You could say that the journey of Wand in the five years since their inception has been one towards genrelessness.
The Los Angeles band's first three albums – Ganglion Reef (2014), Golem (2015) and 1000 Days (2015) – were stellar noisy but melodic works of intoxicating psychedelia, taking in both hulking riffs and positively oceanic levels of distortion as well as meandering and wistful prog-inspired passages and the high fantasy, Tolkien-ish lyrics of frontman and guitarist Cory Hanson, who over time has matured into a captivating, idiosyncratic, brilliant songwriting talent.
But Wand's devotion to the psych template eventually wore itself out, as their 2017 album Plum and now their 30-minute EP, Perfume, proves. Plum is an album that resists summary categorisation, forging its own sonic landscape out of the band's unprecedented songwriting nous and the five-piece downing the tools of psychedelia – the spacey effects, the walls of noise, and the lyrics about mythological creatures – in favour of arrangements and production that simply served the character of the songs and no more. In some ways it was an exercise in self-actualisation for the band, in some ways an act of humility.
A few things happened to Wand between 1000 Days and Plum that inspired this new approach. For one, they enlisted two new members: keyboardist and singer Sofia Arreguin and guitarist Robbie Cody joined Hanson, drummer Evan Burrows and bassist Lee Landey.
Secondly, Hanson produced a solo record in 2016's The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo that in its elegant string arrangements, unobtrusive nylon guitar and gently post-apocalyptic lyrical landscape, was an eerie, transportive masterpiece of restraint – and worlds away from the clamour of the first three Wand records.
The band also underwent its fair share of personal hardship: Hanson has spoken of a tumultuous relationship breakdown, while more than one bereavement informed the band's moral and aesthetic code for Plum.
"My dad passed away a year and a half ago while we were working on Plum," says Burrows, "and I've had very little time, space or privacy to process that loss, and it's been a very difficult thing."
Perfume sees Wand expanding once again. The EP builds on the band's newfound capacity for expertly constructed songwriting while at the same time showcasing a spirit of adventure and experimentation that, as Hanson and Burrows hint at below, is partly what EPs are for. On on hand 'Pure Romance' is reminiscent of late-period Crowded House (not something I ever thought I'd write) while 'Town Meeting' is a nervy, jumpy, punk-infused track in which Hanson and Arreguin sings two contrasting melody lines over one other, with marvellously dissonant results.
Both Cory Hanson and Evan Burrows proved thoughtful and responsive during their respective Skype interviews, conducted as the band prepared for a US tour and plotted the early stages of writing and recording a fifth album.
DiS: So far this year you've completed a European tour, released an EP and are about to go out in the US for a month or so. Do you feel you are still in the afterglow of Plum's release or has the band moved on to a new phase in its existence?
Evan Burrows: I think we have moved on to a different period – and a different process. We started writing for what I guess will be the next record pretty soon after Plum came out. But the songs on Perfume are all still in one way or another an orbit of the process that produced Plum.
Cory Hanson: I think we're in a transitional period, which could be the last shades of Plum, and could be a lot of earnest reaching into new territory. The EP was a fun way to try out new ideas without having to commit to anything, and have fun with the medium. A lot of psychic energy gets drained when you're working on one record to the next, so it was nice to do something that carried a different weight.
Eight months on from Plum's release, how do you feel about that record now, has your perspective of it changed in the time it's been out in the world?
EB: The writing process for that record was really intense, we were in the rehearsal space on a daily basis for six to ten hours a day, so being on the other side of that, my relationship with the record is definitely different.
I'm always discovering new things in the record because when I was writing my parts I was listening to the whole somewhat selectively, or maybe had my head in a hole, so coming back and hearing what everyone else was up to that whole time has reinvented it for me.
CH: Plum felt like a big monumental thing for us because we really got down to the very basic core elements of what being in a band meant for all of us and we negotiated a lot of things together and learned how to write with each other. I do think of it more fondly now because it was such a pain in the ass to make.
Some of Perfume is substantially different to Plum, yet I understand both releases stem from the same period of writing and recording. How did you identify the demarcation between what ended up on Plum and what ended up on Perfume? Do you see the experimental tracks on Perfume, such as 'Town Meeting', as a kind of reaction to the undoubted melodiousness, or beauty, of Plum?
CH: The songs are all cropped from the same yield that gave us Plum, so the songwriting is not too dissimilar. We had a couple of songs that we didn't feel were worth recording during the Plum sessions because they just didn't fit. Perfume does have some uglier or less austere moments, but there are also probably some of the most beautiful things that we've done. The concept of the EP was that we'd throw a bunch of shit together and see what happened. But in classic Wand fashion we got really neurotic about it and made something that is kind of its own little world. It's like a half-born album, or something.
EB: I think there's a kind of arc, or shapeliness, that we start to sense as we're working on a body of material. We always imagined that these songs would be an EP rather than an LP because it never felt like the arc was leading towards an LP. To some extent it's a pretty superficial distinction, but for us it had to do with a difference in feeling. I think the way the songs on the EP want each other is different to the way songs on our LPs want each other.
The EP is as long as some albums by other artists – you weren't ever tempted to call it your fifth full-length?
CH: We joked about it, but there was never any serious conversation. I don't think any of us felt it carried the scope that Plum does. But it was fun to make an EP like this, and I'd like to do a lot more of them.
One of the things that attracted me to Wand when you first emerged with Ganglion Reef in 2014 was your relative lack of an online presence. So your biography wasn't rammed down people's throats. I understand the band grew out of art school friendships, can you expand on that?
EB: Yeah, Cory and Sofia went to school together at CalArts in north Los Angeles. I also went there and I overlapped with Sofia but not with Cory. So we met through mutual friends and then when Cory was starting to write material that ended up on the first Wand album, he pitched it to me and we started playing together and it felt really good.
When we decided to expand the line-up, Sofia seemed an obvious choice as we all knew her from school and had seen her play in other bands. Robbie and Lee didn't go to that school but we knew them through the loose network of that school.
Can both of you describe how music made its way into your lives as you were growing up? Cory I know is from Pasadena and Evan from Chicago originally.
CH: My family is very musical. My mum was a country singer for a long time, singing in saloons and places like that. My dad is a jazz pianist with a background in classical piano. So I had a pretty diverse childhood with those three things: the country, the jazz and the classical.
Playing music for a living is a really childish thing to want to do, and I decided that's what I wanted when I was 13 or 14, and luckily I was raised by my mum who could teach me exactly how to do it.
I've been thinking about this a lot. It was my mum's birthday yesterday and Mother's Day before that so I've been thinking about certain memories, like seeing my mum writing in a notebook. I'd ask what she was doing and she'd say, "I got inspired so I'm writing a song". I was like, "Huh, so that's how it works, you sit around and wait to be inspired", and she'd say "No you’ve got to work at it". So then I started writing songs.
Parents try to be very anti-drugs and alcohol, or at least my mum was. I would say, "The Beatles are so great" and she'd say, "Yeah but they broke up because of all the drugs – you've got to remember Cory that you don't need drugs to write songs". But my mum had never done LSD, so maybe if she had she would think a little differently.
Sounds like you didn’t exactly heed her advice.
CH: Well I am my own consciousness. I've made some decisions that mum wouldn't have liked, but I think I'm alright.
Evan, how did you first pick up the drums?
EB: Around 12 or 13 is when I started playing percussion in band, because my best friend was playing percussion and I wanted to be in the same section as her. Around that time I heard my first hardcore record and that was it, I felt I had permission to play in bands all of a sudden. Pretty soon after that I started high school and it took over my life.
Was Wand the sort of band you envisaged being in one day?
EB: Yes, in so far as we're always trying to change the way we work and trying to create enough space to allow almost anything into the music – I've been in other bands that were chasing that too.
But I personally didn't grow up with much of an attachment to garage rock or 60s and 70s rock & roll or psychedelia, so that was something I was introduced to as a result of joining Wand. I got really excited about music through hardcore and noise – that was the bread and butter of my adolescence.
To listen to your debut album Ganglion Reef and then Plum is to reveal a pretty sharp contrast in styles. How do you look back on Ganglion Reef four years on?
CH: I love it, I think it's great. I love them all, I'm very happy that I had the luxury of making any of these records, making records is a joy.
But with any record, we've been satisfied and then later – or before – intensely disappointed. At certain points I've been dissatisfied with Ganglion Reef, and I can't even remember why. Making records is like being in love – you start to resent the other person and then you love them again.
EB: I feel it's a really solid record. I had less involvement with writing those songs, so it's almost like I'm a fan of the songs because I hadn't been there the whole way with them. I have that kind of relationship with Ganglion Reef more than the other records. I don't identify quite as much with the costume we were wearing as I did at the time, but when I listen to it I do feel it makes the kind of open promises that we've tried to capitalise on along the way. When I listen back to that it still feels like anything's possible.
Sofia and Robbie joined the band in 2016 ahead of the recording of Plum. Did the new line-up produce the stylistic changes you anticipated or has Wand become a different beast entirely?
EB: The style was much less a forethought than the process. Over time there's been a steady process of trying to democratise the way we write songs, and get ourselves to a place where we can start primarily with improvisation, and that was the impulse behind expanding the line-up to five. So it made a lot of sense to have more bodies for that, and also to have two musicians who we really trusted to help us open that space up. And I think there is, now, a force in the music that can't be accounted for by any one of us.
CH: Plum was the process of realising there's no way to steer or control what we do as a band and the music that gets produced. I'm probably the most guilty of neurotically trying to control every sonic aspect, but it just can't happen. The music is just going to do its own thing, and if you don't respect what's being created right before your eyes then what's the point of doing this? That's what we had with Plum, all these fucking lessons.
How has the addition of Robbie and Sofia affected your own playing styles?
CH: I don't really have to do much rhythm stuff anymore, I can dig into wanking all over everything. It's great, I can be as belligerently shreddy as I want.
EB: I've had to become a lot better at keeping my ears wide open while I'm playing and learn to respond to and intuit the musical personas of everyone else in the room. We've also really tried to expand our dynamic range, so I've been learning a lot about playing quieter.
I know some band members went through some personal upheaval during the making of Plum – how helpful was making the album in dealing with those things?
CH: Records really absorb life, they soak it up. When you listen to a record there's only so much you can hear but there's a lot more you can feel. The way that everybody felt when they were making Plum goes into the sound – it's soaked in our lives, it's like a weird mildewy rag filled with sweat and tears and blood. It's kind of grotesque but beautiful at the same time.
Cory, you said elsewhere that you "didn't want to write about bullshit fantasy stuff anymore", referring to the mythological and fantastical lyrics on early Wand albums. Can you expand on that? What made you change lyrical direction?
CH: I was just tired of there being a veneer, tired of there having to be something separating my and the band's feelings from the actual music being produced. I've always felt this compulsion that I couldn't just give myself away, but with Plum I was just, "Fuck it, we're a band, let's make a record about being in a band". That's what people want, anyway.
Some people do want a beautiful fantasy that is scary and thrilling with castles and creatures with billions of arms, and that stuff's really fun to write – I'm not knocking it as there are people who do it really well. But we had to lose it, this psychedelic progressive rock shit, and make a record with no pretence as to how it sounds and that doesn't have to fulfil anything, except how we feel.
EB: I can look at this from a distance. I think Cory is a really strong lyricist, and I feel like the songs have always been very personal, but the images he was working with at the beginning of the band were more mythological and fantastical. He might disagree but I think it was a defence mechanism to some extent. I've been really happy to see his lyrics become a lot more varied and candid.
Where did the fantasy imagery – the golems and such – come from in the first place?
CH: Just from being a nerd, from loving science fiction and Yes. I was a huge Yes fan when I was a boy – I really relished and found emotional satisfaction from that stuff. That's why I don't knock it.
Wand went for a long time without having any social media accounts or allowing your music to be on streaming services like Spotify. How begrudgingly have you submitted to the demands of the digital age?
EB: Very begrudgingly. It all seems like a pretty bad deal, it seems like some people with a lot of money are just getting better and better at value extraction, meanwhile most musicians can't make a decent living as they work really hard at a profession that takes a real toll on your body and your psyche.
That said, the more we get out on the road and play shows for people who are excited about our music, the more we want to stay in touch with them and the Facebook page has been useful for that. And with streaming it's the same thing: we kept hearing from lots of people that they wanted this resource from us. Drag City never pressured us to have a social media presence and they've allowed us every opportunity to opt out of any streaming. I think we took both decisions pretty seriously and we still consider them experiments.
CH: My main gripe with this shit is that bands always fucking start and the first thing they do is get Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or even worse, get a manager. For us the focus has been writing music and what is best for the music, and for a long time it didn't seem like having Facebook was something we needed to do.
But then we were playing a show in Athens, Greece and the promoter said nobody in Greece looks for gigs anywhere but Facebook, and told us we had to get on Facebook. So we saw that as a reason to get on there, so we can play in Athens and all over the world. It's a more fluid international currency than other ways you might promote a show. And the same with streaming, it made less and less sense for us to keep our music from people who every fucking night were coming up to us and asking about it.
I wanted to ask about the music you both make outside of Wand. Cory, your solo album, The Unborn Capitalist From Limbo, was a beautiful, moving, peach of a thing. How long had that music been in your head and what was it inspired by?
CH: It had been around for a long time and I was incredibly nervous to pull the trigger on doing that music. What led me in that direction was a serious connection with records that are simple but have really lush string arrangements. It was a perfect alignment between Heather [Lockie], who wrote most of the string arrangements, and I, as she has an amazing melodic ear and can write really insane shit. I did it to get away from the fuzz and loud guitars and shit because I felt I was starting to lose sight of where I was as a songwriter and what I was writing for.
I wanted it to sound timeless, for the time and space reference to be unclear and obscure. The concept was that I would record my guitar and vocals really grungy and dirty on this old tape machine, and then go and record these pristine, gorgeous strings in as high a quality as I could.
A lot was made of how it bore melodic and harmonic similarities to Love's Forever Changes. That was a big influence?
CH: Oh yeah. There's fucking seventh chords all over that record, it's a seventh heaven right there. A huge influence. I got into that record late, but I really did want to carry that feeling. And that record is so much about Los Angeles, and I felt in a lot of ways my record was also about coming from Los Angeles and not feeling a part of it. Obviously Arthur Lee's struggles were a lot different as he was a black rock & roll performer here and it's a totally different story, but I felt a strong relationship with that record.
Let me ask a nerdy question: there is a line in your song 'Arrival', "I believe that people are the worst part of it all". Is that a response or nod to the famous line in Love's 'Alone Again Or', "I believe that people are the greatest fun"? Or is it a coincidence?
CH: Ha, no it's a coincidence, but it's probably connected.
Though Limbo was recorded and released prior to the election of your current president, the album is arguably more politically charged than Wand records. What was the ideological thread behind the album?
CH: I took the title from a couple of things. One was an Antonin Artaud quote that's in the liner notes. An approximation of it is, "I renounce myself for I am a coward for having lived several lives but never having actually been born". Another quote was from Franco Berardi, an Italian political philosopher and activist, in his book The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, something about the "lone capitalist from limbo". I just put the two things together regarding how I feel about the current political climate, the semio-structure of capital and the financial world, and living in a weird simulacrum of social media and being unable to really differentiate ourselves. It's a spooky record.
**How much of a bearing did your approach to Limbo have on making Plum with Wand?
CH: Limbo was the first time I did something with a total disregard for what anyone else would think of it. I just did it for myself, and I've realised that's the way to do it. So we did Plum the same way – not that the other records weren't made with serious intention or we were doing something we didn't want to do, but there was more of a pretence of making heavy rock records that were trippy or whatever.
Evan, your other band Behavior recently went out on tour with No Age, how did that band come about and how does it allow you explore different realms of drumming and percussion to Wand?
EB: That project also started at CalArts. Bedros [Yeretzian] and Justin [Tenney] are two of my closest friends from school, and Behavior was the first band I joined when I moved to California – I didn’t join Wand until Behavior had been going for two or three years. That band has always worked in a pretty democratic way and been based on jamming. The style of Behavior is different to Wand, and I also work on lyrics in that band, which I'm only just starting to do in Wand.
Perfume is out now via Drag City. For more information on Wand, please visit their official website.
Phot Credit: Emilio Girardin