Having endured personal trials and internal turbulence over the past year, there’s few more fitting ways to describe Inner Wave’s resilient renaissance than by entitling their latest LP, Apoptosis. Losing their management team and working through the departure of a founding member just as two others contracted COVID-19 and all the while adjusting to a gigless existence in the face of the pandemic, the LA-based quintet’s fourth LP is a true testament to the band’s brotherhood as much as it is their class as musicians. Amalgamating folk, funk and disco influences with an alluring 70’s warmth, we spoke with front man Pablo Sotelo and bassist Jean Pierre Narvaez about how the friends are still finding the fun amidst the adversity after 15 years together.
Meeting in Middle School, the founding trio of Inner Wave formed a tight-knit kinship born out of unlikely Christian rock band origins. Exemplified by the stylistic shifts between skewed lo-fi bedroom pop, synth-based psychedelia and electronica-infused indie rock from their first three LP’s, Inner Wave’s modus operandi revolves around embracing change and expressing personal progressions; “After this many years we try and keep things fun and keep evolving by trying to embrace changes that come. All of us want to evolve and not do the same thing over and over. Personally, that’s lodged into my brain every day with or without music and I think we all hold that trait”.
Driven by this ethos of evolution, the loss of founding keyboardist Elijah Trujillo was handled with the band’s characteristic laid-back pragmatism, necessitating Stolelo’s role reinvention; “Our previous member was very visually directive. I would tell him ideas and he would help make that happen. This time around he wasn’t here so I felt I needed to step up and fill that role”. With the added adversity of an international pandemic, Inner Wave arrived upon a stripped back sound aimed at capturing the essence of their expressive afternoon jam sessions; “It was a matter of all being in a room and playing in a band to create these songs. A lot of them came out of jams but we also talked about how we wanted to have structured and organised arrangements that used the techniques we’d built within ourselves and within the band to their full potential”.
Embarking on a 70’s-tinged aesthetic involving elements of disco, funk and folk, the band cites the hypnotic harmony of ‘Nature’ as a “guiding light” through a more liberating compositional process; “I just remember the idea of not being able to play live and how I’d usually try to write according to the band’s live set-up. Here we just used different instruments, heaps of guitars and didn’t record to a click. I think gave it an organic feel and an idea of the world we were building”. Sprawling with psychedelic arpeggios and blissful brass synth chords, the track paves the way for Apoptosis to feature the band as a unified whole; “We always call the band the sum of its own entity. It’s like the Power Rangers, the big robot they all make, all 5 of them. Whether it’s song writing or just practicing it always feels that way; one body, one mind we’re all just going for it”.
Like a sunny day that’s spent overcoming a comedown, Apoptosis conveys uncomfortable truths amid serene and soothing settings; “With this project we all had our own emotions that we were bringing in musically but when I had to write the vocals and the words, I had to be receptive to what the song was already saying”. Particularly present through the radiant ballads of ‘Memory (Trees)’ and ‘June’, there’s a forlorn sense of loss married with that of hopeful resolve for having overcome any such turmoil; “The name of the album says a lot; apoptosis is a biology term for certain cells dying off so new cells can grow. What’s present in a lot of the songs is, with the band and all the changes going on personally, our lives and the world at large and Covid being one of the most unstable times I’ve felt in my life, I wanted to make something grounding and hopeful in a way. Even though there’s a sadness, there’s a resolution that everything’s going to be ok”.
While entrenched in these deeper, often dark subtexts, the record presents plenty of danceable drive. ‘Take 3’ is a beautiful bop underpinned by modulated bass and wide-ranging melodic dynamism while ‘Fever’ could stand alongside any of Toro Y Moi’s hits; “We made a handful of songs that were all contenders but were pretty wide-reaching stylistically. We found a thread that they all had a 70’s vibe which was how something more Bee Gees, disco-inspired like ‘Fever’ could work with something folky like ‘Nature’”. While compositionally complex and densely arranged, Inner Wave drew from the lessons of their third LP to keep things concisely cohesive; “Underwater Pipe Dreams was an era of discovery and experimentation where we found a lot of different ways to write songs. We had maybe 30 demos which was a crazy mix of songs. Some of them weren’t really structured, some weren’t used, others were combined. We tried all these different techniques for trying to figure out different chord progressions, key changes and modulations but we definitely had to go through that because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to write the way we do now”.
With much of the magic over their 15-year history happening within Stolelo’s garage-turned-jam factory known as The Swamp, the space once again offered a safe haven for Inner Wave to record the bones of their record; “It definitely has an energy to it at this point, it feels like home. Obviously, I live here so it is my home (laughs) but everyone feels comfortable when they come over and there’s just so many posters and pictures we’ve accumulated that it feels like a lot of history has gone down here”. Utilising keyboardist Jose Cruz’s Inglewood studio Truesound to perfect the demos, working within unfamiliar surrounds and recording on tape all helped breathe fresh air into the final cut; “Sometimes there’s this feeling that there’s a limitation of monotony from working in the same space. It can be a push and pull thing which is why it was cool to make the demos in The Swamp but record it in the studio. It gave us a much-needed break from the same four walls and we could flesh things out in a place that has windows, because you always need some light (laughs)”.
Inner Wave are exemplary of the fact that as time goes on, the only way to stay stimulated is to embrace change. Be it good or bad, of which they have had their fair share of the latter more recently, the fruits to be born from riding out the storm are worth their weight in gold. Apoptosis proves this point just as much as the band’s reworked touring practises do; “Inevitably change is something that occurs and the better you are at navigating and embracing that the more you come out stronger and experienced. All of that is helpful with music, even touring. Our first tours, when I think back on then compared to now, you learn about things that work and things that don’t. Even just the way you would sleep in a car (laughs)”.