In just five years, Wallows, the Los Angeles-based trio of Braeden Lemasters, Dylan Minnette, and Cole Preston, released one of the highest-streamed debuts of 2019, Nothing Happens and followed it up with 2020 EP Remote. Somewhere in the middle of reconfiguring their sound throughout the pandemic, Wallows backtracked to some older demos, while writing new material around their second album Tell Me That It’s Over.
Produced by Ariel Rechtshaid, whose Grammy-winning credits include Adele and Vampire Weekend and has also worked with Madonna, Brandon Flowers, Haim, and a diverse mix of artists, Tell Me That It’s Over outlines beginnings and ends, the start of relationships, the middle messes and eventual closures and coming to terms with growing older. “It’s just a result of the relationships we’ve had, and love, and being more of an adult, and what that means and the seriousness of it,” singer and guitarist Lemasters tells American Songwriter of the album, “versus the loss of innocence entering adulthood of our first album.”
Without being beholden to any set narrative, “Hard to Believe” does contemplate the inevitable stages of relationships and maturation—What age would you call your prime? / We’ve been at this for a long time / That’s a point that I think I could use / I can’t make up another drawn-out, vague excuse, then turns the tables with a more buoyant “I Don’t Want to Talk” and “Especially You,” the latter dissecting the early stages of a relationship and overthinking what’s on your partner’s mind. “It’s about stressing over the smallest things for no reason,” says guitarist and vocalist Minnette, “but it’s definitely self-aware about the fact that I’m doing this all to myself.”
Tell Me That It’s Over is a sort of coming of musical age for Wallows, who first formed more than a decade ago at the ages of 12 and 13, and tips into more experimental arrangements from the ’80s Digi-Synth of “At the End of the Day” and “Hurts Me” with punctuations of indie-pop renderings like “Permanent Price” and “Hurts Me.”
“There’s very much loss of innocence transitioning from your new adulthood and the fears of that,” says Minnette of Tell Me That It’s Over. “It’s about the complexity of some relationships once you are in your mid-20s, and are the decisions you’re making ones that are made for the rest of your life. It’s the good and bad sides of that, the exciting and lovely sides, and the more intimidating sides. You can really overthink it all and self sabotage yourself.”
A departure from Nothing Happens, when the band arrived with completely finished tracks, Tell Me That It’s Over fleshed out over time with a revisitation of some 2018 demos and newer material crafted over time. “It was a natural progression,” says Lemasters. “We went into different producer and writing sessions for the first time. We’ve only written our music in our bedrooms, or at Cole’s apartment—and that’s how we wrote music our whole lives—so then we finally got the opportunity to work with other people just to make music and that was really inspiring to us.”
Working with Rechtshaid added dimension to the band’s already experimental mindset. “We went in for the first day with four songs, and each one of them basically took on a whole new identity that we didn’t expect,” says Lemasters. “I remember leaving the first or second day and we’re all standing by our cars in the ‘cold’ LA weather of 70 degrees, thinking ‘I can’t believe these are the songs.’ He had a way of transforming our music in front of our eyes in a way that was collaborative but where his first instinct also changes the vibe of the song, and it’s pretty amazing to see.”
First forming in 2011—and even going through band names Fever and The Narwhals before landing on Wallows—though adulthood has set in, some things have remained the same for the trio.
“I don’t think that our mindset, even since we were kids towards the band, and how much we love it, and how seriously we take it, hasn’t changed since we were 12 and13 years old,” says Minnette. “The only thing that really changed for us over time was our literal level of maturity. We grew up together, and we were writing songs and we just naturally changed.”
Minnette adds, “We changed our band name because we wanted the band name to be a reflection of that change and that maturity.”
In retrospect, Nothing Happens was still a period of discovery for the band even though it was years in the making. “We were, as a band, experimenting, and being young and being naive,” shared Minnette, “Then going into this, like Braeden mentioned, a couple of the songs, even if it was just a piece like the bridge, came from an old demo, but the majority of the material is stuff that we started from scratch after releasing our first record.”
Now about to embark on the second leg of their U.S. tour, Wallows is letting time tell where and when they’ll find the next album. “We’re coming from this place of ‘I don’t know what else I would be doing if I wasn’t in the band,’ because this is what we’ve all just loved doing our whole lives,” says Minnette. “It’s all about starting from scratch. Our second record is definitely not the same as our first… and I think that was our goal. We’re making some big bold changes in an attempt to tell people that they shouldn’t know what to expect from us.”
Photo: Anthony Pham / BB Gun Press