Looking at the cover art for Los Angeles psych-rock group Wand's sophomore album, Golem, you might wonder what exactly is going on in their minds. We sure were.
So we asked frontman Cory Hanson. The answer? Possession, death, denial, German expressionism and the apocalypse, to name a few things. And probably his shepherd/corgi mix, Charlie, whom he says is Wand's “little spirit animal.”
Illustrated by visual artist Reuben Sawyer (who's done work for acts like Destruction Unit, Deafheaven and Chelsea Wolfe), the cover features a Greek tragedy mask hovering beside a floating table, with a broken candle tipped over and a shattered face carved out of stone. Behind that is a window, or perhaps a painting, with a view of the surface of the moon, complete with a floating head of the Egyptian Sphinx and a distant planet (maybe Jupiter?).
“The thing about Golem is I feel like all of the feelings that are there…there's more textural, melodious, synthesizer things,” Hanson says, comparing the band's forthcoming release to its debut, Ganglion Reef, which came out last August on Ty Segall's God? imprint. “We thought maybe we should make a record that's pointing all directions at once.”
Pointing in all directions seems to be a common theme for Hanson and his bandmates. Before forming Wand — which he says is essentially the first band he's ever led — he played with an array of acts in the local garage rock scene: Meatbodies, Mikal Cronin and Together Pangea (back when they were just called Pangea), as well as an ongoing solo electronic pop project called W-H-I-T-E. Fellow members Evan Burrows (drums), Daniel Martens (guitar), and Lee Landey (bass) each work on projects on the side, too. Hanson says that if Wand had a musical philosophy, it would be to “make as much stuff as possible in whatever form.”
When Wand wrapped up recording Ganglion Reef — an album which found inspiration in LARP-ing and Final Fantasy IV — the band immediately began work on Golem. By the time they kicked off a tour with Ty Segall in September, the album was already written. It was the first time the members had written collaboratively, which Hanson says was a lot more aggressive than his own lackadaisical, meandering style.
“None of us were feeling very upbeat at the time. It didn't really feel appropriate,” he says regarding Golem's tone, which he describes as “super apocalyptic. Definite end-of-civilization vibes.”
One listen to “Self Hypnosis in 3 Days” and you'll feel like you're charging into some primitive, yet intergalactic battle, traveling through a rip in time between future and past as Hanson sings, “I want to know which world is yours and which is mine.”
One of the biggest influences on Golem's doomsday din was Sacramento, where Wand recorded with producer Chris Woodhouse (who's engineered albums by Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and Wild Flag) for two weeks. “Sacramento is a very dark, twisted city. It's got some really pretty parts in it, and then it's got some really fucking dark, really bleak places that I wouldn't recommend anyone go to. And Chris' studio is right where I would recommend nobody go,” Hanson says with a laugh.
Situated on a square block of industrial warehouses where police corral the city's homeless population, Woodhouse's studio gave Wand a pretty despairing backdrop. Hanson recalls running by a nearby river and finding a woman who had been stung by a wasp, tears streaming down her swollen face, shooting up heroin alongside the water. “There used to be a shantytown and it all got torn down,” Hanson says about the river. “But there are still a few people living in shanties.”
This was also around the time of the Michael Brown verdict. Hanson recalls the confluence of events and emotions that loomed over the band as they laid down the tracks to the album: “It's like we were in this weird bubble reading about all of this stuff, and then going outside and seeing all of this really intense stuff and having it be very local. It sort of felt like something was going to happen in the world that was going to change it at that time.”
Another major inspiration behind Golem's nightmarish sound is the 1920 German Expressionist silent horror film The Golem: How He Came Into the World. In the film, a rabbi and his assistant summon the spirit Astaroth to give life to a monster they have built from clay, a monster they name Golem.
After watching the film, Hanson began thinking about the idea of possession: how objects, though inanimate, came to life through his ownership and the meaning he gave them. This concept extended to people, too: “There are often times when people become raw material, they are sort of possessed by their desire to possess things, to own things, and therefore are willing to risk their labor or their bodies in order to fulfill their desire to possess.”
Pretty deep stuff from a band that writes like wildfire. Good thing they've got their spirit animal Charlie to make it all better again.
Wand's Golem is out now on God?/In the Red Records.