Brooklyn Band The Wants Talk New Music Video for “The Motor”

Frontman Madison Velding-VanDam spoke to V about the new music video, their new album’s influences, and more.

Prior to coming together to form The Wants’ post-punk sound, members Madison Velding-VanDam, Jason Gates, and Heather Elle were all rising up in the Brooklyn DIY scene. Velding-VanDam and Elle still make up two fifths of punk-rock band BODEGA, and Gates, who’s part of the Veda Rays and has worked in the studio with names like Debbie Harry and Lykke Li, met Velding-VanDam in 2014 and the two instantly started making music together. 

In March of this year, The Wants released their debut full length album titled Container after being signed to the new London based label Council Records. The self-produced album hosts sounds from post-punk to synth-pop and minimal techno, as Velding-VanDam is credited for vocals, synth, and guitar with Elle also on vocals and synth but adding bass, and Gates in control of drums and live electronics. 

Of the 12 tracks on Container, “The Motor” is now accompanied by a music video that was influenced by Velding-VanDam’s upbringing outside of Detroit, Michigan, specifically the industrial site and coal mine of Zug Island situated on the Detroit River’s far end.

Growing up, my step dad collected art, he had a really great collection of Detroit artists. One of them, James Stephens, made this amazing painting called ‘Vapors’, and he had another one of Zug Island, and that’s this very strange part of Detroit,” Velding-VanDam said. “It was originally just a nature preserve, then it became one of the most polluted zip codes in the country.”

“I have some weird, bubbling memories of it as a child, and I ended up associating it with the painting,” he said. “But I went back there, and was just blown away by this monstrosity. It’s this weird island compound that’s guarded so intensely, it’s like Detroit’s Area 51, [with] these flaming tubes of burning [fossil fuels] and piles of coal, like the Gates of Mordor.”

“Vapors” by James Stephens.

The environmental consequences of Zug Island were inescapable to Velding-VanDam, who started filming the wasteland with girlfriend and photographer Madison Carroll. “Detroit is such a weird place, it’s a mixture of so many things; intense poverty and disenfranchisement, abandoned buildings and intense energy, but at the same time Midwestern people can be so sweet. Zug Island just somehow embodied that to me,” The Wants’ frontman said.

Since “The Motor” riffed off of Velding-VanDam’s experience with Zug Island, he isn’t a stranger to incorporating the places on Earth that stay in his conscience within the lyrics he writes for The Wants. Thus the words heard throughout Container often graze upon that notion.

The band initially emerged in the Brooklyn DIY scene, but Velding-VanDam never truly felt heard in it. “It took going back home to realize how disconnected I felt from the New York scene,” he said. “My more formative years were actually spent outside of the US; I lived in Germany, and there’s actually this amazing kinship between Berlin and Detroit, so I sort of learned about the beauty of where I had grown up that I didn’t quite understand.”

“I didn’t really feel like I had a voice that related to New York, so I needed to talk about something that was outside of that. I found a voice outside of the place that I was in and realized that that’s okay,” the frontman said.

With Container’s influences, Velding-VanDam looked to “the distinction of Detroit and the complexity of its people, the struggling people in our economy, and their philosophies, my philosophies, and our philosophies, and going into those spaces and inhabiting them,” he said.

“The ‘Fear My Society’ song is one I had been working on for a long time, and I thought it just really took shape within the story of these unincorporated areas and industrial locations that we were filming in,” said Velding-VanDam. “It became like a post hoc exercise, making the music match the artwork and vice versa.”

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Container was named after a shipping container located in the parking lot of a dumpling factory that The Wants primarily rehearsed and recorded in for the album, which Velding-VanDam said “was a funny, cheeky way of talking about [the] shipping container that we saw as a way to say that everything’s a commodity. Everything’s packaged, and we’re sort of all in our little modular homes or suburban containers, so it just seemed like a good way to describe the world right now.”

“When you don’t have a lot of money you get creative; I’ve lived in attics and closets,” he said to elaborate on the origins of the band’s recording space. “So I really wanted to find a place for us to rehearse that wasn’t a metal or concrete factory where everyone else goes, and some artist’s places are too quiet. This sort of eccentric couple said, ‘Well, we’ve put a shipping container in our parking space.’ And I said perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

For an engineer to work on the album with the band, they turned to Jermey Cimino, a young hip-hop engineer who’s worked with artists such as J Cole and Pharrell. “He has this ability to get a very vinyl tone which is kind of dark analog, but have it bump like modern music,” Velding-VanDam said of the band’s engineering decision. “We wanted to sound contemporary without getting rid of what it was that we know best, which is drums, bass, guitar.”

The Wants released Container on March 13th, the day that the pandemic was starting to gain more prominence as international travel bans were put into place. Velding-VanDam recalled the fogginess that clouded their minds that day, but in light of it all, he wants the band to keep moving forward. 

“We made a mini doc about the container and filmed some rehearsals in there and in Bushwick,” he said. “It feels a little weird because it was right before the pandemic, so it’ll have a retroactive narration where our headspaces are quite different.”

On top of The Wants’ mini documentary, “we just started working on a second record right away and we’re pretty well into phase one of getting tracklists,” said Velding-VanDam. “Our new songs, they’re a refinement and continuation of the story that we were really inspired by and where we ended up with Container. So our goal is to have a second record out by the time that the industry would open up again.”

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