Any teenage kid stuck on the outside looking in knows it in his or her bones: punks are punks and jocks are jocks and never the twain shall meet. A quick tour through Wavves‘ latest album, V – with its punchy, TV-static guitars, cinder-block bottom end and Nathan Williams’ wry, dissolute stories of hangovers, breakups and car crashes – seems sufficient to place Williams squarely on the punk side of this unbridgeable divide. And yet…
“Before I was going to try and play music for a living, I played soccer” he says. “I played on club teams and I had a couple of full-ride scholarships to play in college. I just really didn’t like the workload so I ended up stopping, and that was when I stopped watching sports.”
The reason we’re even talking about sports in the first place is that Williams has returned, via a circuitous route, to being a pretty big sports fan, particularly when it comes to the NBA. “Now that I’m an older, more mature gentleman,” he says. “I’m able to fully embrace the bro inside of me. There’s something great about seeing a really close basketball game with a buzzer beater. But watching Jamal Crawford – even if it’s just Jamal Crawford dribbling by himself – is entertaining enough for me.”
Though he lapsed in his teens, the San Diego native grew up a Clippers fan (hey, they did play there) and can currently be seen rocking an old school Clips cap in promotional pictures. Williams doesn’t play much ball himself, being only 5-foot-7 (“An actual 5-foot-7,” he explains, “not a Tom Cruise, IMDB 5-foot-7.”) But he appreciates the game’s beauty and grace.
“It’s the most…I don’t want to say ‘pretty’ because that’s not manly,” he laughs, “but watching basketball players is like watching rugged, huge ballerinas.”
As we speak, it becomes clear that his sports fandom is informed in no small amount by the snotty spirit of punk – even as the Clippers have grown into a perennial playoff team.
“I guess I liked them because they were the underdogs a little bit,” he says. “And now it’s really exciting because I remember when I was a kid thinking, ‘What if this team could win a championship?’ And my dad would very realistically tell me they probably won’t even be a team at some point. Thanks, Dad.”
That parental pessimism wasn’t helped by the success of the Clippers’ eternal older sibling, the Los Angeles Lakers, but over the years even they’ve earned Williams’ respect – mostly by being total dicks. “I loved Shaq when he was younger and skinnier and getting into fights with Charles [Barkley]. He was a real scrappy big guy. Kobe Bryant’s kind of an asshole, but I also like him a lot because he’s an asshole.
“That Pistons team, when the Pistons were all jerks, that was one of the coolest teams ever,” he continues. “And Kobe doesn’t have that much jerk in him – he’s no Dennis Rodman – but he’s still a real piece of shit. He just wants to win. Nothing else matters.”
And if a Clippers fan can say something (sorta) nice about Kobe Bryant, then perhaps there’s hope that one day, punks and jocks can broker a lasting peace. It wouldn’t even be as difficult as you’d think; after all, there’s a commonality there – a shared drive, determination and devotion. You can hear it on V (out October 2), an album that cuts and moves with the liquidity of the Spurs’ flex offense. Offhanded hooks get stuck in your head, hung up on screens set by bridges and breakdowns, and there’s a structural integrity that belies the album’s low-fi finish. Personalities often reveal themselves in the cross-sections of interests, both professional and casual, and in this case, the competitive drive that carried Williams through youth sports has been reapplied to a new framework.
“This is what I love,” he says. “It’s almost like respecting it by putting in the amount of effort that I know I should.”
In fact, Williams was discussing that very idea with his friend Matthew Johnson, who runs Fat Possum Records, the other day.
“He was saying, ‘I’m not signing any bands unless one of them played childhood sports, because these kids don’t have drive and they complain like little girls,'” Williams laughs. “And I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I do think that to be good at anything, you have to be willing to put in time and perfect your craft. In sports, the best players are the people who take the time to do that day in and day out. I think with the best musicians it’s that same sort of thing. You either have the passion for it and you’re willing to give up your life to do it, or it’s a hobby, and that’s kind of it.”