(photo: Christian Dao)
Christian Francisco, the guitarist and de-facto manager for Wander, and I arranged to meet at the Shooting Star Cafe in downtown Oakland. In our emails, Christian had described the menu as “endless,” which honestly still didn’t prepare me for the size and breadth of the menu that was placed before me, with dishes ranging from classic Asian-fusion fare to an array of breakfast options that would put Denny’s to shame. Ryan Francisco, the drummer and songwriter, remarks “this place straight-up sells Cup Noodles” as we take our seats.
Flanking Christian is his partner Christina Dao, a designer responsible for most of the artwork that accompanies Wander’s upcoming tour, website, and the release of March (2019), due out March 1. Christina initially worked as the band’s photographer, but moved into a more design-focused role as the band geared up for the release of March. She and Ryan conceptualized the vinyl cover together after he noticed a piece of reflective foil on a bookcase in her room and asked, “Can we make it out of that?” Throughout our time together, Ryan, Christian and Christina told all their stories together, interrupting each other and making sure no detail was left out.
The band was conceived by Christian in high school and was initially an indie rock band. Christian pauses to clarify that this was “baby stuff,” but it led to the initial trio of Christian on guitar, Ryan on drums, and Joe Aguda on bass. “Joe didn’t play any instruments but he had a bass, and he listened to a lot of cool music. We all got into post-rock around in the mid 2000s, Explosions in the Sky had just come out and Sigur Ros was really famous. Around 2010 was when we decided to make exclusively instrumental stuff,” explained Christian, before Ryan takes over. “We just re-formed the band. We had a few instrumental songs but when Wander was formed we wanted to do strictly post-rock.”
Ryan describes writing for Wander as forming a vague concept into something concrete. “There’s gonna be a good amount of interpretation that’s left up to the listener,” Ryan says before clarifying, “‘Magenta,’ what does that mean? It’s kind of a cross between red, a really angry color and blue, something more calming. It’s a challenge, a fun challenge to write like that.
“It’s kind of like going to an art gallery,” adds Christian. “The titles are there as a guide.”
We’re briefly interrupted by the arrival of our food, and the conversation derails for a second while we lament the state of housing in the Bay Area. Ryan’s trying to move out of his parent’s house with his girlfriend Kim, who joined us halfway through our meal, and they’ve found a promising lead through some of Christina’s friends.
In a niche like post-rock, the paragons of the genre stand very tall. Bands like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor have established distinct lanes for themselves, and attempting to do that for yourself, especially as an up-and-coming band, can be a challenge. Christian seems aware of the need to distinguish Wander from their contemporaries. “We just felt like we could make it more intense. That build-up part that we loved so much, we just wanted to get to the punch and make it more intense, more dance-y.”
There’s a pause as I ponder whether to bring up the other big thing that distinguishes Wander from most post-rock bands. To put it bluntly, post-rock is absolutely dominated by white bands. I debated bringing it up with Wander because I figured they’ve probably been asked similar questions a hundred times before by other white journalists, but Ryan, Christian and Christina all have a lot to say about how their identity as Asian Americans informs their music. “I can think of some bands where like, one member is Asian,” says Ryan. “We’d go on tours in the Midwest and see one other Filipino on the whole tour, and we’d hit 32 states.
“Being Asian-American, especially second-generation, you’re just trying to establish security. You’re not encouraged to take risks with your career.”
Christina agrees. “If you say you’re in a post-rock band, everyone is going to assume you’re a 30-year-old white dude” she says, and Christian continues, “Yeah! People did think we were 30-year-old white dudes. We intentionally didn’t show pictures of ourselves, you know, partially to be cool and mysterious but also because we wanted to be taken seriously.” Ryan again takes over, elaborating, “Post-rock is underground, so being a minority in this scene it’s like, ‘Wow, we aren’t even normal in this not-normal thing.’ It was hard. It still is pretty hard. But in the Bay Area it’s inspiring to see other Asian artists. Seeing people of color in our crowds definitely affected our morale and made us be like ‘Yeah, let’s keep doing this.’” Christina perfectly encapsulates the issue of representation: “When I met these guys, I was like ‘Wow, people who look like me who like post-rock.”
“Post-rock is underground, so being a minority in this scene it’s like, ‘Wow, we aren’t even normal in this not-normal thing.’”
Finally, we got to talk about March. Christian begins by saying, “I feel like this album is our most important album since Mourning (2016).” It’s a bold statement, as the band themselves cite Mourning as the album that brought them their core audience. “I put a lot of thought into these compositions and I wanted to make the songs feel more like a journey, with no repeating parts,” says Ryan. I ask him about his influences on this record, and to my surprise he names some pretty straight-ahead indie rock bands. “I took influence from bands like Blonde Redhead and Death Cab for Cutie, but you’d never hear stuff like blast beat in a Death Cab for Cutie song,” Ryan laughs. I wonder aloud whether Ryan finds it frustrating to be on drums and not get to play any of the melodies that he writes, and Ryan smiles and shakes his head. “I’m not doing anything melodic but I do get to control the dynamics. It kind of feels like conducting.”
Not only is Wander making big moves in a genre that feels impenetrable for a new band, but they’re also genuinely down-to-earth people. There was none of the pretense that often accompanies interviews, and by the end I felt like I had learned as much about them as people as I did about their music. They all hugged me as we stood to leave, and I promised I’d be at their record release show at Bottom of the Hill. As we walked out the door, Ryan and Kim get the good news that they’ve secured a room with one of Christina’s friends, and as anyone who’s ever looked for housing in the Bay Area already knows, that’s pretty much the highest possible note to go out on.
Stay up to date with Wander’s latest releases by following them on Instagram and Spotify. Check below for a list of upcoming tour dates.
3/05 El Cid, Los Angeles, CA
3/06 Rebel Lounge, Phoenix, AZ
3/08 Lovebuzz, El Paso, TX
3/09 The Limelight, San Antonio, TX
3/13 Hikes Fest, Austin, TX
3/15 Math Rock Times Fest, Austin, TX
3/17 Plusfest 1.5, Denton, TX
3/18 Seventh Circle, Denver, CO
3/19 The Underground, Salt Lake City, UT
3/21 Holland Project, Reno, NV
4/03 The Ritz, San Jose, CA
4/12 Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, CA
4/13 The Star, Sebastapol, CA
Correction: The band later clarified that they are first-generation Asian-Americans, not second.