Wash makes an early impact
The band will celebrate its debut EP with a December 8 show at the Crystal Corner. (Photos by Bobby Hussy.)
The Madison band Wash has existed only since spring 2018, playing its first show in May at Mickey's Tavern. Most of the band's members, all in their early 20s, are still very new to Madison's music community. Guitarist/vocalist Alexandria Ortgiesen's one previous musical project "didn't even have a name," Ortgiesen recalls. Drummer Alex Kaiser and guitarist Indigo Smith-Oles began playing together after meeting at Madison's West High School and formed a band called Hulk Hand. The three began writing songs together before recruiting bassist Adam Flottmeyer of Real Boy and Like A Manatee. Rather adorably, they looked up to Flottmeyer as something of an elder.
"We really wanted Adam to be in the band, like before I knew who Adam was," Ortgiesen says. "I remember having that conversation because we needed a bassist. We're like, 'We're not sure he'll want to,' or 'We don't deserve Adam.'"
As new as things are for Wash, the local music community, particularly the kinds of punk and garage-rock bands that play all of those Mickey's shows, have really taken the band in and nurtured it. Wash played this year’s edition of Turkeyfest, booked by Bobby Hussy, who also recorded the band's three-song debut EP. The band will celebrate its release with a Saturday, December 8 show at the Crystal Corner Bar; it'll be available digitally and later on cassette from Madison's No Coast label. Members credit other musicians including Erik Fredine (of Miyha, Tippy, and We Should Have Been DJs), Chris Joutras (of Coordinated Suicides, The Momotaros, Dumb Vision, Dharma Dogs, and Kitschy Spirit Records), and a number of folks they met at their north-side practice space with encouraging them and helping them get shows. They strike me as giddy but humbled, and even a bit taken aback, by the reception they're getting.
"I still don't feel completely immersed," says Kaiser. "I remember we got 40 bucks once and we were like, 'Oh my god, holy shit, we do not deserve this. We just played music and they're giving us money.' That was our third show."
The three songs on the EP, including "Ritual," which you can stream here, find the band still trying on a lot of different ideas, finding interesting combinations from scraps of punk, grunge, and shoegaze. "Ritual" is the most fully realized thing the band has done yet, building gut-level rage into something with a grand scope. Smith-Oles' and Ortgiesen's guitars loft the song up with slow, ringing hooks and textures that feel like filthy clouds.
Ortgiesen, who writes all of Wash's lyrics, says that "Ritual" evokes "feeling angry in the way that you have been ignored or taken advantage of or really hurt, and then getting revenge...I think it's abstract enough that it's not super in-your-face, and I think you can read into it the way you want to. But what I got from it was pretty much supposed to be about revenge, and definitely female-energy revenge."
Most of the band got its first real recording experience during the four hours or so of tracking the EP at Bobby Hussy's home studio. Getting comfortable and confident in that setting was an adjustment unto itself, but the band ended up sounding comfortable with the formative stage that it's in. Ortgiesen's vocals have a way of skipping across registers, especially on "Ritual," reaching into shuddering highs that lend suspense to the rising action of the verses. Flottmeyer and Kaiser's playing on another EP track, "Animal," shows a good sense of when to plow forward and when to hang back, as the song shifts between churning punk and restrained dream-pop passages.
If you come away from this febrile, dynamic EP not entirely sure what kind of band Wash wants to be, well, they're kind of on the same page. The band keeps its songwriting process collaborative, which allows a lot of different influences to filter in, from My Bloody Valentine to Cap'n Jazz. "We don't really know where we envision ourselves going forward," Smith-Oles says.
No one in the band seems to mind that uncertainty. Wash isn't even a year old, the band members have developed a camaraderie that's really quite sweet to witness, and they can figure out the next move in a supportive environment.
"That's the really cool thing about Madison, I think—because it's so community-oriented, there are a bunch of cool people who help us with it, and not tell us what to do, but give us pointers and stuff, and take us under their wing," Ortgiesen says.