Two years ago, during Missoula's three-day summer music festival, Camp Daze, Wrinkles took the stage at the Palace Lounge wearing wigs and Hawaiian shirts. It was a little past 1 a.m. and the crowd was subdued. There had been a few high-energy acts earlier in the night, but now the mood had changed. Seattle's Heavy Petting had just churned out a wonderfully pensive rock set and, before that, Brooklyn's Florist had served up stellar rainy-day indie-folk, which compelled several audience members to sit cross-legged on the floor (one person even doing yoga stretches). People were looking content and a little lost in thought, so when Wrinkles strummed their first few notes and began bouncing around, their clownish hair swaying to the beat, it felt a bit like getting thrown into a cold shower first thing in the morning: shocking at first—and then invigorating. People ordered more drinks. They began to dance with renewed zeal.
Wrinkles' danceable songs and energetic stage presence stands out at live shows, but it might be only when you sit down and listen to their music that you'd notice how intricate and serious the songwriting is. Their debut album, Separation Anxiety, which came out last summer, combines elements of post-punk and synth-heavy new wave melodies (think: New Order and Joy Division) with 1970s guitar fuzz. Members Sanders Smith and Jon Cardiello say the band's biggest influence is early Modest Mouse, and it shows, but you could also make comparisons to the sad-kid dance party music of bands like MGMT. The fact that Wrinkles don't just shoegaze during their shows gives them an appeal across diverse audiences. In 2016, while touring on the release of Separation Anxiety, they played a house show in Tacoma.
"We were playing with a much more intense post-punk band and we showed up at this house," Smith recalls.
"Everyone was outfitted for a punk show," adds Cardiello. "And we were these indie kids from Montana showing up. We're like, 'Oh man, we are not going to fit into this scene.'"
There were cats crawling all over the place, drunk people on acid playing lawn games out front in the dark. Accepting the fact that their set was bound to flop, Wrinkles began to play. The punk kids formed a pit and danced enthusiastically, and then they started a conga line that weaved in and out of the room.
"It was really weird and really fun," Smith says. "Part of it has to do with your expectations. You think it's not going to be good, but then it's really great. It was our favorite show we played."
Besides Cardiello and Smith, Wrinkles includes bassist Markle Quinn, vocalist/keyboardist Thomas Elsen and drummer Brody Montgomery. (Most of them switch between keys, guitar and bass, depending on the song). They all grew up in Helena and started the band in 2012 when all of them—with the exception of Cardiello—moved to Missoula for college. Cardiello has been living in Seattle for most of the time they've been a band, which has made practicing a challenge. The Missoula contingent would often hop in their car and drive to Seattle, practice for six to 12 hours, play a show there and then drive home.
"Binge practicing has always been pretty fun," Cardiello says. "None of us had been in a band where you just practice for an hour or two, so we didn't know any different."
That binge practicing is part of the energy that fuels Wrinkles' songs. They write in fits and, between practices, marinate in the songs.
"It hasn't been a regular enough thing to get dull," Cardiello says. "It was like, 'Oh we have a show!' And we didn't have to feel weird inviting people because we only did it once in a while. I feel like that gave it some momentum, that we were always excited to do it, because it was so rare that we could hang out with each other."
On tour, the band members got to spend hours together in their van, a 1989 Chevy G20. It had no air-conditioning, which was painful, especially during the drive across the Mojave Desert. They pulled their shirts off and rolled down the windows, the white noise stifling opportunities for a lot of conversation. Which was OK, because Wrinkles, music geeks that they are, are also bookworms, who decided to use their days on tour to hold a band book club. They read five books: Zadie Smith's White Teeth, George Saunders' Tenth of December, Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and a first-person account of the war in Afghanistan (which was jingoistic and terrible, they all agreed).
"That was actually the biggest band argument we got into," Cardiello says. "Books. It was our biggest heated debate ever. When we got to L.A. we found out that Markle is a much faster reader than all of us and he had already read the first book and was trying to go on to the second book, but we were still reading the first book. And we were like, 'Fine just go on to the second book if you don't want to talk with us about the other one.' And he said, 'Well you guys should read faster.' It was such a nerdy thing to get mad about."
Cardiello moved to Missoula earlier this year, and all of the band members (except Smith) live in a house together. Now that there's no reason not to practice all the time, the band is figuring out how to make sure they keep the Wrinkles spirit burning bright—whether they don wigs or not.
"I feel like this is a big transition year for us," Smith says. "But it's been really exciting. It's not starting fresh, but it's like a whole new relationship. There's so many perks to being in the same place."
Camp Daze presents Wrinkles at the ZACC Below Fri., Oct. 13, at 7 PM, along with Sundae Crush, Diners, Real Life Buildings and others. $10.