One of America's best indie rock outfits have released a career-best album via Drag City - drummer and lyricist Evan Burrows opens up about life in this most extraordinary band
Cai Trefor
18:00 30th April 2019

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Los Angeles band Wand - that's Cory Hanson (vocals, guitar), Sofia Arreguin (synth, vocals), Robert Cody (guitar) Lee Landey (bass) and Evan Burrows (drums) - come from the same hallowed DIY music community on the West Coast of the States that spawned garage rock revivalists Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin.

Their barnstorming 2013 debut album Ganglion Reef - released before Robert Cody and Sogiar Arreguin joined (they joined in 2016); Daniel Martens was on guitar for their first two years as a band - was full of phaser guitar and a hell-for leather, saturated rock sound.

Tuneful and aggressive in equal measure, it was a good document of the chaos they could create live and earned them critical acclaim across the indie press both side of the pond. There were some more wistful neo-psych sections too that mean you could file them next to bands such as Temples.

Prolifically creative, they didn't stop there and have now released five albums in as many years: Golem (2015), 1000 Days (2015), Plum (2017), Laughing Matter followed. They've also released two EPs: From A Capsule Underground (2017) and Perfume (2018).

Of the above mentioned released, Golem continues the DIY fuzz vibe, and 1000 Days is the band's first foray into music that carries a rich array of ideas and opens the aesthetic up to incorporate various tastes from within the band.

It's a massive body of work for a band who hit the ground running in having their first ever live shows opening for Ty Segall, got a taste of the good life on tour, and just haven't stopped. And for good reason. The world needs Wand.

We're aware our belligerent confidence about Wand - and specifically in this article about Wand's Laughing Matter album - is helped along by a fondness of OK Computer-era Radiohead, shoegaze, noise artists, Lee Ranaldo, ambient, and garage rock. But, equally, if none of the aforementioned things interest you, so long as you have time to listen to this record properly, we're fairly confident you'll find it an incredibly moving psychedelic-tinged offering. And, do carve out solitary time to immerse in this atmospherically nuanced but mostly anxious, ominous album. Impressively vivid, it adds such richness and teary drama to an otherwise listless space, making sitting in your room feel like the most epic thing ever.

Opener 'Scarecrow' conjures imagery that echoes the gloomy 5G-ridden skies or the plastic cluttered sand of Brexit Britain brilliantly. 'Bubble', meanwhile, immerses you in downtempo explorations not a million miles away from William Basinski's style. Utter sonic annihilation on the end of 'Walkie Talkie' sees them reference their past as disciples of the church of fuzz and delay brilliantly. 'Thin Air', meanwhile, is warmly familiar and catchy with a superb guitar motif that shows the power of a simple yet great idea. And 'Rio Grande' is a modern take on pastoral psych pop that replaces the whimsical element with something much more epic and post-punk.

Given our fondness and desire to bring this music to an even wider audience, we feel a sense of gratitude being invited to speak with Evan Burrows, the band's drummer - and co-lyricist - about the album. A true rock 'n' roll lifer who gives his life to the road for six to nine months of the year with Wand and then when he's home gets practicing with his other band Behavior. He exudes authenticity more than most we've met.

The conversation, which you can read as a Q and A on Gigwise below, happens with Burrows first thing in the morning - noon - when he's sat in front of a tree in his lush North East Los Angeles garden. The melodic chatter of a flock of parrots emphasise how many miles apart we are when on the phone to him. And he gives in depth answers to meandering questions. So without further ado here's Burrows and Gigwise in conversation, kicking off with a direct question about the album:

Gigwise: Hi Evan, it's been great listening to Laughing Matter these past few days. It feels uncompromisingly great. It's by far - in my opinion - the most compelling piece of work [you've done]. Do you feel an excitement about it that's different compared with previous releases with the band? Do you think there's something particularly emotive or it expresses something about what you're like as a band in a new way?

Evan Burrows: I guess it feels like on some level like it's a fruition of a democratic impulse in our songwriting that we've been pursuing that started on a nascent form on 1000 days and has just carried on since then. Our songwriting process has been designed to make an increasing amount of space for a songwriting voice that transpires in the room when the five of us play together. Usually when we write, we just get together and jam and we just record everything that we improvise. And then we cull some ideas from that archive of practice-based recordings. I think after some time of doing that we’re getting to a point where we'll just play together and a song gets spat out fully formed with changes and everything. Not necessarily concise structure, but in one 30-minute jam we might wind up playing all the changes that end up in the final song. And that's something we've never [anticipated]. It wasn't pre-conceived in anyway and there's no way we could have predicted it before the five of us got together. And maybe this record is the fruition of our process moving in that direction. I do feel a level of excitement about it. It's a lot of music. I don't feel too naive about the general public perception of double records - or records that are long enough to be on two LPs. I think it feels by this point we've had a lot of experience making records and we have a lot of fun doing it and we're getting more and more confident. I was saying to Cory and Lee last night that I this record feels like a celebration of the process that we've been developing over the past five or six years.

GW: I suppose when you started the band and you referenced bands such Velvet Underground and Sleep, you were celebrating music that connects to you in some way. But it's no longer, 'here's a great heavy band that's part of a scene that's cool to go and see’; instead, the band's made a great album that will change people's body chemistry when they hear it. Anyway, I know there's a lot of drama that went into your last record Plum: political catastrophe, grief, political catastrophe. Is there a continuation on Laughing Matter of these heavy themes? What sort of narratives are laden in there?

EB: When Cory and I wrote the lyrics we started with a lengthy chat for a couple hours about what we were both thinking about and feeling as the songs were coming together. But for the most part, we're not too specific with what we intend to do. At this point we take for granted that the material of our lives is going to be laden in this music and that’s going to be palpable. And as long as we're emotionally honest with ourselves that material is going to enter the music through osmosis and it's going to be felt. On a larger scale, you can definitely see our bafflement at the rise of right wing populism in the world among many other cultural and political forces, so it's happening at that scale. I'm definitely still grieving the death of my dad. And people's relationships have gone through different phases through the process of working on all these records, so it's happening on that scale, too.

Plus, we mix this stuff with everybody's hands on the faders and so maybe two of us got in a fight and then we mixed 'Scarecrow’. There's just no way that that tension isn't going to register in the music. If all five of us have our hands on the faders, then that is just going to be registered in there. Not in a one to one ratio but I think that stuff is all entering the music.

GW: To get the emotional qualities in the music palpable, is there a sort of method actor thing that happens? To me, it's the sound of a band who are really open and remind me the beauty of opening up to our emotions. But if you were just going about your business without nurturing your ability to express yourselves, I doubt we'd feel it as much. Is there self-awareness of what it means to be a musician or a writer [and how to make it as pointed as possible]?

EB: Yeah definitely. I think because a few of us met at art school I think that level of self-awareness comes as part of that. I also think that we’re all for better or for worse kind of self-serious people on certain level. We also want this music to have a force in it; to have an energy and feeling in it that can be taken back out into the world when people encounter the music. It’s something we're always very conscious of and that's how we're measuring the quality of anything we're making. It's less about having a monopoly on a forethought at the beginning of the process that then determines everything that comes out of it; it's much more about being open to what happens in spite of our presence. And having these periods of self-awareness and self-scrutiny is important. We have constantly talked being less defensive in the music and really open to what can transpire there and what feelings can enter and how many different kinds of feelings can be in the music simultaneously.

GW: You're a well-travelled band, does that enter the music? Is there a specific example of your travels with the band - or any story that takes us away from California that came into Laughing Matter?

EB: The music - and sometimes very literally in the lyrics – you hear reflections of our experience of being on the road because at this point we are on the road more than we aren’t. So life has become about the different places and states you find yourself in when living that way. I think in a lot of ways, the structure of what we're doing as a small scale profession or something is very similar to a way to a lot of people’s jobs as freelancers and people who work in the gig economy. I think there's a lot of mythology around living touring lifestyle but in a lot of ways it's plain in a contemporary setting. Perhaps there's something for people to connect with in it.

GW Can you detail any songs specifically about being on the road?

There are some songs on the record like 'Airplane', for example, where it's literally a description of how you could feel flying on an aeroplane; especially if you've been doing a lot of flying […] 'Rio Grande' has lyrics about us getting in the van, packing the van, and hitting the road. So there are literal story telling moments on the record that have to do with travel. In general, maybe something that is a challenge as we're spending this much time on the road, is things really do have the feeling of slipping away. At least that's been my experience. It's very hard to hold on tight to things. I think that's definitely something that is present in the last few releases in terms of themes and feelings.

GW: Do you question if it's a paranoia of things slipping away or very literal cases? It's easy if you’re away from home for a long time to have doubts and paranoias if you're not nurturing certain relationship, I suppose.

EB: Yes. In darker moments you can have a paranoid reaction to just being overwhelmed by not being able to keep track as easily as people do when they have more consistent routines. Even if you're having a lot of success in maintaining important relationships at home it's still an unusual thing [to be so transient].

By this point, we've been to a lot of cities over and over where we have a handful of friends. We’re going to see those people once, twice a year and we're going to spend 12 hours with them trying to enjoy everything we can enjoy about spending that time. And we're going to wake up at 9am and be gone. And it can be six months before seeing those people who, over five or six years you've grown up with in a way even though those relationships are inconsistent. You could have that experience four nights in a row in four different cities. On the scale of human complication, it's pretty minor. But it is an unusual experience.

GW: Were there any memorable technical process that went into it. A certain effect that became a go-to on the album?

EB: Most of the mixing was done in the control room of the studio where we also did most of the tracking. The character of the record definitely has something to do with console that we were using there and he outboard effects that we had settled on. I'm not the most technical in the band but the thing that's ubiquitous in my recollection is there is a synthesiser called the KORG MS-20. The KORG has an external audio input and there are a lot of things on the record that were processed through that synthesiser. So we would take a track and make a print of it by sending it through the external audio in and running it though the filter banks. We'd bring it back into the mix and that's definitely something that was going on a lot on the record.

GW: The bands that always stand out to me go that extra mile with production. And when I listen I hear a band inspired by the process as well as the themes and emotion of being together. Having said that, I read that Corey said it was a pain in the ass to make Plum. Was this quick or a pain in the ass?

EB: Democracy is always going to be a pain in the ass in the sense that no one just gets to call it [...] But this record happened a lot more quickly. We'd become very comfortable in the process by the time we started and the amount of music in the amount of time we made it, there was a flow I would say. Plum required a lot more wresting with the material before we were satisfied. This felt a lot more natural.

GW: Within the democracy you must have a lot of confidence to attempt to call it, you must have a lot of trust in each other in order to be so collaborative. Surely there are drawbacks and it can put the band's future at risk if you're arguing certain opinions?

EB: It is an exciting process and very involving and also totally maddening. And I don’t think we've even gotten there. It's always an ideal. To try and make something that five people feel like they were with it the whole time. And that thing holds as much of their spirit as much as it does the four other people next to them. It can be really intense. I guess I never thought of it as putting the future of the band at risk. Just as easily a band dynamic in which one person is calling all the shots and the other people feel like tools in that person's tool kit could be a disaster.

And being in the pressure cooker of being in the studio for two straight weeks has been good in forcing us to deal with the family dynamic of being a band. We now have a very high level of communication and a very high level of tolerance for conflict and for sticking with conflict and resolving it in a way that everyone can feel good about.

GW: I suppose that's quite rare. Most people would do anything to avoid an argument.

EB: Yeah. Maybe this also goes back to the fact some of us are coming from this art educated, a specific art education with a critical path. And then also we're all coming from DIY music communities in the States which has emphasis on community and building lasting friendships over commercialism. And also to some extent on self-improvement which is a cheesy thing to put so plainly. 

The records are important but just as important is the relationships we have with each other band personal growth. Even if we were making great records and people felt miserable or people felt like they were stuck personally, I think it would not be able to go on. That's always been a big part of it for us. We can't let that stuff go.

GW: Fairplay. Where was it recoded actually? I didn't have any information from Drag City about that.

EB: Oh ok. We recorded in Tornllo, Texas. It’s in west Texas near El Paso. It's a studio called Sonic Ranch.

GW: What's that like?

It's a really heavy place it's right on the US/Mexico border. It's a very large operational pecan farm. There’s a central hacienda and a bunch of outbuildings and this guy Tony has slowly built up a really high quality studio there over the years. We were in one of the studios at that place.

GW: In a way you could just go and record in LA, do you think having that change of setting is important? How I see it now is it's got big views and warm weather. Did that have an impact have on facilitating your most creative states?

EB: Yeah. Since the first record we've always gone away to record. There is definitely something to having that feeling of showing up on the scene somewhere unfamiliar and having a set of tools you are provided with and just honing in. In the case of Sonic Ranch, you are surrounded - first of all - by a really imrepsssive landscape. Secondly, you’re right on the border. Which, for many different reasons, is a very charged place. And, it's Tony's philosophy to have the Ranch be a circumstance that is totally saturated with a really heavily curated sense of atmosphere. There’s a ton of tapestries and all kinds of art work. Prints by really insane artists like [Joan] Miró. And really specific lighting. It's a place that's just designed to have an effect on you.

GW: If you feel stimulated walking into that space, then when you create a record, you need to take that level of aesthetic and apply it in your own way perhaps?

EB: It impacted on the music. I mean it's such a sensitive moment when you're getting people to record this stuff that you've been attached to and putting it down.  I think being in that space in that sensitive moment I think it's inevitable it just writes itself into the music.

When I think about the other places we made the other records I can just see that. With Plum I can think of the way the trees looked against the sky in Grass Valley. With 1000 days I can think about walking out of Bauer Mansion into Chinatown in San Francisco. With Golem I can think about being on the edge of Sacramento and going outside the studio that was in a loading dock and going across the street and getting casino breakfast. And no one else in the world ever has to have that exact impression with it. But in know that it's there and it comes a part of the music.

GW: Is this one bittersweet because every time you think back to this ranch you're reminded of the US/Mexican border and the awful policies are being paraded by Trump. Was there much discussion about that during the recording process, being as close as you were to something so dreadful happening?

EB: Oh yeah, definitely. Among many other things, there's definitely a sense of fear on this record that is related to that stuff. When we were recording in west Texas, we were extremely close to child detention centres where they were holding children who had been separated from their families for trying to cross the border. As with everything else recently, there's no way we couldn’t have been effected by that. I'm not sure what the purpose would have been to have registered that one to one the record, but I think we were sensitive to that and  the music reflects it. There’s a terror and anxiety in the record that definitely has to do with living in a country that's having its identity turned inside out and revealed. I'm not sure this historical moment is a whole lot different from the ones preceding it but a lot of things have been made very plain. It's disturbing.

GW: With regards to the awful border situation, I suppose you are becoming an antitheses to those politics of division. There is more expression and room for each other. Is there a sense of awareness within the band about showing what people are capable when they work together? Do you think about the band as an entity that is countering populism? Or as a role model for society?

EB: I think that is the motivation train of thought. That's really highly idealistic. And I think we are all highly idealistic people. But it becomes clear after a while - especially in this day and age, our band being what it is - this record is not an act of political activism. It isn't engaging politics in that way at all. And I don’t want to portray it as such. I don’t think we're under any delusion about that.

At best, I think the way we can justify carrying on working on a record when all this stuff is happening is that we have just put in enough time at this point I think this is something we are good at and I hope it gives life and energy and motivating forces to people who are ready to do the good work.

There are lot of periods of doubt and feeling totally ashamed and embarrassed of being a rock n’ roll musician in this world. When I feel the best about it that's what I imagine is possible. I imagine if we do conduct ourselves in the way we try to, really try to be sensitive and available to what's going on and carry ourselves a certain way and hold our music to a certain standard then we feel it'll be a good thing.
Sure, our conversation continues on the tape. We chat a little about the parrots on his tree and discover modesty about how he sees the band in relation to the rest of the music industry which he needn’t have because the album is mind-blowing. But this sentiment is where we’ll leave it: "Gives life and energy and motivation forces to people who are ready to do the good work." Burrows absolutely nails it there. Burrows’ optimism about what music's value is in a torrid world is a delightful thing to hear.

By that sentiment, the biggest reward they get is when someone listens to this album then gets the morale to go on and make a tune, write something, or phone up an old friend, whatever it is.

Though they’ve long since out grown a local garage rock scene and are internationally acclaimed rock n’ roll band sticking to their principles is a vital thing in a corrupt, greedy world. This modesty, and sympathy coupled with an insane musicality and diverse sounding album that is up there with the best indie rock records, certainly, of this decade can only endear us more to the band. Long live Wand as they saunter on ahead touring all summer and hopefully put out more music very soon. At the pace they work it won't be long before we're talking about album six. Five is certainly a spectacle.

Wand are currently on tour in the US. Check here for ticket details

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Photo: Taralyn Thomas