Nearly a decade ago, L.A.-based indie group Inner Wave played an early show at a tire shop in South Central. The other bands on the bill played punk. Inner Wave, on the other hand, brought an experimental bedroom-pop sound.
It may not sound like a great match, but in those early days, there weren’t a lot of other choices for the group’s members, who grew up in the primarily Latinx Inglewood neighborhood where DIY and backyard shows were (and are) plentiful, but bands tend to play heavier, higher-energy music.
“No bands sounded like us,” says Inner Wave bassist Jean Pierre Narvaez. “We would always be playing with a very punk band or a very ska band. Or maybe even an even heavier band. We would be the only band playing indie songs. I wouldn’t say we were actually part of the scene, but we definitely rubbed shoulders with everybody. We were very friendly with people.”
The five-piece group is now on its first headlining tour, and plays Santa Cruz on June 14. Some of the shows on the month-long tour tour sold out; others have been shy by 20-30 tickets. Without a local scene to really help build a following, the band found an audience online.
Narvaez recalls in 2010, when Inner Wave first uploaded music to Bandcamp, and people began discovering it almost immediately. There’s an audience on Bandcamp for bands that play weirdo, offbeat, lo-fi indie-pop. Inner Wave falls in the category comfortably.
“Bandcamp has a very nice index of artists,” Narvaez says. “People can keep going into this Bandcamp black hole. At some point, they landed on us.”
After putting out several singles, EPs and albums, the musicians wanted to challenge themselves and make what would be their first serious opus of a record as a young indie band. It took nearly two years to write, and a year to record in a garage. They whittled down 30 songs to 18, and the resulting hour-long album, Underwater Pipe Dreams, was released in August of 2017.
It’s a chilled out collection of odd, guitar-centric dream-pop that also experiments with other instruments, like keys, vocal processors and drum machines, and builds some incredible soundscapes over the lo-fi hooky tunes. A lot of bands that play indie bedroom-pop are almost dramatically serious, but while Inner Wave takes its craft seriously, and sing lyrics that are important to the band members, the songs still manage to feel fun and playful, like a musical roller coaster ride that goes from surreal ballads to dissonant noise-rock tunes to almost silly-sounding spontaneous jams.
The album is also marked by imperfections.
“There’s little dinks and mess-ups that have their own charm. These little weird things make it sound unique. We definitely enjoy that kind of stuff,” Narvaez says. “We were trying to take ourselves a little more seriously and really perfect our craft.”
Since releasing the album, the band has put out some stand-alone singles, like the hypnotic doo-wop tune “Lullaby,” plus several cuts that didn’t make Underwater Pipe Dreams. The song “2031” was a voice memo taken off one of an iPhone that guitarist/lead singer Pablo Sotelo sang over and mixed in Ableton.
Now that the group is at headliner level, it has an advantage over a lot of bedroom-pop artists that get a sudden bit of attention online: Inner Wave has been a live band for a decade. Going forward, the goal is to add performance value with lighting and other elements.
“I feel like the actual playing of instruments live, that’s very old news. We’re just trying to make the experience a lot better,” Narvaez says. “Like Tame Impala, Travis Scott. Those scenes have crazy productions. We would love to be able to have those kinds of resources to make our show that beautiful.”
Inner Wave performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 14, at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $15 adv/$18 door. 423-1338.