Nothing says rock and roll like evoking the Supreme Court case of Jacobellis v. Ohio. It’s the case known for Justice Potter Stewart colloquially setting the bar for obscenity by not setting any bar at all, saying, “I know it when I see it.” It’s relevant because grunge is the musical genre that operates on the same principle. Grunge these days is rare, even here in its birthplace. There’s a reason that nobody sane considers bands that poorly ape Nirvana and bands of its ilk—be it the slogs who side-straddled nü metal like Creed, Puddle of Mudd, or Nickelback—as the torchbearers of the grunge legacy. Real grunge? “I know it when I hear it.”
Wild Powwers is the best—and perhaps only—grunge band going in Seattle. The trio of Lara Hilgemann (vocals/guitar), Lupe Flores (drums), and Jordan Gomes (bass) have been crafting scream-filled hard rock since 2014, connecting as co-workers at Hattie’s Hat in Ballard. It only takes one time seeing the band live to see what sets them apart from all the wannabe grunge copycats—Wild Powwers isn’t even attempting to be grunge at all, it just comes naturally. Sure, there might be elements that tickle that little grunge sensor in your brain—a Hilgemann snarl or wail that would make Courtney Love proud, the aggressive drumming of Flores, or the tone of a melodic bass run by Gomes—but it’s never forced.
“We’re definitely not trying to be a grunge band,” says Flores. “That label has been given to us. All of us being from here, we’re definitely Seattle people. I’m sure that’s been an influence. A lot of our songs are pretty dynamic: Sometimes we’re surfy; sometimes we’re psychedelic and spacey; and sometimes it’s just straight-up punk.”
Wild Powwers put out two LPs—2014’s Doris Rising and 2016’s Hugs and Kisses and Other Things—but neither album has truly captured the grunge glory of the group’s live sound. That all changed earlier this month with the release of Skin. Recorded with Billy Anderson (who’s engineered records for Melvins, Jawbreaker, and Neurosis), the album finally captures the heaviness of the group.
“This record sounds like our band,” says Flores. “I don’t think our first two records do anymore because our band has evolved.”
Over nine tracks, Skin ebbs and flows in a variety of sonic directions. The album-opening “Buff Stuff” slithers slyly along with its lead riff before building walls of sound. “Twins” has four distinct sections crammed together with vocal shredding reminiscent of the artier end of screamo music. “Skin” is pedal-to-the-floor punk attitude, while “May I Have This Dance?” is closer to a yearning rock waltz. “Night Sweats” rattles with a sinister foreboding, while the album-ending “Sad Sap” sorrowfully floats away in an unnerving haze.
The eclectic nature of the band’s soundscape comes from not having a forced focus. “We never had a calculated desire to sound a certain way,” says Gomes. “Compared to most bands I’ve been in, everyone has really different tastes in music. Whatever sound comes out is a weird mixture of that.”
Hilgemann chimes in: “If I could write music for a hair-metal dad band, I totally would.”
Like any worthwhile grunge record, Skin is awash in angst. Be it the unnerving calm before the storm or the full-on hurricane of shrieks, Hilgemann doesn’t repress the emotions that filter through her lips. “I feel like a lot of the stuff I write deals with a dark subject matter that comes from my own experiences or my own mental state sometimes,” says Hilgemann. “I feel like it’s really, really therapeutic to get it out in that way. It’s a healthy outlet, as opposed to things I could be doing to feel better.”
Not internalizing those toxic feelings was something that many Seattle grunge bands of yore tragically couldn’t overcome. But thankfully, Wild Powwers seems to grasp that just because the songs of Skin have a way of getting under listeners’ skin, those emotions can’t remain there.
“When you put it into music, the feelings you feel inside become something that exists outside your body,” says Flores. “You can look at [the words], you can listen to it, you can play it, and be like, ‘OK, this is all real, but it’s not inside of me anymore. It’s out there in the world. I don’t have to hold onto this. I can move forward. And write more sad songs!’ [Laughs] Get it fucking out!”