SURFACE LEVELED In a local music landscape littered with urban cowboys, secret agents, and noir circus troupes, the Wandas’ lack of gimmickry makes for counterintuitive conspicuous.
It's sometime after 8 pm on a summer weekday at Charlies Kitchen, and the Wandas are discussing a time they once narrowly evaded gruesome death. Soon, they'll tell me a story about predatory narco-swine. There is also vomiting and broken glass in this article.
Hardly what I expected from the Wandas, who release the homonymous follow-up to 2009's superb New Wave Blues Thursday at Berklee College's Café 939. Not only does their razor-sharp pop consciousness and reverence for rock and roll classics distance them from the "hard to play/harder to listen to" prog and/or funk trappings of Berklee, site of the bands' 2002 genesis; it also makes them one of the cooler bands in town who could probably appeal to most of their fans' parents.
"Do you see this?! That girl is totally yakking!" exclaims guitarist Brent Battey, alerting the rest of the table that a woman's stomach is rejecting its contents into a waste basket about 20 feet away. Shortly afterward, a glass explodes near the bar, the result of a party foul to the floor.
The Wandas overcome these distractions and regale me with tour yarns of driving their RV, packed with cases of Narragansett, for six nightmarish hours through a Montana blizzard, and harassment from narcs in camo fatigues in Arkansas. Caution to touring bands: make sure to do all the drugs in your possession before going through Arkansas. One time down there, the Wandas got pulled over three times within an hour on suspicion of being musicians — and therefore high. But the cops' search for contraband was for naught.
The Wandas project as much wholesomeness as can be realistically expected from four dudes who seem to drink a lot. In fact, they're four dudes who can handle way more liquor than they used to. But their rigorous touring schedule has strengthened their constitutions in other ways. Their latest record is clearly the work of thicker-skinned individuals than the band who recorded glossy pop gem "Thank You Note" three years ago. For The Wandas, the band say they summoned inspiration from their '60s and '70s faves, name-checking Neil Young, Tom Petty, Michael Nesmith, and Elvis. Though country and blues circulate through The Wandas — particularly tracks "Loaded," "Longtime Running," and "Abandon Ship" — the veins and arteries of this record are wrapped around a skeleton of pure pop. This is not some shticky "change in direction," and certainly not an Americana record.
"When we were starting off, nobody paid attention to us because we didn't have a gimmick that people could latch onto," recalls bassist Ross Lucivero. "I don't have anything against that. If you're good at what you're doing, great, but we didn't have that. Now people are like, 'Hey, here's a band that's not trying to trick us or anything.' "