It’s an understatement to say that 2010 was a good year for 21-year-old Will Wiesenfeld, a.k.a. Baths. Over the course of a few months, the Los Angeles-based electronic music auteur went from happy obscurity—recording and self-releasing countless albums under the monikers [Post-Foetus] and Geotic—to budding stardom, with his Anticon Records debut Cerulean pushing its way into plenty of “best of” lists (including The A.V. Club’s) in December. But Wiesenfeld hasn’t gotten a big head because of it. To the contrary, in interview after interview he’s seemed exuberant, thankful, and entirely unguarded, refusing to draw a firm line between his public persona and his private life. It could be a generational thing—his generation has had access to social media since it lost the pacifier—or it could be the source of that same brightness and honesty that runs through his richly melodic songs. He’s hitting the Snowball Music Festival in Vail Valley this weekend, and if you’re making the drive for the fest to catch bigger acts—like Pretty Lights and The Flaming Lips—catching Baths should definitely be on your agenda. Before that, we sat down with Wiesenfeld to discuss Baths through the highly personal, totally random photos he’s posted recently using Flickr.
The A.V. Club: Let’s start with “Lunch w/ dad before Europe.” He’s holding a menu and looking trepidatious. Is he unsure about the bibimbap, or about his son heading overseas?
AVC: Your dad’s been very supportive of your interest in music, hasn’t he?
WW: Absolutely. When I told my folks I was going to leave school for music full-time, my mom was really anxious about the idea. But my dad was 100 percent behind it, like, “If you think this is what’s right for you, then you need to do it.” It’s amazing how on-my-side they’ve been about everything—both of them. Here, we wanted to have a little goodbye lunch before I left for Europe [in November of 2010]. That was my first tour overseas, so it was very intimidating and intense and crazy—a month not only of not being home, but being far, far away from home.
AVC: Do you still live with your folks, or have they given you the boot?
WW: I do, but my older brother and I are attempting to move out. By the time I get back from Europe this year, in May, it may actually be possible. I’m right on the verge.
AVC: Okay. How about “Linux Airplane Universe,” which I assume was taken shortly after the last one. Are you trying to hack into the plane’s controls here?
AVC: You use an Angelfire page for the Baths website, which is either a luddite move, or some kind of hacker statement. Are you pretty computer adept?
WW: Well, it comes down to the fact that, six years after I made the [Post-Foetus] site, I discovered that I still have an account with Angelfire and a cheap domain. I don’t know anything about web design. I just put together bathsmusic.com, and it’s the most “nothing” website ever—just HTML, which is all copy-and-paste. I can just Google what I’m looking for, and someone else will already have the code written out. I’m no programmer.
AVC: How important are computers to your music?
WW: Very, very important, in terms of the freedom I have to arrange things. I almost always work with actual audio—recording live guitars and bass, or me singing or grabbing various sounds around the house—so it’s very open-ended for me. I feel like I can do anything I want. I think a lot of people view using computers in music as a limiting thing. I always hear bands talking about trying to totally eliminate having a computer onstage, but I’m future-obsessed and I love it. The thing is, it’s not about the equipment live, especially with electronic music. That’s just gimmickry. It’s about your physicality—the actual human presence in the room.
WW: Oh! These are the original eight gym leader badges from the very first Pokémon game and TV show. As you move through the game, you battle various gym leaders, and having all eight of these means you’ve reached the top of the Pokémon world. I have them all lined up on my backpack right now, and I love it. I get excited to go out of the house sporting them.
AVC: Wow. So, how important is Pikachu to your music?
WW: Well, I have a strange relationship with Pokémon. In the game, it’s a lot of competition—the slogan is “Gotta catch ’em all”—and I kinda hate that idea. I watch the show more than I play, because there are all these other characters, and I love the idea of the Pokémon breeder. These people just live on a farm and raise 10 or 12 Pokémon by themselves and have the most relaxed life ever. That’s so appealing to me, but they don’t have a breeder badge I can sport.
AVC: Well, considering that you’re openly gay, there’s something kind of conflicting about you wearing a “breeder” badge anyway.
WW: [Laughs.] Oh my God, I never thought about that. That’d be the funniest thing ever.
AVC: Seriously though, do you see a connection between your songs and the anime, games, and manga you hold so dear?
WW: I think the reason I like animation so much is also the reason I like electronic music. Take any [Hayao] Miyazaki movie, and it’s the most relentlessly creative thing ever. There are so many things that are impossible to do with film that he can do with animation. It’s the same with the music—you’re not limited by the number of people you can find to play instruments. You can go forever.
WW: It’s that same sort of escapism thing. Their aesthetic has always been very Nordic, which is something that I don’t understand at all, having grown up in Southern California. Listening to the music drops me into the woods in the middle of Finland, it’s so frozen and creepy and dark. The main writer, Marko Nyberg—his production on the album is so unique. You can hear every single instrument perfectly, and yet everything breathes and moves together as one.
WW: I didn’t. I found it on the Internet, but it’s [pauses] everything I want in life, basically. A gay romance between Batman and Superman would be the best thing ever. Or at least, that seems to be the implication of the sculpture.
AVC: It’s incredibly homoerotic. Is that a statement on our societal superhero fetish, or just some dude’s wet dream?
WW: There has got to be some deeper meaning, but to me it’s just beautiful. In my mind, it’s something some crazy billionaire gay guy would have in the center of his house—like, “This is everything.” I can look at it for a long time. It’s very, very gay, and I’m really gay, and I love it.
WW: Apparently this is the real thing. It was Ben Affleck’s iPod when he was dating Jennifer Lopez. That guy, Matt—his father shot Gigli, and when [Affleck and Lopez] broke up, I guess Ben just gave it to Matt’s dad, like, “I don’t want this anymore.”
AVC: The A.V. Club does this feature called Random Rules, where we interview people while they shuffle through their digital music collection. Do you have an iPod on you?
WW: I do. [Pulls out iPod. Enables shuffle.] This is very intimidating, because I have some weird shit on here. Okay. I have “Glazed” by J. Dilla, on Donuts, which I can’t really claim to know anything about. My friend gave me a huge playlist of beat music to listen to as research for Cerulean, pretty much, so that’s all I know.
WW: I have the fifth chapter of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I was attempting to audiobook it while I was on the road with El Ten Eleven, but the narrator had the most terrible voice and I couldn’t make it through 40 minutes without getting really angry. I have this weird feeling about the book now and haven’t picked up a physical copy because of it.
WW: The whole point of [the Flickr account] was so that I can upload pictures while I’m on tour, but I couldn’t do it while I was in Europe. I took this one to kick it off. I was on the computer. It was 2010. I was loving life, very happy, and took a picture of my face, like, “This is it!”
AVC: Give us a critical review of 2010, then. Does it get a “Best New Year” from you?
WW: [Laughs.] It gets a “Craziest New Year” for sure. It probably was the best year of my life, but it was so complicated and went by so quickly that I can’t even tell you if it was good or bad. Where I’m at now, I’m personally very, very happy, so I think 2010 must have been amazing.
AVC: What needs to happen in 2011 to inspire an even more stoked face this November?
WW: To make an album that I’m happy with, and to know that it’ll be released to the same number of people that heard the last one. I’m not intimidated by the idea of this being my sophomore attempt, because it’s actually like my 23rd album. It’s fun for me.
AVC: Anything you can tell us about the next one?
WW: Well, I won’t be able to start working on it until May, so it’ll be out in 2012. Cerulean was so positive and happy, even through some intense subject matter, but this will almost be the polar opposite. The ideas I have are much more intense and much darker—ruthless, even.