THE WAVE PICTURES are the best band you've never heard of.
I know, I know—music writers love to say shit like this, so you're no doubt skeptical. Or maybe you have heard of the Wave Pictures, and are already enamored with the countless pleasures of their spindly, sprawling discography. Or perhaps you're a fan of Portland songwriter Jack Lewis and are aware that the Wave Pictures covered his "Polar Bear." Still, with an "indifferent" following in their home country of England (according to guitarist/singer David Tattersall) and only a smattering of US shows thus far under their belts—most of them in New York—it's more than likely that the Wave Pictures have escaped your notice.
It's time for that to change. Their sound is a willful marriage of brawny classic rock (like the Stones and CCR) with shambling American indie folk-rock (à la Silver Jews, Violent Femmes, and Jonathan Richman)—with Tattersall's swooning voice and off-kilter lyrics making romantic melodrama out of it all. The number of the Wave Pictures full-length albums now tips into the double digits, surrounded by a flurry of singles and EPs and compilation tracks. Their catalog is excellent across the board, bearing crisp and concise consistency and addictively imperfect precision.
"We've always been pretty focused on the same thing," Tattersall says. "Trying to write songs with interesting words and then play them in a natural way, or what we think of as a natural way, and try to improvise a little bit. And to sound like what we would hope a rock 'n' roll band would sound like, I suppose. Not too pristine."
Tattersall and bassist Franic Rozycki were childhood friends in Wymeswold, a village in England's Midlands, and started playing music together in their teens in the late '90s. Drummer Jonny Helm joined a few years after. "We've been a band for a very long time," says Tattersall of the band's stability, "but I don't know if it's because we've never had a tremendous amount of pressure or outside influence on what we do or anything. Generally we've just enjoyed ourselves more of the time than not, and mainly done what we wanted."
Their latest, Long Black Cars, continues their string of lean, taut rock with oddball lyrics—which Tattersall maintains are written purely for self-amusement. "I may sound confessional, but I'm never in an emotional state when I write these songs," he says. The new record is both sprightlier and nastier than previous efforts, cutting the music down to its raw elements (although not without a few virtuosic guitar solos from Tattersall).
"I think Long Black Cars does sound leaner and more direct, and better than previous albums. We produced that one ourselves a bit more, and spent a lot more time on the sound ourselves—mixing it on our own without anyone else around, mic'ing everything the way we wanted to. We mic'ed the drums with just one microphone. We mixed everything in mono, and we didn't put in reverb on anything, didn't compress anything. We didn't EQ anything unless we absolutely had to. It really sounds much more direct and much more like we wanted it to sound," Tattersall says. "But the live shows are less lean and less direct than they used to be. They're more, probably, more loose and, um, what's the word..."
"Maybe a little more jammy, yeah!" he laughs. "But we're not like Phish or anything. We don't want to sound tight and perfect."
They certainly don't—and thank goodness for that.