It’s a Wednesday in April and Karly Hartzman, the songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist of the indie rock band Wednesday, is at the mall. It’s one of the few places where she doesn’t run into anyone in Asheville, North Carolina, where the band is based, a few hours from where she grew up in Greensboro.
“Boys, close your ears,” she says to lap steel player Xandy Chelmis and guitarist Jake Lenderman over a group phone call. “I need some bras, because the one I had that was in my rotation for tour is just not to be found.”
It’s one of the errands you have to do in the weeks before any tour begins – but especially Wednesday’s upcoming tour, their biggest yet, in support of their latest album Rat Saw God, out now via Dead Oceans. It’s the five-member group’s boldest release yet – a twangy tapestry of Americana painted in broad emotional strokes and minute details largely pulled from Hartzman’s post-2008 recession adolescence, one punctuated by kudzu as much as by recreational Benadryl use and stomach pumpings. The album will have the band, which also includes drummer Alan Miller and bassist Ethan Baechtold, soon playing the biggest rooms they’ve ever played, not to mention their first shows in Europe.
“Every tour we do, we get to the venue and I'm always like, people aren't really coming, are they? Then it happens,” Lenderman tells NYLON. “We've already sold out some of those shows and it's just hard to even imagine what that many people is going to look like.”
Luckily, the band has a couple weeks of downtime before embarking on this tour, as opposed to the usual routine of a few days of nervous, fretted excitement, scrambling to do last minute tasks like inhaling unknown fumes while attaching patches to T-shirts to make Wednesday’s signature homemade merch. But this week, Chelmis is building a house for his four beehives. Hartzman and Lenderman got their guitars set up for tour days ahead of time.
This tour is different, because this album is different. Rat Saw God, their fifth studio album, has already blown up in a big way, much bigger than past albums. Chelmis heard a Wednesday song on the radio the other day while driving up a mountain, a surreal experience in a place where you can only get a few radio stations. The album was named Pitchfork’s Best New Music and the review called them “one of the best indie rock bands around.” Several shows are sold out.
Wednesday’s past albums had a cult-like following but this one is propelling them far higher than before. It’s also just staggeringly good — a rollicking, dynamic journey across 10 songs that span from ‘90s shoegaze to glistening indie rock to country twang, all punctuated by Hartzman’s voice that’s simultaneously gruff enough to bulldoze a feeling and light enough to crystalize it. The eight-and-a-half minute “Bull Believer,” on which Hartzman lets out fearless, visceral, guttural screams, is a particular standout, while “What’s So Funny,” is Hartzman’s favorite, not because of any genre-bending or particular instrumental virtuosity, but because it crystallized a feeling she long felt.
“It's a feeling I was trying to describe for a really, really long time,” she says. “To me, it feels like an accomplishment to put into words, this very specific, bittersweet sadness that's been following me around for a really long time.”
For Hartzman, songwriting is a very serious pursuit. It's something she didn’t pursue until college, spending her teens going to punk shows. Music was one of those extracurriculars that was tense to have while growing up in the post-2008 recession, an era when teenage angst was brought on not just by puberty but by an economic collapse, of which Hartzman was acutely aware after her father lost his job, a time period this album pulls from.
“It's funny how even a little bit of awareness of financial stress can really dump a lot of stress on a family because if you're a teenager and you want to go to the movies and you're scared to ask for the money to go because you see the reaction is X, Y, Z. I felt weird about doing anything extracurricular,” she says. “That just felt weird because I wanted to do music, and music was my haven.”
On Wednesday’s songs, we hear a lot about the duality of youth, one where the stakes are even higher because of economic turmoil. We hear about friends taking too much ecstasy and having to get stomachs pumped, sneaking into neighborhood pools and teaching Sunday School the next morning. There’s a duality between the danger and joy of play, between chaos and safety; there’s piss-colored Fanta and having sex in the back of an SUV in a cul-de-sac under dogwood trees. There’s a sex shop off the highway with a biblical name, and there are not one but two references to narcan.
On Wednesday’s songs, we hear a lot about the duality of youth, one where the stakes are even higher because of economic turmoil.
“I'm trying to become a better songwriter and I think I'm always in pursuit of that. I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet,” Hartzman says. “But I feel this is the first album we put out that I feel really confident in my ability and I'm still writing a lot and it feels really good. I feel like we've hit our stride.”
The album has been praised for Hartzman’s ability to capture a slice of America, and of the South in particular. The hype is exciting but a little weird for Hartzman, someone who ultimately just has a lot to say — and frankly a lot more than what’s across Wednesday’s five albums.
In fact, ten minutes into talking about this album, she casually tells me she’s already written the next one. (“I haven't even shown my band mates those songs yet because it would be really overwhelming,” she says.)
Between a robust touring schedule and recording schedule, it’s shocking she has the time. But Hartzman spends a lot of time at home when she’s not on tour. She doesn’t get FOMO at this point in her life. She likes to keep her head down: she prioritizes staying at home a lot, which gives her the space to write.
“I don't even know when I do all of that. It just kind of falls out…But yeah, I have a lot pent up,” she says. “I'm just ready to do the next one.”