Meet Inner Wave, the Best Friends Breathing New Life Into LA’s Indie Scene

Photo by Bethany Pangilinan. Courtesy of Biz 3

Four years ago, Inner Wave was making the kind of music that soundtracks the tender, reflective moments in a coming-of-age story – but without any of the cliché tropes those cinematic depictions often rely on. At the time, “American Spirits” was one of the group’s most popular songs, even though they’re an Inglewood-raised, LA-based indie rock boy band over a decade in the making. Unlike the slow burn and faintly harsh pull of the natural tobacco product of the song’s namesake, this track has a blissful build, guided by a guitar strum and a subtle tambourine shake. When the drop finally hits just 11 seconds in, it’s a full rush of uneasy euphoria.

2014 might have been a minute ago, but “American Spirits” still hits. That era of Inner Wave was one of fine-tuning; it saw the band hone the creative vision of their visuals, and offer up more ambitious cuts like “88” and “Diamond Eyes.” But even with more polished work, the band had few contemporaries at the time. There wasn’t necessarily a community that the band could build with, keeping Inner Wave from breaking out of a niche Bandcamp bubble – until now, that is.

Photo by Bethany Pangilinan. Courtesy of Biz 3
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Inner Wave is a five-piece ensemble, and three of the bandmates – lead vocalist and guitarist Pablo Sotelo, bassist and vocalist Jean Pierre Narvaez, and guitarist and keyboard player Elijah Trujillo – go all the way back to middle school. Some back-in-the-day homies left the band in 2016, and keyboardist Chris Runners and drummer Luis Portillo joined the group. But their departure from the original line up hasn’t thrown off the band’s energy in the slightest, as evident in their most recent full-length release, last summer’s Underwater Pipe Dreams. The 18-track LP is the best testament to Inner Wave as they are now: an indie rock quintet who seamlessly float between psychedelic and synthwave sounds, poised for a breakthrough.

All the stars have finally aligned for the band in 2018.

Inner Wave’s music feels like a soundtrack to the more cinematic moments in your life, whether you’re fantasizing on the bus or getting lost in your thoughts. The opener plays out like the a dreamlike sequence at the start of a film, easing in before diving fully into a warped melody distorting Sotelo’s airy falsetto. Young adult woes are at the center of this project, delivered with a generous balance of moody melodicism and high-energy whimsy. The visuals accompanying Underwater Pipe Dreams are part of the conceit, too, thanks to the careful and consistent creative vision of keyboardist Chris Runners, who conceptualized, shot, and arranged the artwork for the project’s singles and album cover. As Runners describes, “I’d imagined a movie, and take a frame from that movie and try to make that as the cover, and try to keep things vague so people could read into it.”

In person, there’s an electric enthusiasm radiating between the Inner Wave boys, a feeling that all the stars have finally aligned for the band in 2018. It’s been a tour-heavy year, with all the right members in place, and the promise of new management: Doris Muñoz, who met Inner Wave through Mija Mgmt’s breakout star and brown boy heartthrob Cuco. He’s “been a big fan of theirs…during tour he played all of [Inner Wave’s] music all of the time in the van,” she tells Remezcla.

Sotelo says their previous manager lacked the context for the scene they were raised in, oblivious to frequent collaborators and peers of the band. But the group’s decision to work with Muñoz had deeper meaning than just knowledge of the community. Muñoz felt like somebody the boys could trust, somebody they enjoyed being around. “They’re just Latino kids doing their thing and making music that I would’ve listened to,” she says, noting their largely teenage fanbase. “If I was a teenager, I would’ve been in the barricade [at their show] getting smushed.” The new management is an especially fitting choice, given the growing roster of Latinx talent that Mija Mgmt calls home.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. Inner Wave has been on a steady grind to get here since their first release on Bandcamp in 2012. They’ll continue growing with an upcoming EP out later this year, as well as a tour and appearances at buzzy festivals like Tropicalia. From the evolution in their sound to their undeniable chemistry as artists, it’s clear these are just a bunch of homies who will continue to grow together and make music they fuck with.

But the love extends beyond just the band, as the burgeoning indie scene coming out of Southern California is directly tied to Inner Wave’s history. The band has reason to be eager for the future, especially now that they’ve got a handful of contemporaries, from Southern California peers like Clairo and Cuco to Omar Apollo in Indiana, all of whom dive into similar themes of angst and romance in their individual styles. The SoCal connect runs even deeper for the band, as they’re fresh off their summer tour alongside frequent collaborators Michael Seyer and Bane’s World, both of which are fronted by childhood friends of the band.

As Sotelo describes, the camaraderie they have with their peers is a natural evolution of the scene they all grew up in. “It’s not something that was planned at all. It just came out naturally, people doing music, people being in different projects before that were super different…It’s just all the homies coming up at the same time [and] it looks like we’re all homies cause we all went to middle school together…[We all have] connections from way back when.” With each release more polished and ambitious than the previous, the right team behind them, and a thriving movement on the rise, it’s only up from here for Inner Wave.