Into every generation, a new trend is born. These days it seems that trend is ‘90s prep, an entire decade back with a vengeance, where the masses are once again allowed to unironically step out in plaid miniskirts and bright white boots, coy head tilts and polo shirts and all. But while we’re inundated with stars like Olivia Rodrigo gushing over Britney’s “Baby One More Time,” and Ari strutting her stuff like Cher Horowitz, we can’t forget that the ‘90s also represented a decade of grunge and punk. With that, I’m very excited to announce that indie band Wednesday also trend from that same cultural zeitgeist, but one that rides on a cool parallel to the mainstream, bringing back shoegaze as we knew it best.
Their latest release, TWIN PLAGUES, is a ride through the end times. On any given track, band leader Karly Hartzman lulls you into submission with her very pretty voice singing about crumbling buildings, toothaches and dead dogs, before the feedback on her guitar ramps up and turns the track into a head slamming, bustling rock show. It’s an album that I’d want to listen to as I watched the world burn. Is it even a coincidence, then, that any song on this album sounds like it could be on a BUFFY THE VAMPIRE mixtape from ’97? While the young adults of ‘90s culture faced the end of the century, we, the young adults of 2021, face the final consequences of modernity and “progress.” It’s no wonder the lead single brought me back to my neighbor’s dark basement at 2pm on a shining summery day, pinning the blankets more securely against the windows to block out any light as we feverishly pressed play for the hundredth time on S1 E12 of BTVS. In this episode, the world is ending, and the hellmouth is opening up. Sounds a bit familiar to our plagues of society today. Anyway, I was thinking about all of this when I facetimed Hartzman to talk about the album, so imagine my delight when I saw that she has a poster of Season 1 hanging proudly behind her on her pink bedroom wall.
Your album is titled TWIN PLAGUES, referencing not one, but at least two allusions of death and destruction. And with album bangers darkly titled “The Burned Down Dairy Queen,” and “Ghost of a Dog,” plus your face-melting identifiers of shredded guitar and explosive feedback, your music clearly leans into what some may call ‘the existential dread of our generation.” What exactly is it that plagues you, and how did making this album help you get through it?
Karly Hartzman: The title is a reference to Richard Brodigan, because I’ve just been reading him forever, I’m just obsessed with him. He used twin plagues to reference Christmas and New Years, as just two things that are really difficult to endure. Which I agree with, even as a Jewish girl, because the pressure of Christmas, for some reason, has always really stressed me out… really anything that puts expectations on a day that otherwise would just be normal. So yeah, it’s really not a very widespread concept, or as widespread a concept of a plague could represent, it represents a micro-tragedy *laughs* but yeah, just the difficulty of getting through the day. Once I read that, I knew that was what we were going with.
Your twitter bio goes as far as saying your band represents “Lo-fi mit Shoegaze Einflüssen.” Is that self-described, or ascribed to you and just felt right? And what does genre even mean these days, i.e., do you find it important to fit into a set description at all?
KH: I used to be really averse to social media, but I’ve sucked it up and done it. But our drummer Allen used to run our Twitter, and that was our first foreign language review and we were just really excited about it. But I identify with it in the fact that it is pure chaos to have it in a bio.
I’ve actually had a really hard time describing our music in genre terms. We don’t really go for a genre, mostly because I’m not good enough at guitar to think, “I’m going to write a shoegaze song.” Like, I write it however it ends up, that’s how it is. I go for stuff more tonally. I go for mods over genre, 100%. I don’t know… genre just seems like a limit you put on yourself, where a mood is something you can expand upon forever and ever until your widest understanding of something can be met. Like, if you’re going for something like grief over shoegaze, that’s so many more options. Like trying to describe loss—that could be anything. And I find that so much more liberating than trying to write a shoegaze song.
I love a shoegaze title, because that community has traditionally been so gate kept, especially for female fronted bands, that I’m really flattered. But I don’t know if I necessarily feel like I identify with it entirely.
You’re quoted in CoS saying “I find comfort now in things that make no sense.” The “now” in that statement is something you don’t have to reference or explain—we’re clearly in the end times, and the unexplainable horrors of the last two years have compounded to leave us all a bit more stoic in this time of unrest. This is represented well by your own music, with deadpanned vocals over chaotic, dark-rock accompaniment. Does the worldly chaos inspire that? How does this unfazed attitude facing the lawless universe make its way into what we hear on TWIN PLAGUES?
KH: I don’t know if I specifically laid it out as a goal to encompass all of that, but to summarize how I feel in regards to that quote—everyone struggles to try and explain the darkness we experience, and sometimes the only comforting thought available is that there’s just no organized fate or karma, no laws work, whatever happens happen. And I feel like adopting that as an explanation for all the horrible shit that happens in the world can lead to a general apathy to everything, just because there’s no explanation for this shit. Which feels a bit better than abject horror, at least.
There’s a lot of giving thanks and shout outs from your social pages throughout the lead up to your album cycle-plus a ton of love in the comments from friends and fans alike, really makes the people creeping these pages (me) feel like they want to be a part of such a posi community. What does it feel like, to be able to share in the love in person again, especially at shows?
KH: Well we played three shows so far, one in our hometown, but I wouldn’t say we had quote unquote “fans” until these past shows. We’ve played max 50 people in NY before, and now we’ve sold 170 tickets, so that’s really our first time experiencing “love” in that way. There were two girls that had Wednesday tattoos at the show and that made me scream. We’re still trying to figure out how to ingest things like that, because we’re not used to it. I’m trying to not completely dissociate from that feeling, because it’s a bit intimidating to face that for the first time. We’re at this point where we’ve never experienced so many strangers telling us they’re into our shit. I don’t know. you think it would just be like, really simple, “this is great,” but now there’s an expectation on us now to deliver a performance. We used to be that opening band where people were like, “oh, that was better than we thought it would be,” and now it is like “we came here for YOU.” I think once we do more shows we’ll get used to it, this idea that maybe we’re a good band, and stop questioning like, “damn, why are these people fucking with us so much.”
TWIN PLAGUES is your sophomore album, not a huge leap away from your debut, I WAS TRYING TO DESCRIBE YOU TO SOMEONE, in terms of unique sound or identity, but definitely showcases a power and maturity seemingly years ahead, despite the fact that the albums were only released a year apart. How would you describe the difference between the two, and what influenced the changes?
KH: I know I’m a better musician than I was when I wrote the first album. As a band, we’re getting to know each other more and more, and we can communicate our ideas with each other better. We really have settled into ourselves as a band. Plus, for this last one, it was very open where, if anyone wanted to write a song, I’d be, like, “let’s do it.” If there was a song that anyone wanted to get on the album, we parsed them out and made it happen. Plus, the recording studio we went to for this one was a major level up. It’s a serious studio that was offering discounted time because of COVID, so we were able to record there—Drop of Sun in Nashville.
You’ve received support from All Songs Considered, Stereogum, Paste, and most recently, a 7.4 rating from Pitchfork, some publications I guess maybe some people have heard of before. You’re also opening for the likes of Beach Bunny and are signed by Chicago-based label Orindal Records. It looks like all signs point up from here. Just how high are you hoping to go, and what’s on the immediate horizon that you’re excited about?
KH: Oh gosh. Yeah, I mean, every expectation I’ve had has already been completely shattered. So I will be pleasantly surprised by anything better than what’s already happened. We didn’t expect it to do as well as it’s been doing. So I’m feeling good! Our next album is written through, so I want to get that recorded and start playing those songs too. And I think it’s even better than TWIN PLAGUES. I’m just ready for people to be like, “this band is going to keep putting out shit that I like.” Hopefully. I’d be happy with people saying “this is a good enough band to put out another record.”
You can snag a copy of TWIN PLAGUES over on Bandcamp!