Wave fights off the boy band label.
photo courtesy Warner Music

Trying to look past the first Wave

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"You're probably going to hack us. I know just by the angle you took with your questions, but that's cool."

This came casually from Paul Gigliotti, half of Canadian pop duo Wave, after our 45-minute interview, and he didn't seem at all disconcerted. He knew I was from a university newspaper--hardly the target audience for the two guys behind "California"--and I wasn't asking the same tired questions he's heard before. Along with fellow Wave member Dave Thomson, we didn't talk about his favourite colour or whether or not they miss their girlfriends. I didn't ask him what it was like meeting O-Town, and we didn't talk about what they do when they're not busy being one Canada's biggest pop-bands. Not once.

And because of all this--the questions about management, image and their "boy band" label--Gigliotti thought we were going to hack them. And in a way, he was right.

However, it's not as easy as it sounds. As much as Wave is perceived as the standard boy band in the same league as the Backstreet Boys or N*Sync, they don't quite fit the mold. If you see them in concert, you won't see rehearsed dance routines; you'll see Thomson with a guitar strapped on, even if the rest of the band is contracted out. And if you look in the liner notes, you'll see their own names on the writing credits. By definition, these two twenty-somethings are less a boy band than a legitimate pop music group--at least as much as a pop band can be legitimate.

"When people say that, I think of the grunge scene and that movement," says Thomson. "Every band that came out during that time was labeled a grunge band. When you come out during a certain period of time and you have some qualities that are familiar, you get thrown into a category like that."

However, Wave's sound isn't just familiar with the boy band movement. Anyone who's heard songs or seen videos from their first album, Nothing As It Seems, knows that this isn't just pigeon-holing. The sound they've built a reputation on is pure pop, plain and simple. Even so, they don't identify with others in the pop industry either.

"Take American Idol; how can you take that seriously? I mean, she's a great singer and everything, but you saw it put together," says Thomson, also recalling their recent tour with Making of the Band-produced

O-Town. "We toured with O-Town and they're great individuals, but people see through that."

This being said, where does the confusion come from? Wave seems to dodge common criticisms of boy bands--they write their own music, play their own instruments, even carefully rehearse dance routines for stage--yet, they're still perceived that way. Perhaps it's their core audience, who Thomson admits is primarily teenage girls. Moreover, it may be linked to their sound, the end result of which is not dissimilar from other boy bands in the market, even if the process is more involved. Despite all this, it may come down more to marketing than anything else.

"You're marketed a certain way,

but we don't tell people what we are," says Thomson. "The record companies will market you. It's the mainstream; that's the way the machine works."

"Look at Britney Spears," adds Giglioti, suggesting that regardless of the fit, this perception may be the key to their success. "She might not be the greatest singer, but image sells the product."

If this is true, that in pop, the industry shapes who you are and what you do, then Wave is certainly a product of their surroundings. And while they are still reluctant to admit just how much influence this has, they don't deny it either.

"We have a lot of radio airplay, so you have to be constantly aware of what's going on around you," says Gigliotti, hinting that Wave's success may be a product of the times. "In a way, we have to adapt."

Gigliotti points out this is not a new phenomenon. The Beatles, among other bands, only progressed to the level they did through pop songs. They had to work that part of the market before they could move forward.

"When the Beatles first started, they went from singing very happy, short little love songs to writing

really complicated songs that changed the world," Gigliotti says. "They had fame so fast. If they were to change, it was possible for other bands to change with them."

Decades later, it's difficult to see the connection between pop music and the innovative sounds that came out of Abbey Road. Today's pop music never seems to break the mold that created them. The Backstreet Boys never changed their sound or image between albums, and Britney Spears never pretended to set her sights past bubblegum pop--even though she did cover "Satisfaction." And while Wave may have slightly modified their sound on their new CD, State of Mind, they haven't risen above their surroundings.

At the end of the day, they are quite comfortable being a pop band. And their current position might not be for lack of effort; maybe, it's for lack of desire.

"We're certainly not pushing any walls here--other bands do that," says Thomson. "It's that mainstream thing. It's out there; we're part of the mainstream."