While riding home on the 33 Metrobus line, a stranger tapped me on the shoulder, curious about what band I was “jamming so hard to.” Waking up from my musical trance complete with unapologetic public head-banging, I grinned and loudly declared, “Wednesday.”
Front and center at Black Cat here in Washington D.C., Wednesday’s concert was by far the loudest show I have ever attended. The indie-rock-shoegaze band from Asheville, North Carolina, currently signed to label Dead Oceans, tore up the stage with ear-splitting screams and heavy amp feedback. Lead singer Karly Hartzman assured me her 90-year-old grandparents in attendance were most definitely wearing earplugs. On stage, she told the crowd this was the first time her grandparents had seen her perform live with the band. “Maybe they will finally understand what I do,” she laughed, “they were not happy when I got my tattoos, but I think they understand now.” The familial element of the Black Cat show added to the intimacy of the sold-out crowd.
Wednesday’s newest album, Rat Saw God, reflects that same intimacy Hartzman evoked on stage. The album reflects the morose anger and melancholia of growing older and reflecting on childhood memories. Hartzman paints a portrait of growing up in Asheville with charming anecdotes that merge into tragic stories. How do you contextualize your life and make sense of all the comedy and tragedy experienced in one place? Wednesday reminisces, but without passing judgment. Instead, nostalgia flows over you in an emotional release.
Before performing the album’s hit song, “Quarry,” Hartzman thanked her family for letting her tell their stories and expressed gratitude for her hometown. The Southern element of Wednesday shone through the steel pedal featured on every track and their self-professed country song “Chosen to Deserve” (a country-shoegaze genre experience for the ages). Their subtle imagery awakens childhood memories, “I was out late, sneakin’ into the neighborhood pool / then I woke up early and taught at the Sunday school.” Hartzman curates stories that feel like a sticky, hazy Southern summer—abandoned playgrounds, burnouts at Cookout, and churches next to the strip club.
As we approached their last song, I prayed it would be the heaviest of them all: “Bull Believer,” the song with so much screaming that Hartzman told the crowd she physically can’t sing afterward. Nothing lets out anger quite like wailing “finish him” on a loop until your lungs have nothing left to give. Hartzman emphasized that this anger is political as well as personal. She spoke about Southern politics and the current uptick in attacks on the rights of queer and trans people. Screaming became a form of political protest for Wednesday.
This album live is an incomparable experience if you love head-banging and sound so loud your own blood-curdling screams are drowned out. However, the studio recording is just as energetic, perfect for losing yourself on public transit. I got the chance to talk to Hartzman after the show and ask her a few questions.
Audrey: The North Carolina imagery is so raw and vivid on the record I feel like I can see my own childhood reflected back to me. What does NC mean to the motivation behind the album? Was the record intended to be a Southern storytelling medley?
Karly: I’m mostly just writing what I know, and since I grew up in NC and have been there my whole life, that’s the world I’m describing with my music. It’s impossible to separate it from myself. The intention was to tell stories of my friends and family and because NC is where we live it ended up being about living there as well.
What is the meaning behind the title of the album, Rat Saw God?
It’s the name of an episode of Veronica Mars. We wanted the album title to be something not too serious and that’s what I ended up with.
What music were you listening to while writing the album? What are your musical influences, retro or modern? If you were to have a solo dance party, what would be on the playlist?
For the past few years, I often return to Unwound, Swirlies, PJ Harvey and Drive-By Truckers again and again. Their music and lyrics have really dug their way into my brain permanently and they will always be an influence.
For dancing though I’d want some burn burner-type stuff to jump around too, or something funky like Talking Heads.
At the show it was clear activism plays a large role in your life. What political changes do you hope to see in NC and the broader South? How does music help heal or motivate you throughout these turbulent times?
Well, the South has some very deep seeded issues that I know can’t be “changed” easily or simply. But I do feel like what can more realistically happen is that people can be motivated to gather and fight and organize and make change locally. That’s why I think it’s so important for people in the South who hate Southern politics to stay and fight for what you believe in and for people who can’t fight for themselves rather than move away or something.
Photo credit: Brandon McClain
Screaming has been really healing. I’m motivated by people like those in the band Tenci (who is on tour with us right now) who have been raising money for Trans Youth emergency funds and like making actual stuff happen. I’m very inspired by them.
What is next for Wednesday? How do you hope your sound evolves throughout touring and the next album?
I think our music will evolve naturally from touring so much, spending so much time together and getting older. I just wanna keep doing my thing, not force anything drastic… but also push myself to write good songs.
Audrey Ledford is a senior in the SFS studying Culture and Politics.