One of the more exciting indie bands to emerge in the last couple years, the Wandas are inspired by British Invasion rock and the catchy power-pop of Big Star. Massive, ringing hooks adorn the songs like festive birthday decorations supporting crisp harmonies and a percolating rock backbeat.
Though the band was formed in 2002 by Berklee College of Music students Keith McEachern and Brent Battey, there’s nothing fancy or esoteric about their approach. Of course, in rock, straightforwardness and simplicity are a gift more often than a deficiency.
“Brent and Keith were a little bit like outcasts in that circle because a lot of [Berklee] is about jazz, fusion and funk,” says McEachern’s cousin, bassist Ross Lucivero. “We grew up on our parents record collection — the Beatles, Neil Young, the Who. That’s the music that binds all of us together.”
The Boston quartet endured a couple lineup changes, self-releasing two full-lengths and an EP prior to 2009’s New Wave Blues. The release earned them a boatload of positive notices and was followed by their first-ever big national tour. Making good on that momentum, they spent six months in pre-production on their self-titled follow-up.
Seeing how much the songs from New Wave Blues changed on the road, they wanted to take more time and allow the new material to evolve. They spent several months working day and night in their practice space, honing the material, sleeping in their 30-foot RV in the parking lot, then hitting it again in the morning. When they finally went into the studio, the songs were tight enough to be recorded live, as opposed to multi-tracked, which was one of their goals.
“You want it to feel more like a performance rather than just layered tracks,” says Lucivero. “It’s all very subtle, but you hope that it sounds like you’re actually listening to a band playing to you.”
While many acts have tried to recreate that classic recording approach, the Wandas went a step further than most, recording all the vocals live, including the harmonies. “We know that Queen used to record their harmonies that way — all singing into a single mic,” he says. “We think you get a better blend and it sounds more natural, plus it’s what we like.”
It results in infectious, foot-tapping pop-rock, as effortlessly enjoyable as a sunny day, from the slinky “Do or Die,” which suggests a poppier Walkmen, to the lilting, Everly-esque folk-pop of “Tied a Knot.” However, the most remarkable song is “Abandon Ship,” in part because its expansive blues-roots shuffle crosses the six-minute mark.
“A lot of people ask about that because it’s kind of a different sound on the album,” Lucivero says. “It’s a great song because a lot of people will see us live, where we’ll jam out, and are like, ‘But you write these pretty pop songs!’ I think it really shows both sides of the band.”