When I meet up with Will Wiesenfeld, aka Baths, prior to his set at Frontier Fest, he’s hungry. He has just gotten in from LA. He greets me and our photographer outside of the Mohawk, then leads us in the direction of a restaurant, which he thinks is located a few blocks from the club. The name escapes him when I ask.
“Shit, I really hope it’s there,” he says, as we get closer to where it should be.
The restaurant is a dark little café with an order counter and about eight tables scattered across some worn wooden floors. Wiesenfeld orders his favorite dish, a noodle-based one served on a bed of lettuce and greens. He offers to buy me a bubble tea. I oblige. I’m not that crazy about bubble tea (essentially normal tea with tapioca balls in it) but I don’t want to be rude, and I’m thinking if it’s good enough for Baths, it’s good enough for me. Once we sit down, he takes a drink and looks at his glass inquisitively.
“How is it?” I ask.
“Different than I expected,” he responds. “I hope yours is okay.”
This does not inspire confidence. But the tea is fine; I don’t wretch on the table. He says it’s usually creamy and sweet.
“There’s this place in L.A. called Volcano Tea that I’m obsessed with,” he tells me. “There’s about ten girls behind the counter making tea like a conveyor belt.”
Wiesenfeld has lived in the Los Angeles area his whole life. He’s a classically-trained pianist, but at some point it began to wear on him. He gave up playing altogether for a while. “I just had a huge falling out with music in general because it was such a rehearsed thing, it was so mechanical the way I was learning everything. Then I took a break for a while and when I came back to it, it was just like me sitting at a piano, doing what I wanted instead of reading music. Once I realized I could do that and I could write that way and I could make my own material it was a giant revelation. I never stopped from that point.”
Baths is a one-man operation that Wiesenfeld runs mostly from his bedroom. Live performances are conducted entirely by Wiesenfeld, where he uses a laptop to loop tracks consisting of the beats he makes, his live guitar sound and live vocals. But he says he wants to add a live band behind him. I ask if changing the one-man approach is wise. “I’ve always wanted to be recognized as a band,” Wiesenfeld says through a mouthful of his noodles. “It still drives me fucking crazy when people call me a DJ.”
He takes a drink and says he wants to change the emotional direction of his music too.
“I’m working towards much more idea driven stuff that feels more complex and heartfelt. My first album dealt with the right ideas, but it was simplified.” Baths previous, and to date only, LP release was 2010’s Cerulean. It got acclaim with critics and fans for its lo-fi charm and infectious rhythms. “In the middle of last year I got e. coli and it completely destroyed my stomach. And two or three months after the fact I was only able to eat bread and bananas and Gatorade. It was the weirdest state of mind I’ve ever been in because it was like crippling nausea that I would wake up with every day and it was strange and dark. As horrendous as it was, it catered itself perfectly to the record I was trying to make before Cerulean. And that’s absolutely 100 percent what the next record is moving towards. It’s still going to be pop music and have tons of melody. It’s not going to be like nihilistic noise music, but it’s darker.”
The phrase “pop music” is one that he mentions frequently during the interview. His two favorite artists are odd ducks: Bjork and Kate Bush. Despite his roots in hip-hop, including signing with the label Anticon (known for hip-hop artists), he sees himself as closer to these two artists than contemporary hip hop. He feels especially close to Bush’s album Hounds of Love.
“It just made so much sense. It was so brutally experimental but so accessible at the same time and that’s what I obsess over. That’s my favorite type of music in the world, where you need to listen to it over and over and over to discover all the nuances about it but at its core it’s still easy to digest. It’s still pop music. It was a record that I could geek over forever.”
He picks up the bag he has brought along with him, a small canvas tote, and shows me the text printed on it in black letters:
There is thunder in our hearts.
The quote seems apt. It’s slightly threatening but very catchy. Through all the talk of darkness and complexity, my sense is that Wiesenfeld is a genuinely nice guy. And nice guys want to be liked; they want to be relatable, even if they’ve been to dark places.
We finish our food. Josette snaps some pictures. Wiesenfeld seems camera a bit camera shy, but bears it charmingly. We start to head back to the Mohawk so that he can prep for his set. He mentions that he might play a new song tonight, one he has never performed live, or even showed anyone. But he’s not sure yet.
A few steps later he changes the subject. “I didn’t want to say it while were in there,” he starts, “but that bubble tea was shit. Don’t tell them I said that.”
Your secret’s safe with me, Mr. Nice Guy.
Check out more of Baths here.
Catch him on tour—dates upcoming in New York City and abroad.
Photos by Josette Chen