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Interview With Pain Waves

Can you delve a bit more into the "sad alt-pop" description of your music? How do you incorporate the "sad" element into your songs while maintaining the alt-pop vibe?

Pain Waves: It’s an interesting dynamic. The happy vibes lie in how the synths sit in contrast to whatever drum beat I come up with. That and the complexity of the chord progression I’m playing over the track. I usually use 2 drum kits or high-quality samples, and then I write out of my stream of consciousness for a lot of the lyrics. A lot of current events from my life pop up in the lyrics, the words along with the tone of my voice. That’s the recipe.

To write the lyrics I use a specific visual of what I would imagine being sung over the music, in a live setting. I’ve had many painful life experiences - so it’s been easy for me to write sad. It’s more of a challenge for me to write something that’s happy. I don’t know happiness as much. It’s not as memorable, so for a long time, I couldn’t even bother. I still haven’t gotten there in my opinion. So that’s the recipe for me, in all honesty. If after that I’m sitting with a beat and it's still a vibe, I work on it more. The songs that get finished get finished for a reason. Working on them all day - if it’s not good I save the session for later consideration or just toss it.

Press shot for alt-pop musician Pain Waves.
Photo courtesy of Michael S Wagner.

The name "Pain Waves" seems to have a deeply personal origin. Could you share a specific instance or experience that inspired you to coin this name for your project?

P: There’s an uninteresting story about me hurting my rib a few years back. I coined that name while describing the pain I was in. I have had experiences that were way more irritating and traumatizing but that was the one incident that inspired the name. Super boring - sorry.

It's interesting that you draw inspiration from pop-punk, Eminem, and A$AP Rocky. Could you give us an example of how these diverse influences manifest in your music?

P: Listening to those that you listed. There is one common denominator. They’re brave in their lyrics. I vibed entirely with Long.Live.A$AP - a mixtape Rocky dropped in 2013. Listening to Eminem taught me that it was okay to write about hating my parents. To do it with pride was okay. I learned that from his catalogue... And pop-punk taught me that drums can be way more than a simple backbeat in a song. They can transform a song that could’ve been cut…but the vibe from the drum beat saves it. A lot of the pop-punk I listen to is like that, at least to me. Pop-punk definitely highlights the drums.

You mentioned that substances like weed, tobacco, coffee, and epsom salt baths are inspirations for you. How do these elements play a role in shaping your creative process or the themes of your music?

P: I use all of those things to stay comfortable even though I’m usually not feeling well. I have a few neurological problems so I’m not always feeling the best I could feel. When I am, I try to get something done at least. Either in journalism or in music. 

I try to always be productive. Trying is way more important than succeeding. And succeeding is usually an afterthought to me - if that makes sense. So I wake up, usually around 4, take my meds at 5 am and get all my meds and then I start consuming my vices to feel better from my brain feeling awful. I call it a Colorado hangover. I don’t drink but usually have to bounce back from dehydration when I wake up. In the middle of all the consuming of vices - I’m usually just zoned out and thinking of things I could be doing. Hooks that don’t exist, and album names and phone calls to advocate for change. All of those things happen when I smoke. Creating is always an afterthought to that process - if that makes sense. I smoke first. I know I’m not the most productive stoner - but I definitely try.

Collaborations can bring a new dimension to an artist's work. Can you tell us about a memorable experience you had while collaborating with musicians from Denver and California? How did it impact your approach to music?

P: I was in the studio and the way we wrote the guitar part for “fucked up” -from my first EP- was by slowing down the beat and then speeding it up again to the speed of the song. That creative process and Bradley singing harmonies on my record. I’ll remember those moments. I got back from that trip and I was ready to create on my own, so I wrote a track and called it, “Storm,” and released it. The mix was awful, but the tune was decent. It taught me that If I wanted to pursue music I had to trust my gut when creating anything. After all, if I truly like something, someone else probably will. Especially if that’s my opinion after working on it for 3 to 5 hours. You mentioned that creating your own tracks is more rewarding. Could you elaborate on what specifically you find rewarding about creating your own music as opposed to collaborating on tracks with other artists?

P: I just have more time to write on my own schedule. I don’t align my schedule easily to other people I know. I have some plans to change that for myself. I want to collaborate more but I have way more drive to write a track by myself. That - and people don’t always follow through for me. I’ve learned to rely on myself. The other reason is that it was my way of proving I’m competent, despite my parents' lies on the matter.

Among your own songs and covers, what's the most memorable live performance you've had? What made it stand out from the rest?

P: I have only had one show at a RAW Artist showcase at the Church Nightclub in Denver. I got in my feelings and zoned out a bit. Took my meds and had fun. The MC asked me if I was okay when I walked off stage after my set. It was intense. Apparently, I made a woman cry with my speech during the track “Better.” The Church Nightclub will always be a highlight. I’m grateful to them and RAW artists for having me.

You mentioned the Mirimar in Milwaukee as an ideal venue for a show. What makes this venue special to you, and how do you think the hometown connection would influence your performance there?

P: It’s a smaller venue and so It’s fun to see the place sold out like when I shot photos a few years back. Sleep Serapis Sleep would sell the place out and there would easily be 350 people moshing and dodging each other. Paramore had a set there sponsored by a local radio station in 2006 or '07. I think Angels and Airwaves had a set there, and Andy Hurley of Fall Out Boy played a set with his side project when I was in college. I brought my camera and took photos of that night. It’s an intimate setting for sure.

As an artist who has experienced touring, could you share an anecdote from the road that had a significant impact on you or your music?

P: Meeting and talking with the bands on the I Get Around Tour was surreal. Millionaires were sweethearts. Set It Off and Christian TV (JMSN) were just the same. Seeing Ali Warren drum in his band at the time, Big Heed & Alien was on a whole other level of cool. He really goes out of this world behind a kit.

Lastly, as your music seems to be deeply connected to your personal experiences, how do you find the balance between expressing your emotions authentically through your music and maintaining a connection with your audience?

P: I have always written the song I wanted to hear, but didn’t exist. I stopped consuming TV and movies, and then I stopped listening to new music. Between all that, there’s a short period of depression that sets in, but then my mind starts to get the impulse to relate to something - something new. The balance lies in how brave I feel like being, and the justifications for the lyrics have to be there as well. Getting poetic and learning to reference painful memories without being blunt - that’s the balance.

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