As one of the biggest music festivals in the world, Coachella draws hundreds of thousands of music lovers for two weekends of non-stop tunes from some of the best artists in the industry. And after two years without the festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Coachella came back with a bang with an all-star collection of headliners including Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and a co-headlining set from Swedish House Mafia and the Weeknd. But with over 150 artists performing, the desert-based fest can also be a haven for music discovery, introducing smaller acts to a wide cross-section of fans from all over the music taste spectrum and possibly launching them into the mainstream.
During Weekend 2, Variety sat down with three of Coachella’s most exciting rising artists — Wallows, Jean Dawson and Holly Humberstone — to discuss their experience playing the famous festival’s first edition since the pandemic, upcoming projects and what they hope new fans take away from their music.
Twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone is most comfortable being on stage all by herself. In contrast to most acts at Coachella, Humberstone manned all of the instruments needed for her set, looping the piano and guitar melodies over each other to create her soft synth-pop sound. Drawing a crowd consisting mainly of young women, Humberstone led a seven song sing-along during her set, including the upcoming single “Sleep Tight,” which won’t be released until April 29 but already had the audience hooked.
It was surprising to see you up on stage by yourself, using loops to create the music. Why not have a band?
I mean, things can definitely go wrong a lot easier, and if one thing goes wrong, then it kind of comes back to haunt you with loops, so it’s a lot of responsibility. I feel like I’ve released a lot of music now, but because of the pandemic I haven’t had the chance really to play these songs live, until now. So I’ve kind of missed that step of going out there on my own and gaining confidence and enjoying it by myself first before I get a band. I feel like that’s why, and I do feel really cool up there when everything’s gone right.
You’re about to go on tour opening for Olivia Rodrigo. What are you most excited about and nervous for?
I’m definitely a bit terrified of the crowd, because I feel like it’s going to be loads of screaming girls — like young, screaming, crazy fans. But also, that’s what we love. I’m a huge fan of hers. I feel like she was one of the artists that was releasing music over lockdown that I would listen to so much, and it kind of got me through the lockdown. I’m really excited to watch her show every night and cry in the back, but [it’s] also just so sick that I get this kind of opportunity. I’ve never played to crowds half that size, you know? So I’m really nervous, it’s a terrifying thing, and I’m not really used to touring — but I’m also just really excited. Like, I’ve gotta just seize the opportunity and have fun.
You have a new single coming out soon, “Sleep Tight,” which you wrote with Matty Healy of the 1975. What’s your collaboration like?
He’s so lovely. Writing for me is a really personal thing, and I find it really hard to write with a lot of different people. You can’t be vulnerable with some random dude, so I don’t know, maybe he kind of understood because he is the frontman of his band and he’s constantly writing about his feelings and being vulnerable and sharing that with the whole entire world. Maybe that’s why I find it so fun to write with him, and I felt really comfortable and we just had such a lovely day. I wrote it in the summer — in the U.K. there was a little patch in summer 2020 when we could see our friends again and it was like, oh my God, we’ve got our freedom back. I just wanted to write a positive, fun, summery-sounding song about having your freedom back and just being young. I usually go for the more depressing stuff, so it was a bit of a change for me, but it was a lot of fun to write.
You’re part of this generation of women singer-songwriters like Olivia Rodrigo, Phoebe Bridgers and Gracie Abrams who are super vulnerable and open. What does that mean to you?
Just to be considered a tiny little part of that is so cool because these amazing women are helping so many people — whether they realize it or not — with whatever they’re going through. I just think it’s so empowering to be able to do that. All of these girls have helped me so much to get through the pandemic, like genuinely, just that kind of human connection. I spoke about it a bit in my set, but [mental health] is definitely a thing that we don’t really talk about enough. Putting it in a song just lets everybody know that it’s OK to feel how you’re feeling, and if Olivia Rodrigo feels like this than it’s so fine for me to feel like this, you know? I think it’s just cool normalizing it and talking about it. It’s so powerful.
L.A.-based alt-rock band Wallows broke through with their 2019 streaming hit “Are You Bored Yet?” featuring Clairo, putting their jangly bedroom pop sound into the earphones of teenagers everywhere. But with the new album “Tell Me That It’s Over,” released in March, the group further cemented themselves as indie rock darlings by delving into the more experimental aspects of the genre. Comprised of vocalist Dylan Minnette, guitarist Braeden Lemasters and drummer Cole Preston, Wallows packed the outdoor stage on Saturday, playing a no-frills set that showed off their musical talent and synchronicity as a band.
This is your first time playing Coachella since 2019, pre-pandemic. What’s it like to be back?
Minnette: For us, it’s particularly fun and exciting because we grew up coming here since we were 14. We used to camp and do all that stuff, so it’s always fun to be here no matter what, but especially when we’re playing. Backstage used to be this thing that we looked at as this mystical, unattainable thing when we were kids at this festival, like “What’s back there?” Now, we’re here doing our thing and it’s just an honor. It’s our second time playing so it’s a bigger slot than last time, so as it grows it’s just very rewarding for us.
You’re fresh off the release of your sophomore album, “Tell Me That It’s Over.” With this being your first album in a few years, how did you want to expand on your sound, after the success of “Are You Bored Yet?”
Lemasters: It never was like, “How are we going to build onto this world in a way that makes sense?” It’s more like we’ve already kind of built a world, and let’s just keep going. So it was more spontaneous; we weren’t really too focused on any sort of specific sound. If you listen to the album, there’s a bunch of different sounds on it — it’s kind of all over the place, which I think is cool, to have an eclectic batch of songs. It was mainly like, let’s just go in there and have a good time and just make the best music we possibly can and whatever path we go down is the right path to be on. That sounds like a crazy way to look at it, but it’s almost like starting to paint without knowing what you’re painting and then there it is, that’s what you made.
Preston: I know that it’s a common thing where people have success on their first record like us with “Are You Bored Yet?,” and then you get in your head like, “How do we top this or follow it up?” I don’t exactly know why we managed to not feel that way, [but] I don’t think I felt that way for one second.
Ariel Rechtshaid, who is a legend in the alt-rock space for working with Vampire Weekend and Haim, produced the album. What did he add to the record?
Minnette: So much. The album is very influenced by Ariel, for sure. This is the project [on which] we’ve left the most freedom to a producer. It was very much a collaborative group effort, but Ariel just had these wild influences or ideas to impose on a song that we otherwise maybe wouldn’t have thought of. We wrote a song that sounds like this weird R&B sad song, but Ariel hears it as an ’80s pop anthem, so we’re like, OK let’s just follow that and see where it goes. All of his instincts were usually, if not always, pretty spot-on. It ended up making for a much more interesting version of all these songs than what we had even imagined.
Dylan, I loved your performance in “The Dropout.” How did you balance that project with recording the album?
Minnette: It’s funny, in terms of acting projects, the only way it would work would be if it was in the fall and in L.A. for a month or two and [I was like] that’s never going to happen. And then in my lap fell this thing that happened to be that, so I talked to [Lemasters and Preston] and we were like, “Yeah, I could probably work a couple times a week for a couple of months and record.” So it was kind of “Dropout,” recording, “Dropout,” recording. But it was super easy and fun and I’m really happy I got to make it work. It’s probably the last thing that I’ll work on acting-wise for a while — that’s by choice, because Wallows reigns supreme.
Genre-blurring artist Jean Dawson is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a rock ‘n’ roll musician. Growing up in Tijuana, Mexico, the 26-year-old was raised on a unique blend of rap and rock that is eloquently displayed on his 2020 debut album, “Pixel Bath.” Dawson’s Coachella set in the Sonora tent drew a rowdy crowd that was ready to mosh to his five-piece band, dressed in bucket hats and camo pants like they walked off of a ’90s teen movie set. “This is the new face of rock ‘n’ roll, do you fuck with it?” Dawson asked the audience through his signature mask. “Probably, because it looks just like you.”
You just performed at Coachella for the first time ever. How would you describe your set?
Rock ‘n’ roll, baby. This is what the new face of rock ‘n’ roll looks like, and it looks like the people in the crowd. Rather than it being about me, I feel like performing should be selfless. It should only be about them. They put you up on this stage, but I really want it to feel like we’re all up on that stage together. As corny as it sounds, it makes me more comfortable when it’s more of a sing-along where it’s like we’re all friends in a car singing the same song. There’s a new era of rock ‘n’ roll, and right now it just happens to have dark skin.
Is that why you cover your face with the mask, because you want it to be more of a singular feeling?
What mask? I’m not wearing a mask. Nah, I’m just kidding. You’re the first person to get it. A lot of the reason why I use masks, in short, [is] because I don’t necessarily want it to be the glorification of my face. My face, my person should be the afterthought. I make these masks — not this one, this is a designer mask, it was very expensive — but I make my own called Starface masks, and kids buy them and wear them. For me it’s like, I want you to feel exactly how I feel on this stage, like we could trade places and it’s the same thing. I want the crowd and me to feel like a singular organism, so to speak. It’s also a way to remind myself that the insecurities I face in the mirror aren’t necessarily the things that I’m bringing to the stage, because what I’m bringing to the stage is who I am. My favorite artists had their hair covering over their face when they were performing — Kurt Cobain, for example. You could call him handsome, but you were there for the music. And don’t get me wrong, one day I’m going to become a sex symbol. But for now, “rock ‘n’ roll symbol” is fine.
Talk a bit about your musical background. How did you first develop a passion for it?
I was created through music, so to speak, because my dad loved Mexican culture so he’d go to Spanish clubs. My mom loved Black culture so she ended up with a Black man — not just because of that culture, but because that was the culture that felt like home to her. So having musical parents in that way, I decided when I was 13 that I wanted to do music for the rest of my life. I always wanted to do something more instrumental, but I grew up in an impoverished community where instruments or educators of instruments were few and far between. So I would take the bus to Guitar Center after school every single day. I played piano there every day, and I didn’t know what I was doing for the first two years of doing that. But after a certain time, they knew me and they would give me water and soda. So I would just be in there, and that’s kind of how I learned how to play piano and scales. I essentially found my way through music just by being a utilitarian.
You have a new song, “Porn Acting*.” Tell me a bit about how that song came to be and the meaning behind it.
That song came from me and my drummer actually being at Rick Rubin’s studio at Shangri-La, and we were just going back and forth on the bands we love and why we love them and figuring out what little nuances a band did that made them so good. For instance, “Porn Acting*” is a homage to a Weezer record. It’s like, this is a Black kid doing Weezer, but without disrespecting the fact that Weezer was Weezer, and I’m not really into reviving something that was so definitively their thing. But I’m like, this bend in this guitar right here makes this sounds so good… People have this inclination that I’m pop-punk, and I really dislike it. But I get it, it’s because it’s an easy form of access where it’s just like, oh, there’s a lot of melodies and hooks and then there’s screaming, which in all formulas should definitely make pop-punk. I also don’t consider myself punk at all. People are like, “Oh, you’re a punk artist.” I’m like, no, because I know actual punks who live and breathe that. I’m a songwriter that likes specific things and I like tones and textures, so when we were making “Porn Acting*” I wanted to make it a point to be like, “This isn’t that. Please don’t call it that. And if you do call it that, just understand that you’re wrong.”
How are you hoping to change the landscape of music today?
I want to start a whole institution where we have low-income kids come play instruments for a full summer, like a summer camp for music, and then they get to take the instrument home and also get to come work in the summer camp for their school service hours. I feel like it will bring Black, white, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, Asian, whoever all together in a melting pot where it lessens the gap of divisiveness, and that’s the mission statement of what I want to do. My own School of Rock.