California Wives


The band California Wives may hail from Chicago, but there is no doubt that a golden state-of-mind exists within their music. Art History, their 2012 debut album, brims with new wave vibes of buoyant synth and lilting melodies. This time around, their latest EP, Heavy—released on vinyl July 23rd—hits home with a new marriage of substantial guitar riffs and meditative lyrics. The two records focus on the throes of youth and the self-questioning that accompanies adulthood. Lead vocalist and keyboardist Jayson Kramer left a potential medical career in 2009 to pursue music professionally, so it’s no wonder his muse dwells in that period of extreme change and possibility.

California Wives comprises  Kramer, guitarist Graham Masell, and drummer Joe O’Connor. Kramer has been busy these last few years—amidst the EP, he has started the label HOMHOMHOM Records with some high school buddies, and is soon hitting the studio to record the next full-length album with his fellow Wives. Early on a Monday morning, Kramer talked to SOMA about the band’s evolving sound and his own musical coming-of-age process.

What was the process of making your newest
record, Heavy?

Things were a lot different in California Wives mainly because we had dealt with a lot of lineup changes and the business side of things crept its way into the band. It was a lot of shifting. Writing this record, I didn’t know what my intention was. I just had to get these things out. I didn’t know what was going to happen, whether or not I was going to keep writing music and keep being in the band. It was like a litmus test for me, testing my love affair with music and songwriting so to speak.

How did that shift affect your sound?

Because we moved into a trio, I needed to play bass on the record and so we also lost a bit of the synthesizer sound. Heavy is definitely a lot more rock-driven than Art History. The rawness of the sound matched the lyrical content and the angst, so we kept it that way.


How do you know when you’re ready to record a song?

When we finished “The Heart Always Breaks” as a group, we were like, “That’s it. There’s nothing else we need to do for that song.” “Over & Over” originally started on synthesizer, and then I played it on piano when we recorded. It changed more when Martin Kinack produced and mixed the record by himself. It was changing all the way until the very end. It’s different for each song, but it’s instinctual.

Is it hard to cut away things that you’ve done before and do something new?

No, I would say it’s even the opposite. This record felt like a rite of passage as a songwriter. There are a lot of trends and cycles that go on in music, like how right now the nineties are big. I reflect everything that I listen to and hear, and we all do, but at the same time I’m also just doing what feels right. I asked myself why am I doing this, why am I writing music, why am I in a band? And the truth is that we all do it because it’s something that we need to do.

After the band recorded Heavy, Kramer road-tripped from New Mexico to Sacramento under wavering clouds and blue skies. He then created the music video for the title song: iPhone footage from New Mexico and DSLR footage from Sacramento were manipulated with a friend’s VHS circuit-bent toy and edited further in Final Cut. As a result, there is a fuzzy, psychedelic quality to the video, a pulsing vision of the present through the lens of the past. It is colored with nostalgia, and California Wives seems to embody this pull of old and new in both music and visual media. “I found myself going back to my roots,” said Kramer. Take a look at the EP’s cover and you’ll see a photograph of his mother in the seventies. It seems only fitting to search for stability in times of the greatest upheaval, to honor your foundation and build upon it.

text by Noelani Piters