Wednesday Find Heart and Humour in Life's Darkest Moments

"If it's good, it's fun; if it's bad, it's funny," says singer Karly Hartzman

Photo: Brandon McClain

BY Dylan BarnabePublished Jun 22, 2023

Turns out you can go home again. On Rat Saw God, Wednesday's fifth album, the North Carolina quintet mine the collective pitfalls and blessings of growing up in Asheville, bringing a far-reaching resonance to their local stories.

"Home is kind of the only thing I'm an expert on that I felt was worth writing about," vocalist Karly Hartzman tells Exclaim! "There's a lot of good music out of North Carolina, but I knew it'd be worthwhile to log some extra-specific stories about this place with our music."

The album is a nostalgia-driven journey through the American South, playing out across 10 tracks of the band's signature shoegaze-meets-grunge-meets-country. Like the title, which draws its inspiration from niche early-2000s detective show Veronica Mars, Rat Saw God is filled with coded Easter eggs that convey the reality of life as a teenager in the middle of nowhere — except these Easter eggs come in the form of piss-yellow Fanta bottles and empty Narcan sprays.

Standout songs like "Quarry" best exemplify these vignettes, as Hartzman stitches together stories of friends, family and community members whose everyday lore has been passed down from generation to generation. There's the kid from the Jewish family who got the preacher's kid pregnant, or the Kletz brothers' parents fighting in the yard in their underwear, or whoever called the cops on Mandy and her boyfriend — the list goes on. Hartzman's observations are at once hyper-specific, but also entirely relatable.

"I was very motivated to share stories from my family and high school years especially, so I can eventually move on to writing about my life as it is now," she says of her lyrical journey. "I'm kind of working through a long list of stuff I must write about to express who I am and the context of our lives before I can get to other stuff I want to write about, if that makes sense. There's a lot of ground you have to cover if you want to make art about who you are, so I really just was starting from the beginning."

For Wednesday, the maturation of the band closely follows the linear timeline of growing up. Revisiting the past isn't so much a touchstone for inspiration (though it provides that in spades) as a requirement to evolve to the next level and crack open the door to other areas of growth. In this way, Rat Saw God is a means to an end — though an incredibly nuanced and thoughtful means. It also hints at the promise of Wednesday's bright future, as Hartzman works past the checklist of her teen years and moves into the other phases of her personal life and career.

Part of what makes the album so raw is that Hartzman doesn't shy away from the imperfect, imbalanced and sometimes messy sides of life. In fact, she hurtles towards it. "Anything else would be denying what life was like," she observes. "Honesty, I think, can be provided in a lot of ways lyrically, and telling both the good and bad is part of that."

The intersection of comedy and tragedy, and how they are tightly wound together, is something Wednesday captures beautifully. On "What's So Funny" Hartzman croons, "Memory always twists the knife / Nothing will ever be as vivid as the darkest time of my life." The past can be a painful reminder, but also a source of bittersweet reminiscence.

The singer reflects, "Jake [MJ Lenderman], our guitarist, has a saying that pertains to playing shows, but I think it applies to life in general: 'If it's good, it's fun; if it's bad, it's funny.' The two are impossible to remove from each other. And acknowledging that actually makes the bad stuff much easier to handle. [That's] another quality especially strong in country music, which is why it is endlessly inspiring to us."

It might seem odd that a rock band known for their ear-splitting noise identify so strongly with country music, but that's nothing new for Wednesday. The band's mercurial nature allows them to embody multitudes at any given moment. From Sonic Youth to Drive-by Truckers, they draw inspiration from multiple scenes and influences. The result: a melting pot of reverb, thunderous percussion, lap guitar and guttural wails that is wildly fresh and uniquely American.

They also take inspiration from Pavement — particularly after seeing that band's reunion in recent years, and witnessing their longevity. "We had an emotional moment watching Pavement, thinking about how we could be playing together still when we're their age," Hartzman says. "I truly wish that we are."

The bond between Hartzman, Lenderman, Margo Shultz (bass), Alan Miller (drums) and Xandy Chelmis (lap and pedal steel guitar) has the potential to go the distance. And once you listen to Rat Saw God, it's easy to see why. "I love my bandmates," says Hartzman. "We support each other in our own little language that's a bit hard to explain. It involves a lot of humouring the bullshit and having patience with each other in low moments."

If anyone knows how to roll with the highs and lows and chart modern malaise, it's Wednesday. When asked about what it feels like to look back on your adolescence through the eyes of a now-successful rock band, Hartzman provides a simple answer: "I'm still figuring that out, I think."

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