Wavves, Stephen Pope: Tsunami of Sound

“I DON’T THINK THERE SHOULD BE only one bass part per song,” says Stephen Pope.
By Jon D'Auria ,

“I DON’T THINK THERE SHOULD BE only one bass part per song,” says Stephen Pope. “Most songs usually have multiple guitar parts going at once, so why can’t we do that on bass?” If doubling clean bass tracks with distorted parts or baritone guitars seems a little unorthodox, you probably haven’t heard Pope do his thing. In Wavves, the San Diego-based trio that meshes a post-Beach Boys surf vibe with punk, electronic, and grunge, Pope pumps out effect-laden bass lines with a stage presence as big as his sound. “If people want to just listen to music, they can put a record on,” Stephen says. “But if people want to see a show, we’ll give them a spectacle.”

How did you begin playing bass?

I had never played bass before meeting up with Jay Reatard in 2006. I had played a little guitar, but Jay, who had released an album and needed a band, said he’d teach me how to play bass if I joined his band. My style is almost an imitation of his style.

Is playing with Wavves different from playing with Jay?

I have a lot more freedom in Wavves. I played a lot of my own parts with Jay, but he had a very specific vision—if I was doing something Jay didn’t like, he’d let me know. In Wavves, I play all my own parts and write full songs, so I’m enjoying the freedom.

Who was your first bass hero?

Michael Anthony. He was the first person I ever saw who used a phaser on bass, which really inspired me. And he was just a maniac onstage—he would get wasted, run around, and perform until he passed out. For his solos, he would just go nuts on his Jack Daniels bass. It was amazing to watch, and you could tell that he was interested in getting as many sounds as he could from his bass.

What’s something you do to get radical new sounds?

I like playing my Flying V through a synth controller. I did that on King of the Beach quite a bit. I love trying to create crazy new sounds.

You definitely seem to be having fun during Wavves shows.

I’m a pretty nervous guy, and when I get onstage, I have a lot of nervous energy. I get lost in the music and start headbanging so I don’t have to look into the crowd. I don’t really like the spotlight, so this instrument fits me perfectly.

HEAR HIM ON
Wavves, King of the Beach [Fat Possum, 2010]

GEAR

Basses Epiphone Flying V Basses
Rig Markbass Little Mark II 500- watt head, SWR Goliath Jr. 2x10, Peavey Black Widow 1x18
Effects Tech 21 SansAmp Bass Driver DI, Fulltone Bass-Drive, MXR Phase 90, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
Strings Ernie Ball Slinky, .045– .110
Picks Dunlop .72mm