” that is about to start in summer, which the three already are looking forward to. As Braeden puts it perfectly: “We can’t wait for people to hear it, to live with it and to see it live. And hopefully it means something to them.”

“And we gotta get our music back on TikTok”, Cole says in a joking manner as I ask for any last words and after a short hesitation a rant on Universal Music removing their artists’ songs from the app begins. While now a new deal seems to have been reached, at the time of the interview only Taylor Swift, who might not need the exposure as much as smaller musicians to survive, had gotten an exception. “Unfortunately, that damn app dominates streams and radio now. It’s run by what the kids are choosing on TikTok – which is on one hand completely awesome, but it becomes frustrating when we’re rolling out an album and people can’t find it on there.”, Dylan adds to the conversation. Well, I sincerely hope “Model” will find its way into the TikTok algorithm and perhaps into the hearts of many old and new listeners. It would be deserved.

You can have a listen into the first single of „Model“ here: