Now that co-frontman Dylan Minnette is the breakout star of Netflix’s hit show 13 Reasons Why, it is easy to relegate Wallows as an accidental band, of actors that became singers, riding on the coat-tails of the teen drama’s success. However, the truth is Minnette and his fellow band mates—guitarist Braeden Lemasters (also an actor) and drummer Cole Preston—have been industrious and focused with their music from the onset.
The proof is in their robust songwriting: “Pleaser,” their jangly first single, is taut indie rock that already sounds like a classic. Any one of the songs on their Spring EP, such as “Let The Sun In,” with it’s stirring trumpet solo, or the twist ending of The Smiths-like “1980s Horror Film,” leaves the listener poised for more.
The trio have been band mates since they were 12 and crazy for The Beatles. If their John Congleton-produced debut EP explodes with a clutch of immediately catchy gems, it’s because now in their early 20s, they’ve already been honing in their craft for a decade. Like veterans, they’ve played at live venues on the Sunset Strip under different monikers. They’ve recorded themselves live and done backyard music videos that were uploaded to YouTube and Bandcamp, well before Wallows or indeed 13 Reasons Why took off.
Lemasters has been on four acting projects with Minette over the years. Yet, instead of the L.A. casting couch for kids, they met after their mothers became friends on an online forum.
They may sound like The Strokes and any number of Noughties indie rock names now, but that charge may not hold up for too much longer. They can’t wait for the day when folks say they sound like themselves — Wallows. To that end, they enlisted producer Congleton, known for his work with diverse artists from St. Vincent to The Walkmen and Mountain Goat. They continue to work with him for their upcoming full-length.
While Minette was busy shooting season 3 of 13 Reasons Why, he did reach out to say that it was great to have two vocalists in the band. “It just makes the songs more exciting and brings different life and energy to different songs.” When asked to pick who would be McCartney or Lennon between himself and Lemasters, he replied: “Oh man, I don’t know if I can answer that, or even feel slightly OK about myself comparing Braeden and me to Lennon or McCartney. I guess I’d just say Braeden would be McCartney because he has a much higher range than me vocally. He can hit some of those magical McCartney notes that I never could.”
Lemasters and Preston chatted with us about how the trio met, the wrong references that people attribute to their songs, and the time they vetoed Congleton’s wishes. Of acting versus music, Minnette said: “I’ve been acting for about 13 years, and everything that we’re doing in music right now are things that I’ve been wanting to achieve for about 10 [years]. I may be on a show now, but any second or chance I get, whether it be between seasons or otherwise, it’s all about Wallows.” Lemasters shares this sentiment.
Are you guys enjoying the response to the EP? Or are you like, “About bloody time”?
Lemasters: Yeah, I am enjoying the response. It’s cool to see people reacting to the songs in a positive way. I’m super happy that people can connect with the songs. It doesn’t really feel like “it’s about time!” We have been doing this for so long, that now that it’s finally happening, it just feels natural. We’re almost happier that it’s taken some time because the songs have progressed so much.
Preston: I feel like doing the EP we learned a lot. We’ve never really gone into a studio with a producer to record anything on a professional level. And I think as we move on, there’ll be even more progression.
I like the nostalgia of your sound, but do you ever worry about sounding like a facsimile of The Strokes or The Vaccines or any band that has maybe inspired you?
Lemasters: When we released our first single, we definitely got Strokes comparisons. It was fine; some of the songs were inspired by these bands. As we progress, it’s important to try and find a way to make it original in whatever shape or form. I think it’s interesting that there’ve been songs that aren’t inspired by the thing that people seem to think. We’ll write a song completely different and someone will say, “Oh, it sounds like Garth Brooks!” (Laughs.) It’s flattering to be compared to some of the people but moving forward it’s important for us to sound like “us.”
Preston: The Strokes, Vaccines, it’s cool to be compared to those bands because we grew up listening to them. So innately their sound is going find their way into our music. The funny thing is, it’s totally unintentional. We never set out to sound like them.
You’ve been playing together for 10 years and you’ve had a few different names. What was the thing that first bonded you guys together
Lemasters: Dylan and I met when we were very young, nine years old, a couple of years before the band started. We just kind of became friends and hung out all the time. We kind of discovered our love for music and bonded over our love for The Beatles, that young. Rare for, like, nine-year-olds to go, “You listen to the White Album too?” and know every single song. We started influencing each other’s taste; he showed me Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys, and I would show him what I was listening to. He wanted to do this music program called Join The Band—that was literally what it was called—so we signed up. When we walked in, Cole was sitting there.
Preston: (Cracks up laughing.)
Lemasters: We became a band, then we became friends. And after a show we did at a Hollywood venue, we really wanted to form a band of our own. So we asked Cole to join, and then we got a bass player.
And the rest is history.
Lemasters: Yes, that was the history for 2010.
You and Dylan are actors. Did you meet doing the Hollywood rounds auditioning?
Lemasters: This is hilarious—our moms met in an online chatroom because we were both young boys coming to L.A. to act.
Lemasters: So they met. And then we met. Not even through auditions. But Dylan and I did work on four different projects together, which is hilarious.
And Cole, you don’t do any acting?
Lemasters: He did a play.
Preston: I did some high school theatre. I played Benvolio in Romeo & Juliet. But that’s about as far as my acting career went.
What were you doing when they were going to auditions and landing roles on TV?
Preston: I was at school and then went to college. Yeah, I was a schoolboy.
Cole, you once said, There are elements of St. Vincent, Alvvays and Angel Olsen that you all wanted in your sound. You guys were inspired by all of these artists and hence, your ideal, dream producer would be John Congleton. Incidentally, they are all female artists – what elements about their music did you like?
Preston: Apart from the music just sounding amazing, I love the way the production sounded. I’m like drawn to female—anything. (Laughs.) Just kidding, I like all voices, but I do enjoy female voices… so there’s always a draw there. You know these three bands make some of the best music I’ve ever heard.
Lemasters: And if you heard any of the albums you wouldn’t necessarily think they were all produced by the same person. In each, there is a unique style. We wanted to work with John because he’s quite diverse with who he works with. We went into it knowing that he would bring out the best in us. Rather than putting his John Congleton-producer sound to what we were doing.
You guys have a DIY ethic and hit the ground running with your music, early on, uploading to YouTube. As you said earlier working with a producer taught you a whole lot – what is one thing that you can take away from your sessions with John?
Lemasters: There’s a couple of songs on the upcoming album that totally took on a new life. If we had done them on our own, or with another producer they’d be totally different songs. We just really trusted John and wanted him to be, like a fourth member. We wanted his opinions and help in maybe rearranging a song. He would say, “I think on the last verse, we should do this,” and it would push us to write something new for it. And there’s the last song on the record which has a different chorus from how we originally did it. I don’t know, he’s just very good at elevating us so it was a nice surprise. What lesson would I take away? A producer can really change the direction that a record takes. It’s kind of scary but also really exciting.
Preston: Trusting the process is something that I just had to get used to since we’ve never really done that before. Going into this year was a lot more difficult – we had to take a step back a little and hear this songs, fresh and unbiased. We definitely had to get used to that but it’s really important to believe in what you’re doing, and believe in the whole process.
Was there any point where you sort of were unsure with John’s direction?
Lemasters: One specific moment, I can remember, is from the EP, the song “Let The Sun In” had a totally different intro. John suggested opening the song with a trumpet solo. We were kinda like, “What? I don’t think that’s the right decision.” We ended up doing it, and then going home we were all like, “Oh no, I don’t think that was a right decision.” It’s funny looking back now, I can’t imagine any other way to begin that song, and this trumpet moment that returns later, it was such a well thought out thing. But at the time, we just needed to get used to it because we’ve lived with some of these songs for so much time.
That really is something that stands out on “Let The Sun In.” Does one of you play the trumpet?
Preston: I wish. But it’s my old roommate; he’s a really talented trumpet and keyboard player.
Lemasters: You’re the first person we’re telling this to because you asked the question but we have this funny story about John. On “These Days,” John wanted to have a different drum beat, a swing drum beat or whatever. So we recorded the song that way and it was all good. And we didn’t really have any time to process it. But two days later, we all listened to it and John really loved it and we were like “no, no, no.” Then one day, he was out with the flu and we were in the studio with his assistant, and we re-recorded the drums.
Lemasters: Yes. And when he came back, we said “John, we re-recorded the drums.” He was like, “Of course!” Then he heard it and was like, “OK.” He was so chill. (Laughs.) We all shared and talked about these ideas, and he shot some of our ideas down too.
It’s great that you guys had such a good working relationship. The path you’re taking has an independent streak to it. John is successful, but the folks he’s produced aren’t Taylor Swift—he’s not Max Martin. What’s the kind of career you want?
Lemasters: We grew up just loving music and these different artists that inspired us. We were trying to write good songs, 10 years before any crazy acting gigs blew up. It’s a very natural thing for us. People think that the success of the band right now is because we were roped together this last year but we know, we’ve been making music for a long time and we love it. I have nothing against pop music; that’ll be so sick if we could one day write pop music. Right now, John was what was best for these songs. It was never, “Let’s go with what’s going to give us a number one hit.” We weren’t going for that, just for what we love.
One of my favorite songs of the EP is “1980’s Horror Film” – I like its Morrissey vibe, and that clever twist at the end, it’s very of the moment. Who came up with the song?
Lemasters: Technically, I did. In my room, randomly out of nowhere. I was thinking about “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles and that guitar riff; this song has that similar song structure and I wanted to write the story in way that it starts to unravel things for the narrator. John took it into another level in the studio with the production; what was an acoustic song—we laid it down that way—John then said, “Let’s go get freaky.” (Laughs.) We started putting sub-bass on it, strings at the end and violin; it just took a life of its own.
You have Life Is Beautiful coming up, and you’ve been announced for Camp Flog Gnaw and Austin City Limits, but when can we expect this new album?
Lemasters: We’re working on the record right now. Hmm...what I can say is, it will be out sometime in the next 250 days. The next two-thirds of a year it should be out. I know it’s a vague promise.
Preston: Yeah, the first full moon of the month of Leo. (Laughter.)