By Ian GormelyWith Afraid of Heights Williams' has achieved a rare type of punk rock maximalism, crafting a massive, buzzy record on his own terms. Following Nathan Williams' 2009 public breakdown, few would guess the San Diego artist would still be making music in 2013. Lacking his last record's frantic pace, Williams channels titans of mid-90s alt-rock like Green Day and, especially Weezer; the massive Blue Album guitars are all over the record. Despite a year in the studio, paid for on Williams' own dime, there's still a nice lo-fi vibe to the album.
You spent a year in the studio working on this? There were a couple days off here and there, and we were still playing shows, but mostly back-to-back days. Generally speaking I work pretty quickly, but this was long.
Was there a reason? We were probably paying a little more attention to detail on this one. There's more stuff going on in every song. We tried hundreds of guitar tones, different distortion pedals for every song, different amp combinations, different head combinations, going direct in… just every possible thing you could think of, we went through before we got to the process of mixing. You never know how people are going to respond to it, but for us it definitely made a difference. We couldn't have done that in a two- or three-month time period.
Did you go into the studio with songs already written? I had half of the songs done before we got in there. But there was a lot of sorting through, because I have a lot of demos. A lot of "let's try this, no this didn't work. Okay let's try this..." "Dog" was written in the studio and "That's On Me" and a couple others.
Were there alternate versions of the tracks on the album that were drastically different? There are some pretty different versions. Not so much melodically or lyrically, but different tones, different sounds, that stuff was changed. We'd go back and listen and decided something was wrong and you'd have to change everything before we'd figure out what it was, and then put everything back together.
Was that why you decided to team up with John Hill to produce? Is that his forte? I had worked with John prior to us recording the album. We had written songs for other artists. So we had a working relationship. He's meticulous and a little bit mean, which I kind of wanted a little bit. Since I decided to pay for [the recordings] myself I wanted my money to be well spent. I wanted somebody to be honest with me. [Say] stuff that other people might not say to you. Especially a year into it you're like "I think this is wrapped," and he was like, "No, it's not. We need to do some more stuff."
Who were you two writing for? We did a song for Big Boi that I ended up featuring on but originally I had just written it for him as a writer. That ended up on his last album. Some of them are hanging right now, they're possible tracks that the person might still use, so I can't say exactly who it is. But we've worked on stuff for No Doubt before, and we worked on a couple of other things that didn't end up being used.
How did you and John meet? I think he just reached out through my manager. He said he liked King of the Beach. I knew somebody who went into the studio and wrote with him and I guess he said something about me when he was in there. I had never written for other people before, but he asked me if it was something I would be interested in, so I just went in and did a couple things and it turned into this.
Did you enjoy that process of writing for other artists? Yeah. I'll probably do it again at some point when I have more time. I don't know when that will be — this year is probably going to be really busy. But it's a nice change of pace every once in a while. I've always been a big fan of pop music so it's not out of the realm of possibility for me to actually write pop songs and enjoy doing it. It's not just about money.
You've mentioned in several interviews that Weezer's Blue Album was a big influence on Afraid of Heights. Were you a long-time fan or did you just get into that record during the recording process? I'm a long time fan, but Stephen is the real Weezer-head for sure. He camped outside of Tower Records, like waited overnight for TheGreen Album to come out. I remember him saying he was disappointed by that one. But TheBlue Album is just, I think for people that are my age, like mid-20s — I'm 27 — this is a big album for everybody. And Matt Sharp, I've always been a huge Matt Sharp fan. I love the Rentals. I think TheBlue Album is one of those timeless-feeling records.