Wednesday — Interview

I was lucky enough to join the Asheville-based band Wednesday right before their set at Club Dada here in Dallas. In the sweaty comfort of their tour van Karly, Jake, Xandy, Alan, and Ethan told me all about North Carolina, their new album Rat Saw God, and touring.

Radio UTD’s Maizie Croom catches up with the members of North Carolina band Wednesday in an exclusive interview. Stream their latest release, Rat Saw God, here.

(Interview has been edited for clarity)

Maizie Croom: Okay, so you guys, to me at least, I’m from North Carolina…

*Excitement in the tour van*

Karly Hartzman: Oh shit!

Xandy Chelmis: Where?!

I’m from Concord, which is by Charlotte.

Alan Miller: Concord Mills Mall! Dave & Busters!

Yeah, where people get stabbed. So, anyways, to me you guys are like a success story for the North Carolina/Asheville music scene. What has your experience been like in that Asheville milieu?

KH: Well, it’s kind of all over the place. It’s like, a lot of our records came out during COVID, so our shows that would have been promoting those albums we didn’t really experience that. We kind of went from playing house shows—all the bands start out at house shows and the smaller punk venues and slowly work their way up to mid-sized venues, but a lot of our mid sized venues are closing, so it’s in a weird position right now, but there are some UNCA kids throwing some cool house shows right now, I feel like that’s generally the vibe.

Jake Lenderman: Also, we’ve been touring more and more so naturally we’re a little more out of touch with Asheville. Last year we were kind of there, it felt like less than we were on the road. But Asheville rocks.

AM: Also, I feel like kind of what Karly was saying with the pandemic, we found ourselves selling out shows and realizing we were doing well in other cities before we did in Asheville. Because like you said, those albums all came out during the pandemic, and we weren’t able to play local shows.

KH: Yeah, it’s kind of weird, but I mean all sorts of bands can become successful in completely disparate—like there’s good metal there, there’s good old-time stuff, there’s good…

AM: There’s a rap scene.

XC: It’s a really good place to play music for sure and to be in too because it’s relatively pretty nice, it’s pretty there.

JL: It sounds like more people are recognizing Asheville as a music place now, which is really cool. I feel proud that we weren’t from a bigger city because the industry kind of had to come to us.

And your first album came out in like February of 2020, so right as things were…

KH: Yeah, and our first shows we played following Twin Plagues, which no one gave a fuck about us in other cities before that and then all of a sudden we were selling our show out in New York and we were like “who are y’all?”

AM: Just so confused that anyone that we didn’t know, in a different city was wanting to show up to it.

So, this is your fourth album technically, with the cover album last year. How do you think your writing style or recording style has evolved since you began?

KH: Xandy are you about to say…

XC: No, I’m…

KH: You say it.

XC: I don’t know, we’ve just all honed in and better understood the sound that each of us want to contribute and make together. So, it’s gotten a lot easier when we sit down and work out a new song.

JL: Also, the studio in Asheville, Drop of Sun. I think you can tell the difference between stuff before that and some of the covers even because a lot of those were recorded at home. The difference between home recording and studio recording was pretty big.

KH: Yeah, we started out completely DIY. Our friend recorded I Was Trying To Describe You in his house.

JL: Shouts-out Colin Miller!

KH: Yeah, he did what he could with what he had and it sounds really great, but it just makes a very obvious step as we moved into an actual studio. I feel like that’s why people say, when we’re leveling up it’s like we’re getting better at songwriting obviously too, but it’s inherently better recording or higher quality recording even though I like lo-fi shit too.

AM: I always say this: With me and Karly, we both started only seriously playing our instrument with the start of this band, so, we’re just literally like better musicians.

I love the “I want to start a band, can’t really play an instrument” vibe.

KH: I genuinely think because I started junior year of college, anyone can do it at any age. I literally wanted to do it so bad for so long, but I just felt like some invisible wall was in the way, and then one day I was like “Fuck it, I’m going to try it anyways.” You can do it if you really, really, really, really, really want it. I know that’s a hard thing to put into what that actually means to different people, but I just was like “This is the only thing I want to do.”

AM: Especially if you have songs to write. You were like, “I got all these songs.” As soon as you started doing it, you were doing it so hard.

KH: I wrote a lot of poetry before too, so I loved writing already and music was my favorite thing, so combining the two was like “yass.”

That goes into my next question. A lot of the songs on Rat Saw God are very fragmented; you’re getting selected memories of different points in time and places, so, what is the process of writing these songs?

KH: I mostly just sit down somewhere in public, I like sitting at a coffee shop or I’ve written at the mall a few times. I’ll just sit down and brain dump. I have a list of memories I want to get to in our songs, so sometimes I’ll pick one and just write everything I can remember surrounding it and other memories that felt like that. Then try to match tonally the memory to chords and I kind of just do that based off of feel because I don’t actually know any music theory, I’m just like “Does that sound how this felt?” And then my bandmates come in with the actual theory and wonderful musicianship and fill out all the blanks basically, whether we’re doing that at practice or in the studio. But it’s really just me trying to dump a memory into the song and then building the sound around it to support it and put someone there.

And then how do the songs evolve from that written place to what we hear on the record? Are there some songs that came out totally different than where they started off?

JL: I think they start off in such a simple place. Karly writes songs that already could stand on their own.

XC: She’ll send us a demo, like a phone recording.

JL: And then, literally, we add everything else. So, they evolve, they just become… most of the time, louder. But just the five-piece of adding the guitars and bass and drums, which inherently means new melodies that fit within what’s already there.

AM: For one example for something that changed a lot was with “Bull Believer.” We decided as a group once we were playing these two songs that they would be great as a unit.

KH: One long song.

AM: Yeah.

KH: They’re technically two separate songs that were meant to be played next to each other, but not one.

AM: Yeah, but we were like “We should just mash them up. Don’t stop.”

One thing that I’m really curious about, like this is my number one question, is what influenced the visuals of the album?

KH: Ooh, I love that question. Okay, I got really into Victorian and Edwardian fashion during the pandemic, but I also think it’s really boring to just reference—the same thing happens when people say that we’re ‘90s influenced, like it’s not just ‘90s though. Mixing eras is so much cooler than just worshiping one era. So, I love the idea of us in Edwardian clothing on the album and a photograph of a painting in a field where we live in combination with… I don’t know, like the “Bull Believer” artwork is obviously some girl in LA in modern times making a doll in Edwardian dress.

AM: Shout out Nova [Odette]. (The creator of the clay doll for the “Bull Believer” single cover.)

KH: Yeah, her name’s Nova. I don’t know, I love creepy stuff obviously and it’s just kind of tying all of these things together. It’s like the world I imagine when I’m writing a song. I like that question so much.

I was curious because the music videos are kind of like references to the songs where you have these dispatches from North Carolina, and it’s all kind of rougher digital stuff and then you have the album cover, which is just wild.

KH: Our manager is always asking us to stop taking pictures at our house, like in a field. And I’m just like “That’s just where I feel like we make the most sense.” And he’s like “But let’s put you anywhere else, just have one other place.”

JL and AM: Yeah, train tracks!

KH: Oh my gosh, beach! We should do, like, the family photo thing with a beach and the jeans and a black turtleneck. That would be really funny.

XC: We should get on a river, take some photos.

AM: When we’re in Ireland, we should wear old dock worker clothes on the cliffs.

XC: Yesssss.

KH: See, we just like to reference anything and everything and make it stupid.

Ethan Baechtold: Can we please get a dock worker cliff photoshoot? Please.

AM: Do like an IDLES type thing.

Okay so you guys just started this tour…

KH: This is our fourth show.

XC: It’s been like less than a week I think… God. Wow. It feels like a long time.

KH: We’ve experienced a lot already.

So, how has the tour gone so far? What are you enjoying? Favorite song to play live?

KH: This has been my favorite tour we’ve ever done so far and I can already tell it’s going to just continue to be. I feel like morale is at a high. It’s obviously invigorating to have people come after this album has been received so well to the shows and then people are so stoked.

I think it’s hard to deny that “Bull Believer” is the most exciting song to play because it feels really good vocally and everyone else gets really into it and the band gets into it. I feel like the band right now, we’re kind of at the point where we know the songs well enough that we’re kind of messing around with them a little bit more than we normally do. So, almost every song feels really good each night. Cause, maybe I’ll hear something one of my bandmates does and be like “What the fuck?” It’s so exciting.

XC: “What’s So Funny” is one of my favorite songs right now.

KH: That one’s been hitting crazy.

XC: We actually didn’t quite know how to play that one when we started because it’s been so long, because we didn’t play it since we recorded it basically, so we learned it before the tour and we’ve been playing it. It’s a really awesome moment in the night.

AM: I’ve been having a lot of fun with “Quarry” personally too.

XC: Yeahhh.

AM: That’s my favorite drum song to play ‘cause we get that awesome, chuggy build-up at that one part.

KH: I’m still figuring out what I want to do with my vocals live with that one. Have you noticed I’ve been doing something different every night with that? It’s so fun.

XC: We also have a tour manager on this tour for the first time.

KH: Who you’ve been hanging out with. If you can’t tell, she’s the fucking best.

XC: She’s super amazing and that’s been making the tour a lot better.

JL: She’s also been organized.

AM: Shout out Regina from Denton.

She’s local, a friend of UTD.

XC: We also have Mitt back home organizing merch and stuff for us so we’re able to have that a lot more easily on hand.

KH: And just be able to do music. There’s so much to touring that’s not music and it’s fucking soul-sucking.

AM: And we still have to do a lot of that, but it’s a lot more manageable now.

KH: She’s like our mommy.

XC: And we’re also communicating better, so I think tour so far has been, like, best ever vibes. Really excited for the rest of it.

AM: We’ll see how we feel in two months when we’re still touring.

XC: Yeah, ask us again in two months.

Okay, last question, is Wednesday a country band?

KH: We are a band that does country songs. I don’t think we’re any type of band at this point. I just don’t feel comfortable anytime anyone says anything about us, I’m like “Hmm, we’re not quite that.”

AM: We’ll do a song that’s completely country, and then we’ll do a song that’s completely shoegaze, and everything in-between.

KH: I like the idea, I feel like we’re just a North Carolina band. That’s what I most identify with because North Carolina inherently is a melting pot in its own little way of music and weird geographical shit—as you know—so I feel like North Carolinian makes more sense. I don’t know, what do you think?

XC: It’s that North Carolina sound.

KH: Yeah.

XC: No, I like that.

AM: That’s a good answer. We’re a North Carolina band.

EB: Regions with genres are cool, cause after it’s said and done, you can decide on genre. Country bands existed, and after they exist, it’s like, “Oh, that was this country scene.” So, we can figure out when we’re done what it was.

XC: Yeah, cause the lineage of country music and indie music in North Carolina is just crazy.

JL: Pretty big, yeah.

Alright, thank you guys.

XM: Yeah, of course!