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It's all happening

Los Angeles rock band Wallows’ debut record was worth the wait



Wallows plays Cain’s Ballroom on Sept. 12.

Alexis Jade Gross

Billie Eilish has never bought a CD. The 17-year-old platinum-selling musician revealed this about herself in an early 2019 interview with NME to much online disbelief—presumably from people older than her, who couldn’t fathom a music fandom scenario without physical media. 

This bit of modern music trivia sparked disbelief from 23-year-old Braeden Lemasters and 22-year-old Cole Preston, both of Los Angeles pop rock band Wallows, which also features 22-year-old Dylan Minnette. They have been playing music together since their early teens, and their debut album Nothing Happens was released earlier this year on Atlantic Records. You can buy a copy of it if you’re old. You can stream it if you’re young. You can stumble onto it accidentally if it exists anywhere in the same orbit as something else you consumed online.

Lemasters called Spotify’s algorithmic recommendations “a wormhole.” Preston, seated among boxes of CDs he’d packed up during a move, called streaming music a “schizophrenic” endeavor, touting its convenience, knocking its low artist pay and launching into a sharp critique of the medium affecting the message.

“For us, it was like, ‘Oh, you need to write your name on your album cover, and it should be at least this big, otherwise people won’t be able to read it on their phone,’” Preston said. “The packaging, the whole tangible element of it is totally lost. Big art in general is considered to be sort of highbrow. I think the big art involved with music is just kind of gone away because of how tiny our devices are.”

Lemasters chimed in, stifling a laugh. “I heard the Mona Lisa is considered lowbrow. Because it’s so small.”

Art historians estimate it took Da Vinci at least four years to paint his biggest work of art, which is in reality very small. Wallows has been even more patient. Though the members are young, the band itself is not: Minnette and Lemasters became friends at nine and have been writing songs together since they were 11. They met Preston shortly afterward and went through a handful of iterations and regrettable band names before the official “debut” of Wallows in 2017. 

Wallows released a few singles that year, an EP in 2018, and then Nothing Happens, a John Congleton-produced full-length record chock full of beachy, Strokes-inspired pop rock tracks. After a lot of waiting, things are finally happening for Wallows. So why call the record Nothing Happens? And why are things finally happening now?

“When we were kids and really trying to do it, we would always be like, ‘Man, nothing’s happening. Nothing happens for us ever no matter how much we work,’” Preston said. “When we were probably 15, we joked that whenever our first album gets created—whatever happens, however it happens, it’s going to be called Nothing Happens. When we had the lyrics and had the whole theme of the record, I think that the title just made sense in a totally different way. You can go through all these things in your youth that feel so heavy and serious and like the end of the world and all that. But at the end of the day, once you power through it all, it sort of feels like nothing really happened.”

When it seemed like nothing was happening for Wallows, plenty was happening professionally for Lemasters and Minnette, who have both been actors since they were very young. This other career at least partially answers the question of “Why now?” for Wallows. The band’s major-
label debut comes in the wake of Minnette’s lead role as Clay Jensen in the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. And though Minnette’s newfound notoriety is inextricable from the sudden escalation of Wallows’ profile, it is certainly not its only cause. 

“Dylan and I ... wanted to be actors when we were very, very, very young, but I think it was always in our DNA to be musicians, that was what our main thing would be when we got older,” Lemasters said. “It’s not like we’re actors [who said] ‘Hey, let’s capitalize and be musicians because I can play a G chord!’ We’re actually passionate. I spend my free time trying to perfect this, and I’m constantly listening to music and trying to broaden my stuff.”

Nothing Happens melds a variety of influences, including apparent heavy inspiration from the early-2000s garage rock revival. The songs are as guitar-driven as they are synth pop, and the lyrics exhibit both youthful hubris and earned enlightenment.

“I say the wrong shit at the right times,” Minnette sings in the earworm single “Scrawny.” He goes on, “I can still have wisdom and look like a child.”

Wallows is a study in diametrics: throwback rock ‘n’ roll and laptop pop, showbiz veterans and industry newcomers, the kind of dudes who stream every day but would love it if you bought the largest of all the media they offer: a vinyl LP. They’re awash with obsessive fans on their social accounts yet seem to be living,
all things considered, pretty normal lives. 

“When we get old, will we regret this?” Minnette croaks on another Wallows single, “Are You Bored Yet?” “Too young to think about all that shit / And stalling only goes so far when you’ve got a head start.”

Now, finally, Wallows has gotten its decade-in-the-making head start and is finding out what happens when Nothing Happens finally happens. 

*  *  *

Wallows with Remo Drive
Thursday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m. 
Cain’s Ballroom, 423 N. Main St. 
$25-$99

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