Often when actors play music, their bands are dismissed as novelty acts or vanity projects. (Keanu Reeves’s Dogstar and Russell Crowe’s 30 Odd Foot of Grunts come to mind.) But Wallows, co-fronted by Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why breakout star Dylan Minnette and veteran child actor Braeden Lemasters (TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, ABC’s Betrayal) are the real deal.
Wallows’ jangly, earwormy indie rock has earned them acclaim since they released their aptly titled debut single “Pleaser” last year, and in fact, the band predates both actors’ fame: The two founded Wallows when they were tweens, after their mothers met over a decade ago in a chat room for advice-seeking stage parents.
“They met through their moms, because they were both moving to L.A. to do acting, but their moms met online when they were 9,” Wallows’ drummer, Cole Preston, tells Yahoo Entertainment after Wallows’ packed set in the Toyota Music Den at New Orleans’s Voodoo festival. “They had a sleepover, bonded over Beatles and all that good stuff, and then I joined the picture when I was 12.”
After that, Wallows did what any unknown but ambitious, up-and-coming L.A. rock group does: gigging around town and uploading DIY music videos to YouTube and Bandcamp. 13 Reasons Why obviously eventually elevated Minnette’s profile, as well as the band’s, but their true fans know that Wallows is no hobby or lark and that their success didn’t come overnight.
“I think we show it’s not a hobby by how much work we put into it and how much we’re doing nonstop,” says Minnette. “We’ve recorded 23 songs this year. We’ve an album coming out next year. We just work a lot. Also, if people were there for weird reasons at first, or there because they knew we were actors or something, then they went away pretty quickly — and our fanbase dwindled down probably more to what it is, and has grown from there. I think it’s very apparent at our shows that people are here for Wallows, which is exciting now. So, I think we got past it, which is great. That’s what we’d hoped, and Wallows is definitely standing on its own so far, and that’s what we’re thankful for.”
The guys don’t believe their acting experience has helped them feel any more comfortable on the concert stage. (“I’m honestly more confident with music than acting,” confesses Lemasters. “For me, [acting and music] are completely separate things that have nothing to do with each other,” says Minnette.) But it certainly has made Wallows’ lo-fi music videos, like the howlingly funny, fascinatingly awkward, totally acid-washed “1980s Horror Film” great fun to watch.
Wallows’ debut EP, produced by John Congleton (Best Coast, the Walkmen, St. Vincent, Franz Ferdinand) definitely evokes buzz bands of that last golden age of alternative rock, the early 2000s — think Spoon, Vampire Weekend, and especially the Strokes. (“We were all Strokes nerds,” Preston admits.) But the young musicians’ shared appreciation for the 1980s is more interesting (they do a faithful, impeccable cover of the Smiths’ “This Charming Man” in the live shows), considering that they were all born in the late ’90s.
“We love the ’80s, there’s no doubt about that,” says Lemasters. “My favorite movie of all time is from the ’80s, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I love the Smiths, the Cure, Cyndi Lauper. … I started with 2000s music and ’60s music, and then, where can you go? You merge them together, and then you cross the ’80s. And you’re like, ‘This is a sick place.’”
With Minnette, Lemasters, and Preston planning to focus “full force” on their music, Wallows’ career may eventually span decades as well. Which raises one question about a special 1990s artifact: Is that parental online chat room, the one that started it all when Mrs. Minnette and Mrs. Lemasters met, archived anywhere?
“Without that, there would have been no Wallows. That’s huge!” Preston jokes.
“To be honest, I’ve no idea what website it was,” Lemasters chuckles. “Whatever it was probably doesn’t exist. … [But] to all the people meeting online, and their moms meeting online, good on you.”
This article originally ran on Yahoo Music.