By Eric Renner Brown
September 29, 2015 at 12:15 PM EDT
Credit: Alexandra Gavillet

San Diego surf-punks Wavves make music tailored for windows-down rides to the beach—which is why it’s conspicuous that their fifth album, V, comes out Oct. 2, when most are trading in their swimsuits for scarves. As frontman Nathan Williams tells EW from a tour stop in Minneapolis, the timing surprises him too. “We were actually shooting for that,” he says with a laugh. “But that’s kind of how this stuff always goes.”

Records get delayed often, but Williams’ conflict with his label was more public than most. “You don’t scare me,” he tweeted when Warner Brothers tried to intervene after he posted V‘s first single, “Way Too Much,” to Soundcloud. “I’m not scared of getting dropped or sued by u so what do u have? … Let me release my record.”

Despite Wavves’ well-worn stoner ethos—they once sold branded marijuana grinders as band merchV arrives saddled with the highest expectations they’ve encountered yet. (“It’s nice to have that sort of outlet where I don’t have to worry as much,” Williams says of the three low-profile projects he’s put out apart from Wavves this year.) For 2013’s Afraid of Heights, Wavves recruited producer John Hill, who’s worked with the likes of Rihanna and Charli XCX, to polish their signature lo-fi sound. The result, which included cellos and a guest spot from Jenny Lewis, harkened back to alt-rock titans like the Offspring and Nirvana, exposing Wavves to more fans than ever.

V runs 10 minutes shorter than the already-brief Afraid of Heights and refocuses on the tight power-pop gems that populated the band’s buzzy 2010 album King of the Beach. “The guy that produced the record, Woody [Jackson], he really doesn’t like alternative rock that much,” Williams says. “He’s not into Weezer or Nirvana. … He wanted to take it in a totally different direction.”

That direction likely involved Jackson’s work in original soundtracks; the two met through collaborating on the music for Grand Theft Auto V. Where Afraid of Heights jumped between styles—”a flicker of sounds,” as Williams puts it—V has a vibe-driven, cohesive nature. “I don’t even think it’s really scaled back,” says Williams, cautioning against confusing brevity with simplicity.

And, while Williams has kept busy with side projects like his poppier band Spirit Club or his collaboration with fellow young punk Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings, he’s excited to get back to the fold. “We had a lot of downtime this past year, I was at home for longer that I’d been in the past six [or] seven years,” he says. “I started to get a little bit antsy. With Wavves there’s so many other things that go into it.”

As for releasing an album of sun-soaked pop-punk just as temperatures start to drop? That doesn’t intimidate Williams. “If it’s cold outside and you listen to something that’s warm and sunny, you get that feeling from it,” he says. “I feel that way with Beach Boys stuff. We get love in the Midwest the same as we do the West Coast. I think [our music] brings that vibe to them.”