With three rapid-fire albums in just 14 months throughout 2014 and 2015, high-octane garage-psych combo Wand established themselves as one of the most prolific bands in America. Plum, the Los Angeles band’s fourth LP, is the sound of Wand slowing down and broadening their palette.
It’s a reboot of sorts, with two new members changing the group’s creative chemistry and a newly democratic approach sending their songwriting spiraling in all directions. What had been a power trio with project mastermind Cory Hanson backed by the rhythm section of Lee Landey and Evan Burrows is now a quintet fleshed out by second guitarist Robbie Cody and keyboardist Sofia Arreguin. And Hanson, who previously served as Wand’s sole songwriter, has given them all a say in the creative process, adopting a jammy songwriting technique that replaced Hanson’s old lysergic battering-ram approach with a wide array of melodic guitar entanglements.
Yet even if Plum presents a new Wand, the band has not suffered from the identity crisis that sometimes arises when a primary songwriter lets his bandmates in on the process. Few records could successfully recall Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight and Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple on successive tracks without compromising their own coherent identity, and I never pegged Wand as the band to attempt either impression, but Plum is that kind of release. Holed up together against the backdrop of a bad breakup, multiple deaths, and a horrific political catastrophe, the band came together to craft something awesome.
Our latest demonstration of the album’s appeal is “Blue Cloud,” a nearly eight-minute epic that shows just how expansive Wand’s horizons have become. At its core the song is practically a baroque pop ballad, but it’s undergirded by cataclysmic shifts in rhythmic terrain and padded out with lead guitar interplay worthy of Wilco’s Nels Cline era. It’s a tune with many satisfying twists and turns, and you can hear it below for the first time. While you listen, read an interview with Hanson touching on Wand 2.0, the rock band as a therapeutic family unit, label home Drag City’s decision to finally get into the streaming game, and more.
STEREOGUM: Your first three albums came out so fast. Was this longer break between records because you were working on your solo album in-between, or writer’s block, or was the band just working at an unsustainable pace?
CORY HANSON: I don’t think it was any of those things really. I think we were all just working on other projects — I did my solo record and everyone released other records or worked on other projects. And it was also intentional in terms of giving us the breath to actually create something we felt would succeed the three records that came out in such a short period of time. The first three records came out in like 14 months, so those three records together are kind of like our first release, to me. And for the rest of the members in the band, I think they all agree that we really, like, got very excited about making records, so we made a few in a short period of time and then after that — after we were able to expel that energy and see what it was like to tour that much and to really be a band — I think the next move was to take a bit of a longer stretch of time writing and recording and being very careful before we decided to release something.
STEREOGUM: What about the two new members you added: Were they already playing with you guys live? Or how did you decide to add them in?
HANSON: They didn’t become members of the band until after the touring for 1000 Days was done, and we kind of closed that chapter. After that bit of touring was done, we basically just decided to find some people who wanted to be in our band full-time. And so we did. And then we just immediately started writing together. It kinda felt like Evan and Lee and I were just kind of occupying the space where there could be a band at some point. And it wasn’t until Robbie and Sofia came in that it became like, “Oh, this is the sound of the band.”
STEREOGUM: It doesn’t sound like it was a struggle to give up some of your creative control.
HANSON: Oh, it totally was. [Laughs.] It was really difficult. It wasn’t easy. I mean, I brought the songs to everybody, but this one was very much a democratic process.
STEREOGUM: Were you surprised at some of the directions the band went in? Like, some of the ways the songs went?
HANSON: I think the only thing that was directing us was surprise. The only thing that really felt good — that really feels good, especially when you’re improvising a lot — is when you surprise yourself. It’s like you catch yourself, and you’ve already done something, and it’s already so far beyond what you could’ve imagined, and it’s not even a song yet. That’s was feeling we were chasing.
STEREOGUM: I feel like the results are really rewarding from a listener’s perspective. I feel like it’s a really diverse and fascinating and exciting record.
HANSON: Thank you! It’s definitely the most diverse of the Wand records, and I think it’s the most exciting for me. And it’s kind of a little scary, too, in terms of releasing it, because it’s so markedly different than our other three releases. And obviously a lot of fans or listeners are concerned with us retaining some heavy qualities or, like, being a heavier rock band. But we’re just in a different state, and I wouldn’t even say that the state isn’t heavy. At times, I think it’s even heavier, but I think it’s musically more more challenging and interesting than [we’ve] ever been before.
STEREOGUM: The press materials for the album mention “romantic, familial, and political heartbreak.” It’s not hard to guess what the political heartbreak was. Are you able to talk about some of the other heartbreak that went into the record?
HANSON: The record was shaped by heartbreak in a lot of ways. I went through a massive breakup at the time and, at least during a lot of the lyric-writing, was coping [with that]. It’s kind of the language of coping with the breakup, and there was a couple of deaths, and one pretty significant death, and so there’s also the language of coping with people passing on and very significant changes in people’s lives. It’s really difficult when you’re trying to make a living playing rock ‘n’ roll music, and all of a sudden, you think you’re standing on solid ground, and then everything — politically, familially, romantically — just starts shifting from under you, and you have to figure out how to not just fall away. And it really helped to have all of us together, because in the end, when all this shit was going down, we were kind of all that we had. When you’re touring this much, you don’t really have friends. You can’t really talk to your family as much as you probably would like to, if you even talk to them. And in the end, you’re just in a van or on an airplane or a studio or a practice space with four other people, and thank God they’re great people and we all trust each other and have faith, because otherwise, it just wouldn’t have been possible.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a sense of what the next thing is for the band besides touring more? Are you gonna be back to more quickly churning out records, or do you think this germination period will become the norm?
HANSON: We’re constantly working on new things. Maybe it’ll be three records a year again, I don’t know, but I would imagine maybe something a little bit less intense than that. Mostly, like, on the environmental side, I don’t know how responsible it is to produce three discs of petroleum a year with all the packaging and distribution and whatever. So we’ll see environmentally, in our eco-friendly band, if we can figure out a way to do that. But, yeah, I anticipate that we’ll be back with new music probably constantly.
STEREOGUM: Obviously Drag City kinda famously held out on a lot of the streaming stuff. But they’re coming around, at least in part, and putting some of their catalogue on streaming. Do you have any thoughts on that?
HANSON: Drag City is so dedicated to really looking over the numbers and seeing what is actually beneficial to us artists and to their label. It’s very rare that you have a label that has actual moral backbone to make these kinds of decisions. So I pretty much put my faith and trust in them, knowing they have my interests in mind as an artist. But the streaming thing is just such a shitshow, and at the end of the day, no, there is no streaming service that can produce a profit, so then you’re just a part of this weird game of speculative finance, or like, “Who’s going to invest in a brand like Spotify or Apple or Amazon”? And then how the commodity of that brand is going to increase in value while still not being able to turn a profit. I mean I’m more interested in like five or six years to see what happens to things like Spotify that are, like … I mean, it’s sort of like an openly corrupt organism. There’s nothing good about it, except that people get very easy access to music that should be of a higher value than is being attributed to it, in my opinion. It’s hard to say yes to that kind of business model as an artist.
STEREOGUM: I imagine that for a band at your level, playing music for a living continues to be not a super easy pursuit in terms of just continuing to pay rent and put food on the table.
HANSON: Yeah, and streaming isn’t making it easier. That’s for sure. Nobody really wins from streaming, except for the owners of Spotify when they sell, when they sell — when they go public and sell the company off to investors and shareholders — then they’re the ones that are gonna walk away with the money. And the labels that already own of a piece of Spotify, like Universal and Sony, they’re gonna make money, and once again, you’ll have a system that favors corporatism and corporate greed over the actual commodity that they’re trying to distribute, which is music. So, once again, the artist is put in a shitty fucking position, if you ask me.
STEREOGUM: Anybody looking at that whole landscape would have to be a at least a little bit pessimistic, and obviously the kinda larger-world situation now in general is kinda negative. So what do we have to look forward to? At least maybe we’ll get some good more Wand albums out of the persistent heartbreak?
HANSON: I don’t even know what the word is to describe a bunch of pretty much nonexistent things, like theoretical things, but the good thing is that they don’t totally exist. At least they have no, like, corporeality if you don’t want them to. So the records that we make do exist, they are material things, and we’ll keep making those, and we’ll keep playing shows that are also real things, and I feel like those are the only things that matter to me. So, it’s not all bad.
Plum is out 9/22 via Drag City. Pre-order it here.