Interview: The Wants on Container and the immersive experience of music

Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Photo by Madison Carroll 

Brooklyn-based band The Wants provides an immersive listening experience that transcends sound — the band’s bold and riveting debut offering Container is an all-encompassing record that’s home to evocative songwriting, distinct and textured sonics as well as carefully considered visuals, all of which essential for processing the album in its entirety. When speaking to Madison Velding-VanDam of The Wants, it’s clear that he and the band set out to create a place with their music — one where music is almost tangible and stimulates all of your senses.

Though The Wants have been getting much more attention recently, the trio featuring Madison Velding-VanDam, Heather Elle and Jason Gates, aren’t exactly newcomers. According to Velding-VanDam, over half of Container features material that they’ve been working on for almost ten years. “We finished the record in our minds before we finished this version of it.”

He isn’t afraid of holding onto ideas and material until it feels right. “If there's a sound or an idea that catches me, I'll hold onto it, and I'll just keep hacking away. I have been hacking away at a thousand demos, so I'm just trying to figure out a place for those over time.”

Even if it’s close to a deadline, they want to ensure that whatever they’ve created is right for them — which was the case for Container, with the band making alterations to the album until the very last minute. “We’re the kind of people that are just never going to stop toiling. Something that will end up finalized might not resemble what it started as whatsoever, because the beat changed entirely, or the melody changed or even the lyrics.”

Before exploring the possibility of creating a full-length record, the band created an EP first — it eventually ended up being discarded when they decided it wasn’t what they wanted The Wants’ first offering to sound like. Council Records, the band’s label, allowed them the freedom to move towards a full-length record instead. “They kind of let us go on the journey and be like, ‘Hey, we want to do a full length. Can we do that? We have these new ideas’.”

The original EP wasn’t completely a wasted endeavour — not only did it ultimately help guide what they wanted to do with Container, but an untitled track from it will be making an appearance on the band’s next album. “The track ended up being completely redone and being one of our favorites for our next record that we're working on right now,” he said.

Much of the recording process for Container happened in their respective spaces, many times their bedroom studios. However, they did venture out, finding refuge away from Brooklyn’s bustling and overcrowded music scene in an unconventional makeshift studio — a shipping container located outside of a factory in Brooklyn. HANJIN, the container, gave the band their own private nook where they could experiment with sounds at often peculiar hours. Though the container prevented the noise of the outside world from distracting them, it wasn’t exactly quiet, “Sometimes people would come to our rehearsals and be like, ‘What the hell are you guys doing in here?’ Because you can definitely hear outside of it,” said Velding-VanDam. He also notes that they would often have trouble directing Uber drivers to the “creepy parking lot”.

“I’ve been making music in my bedroom my entire adult music-making life and our drummer Jason is an engineer and has always worked in studios.  We have a really deep interest in good sound. The eccentricity of the container suited us,” he said.

An aspect of the experience of digesting music which the band wanted to hone in on was how it could potentially translate into a live setting. “The album really came to life once we made the decision that it would more so reflect our live performances, where there are interludes, and we're trying to have everything flow into the next song,” also adding, “For us, it was important to have the album playable live. Even though there's some sort of tricks and stuff happening that are very hard to pull off live, like samples. We had to figure out a way to do that, that was organic and exciting.”

The consideration of how the album could transition into the band’s live show assisted with cohesiveness. The album was constructed to consume as a complete entity, from beginning to end. The experience of Container is reminiscent of a “lucid dream” says Velding-VanDam. From an outsider’s perspective, a vivid lucid dream is the best way to describe the experience of Container — it’s a record where you’re aware and awake from the beginning right through to its final moments, and pushing the skip button on a track would disrupt the continuity and cohesiveness of the dream sequence.

According to Velding-VanDam it was necessary to place emphasis on the singles, but they didn’t want them to be placed alongside each other on the album. “I think that since it's our first record, we wanted to keep standalone singles as a strong component — not having songs start like a transition, kind of fade out into the beginning of the next one.” On the album, this is evident for ‘Fear My Society’ and ‘Container’, both prefaced with startling instrumentals that set the scene for what’s to come.

The band’s appreciation of ambient music, as well as soundtracks, played a part in influencing those prominent and defining pieces and interludes on Container. “We really love soundtrack music as well as composers like William Basinski, Steven Rice. Heather and I really love ambient music. Especially Hildur Guðnadóttir. I think some of the best music being made right now is ambient instrumental music.”

The Wants’ dedication to maintaining cohesion wasn’t only essential sonically, but also visually. Playing a paramount role in the visual experience of the album was artist and photographer Madison Carroll, who assisted them with the cover art for the album and singles, video content and a photobook accompanying the album. “She has an encyclopedic knowledge of still photography and she shoots exclusively in medium format film,” said Velding-VanDam.

They were inspired by the likes of artists such as Jo Ann Callis, who has surreal takes on domestic life. He notes, “She focuses on things that seem mundane but then are really intensified.” Visually, the pair were also inspired by contemporary photographer Alec Soth, who focuses his photographs on American life. “He goes to forgotten places, sometimes in middle America, captures the people that are living in parts of this country that aren't really seen as much.”

They travelled to parts of middle America, including where Velding-VanDam is originally from. “I'm from middle America, from the Detroit area, called the ‘Rust Belt’. And a lot of our visuals were captured in the Detroit area and Ohio. We wanted to pair the sort of elements of American iconography of motels and lost industrial spaces of the midwest with the sound to give them a stronger context.”

by Madison Carroll  

by Madison Carroll 

by Madison Carroll 

Along with capturing intriguing and thought-provoking visuals that possess the cinematic quality of a David Lynch film, some of the visuals are very personal for Velding-VanDam — with them deciding to include photos of his father’s home in the accompanying photobook. “Some of the images are very personal to me, including the images of my father's home, who died of complications related to opioid addiction, which is a big part of the struggles in our country at this point. And his home was in one of these spaces and reflected a lot of the deteriorations that are happening to people without a lot of economic opportunities and are in many ways struggling.”

Velding-VanDam and the band are determined to raise the bar once again, both sonically and visually, for their next full-length offering, which we can expect sometime in the near future. “We wanted Container to be an immersive project and I think we did our best for this first outing. we're still inspired by this same challenge and we're ready to go at it again for our next record.”

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

Purchase Container by The Wants (including the accompanying photobook) here

Stream Container:

Follow The Wants: