It’s the middle of the day in the middle of the week, and 26-year-old Will Wiesenfeld is sitting in his West Los Angeles apartment, staring at his computer. His cat, Pluton — a domestic short hair with dark lines around his eyes — lies on the desk next to the humming machine. As his master roves Hot Wire for a hotel room to stay in during an upcoming tour, Pluton appears to roll his eyeliner-lined cat eyes.
Master and cat post up at this desk on the regular. This is where Wiesenfeld, who performs under the name Baths, concocts his music. This is where the magic happens. Or rather, this is where the weird and different happens.
“A lot of the time, I’ll make a song that I’m super stoked on and end up hearing something that sounds really similar to it and be really disappointed and have to start something new,” Wiesenfeld says. “That’s my end goal with making music: To make what I don’t tend to hear in pop music.”
To understand Baths’ experimental electronic pop, one must first understand where and how Wiesenfeld makes music. A pianist since childhood, he taught himself how to play the guitar, upright and electric bass, and viola, as well as numerous other tools (like pens and scissors) that he turns into instruments. Baths stitches together myriad sounds culled from production software, live instrumentation, and field recordings. An avid sound collector, he has woven found sounds, including a head of lettuce broken in half, the rustling of blankets, running water, and the chattering of children into his songs. Though this may come across as the sonic equivalent of donning rainbow hair in the name of being different, Wiesenfeld says using oddball samples is more a matter of necessity than an attempt to stand out.
“It’s never something I think about, like, ‘Oh, what kooky thing can I add next?'” he says. “It’s always contextual and working towards whatever the emotional feel of the song is. I might need a texture that is harsh or a texture that is soft. Or something that sounds stretched or slow. That’s sort of how I think of it.”
While writing “Incompatible,” a song about a spiteful lover reflecting on his first boyfriend, Wiesenfeld (who is openly gay) decided he needed a texture that was dark and heavy — something that sounded like stones. To capture this sound, he and his brother ventured out one afternoon in 2012 to the northern tip of De Soto Avenue in the San Fernando Valley to roll, drop, clank, and otherwise play with rocks. Listen closely to “Incompatible” and you can hear the faint sound of thudding, heavy objects in the background.
Under the name Baths, Wiesenfeld has produced two albums, one EP, and one “fake” album (“It doesn’t count,” he says. “It’s just random stuff that was going to sit in my computer if I didn’t put it out.”). He prefers recording and working at home studios, like his current bedroom set up, which he says is his best working space to date. “It’s interesting to be living and recording exactly where I want to be,” he says, betraying his “greater Los Angeles” origins.
Wiesenfeld grew up in what Angelenos colloquially call “the Valley,” which, for those unacquainted with the area, simply means the suburbs. Despite the mundane, cookie-cutter reputation that the ‘burbs get (and generally deserve), Wiesenfeld says he enjoyed growing up on the outskirts of the city, if only because it imbued him with an eagerness to discover and create new things.
“I don’t know if I would have had that intensity or that longing for other things,” he says. “I think I became really independent as a result of wanting more.”
He started recording music around the age of 12 and credits his decision to become a musician — as well as his weird, off-the-wall sound — to the Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk. “Hearing Björk solidified that there was a place for weirdness in the world of popular music that I didn’t know existed,” he says. “From that point on, I was like, ‘I need to try to make music that’s different and feels special.'”
Wiesenfeld began his first project, [Post Foetus], while in high school, and a second, more ambient project, Geotic, soon thereafter. Though he continues making music under the name Geotic, he abandoned [Post Foetus] for Baths around 2008 because he wanted to start fresh and mark his growth as an artist.
“I was at the stage in my life where I wanted to have something that was more of a career stamp kind of band name that I could carry out forever,” he says. “[Post Foetus] was too weird for me. It was not something that I could see myself having to repeat to people professionally.”
He named his new project Baths simply because he likes taking baths and calls himself “a water-oriented person.” (Coincidentally, sounds of water feature prominently in Bath’s records; his EP is even called Ocean Death.)
Based solely off his work as [Post Foetus], Wiesenfeld was invited to DJ at the famed Los Angeles party Low End Theory, and eventually became a regular guest artist there. He signed to the downtown L.A.-based label Anticon Records in 2009 and released his debut album, Cerulean, a year later. It’s a bizarre mash-up of traditional and non-traditional sounds, layered with Wiesenfeld’s looping quavering and whispered vocals, heavy beats, and trippy, unorthodox rhythms.
While recovering from a debilitating bout with E. coli in 2013, he worked on his second album, Obsidian, which is much darker and moodier than its predecessor. Though his voice was weaker the second time around, Wiesenfeld, who taught himself how to sing, was much more confident with his singing capabilities by that time, which is evident in the more vocal album.
It’s now been three years since Baths’s last full album and Wiesenfeld says he’s hard at work on a third. “Touring itself has been great,” he says. “But I’m just dying to have new material to perform. So I’m working really hard to make a new record.”