Suds up with Baths
By Arrissia Owen Turner
In a way, Will Wiesenfeld, known to those in the Beathead scene as Baths, has Björk to thank for his success. The rising glitch-hop star whose first release on Anticon records, Cerulean, received an honorable mention as one of the best albums of 2010 by tastemakers Pitchfork, called it quits for classical at age 12 after studying piano most of his adolescence.
“I had a falling out with classical music,” says Wiesenfeld, whose music is often compared to chillwavers Toro Y Moi or falsetto-heavy Passion Pit. “I didn’t play for a year.” But he missed the ivories, seduced into tickling the keys again after his brief hiatus. “Then I couldn’t stop.” He started writing his own music, mixed with electronic elements on his computer and manipulated vocals.
Serendipitously, that was the same year Wiesenfeld heard the enigmatic, often outright bizarre, Björk.
“That brought me back into playing piano and wanting to write music,” he says. “The second I heard her music and associated her personality with her music, it was so otherworldly.” Björk, mixed with his penchant for off-beat, indie films, fueled his love of the outlandish. “I couldn’t help but become obsessed,” he says.
From there, Wiesenfeld holed up in his Chatsworth bedroom, recording his first piece of music at age 14. He wrote and recorded four albums and three EPs under the name Post-Foetus. While his early recordings garnered considerable attention, he sees those formative years simply as his building blocks.
“The whole first half of me writing music was ridiculous and terrible,” Wiesenfeld says. “That was very experimental. I just wanted to try and create something, but I was not focused on song structure or melody.”
Now 22, Wiesenfeld sees the value of a certain amount of pop sensibility to appeal to a wider audience. “I want it to be different and outlandish, but still memorable and melodic and have qualities that make it listenable for more than a minute.”
Mission accomplished. What was supposed to be his testing-the-waters album—his first label release meant to be pointedly accessible—not only built an audience but cemented it firmly in place.
“Everything that has happened in the last year was a huge surprise,” Wiesenfeld says. He’s toured Europe three times since Cerulean’s release, and headlined more sold out shows than he can count.
“The album got more attention than expected, which was fantastic and amazing. It passed the point the next album was supposed to. I don’t have to worry about building my name with the next album. I can just make music and not worry, which is very liberating.”
For a guy who had never touched toes across the Atlantic before 2010, Wiesenfeld is slowly growing on the electronic music mecca. There were shows in Dublin, London and more that sold out based on his namesake. “It was very bizarre,” he says. “There is no comparison. It is very surreal. I had never been to Dublin before and there were people screaming my name at me.”
For his next recording, Wiesenfeld plans to challenge his emerging fan base. Songs like the über-personal “Plea” from Cerulean give a good glimpse of what is ahead, he says. The song, with lines like “We’re still not valid” is a direct response to the battles surrounding Proposition 8 in California and his own sexuality.
“Plea” is a beautiful, serene song filled with emotion while challenging listeners with its erratic beats and falsetto vocals. That sort of heart-on-sleeve songwriting isn’t new for Wiesenfeld.
“It’s very natural for me,” he says. “The music I wrote before was brutally personal. Cerulean was a step back for me, so it was easier to listen to. I come from that sort of older music that was very open and melodramatic.”
For the next CD release, expect to get to know Wiesenfeld more intimately. “That song had the greatest focus, the perfect end result I wanted in recording the whole album,” Wiesenfeld says about “Plea.” “I would like to move forward with that as a starting point.” Plea-se do.
Baths at The Barn at University of California, Riverside, 900 University Ave., Riverside; rside.ucr.edu/barnseries. Wed, May 18, 8:30 PM. $10. All ages.