Smile Politely

Wednesday not letting success go to their heads

This is a photo of a group of people with their faces blurred out. The people are standing close together and appear to be posing for the photo. They are wearing casual clothing, including t-shirts, jeans, and shorts. Two of the people have tattoos visible on their arms. The background is a plain gray color.
Brandon McClain

Wednesday’s Karly Hartzman avoids press about her band, which is a good way to keep one’s head clear of doubt and nagging criticisms. But what I learned in my Labor Day conversation with her is that she doesn’t read the good stuff, either. Before I knew about Wednesday’s upcoming appearance at Rose Bowl Tavern, I stumbled upon a more than glowing review of their Outside Lands performance last month. The article made it sound like it was a seminal moment in the band’s career, but Hartzman just said “It was as good as any of our other festival shows”. She had no idea it was perceived as anything otherwise.

Later, I asked her if she felt the pressure of NME calling their latest album, Rat Saw God “one of the year’s defining rock albums”. Again, she had no idea that anyone said that, so there was no pressure to feel. She was simply glad that someone liked it.

If you haven’t heard of Wednesday yet, you’re missing out on what NME calls a “fearless gang behind one of the year’s defining rock albums.” This Asheville, North Carolina-based band is a melting pot of alternative rock, shoegaze, and country influences. Formed in 2017 as Hartzman’s personal songwriting project, Wednesday has grown into a full ensemble, featuring Hartzman on vocals, Jake Lenderman on guitar, Xandy Chelmis on lap steel, and Alan Miller on drums. They’re currently signed to Dead Oceans, a label known for its eclectic roster.

Hartzman was inspired to pick up the guitar after watching an NPR Tiny Desk concert featuring Mitski. She later met Daniel Gorham in college, and the two collaborated on an album titled yep definitely. The band’s name, Wednesday, pays homage to the British band The Sundays, adding another layer to their multifaceted musical influences.

a person sitting on a large blue frog sculpture and playing the guitar. The person’s face is blurred to protect their privacy. The frog sculpture is blue with green and red accents. It has large eyes and a wide open mouth. The person is wearing a red sweatshirt and blue jeans. They are holding a guitar and appear to be playing it. The background is a park or playground with trees and a fence. The photo was taken during the day.
Karly Hartzman on Facebook

Wednesday has been on a creative roll, with their latest album Rat Saw God released on April 7, 2023 earning critical acclaim all over the globe. The band also gained attention for their previous covers album Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ’em Up, featuring their unique takes on songs by a range of artists, from Gary Stewart to The Smashing Pumpkins. They’ve even made headlines for their social activism, notably delivering an anti-Amazon rant, on the Amazon stage no less, during the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona.

As I settled in for a virtual conversation with Hartzman, I would be lying if I didn’t feel like I might be about to talk to a young artist who might be reading and believing their own recent headlines, but as mentioned above, since she doesn’t even read them, nothing could be further from the truth. She was sincere, humble and simply thankful to be able to do what she does, and maybe even for a living, soon. 

Hartzman describes the band’s music as a “quilt or patchwork of portraits,” a metaphor that resonates deeply with her own life. “I sew a lot. I handmake our merch. I make clothes and curtains. I’ve even sewn my drummer’s pants,” she shared. For Hartzman, the act of sewing is more than just a hobby; it’s a parallel form of expression to her music. “They’re both collections of materials, memories, and inspirations,” she explained, highlighting how each form of art informs the other.

The band’s identity is also deeply rooted in their Southern upbringing. Hailing from North Carolina, Hartzman feels that the South’s unique culture and history have unfairly been overshadowed by broader political narratives. “I think the South is a really beautiful place,” she said, emphasizing the region’s special qualities. And it’s not just about geography; it’s also about musical tradition. Hartzman defended the often-maligned genre of country music, stating, “I think country music has some of the best lyricism in the world.”

I asked Hartzman about recording their latest album, Rat Saw God, and she said it was a labor of love that came with its own set of challenges. “The hardest part was that we were just doing it in between, like doing all these tours and stuff,” Hartzman revealed. The band was in a constant juggle, not just with their touring schedule but also with their day jobs. From working in an ice cream shop to a guitar store, the band members were stretched thin. “It’s mostly just like finding the time and energy to get five people together and, like, make time for this thing creatively,” Hartzman added. The album became a testament to their resilience and commitment, pieced together in the scarce free moments they could find.

Part of Wednesday’s distinctive sound is the slide guitar, often considered a staple in blues and country music. Xandy Chelmis, the band’s lap steel player, brings an innovative touch that sets them apart. “He’s just like, very tasteful inherently,” Hartzman praised. But it’s not just about the instrument; it’s about how it’s played. Chelmis stumbled upon a distorted sound almost by accident, and it became a defining element of the band’s music. “Once we discovered it, we were like, this is going to be our thing,” Hartzman said. The slide guitar isn’t just an addition; it’s a character in its own right, shaping the band’s sonic landscape in a way that’s as intentional as it is serendipitous.

As they prepare to perform in Urbana, the band is at a pivotal moment in their career. With a growing fan base and increasing financial stability, they’re finally able to focus more on their music. “Now I finally have spare time to really write and not [just] in my time off of work and touring, but just the time I have at home where I don’t have any obligations,” Hartzman said, capturing the sense of momentum and excitement that surrounds the band right now.

So, as Wednesday sets up to play at the Rose Bowl Tavern, they bring with them a complex blend of influences, a deep-rooted Southern identity, and a hard-earned sense of artistic freedom. The kind of heart and grit that caused Jason Isbell to invite them to open three shows for him starting the next night. Despite that exciting opportunity on the doorstep, Wednesday on Thursday at the Rose Bowl Tavern still promises to be a show that reflects not just a band, but a rich and intricate musical journey that’s still unfolding.

Wednesday with Sweetmelk
Rose Bowl Tavern
Th September 7th, 9 p.m.

Music Editor

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