Back in early 2011, Will Wiesenfeld released his first-ever Baths B-sides/rarities collection under the name Pop Music / False B-Sides, simultaneously commenting on how he is both a very accessible electropop composer and also a niche artist with a rabid fanbase who fetishizes his every release. Able to drop ambient recordings under his Geotic moniker one minute before turning around and doing a big remix project the next (to say nothing of his composing the theme for the popular dad-dating indie game Dream Daddy), the Los Angeles-based Wiesenfeld has carved out quite the songbook in his decade-plus music career.
Yet syrupy electro confections are one thing; the lyrics are something else. While his Anticon-released debut album as Baths in 2010 was a word-of-mouth hit (and the song “Animals” has streaming totals in the tens of millions), it was his 2013 effort Obsidian that truly hit home with fans and critics alike. Wiesenfeld was recovering from an illness that left him bedridden, leading the musical polymath to integrate darker, moodier vibes into his otherwise-bright sound. Now, with the release of his sequel rarities comp Pop Music/False B-Sides II, Wiesenfeld is arranging his material in such a way that it feels less like a “lost treasures” compilation and more of a studio album proper, putting deep and affecting confessions out in the world. Don’t let the title mislead you: Pop Music/False B-Sides II is a considered, powerful work.
Although a digital-only release, for now, Wiesenfeld is still grappling with something so many artists have to deal with in 2020: putting out music in the middle of a global pandemic. How’s he holding up? “I’m good!” he tells PopMatters. “Lots of video games and slowly working on new material.”
To help mark the occasion for Pop Music/False B-Sides II, Wiesenfeld not only put out this new compilation on his own label (Basement’s Basement), he’s also released it in conjunction with a remastered version of that first 2011 set as well. So why release two? “It made sense to have them appear as a pair,” he tells us. “Each one is sort of like closing a book on that era of my discography as I move into a new and different effort.”
While Wiesenfeld is always working on new material, his artistic lanes remain uniquely divided. Geotic, for example, has its own Various / Singles compilation from 2014, but to hear him tell it, we shouldn’t be counting on Geotic getting any false B-sides released anytime soon. “It’s just that I think I’m much looser with releasing Geotic material,” Wiesenfeld explains. “I put out almost everything that I categorize under that moniker. That Various / Singles compilation was almost an accident more than a bookend in my output like the PM/FBS collections. So if another B-sides collection comes together for Geotic, great! But I don’t have any distinct plans for it.”
Given that there is a nine-year gap between compilations, it makes sense that some of these songs have been around for a long time, only touching ears this year. When asked about what the “deepest dive” into his vault is for Pop Music/False B-Sides II, Wiesenfeld thinks it’s “maybe ‘Veranda Shove’ which was probably made in 2012 or something? It was a B-side of a B-side?” he asks openly. “It was originally made during the Obsidian period, and then first turned into the complete song ‘Voyeur’ on the Ocean Death EP. It didn’t really make sense to me to put out this other ‘Veranda Shove’ version because the vocal refrain was exactly the same as ‘Voyeur’. I think by 2019, I had enough distance from it that hearing ‘Veranda Shove’ again was enough to understand the song on its own merits and enough of a push to finish it.”
The track on Pop Music/False B-Sides II getting the most attention is “The Stones”. It’s a nearly seven-minute work of stark minimalism that ended up being something he got to play for his father before he passed away earlier this year. “It was the last new material I had showed him even though he heard it about a year before he died — he had texted me that that he loved the line ‘I still trust that men can be lovely / Do what you like / But do it to me’ and it made me really happy because not only was it the focus of the song and that got through to him, but that it was a very openly gay lyric. That kind of acknowledgment from him always kept me motivated.”
His dad came up again in our conversation, this time talking about how much easier recording techniques have become in the near-decade since these compilations. “Certain techniques and things get easier,” Wiesenfeld starts, “but my dad once gave me the greatest piece of understanding about making art of any sort (I’m paraphrasing): ‘The more you improve, the harder it gets.’ Producing/mixing/songwriting/performance all happen at the same time for me, and the more I learn about any aspect of them, the more thoughts I have to juggle in my head all at once about how to go about something, so the process can become daunting. I’m trying to go a bit easier on myself lately.”
Of course, for an album this open and revealing, one has to wonder if there is any nervousness about people hearing such raw insights into Wiesenfeld’s life. “I’ve been making music long enough that I don’t get nervous about that at all anymore,” he tells us. “My metric is always ‘Am I proud of it?’ If it meets that standard, then I could care less about people’s reactions. Of course, it’s lovely to hear if someone likes my stuff, but I never take it personally when someone dislikes it. It’s a selfish act for me: making music exactly the way I want to, and I’m always aiming to appease myself. I’m just extraordinarily lucky that people continue to listen and allow me to maintain the career I have.”
He’s especially excited to be working under his own record label now. “It’s very different,” he tells us about that end of his life, “but more than anything, it’s exciting because I maintain all the rights and masters to my material that I put out! It’s very freeing even if the workload is more than it was.”
So with that said, what’s his workload for the rest of the year looking like, even as we all are sheltering-in-place during this global quarantine? “I’ve begun working on some new material. I’m taking my time and giving myself a lot of space with it all, reminding myself that no matter what emotion I’m putting into my music, it’s should never be torture to make music. It’s catharsis, so I keep seeking out that feeling and acting on it when it feels right.
“Inspiration is a crafty nemesis,” he ends with a laugh. Here’s hoping that inspiration propels us to the day we can get a third volume of those false B-sides in a decade.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist via Bandcamp