Will Wiesenfeld is delightful. This is obvious after only a few minutes in his presence. Earlier in the day, he’d suggested via text that we meet at 4:30 at the venue in Toronto he was performing at that night as part of NXNE at The Phoenix Theatre. I texted back, “Make it 4:20 and we have a deal,” nervous about whether he would appreciate the joke. “omg lol”, he texted back, and I soon discovered that I shouldn’t have been worried.
One of Wiesenfeld’s favourite emojis is the sunhat. You’ll see him use it all the time on his hilarious Twitter account, @BATHSmusic. It always puzzled me, though, because I don’t think anyone else on the planet ever has a reason to use that emoji, but he explained to me that he loves it because it represents him. Bright, summer, fun. It speaks to him because it is so simple and feels like who he is.
We sat outside at a picnic table as people screamed across the street and others were lining up for his show next door. It was an interesting contrast to the darkness of his performance later on, as he sang about suicide and sickness and addiction while thrashing around the stage. He tells me in our interview that he’s tired of these songs, but it doesn’t show as he brings remarkable energy to the performance, going through much of Obsidian and a couple of songs from his debut, Cerulean. You might think that performing songs that you don’t necessarily still identify with could take its toll, but Wiesenfeld is a complex man who acknowledges and embraces his many sides, coming alive onstage in a way that you wouldn’t expect encountering him in person
We spoke about his next record, his brilliant social media presence, and what inspires him (including anime). I also make the rookie music journalist mistake of asking about his rider. “For the first three years, I didn’t have anything except water and towels,” he says. “I feel uncomfortable with it, but I understand that as touring becomes a bigger thing, you want snacks, so now we also have a veggie plate, and some beer for Morgan,” meaning Greenwood, Wiesenfeld’s musical partner. Their minimalist demands may not match their maximalist performance, but together they are one of the most exciting acts right now. Plus, Wiesenfeld can talk a lot about his favourite Disney prince: “Probably Prince Naveen from The Princess and the Frog. I related to his weird uppity entitlement and that he has to come down to Earth and be a frog and learn some lessons.” But, he says, Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid is probably the hottest one.
When did you realize you wanted to make music?
Initially it was because my brother played piano, so when I was 4 or 5 it was the urge to be as cool as my brother, I just wanted to do what he was doing and I did that for a long time, it was intense for seven or eight years. Then I stepped back from it, because I decided I hated music and was so over it because it was so rigid and mechanical. I didn’t feel anything. After I started hearing music like Björk, though, and all the nü-metal I was listening to [laughs], I got completely reinvigorated and wanted to make my own music. I became so thankful for all the years I spent playing piano, because all that muscle memory came back and it was super useful in getting ideas out. I think there are some musicians that have trouble communicating ideas in their head, it’s all right there but they can’t get it out with their fingers. It feels like the ideas can come faster for me because of that, which is super fucking helpful. I’m not really good at holding onto ideas, I need to record them or write them down or I’ll lose it if I don’t get it down in five seconds.
How long have you been touring with Obsidian now?
Too long. [laughs] It started before it came out in 2013, and it’s been on and off that whole time. Its been fun, but I can very comfortably say I am over the material, I am very done with it and very ready to do new record stuff. I don’t want to slowly introduce it into the the set or test things out, though, it’s going to be a full revamp. I’m going to finish the next record, with Morgan’s help, and once the record is done, we’ll build the show from the ground up and it’ll be different.
It’s diluting the statement you want to make with a record if you start bringing in new material, because I feel like records are like eras. That’s the big thing I’ve taken away from Björk in my obsession with her, a record for her is like a whole universe in and of itself, there’s a font that’s built around a release, videos all based around the spirit of it, all the artwork. The whole vibe is captured in one concept and feel for a couple of years, and I love that. And the next one takes you to a different place entirely, and that’s how I want my next record to reveal itself.
You’re working on new material right now?
Yeah. I have a fake album cover and name. You can’t tell anyone these track names, I’ll kill you. They’re fun songs, and it’s much more pop and direct and vocal-driven, but without a hip-hop influence like on Cerulean. I’m having a really good time with it.
Cerulean was a mixture of tones, whereas Obsidian was very, very dark. Is the new, lighter record a purposeful attempt to respond to that?
In some ways. It’s more that it feels like the exact right thing to do at the time. Cerulean was me wanting an album that is really bright and into the beat scene and chillwave, and I’m not ashamed to say I was obsessed with that shit at the time. It was very specifically those things, and it was super satisfying. Obsidian was the one I had wanted to make before that, but wasn’t prepared to. It was a more costly project to do, I wanted a bigger live show and more equipment. And I knew it would be a worse first impression, because it’s not who I am in one record, it’s just a part of what I want to do artistically, so I held off.
It’s not that the next album is going directly against Obsidian, it’s still going to be weird pop music, but I’m a very happy person and this new stuff is very true to that feeling. It’s really positive and about weird fantasy stuff that I’m into, a lot of anime influence which is going to be so hard to talk about in interviews because it’s so cheesy. [laughs] All the shit I really care about right now. I’ll hopefully finish it in six months.
I wanted to ask about your social media presence. You’re very unfiltered and open, and that comes into your songwriting, so is that going to continue on the next record?
Yeah, that’s how I live my life. It started with coming out, you know? I don’t have anything left to hide, so stop hiding. All my lyrics started feeling more real and honest to me. I stopped skirting around the edges of what I wanted to talk about. I got to just make what I want. I still have moments where I think a lot about how crazy it is that I have a career doing exactly what I want.
I love laughing and interacting with people online, it’s always been my world. Part of me being comfortable with being gay was through online dating. I never would’ve met men in a romantic way before that, I wasn’t brave enough. I’ve always been friends with the online world. I’m connecting to all these different communities that I never would’ve been able to peek my head into. It’s just an extension of who I am as a person.
Holly Herndon’s new record touches on all that, our lives are social media, it’s unavoidable and it’s so inspiring to me because it’s just another thing that’s part of my everyday life like movies, sex, comics. All of that can’t help but be inspiring to me and it’s about bringing it together.
In terms of being honest about your sexuality and relationships in your songs, how has it felt bringing in that confessional quality?
Being honest doesn’t even mean that it all happened to me. It’s more that the emotions come from a place that’s very real. I think great art should do that, that it shouldn’t matter if it’s a 100% real experience or not. That’s the magic of art to me, that it’s a unique creation and it’s fun that people don’t know the difference. Some of it is completely immersed in fantasy and some of it totally happened to me, and some has fantastical elements but aren’t too far removed from reality.
If you can imagine writing a pop song in the vein of Howl’s Moving Castle and doing that so the emotions are still real, fantasy that still hits really hard, that’s part of what I’m going for.
What do you think about guilty pleasures?
I like things that are weird, and I feel silly about them, but I don’t feel ashamed about them. You can’t feel guilty, you have to own the shit that you’re into, that’s how you make honest art. Don’t hide it and pretend you aren’t inspired by it. There’s a lot of artists that pretend they weren’t influenced by something and own that, but I think it’s way more exciting to have someone list the 150 things they were inspired by at that time or stole from.
Right now I’m watching MY love STORY, and that’s a romance anime about a really big buff freshman in high school dating a younger girl, and there’s so many animes that are really gratuitous that gross me out, whereas this show is super tasteful and adorable and well done, its fucking great. There’s this other show called Log Horizon that is way more dense, it’s about world-building. A bunch of kids get trapped in an online roleplaying game and don’t know why, so they build a world for themselves and it’s so much fun. That’s what I’m feeling inspired by right now.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m definitely an introvert. I was reading a book about how all of society is telling you that you must be extroverted, but that we need the introverts. Extroverts recharge their batteries by going out and socializing, whereas introverts recharge by being alone, and that’s me. Going out and playing shows is great, but I can only do it for a measured amount of time. I have to go home and sleep. If I’m with people constantly all day, it’s super taxing.
What question are you tired of being asked in interviews?
“Why the name Baths?”