In this age of self-isolation and quarantine, it’s never been more important to check in on each other and to connect. This goes for artists, too, who have been social distancing alongside us: livestreaming concerts and hangouts, creating their own talk shows, and… well, that’s what we want them to tell us, with Remote Access.
As of mid-May, the last time Dylan Minnette, Braeden Lemasters, and Cole Preston — known together as pastel pop-rock band Wallows — had seen each other in person was when they filmed a music video in March. The visual, which brings their jaunty tune “OK” to vibrant life, doubles as a showcase for the trio’s fellowship. They shot it in a single day in Los Angeles, cruising around in a van, jamming, scooting around on Heelys, and eventually ending up on a soggy couch behind a fast-food joint. And then the world shut down.
The COVID-19 pandemic led performing artists en masse to cancel festivals and tours worldwide, including Wallows, who had to ditch a run of headlining shows. At the same time, amid all the uncertainty, the optimistic refrain of “OK” took on an entirely new significance. “The lyric ‘Can we get up and try to feel OK again?’ [was] trying to spin a positive message,” Lemasters told MTV News. “We never forced that message on the song, but it just happened to take on this weird meaning at the time.”
But Wallows leaned into the resonance, despite self-isolating in three separate locations. (The group text is on fire; “I feel like I probably send at least 300 texts to these guys a day,” Minnette said.) Last month, they connected virtually to record an acoustic take of “OK” as well as a sparkling cover of The Beatles’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” with all proceeds going to Feeding America. They’ve also been getting creative in quarantine, chipping away at new music with collaborators Sachi DiSerafino and John DeBold and connecting via FaceTime to share ideas. Even though they can’t physically be in the same room, the digital catch-ups help keep their body language — essential to in-person creation — intact.
When they spoke with MTV News recently, Minnette was only a few days into a new venture of purple hair, a move for which Lemasters and Preston voiced their support. They also agreed with another one of their bandmate’s thoughts near the end of our call: “I talk to you guys more now than I do on tour!” See more of their quarantine camaraderie below.
MTV News: “OK” came out right as tours and festivals were getting canceled and social distancing was starting to be encouraged. How different was releasing a song in that situation?
Minnette: Just for a second before it came out, we were like, “Should we wait?” [But] if anything, people want something during this time … anything we can do to give people music during this time and be as productive as possible because the thing that’s been exciting to me during this time is when a new album comes out. There’s not many coming out right now, so when something does, it’s really exciting.
MTV News: The “OK” video is a hangout video, though for the past few months, everyone’s had to do virtual hangouts. It’s nice to watch it and remember what that’s like. But was it exhausting to have to film it in a single day?
Minnette: Honestly, that shoot was so much fun. I never felt exhausted. It was literally 1 a.m. and pouring rain in the shot where we’re on that couch. You can’t really tell, but it was raining, and it’s 1 a.m. and cold. We’re holding this wet fast food, or whatever, but it was still so much fun. I especially have a good memory of that in my mind because it was the last time we saw each other. I haven’t seen Cole and Braeden since we shot that video, and that was two days before they really put in stay-at-home orders.
Preston: I was so exhausted that whole day because, I mean, all of us were in Heelys at one point, but me and Braeden, ’cause we’re not necessarily singing the song, for a lot of the shots, it was like, “Go Heely back and forth, around, and go on the Heelys over there.” And Braeden’s really good at Heelying, but I am not at all. My calves were absolutely shredded after that day.
Minnette: Me too! I learned how to Heely that day. It’s a workout. I left my Heelys there! I was so excited to have my adult-sized Heelys, and I left them. I would’ve been Heelying all around my house this whole time. If I was the dude with purple hair Heelying around the neighborhood during quarantine, that would’ve been insane [laughs].
MTV News: Some of that footage of the making of the video ended up in the “With a Little Help From My Friends” video, too. Where did a lot of that footage come from?
Lemasters: We didn’t want to go the route of having our friends sing the song with us and have a whole FaceTime session, or whatever. So we thought it’d nice to compile videos from tour and things we’ve done with our friends from our band circle, just showing us all hanging out and having a good time. It just makes you realize how much you appreciate your friends and how much you miss them in times like this if you can’t really see them.
MTV News: When you recorded a socially distanced acoustic version of “OK,” I imagine the logistics have to be worked out up front to make it go smoothly. What was that process like?
Preston: It is weird because — if there is a streaming service that does this, somebody tell us about it, but nothing happens actually in real time. Obviously we can’t literally play the song live and have it sync up properly because it would just be a nightmare. So I made a rough track with a count-in and a metronome, and then we decided what would each do, and then they played along to those on video and then came back to me. I edited that in and did my part to that. So it was just a step-by-step thing. Not too difficult but definitely kind of annoying to do.
Minnette: We have another coming out, too. Same setup, same system. It’s all Cole — Cole does the dirty work for Wallows.
MTV News: Is there a way to, say, jump on Zoom and do some kind of group jam session?
Preston: That just sounds, like, so high-tech to me. Like, that is the scary future Elon Musk takeover happening to me [laughs].
MTV News: You guys are a creative unit, so you rely on body language and eye contact when you’re making music. Is it weird to not have that?
Minnette: We’ve been on a lot of FaceTimes. So, yes, but I can still see their facial expressions if I have a bad idea. I can still see them, like, “You don’t like that idea.” We can still do that because of FaceTime.
Preston: Not to bring acting too much into the mix, but because Dylan and Braeden have been working on projects in the past, we’re already used to kind of having to do stuff when all three of us aren’t in the same city or the same place. We’re weirdly lucky in that sense, that we have experience being apart.
MTV News: What do some of those facial expressions look like?
Lemasters: Mine would honestly just look like me thinking.
Minnette: No, no. I know your you-don’t-agree-with-me face. You’re always kind of smiling. You put on a face like you’re supporting it, but it’s so obvious that you’re not.
Lemasters: And I know in my head I’m not selling this at all, that I’m interested.
Minnette: Cole, you always have the same face.
Preston: Yeah, I have only one face.
Minnette: I never know when you think something’s good or bad ever.
Lemasters: Cole, you look up in the sky when you don’t like something.
Minnette: [imitating] I’m going to pretend that I’m thinking about that.
MTV News: What’s been your quarantine routine? Wake up, iced coffee, getting into a pattern — what’s been going on?
Lemasters: The lyrics to that System of a Down song [“Chop Suey!“]. “Wake up!” “Why’d you leave the keys upon the table? / You wanted to!” I have no idea what those lyrics are. Um… what do we do? Wake up, go get coffee…
Minnette: I call Cole and Braeden. “Morning, bros!”
Lemasters: I’ve been watching [YouTube channel] Vsauce, a lot of Vsauce. I watch First Take on ESPN [with] Stephen A. Smith, a lot of basketball highlights. I’ll go for walks in my neighborhood.
Preston: I have the first hour of my morning exactly the same every single day, which is: I wake up, and my cat is screaming to be fed, so I feed the cat.
Minnette: Me too.
Preston: Then I make coffee. While my coffee’s brewing, I go into Animal Crossing and I do my daily rounds, ’cause there’s very mundane tasks. You have to find the fossils, you’ve got to shake the trees, talk to the villagers, whatever, get the nook miles going. All you Animal Crossing people know exactly what I’m talking about. And then after that, I just kind of wing it.
MTV News: Dylan, you decided to dye your hair purple, what, a few days ago? How come?
Minnette: Yeah. My hair was just getting long and unruly and awful. I know that I wanted to change it at some point, so it was time.
Preston: Me and Braeden are sitting here with our long-ass unruly hair [laughs].
Minnette: You guys can actually grow your hair out! Mine, like, the only thing that starts to grow more and more is the sides of my hair. So my head is starting to get, like, [mushroom-shaped].
Preston: You’ve got to get that hammerhead vibe going.
Minnette: It looks really sick, honestly. It looks really good.
Preston: He’s doing the [disapproving] face! [all three laugh]