Despite the ironic name choice, California Wives is a Chigaco-based four-piece new wave band quickly gaining ground in the Windy City music scene. This fall, the band goes on tour with veteran Canadian indie pop group known as Stars. The tour includes a stop at Atlanta's Variety Playhouse this Fri., Sept. 28. Last weekend, we discussed over the phone their Chicago roots and their latest record entitled Art History.
In recent years, there has been a big resurgence of catchy new wave music that has really fluctuated with indie synth bands. From your perspective, do you think this is a continuation of the type of sound that bands such as Joy Division, Tears for Fears, Magazine and others made popular, or do you think today’s new wave is something that is able to stand out on its own?
That’s a great question. I really think the new wave music that we are making and that a lot of other bands are making is totally different. Because we went through the ’90s, we went through the grunge phase, and you really can’t get away from the media influence of those bands, as much as I’d like to! The brand of new wave that we make incorporates a lot of louder guitars that probably wouldn’t be present in original new wave from the ’80s. I think the difference is pretty clear.
Thematically, your debut record Art History deals a lot with this loss of youth that everyone experiences. In many ways both lyrically and musically, there seems to be a certain surrealistic dream world in tracks such as “Better Home,” “Photolights,” and “Twenty Three.” How do those songs relate to the overall theme of the album?
As far as the name goes, Art History, we picked that name because were really thinking about how we’ve been influenced by the bands that came before us. That actually ties in with your first question, were influenced by new wave, but we weren’t around when that scene was happening! So the way we experienced that is probably through another lens, very much in the same way students study art history. As far as the songs go, we keep a lot of our lyrics pretty bleak for a reason. I’m not really interested in writing typical pop-song lyrics, not that there’s anything wrong with those. But I think we’re trying to create music that really captures people, my favorite bands would always do that, and that’s what we’re trying to shoot for.
How did the band form?
I moved back from Chicago, decided I wanted to take the MCAT. I finished that, and for the first time in my life I wasn’t cramming for a test, or doing homework, or working in a lab. I decided to sit back, really think about things, and I realized it all wasn’t really for me. Around this time, my roommate had an opening in his apartment, he wanted me to move in, I said OK, he happened to be friends with this band. We all decided to take a chance, and just went for it! We kind of hung out very often. As time went by, the more we came back to this idea of forming a band, and eventually it just all melted together.
What are your expectations for the upcoming tour with Canadian indie rock group Stars, is this one of the first big tours for California Wives?
Yeah, this is actually our first tour on a well-known record. We went out a little bit for our EP, but this is like our first major tour effort, so to be able to go out on the road with a band like Stars, that’s amazing for us! They’re incredibly accomplished, they've been around for a long time, and they made a great new record. It’s an honor.
In terms of musical influence, what’s it like growing up in Chicago? Are there specific local scenes or venues that sort of molded the direction of the band?
I think one of the best parts about Chicago is that it’s a smaller scene, and you kind of get to know a lot of the bands personally. You really start to develop a comradely with other artists, I think it changed the way we look at the whole “music is a competition” attitude. Coming from Chicago, there’s room for many different bands. We’re just all trying to make the type of art that we want to make. It’s not about being competitive, because you’re isolated from everyone else in terms of musical direction. But it’s crazy, there are always a lot of bands, there’s always a lot going on.
Where did the the name California Wives come from?
It was just one of those things that came up in conversation a lot, and something we decided sounded cool and would grab people’s attention! For us, the band name always comes second to the actual music we produce, so I think we just sort of figured “We've got the band name done, so now we can concentrate on writing the music.” We never really worried about it much after that. It’s kind of fun to see how people interact with it! Most people figure that means we must be from California, but obviously were not (laughing).
Do you think today’s indie bands are reinventing the genres that have influenced them, or do you think today’s music is headed into a different direction altogether?
You know, I think it’s just the massive influx of information. In these days, you can listen to any music you want, whenever you want. To use an example, services like Spotify. I think bands are experimenting with a lot of different types of music, and I think with technology, genres are getting so blurred together now. It’ll be interesting to see where things go in the next couple of years.
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