In principle, 20-something California musician Wallice Hana Watanabe, who performs as Wallice, supports the recent exodus of older artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell from the music streaming platform Spotify over the pandemic-related content of the Joe Rogan podcast, among other concerns.
But while the world was in quarantine throughout much of 2020 and into 2021, putting live music under lock and key, Wallice songs like “Hey Michael” and “23,” and, later, “Wisdom Tooth,” found their way on to Spotify playlists, blending ’90s-style alternative guitar rock and pop with a distinctly Gen Z angsty perspective.
That success garnered attention from the music industry for the ascending young star, leading to where she is now: On her first national tour supporting Still Woozy, another California songwriter with bedroom pop sensibility, this time with a soul music edge. The Still Woozy and Wallice tour stops by Eugene’s McDonald Theatre Feb. 27.
For that reason alone, Wallice tells Eugene Weekly over the phone while on tour in Detroit, she’s grateful for the controversial streaming platform, despite all its faults.
“All my success in being a professional artist or musician has come during the pandemic. The main reason I have listeners is because of the playlists on Spotify. It could be a bad thing, but also I think that’s what the industry is right now,” she says.
With an EP available online, and another one in the works, Wallice’s debut full-length album is expected sometime later in 2022 or early in 2023.
A public-school-music-education success story while in high school, Wallice went on to study vocal jazz for a year at The New School in New York before she returned to Los Angeles with a bad case of homesickness and a dawning realization that jazz music wasn’t for her. She dove instead into the alternative rock she grew up listening to on her first iPod, like Weezer and Blink 182, artists her dad introduced to her or that she heard on the alternative rock radio stations her parents played in the car.
Collaborating with a lifelong musician friend, marinelli, Wallice produced and posted online songs like “Hey Michael,” “23” and “Punching Bag.” In them she showcases wallflower pop revivalism, with Wallice’s endearingly frowning but overall capable singing voice signaling a feisty antagonism and a cynical intelligence, like Billie Eilish with amps, singing the woes of a wisdom tooth.
The stuff’s also quite funny at points, from a bitter perspective, which is in line with other recent Gen Z artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Girl in Red or the recent Gayle hit “abcdefu.” Is it relevant if your quarter-life crisis is in the rearview? Wallice does, after all, sing “I just can’t wait to be all grown up and 23,” on the song “23.” Probably not, but then again, that’s not the point.
Wallice goes on to say what she likes most about the alternative music she grew up listening to is the self-deprecating and approachable tone those artists maintain, which is something she also aspires to. Her band even covers Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” live in concert.
Otherwise, while writing, the musician and her collaborator marinelli “throw in as many jokes as we can,” she says, without making the songs into comedy. On “Hey Michael,” Wallice sings, “You talk for so long about Mad Men, I’ve never seen that show. You don’t gotta say you love Pulp Fiction, I already know.”
Some artists can seem so egotistical, Wallice says. “I personally wouldn’t ever want to be like that. I don’t want to take myself too seriously.”
Wallice performs with Still Woozy, who is supporting his own 2021 release If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is, 8 pm Sunday, Feb. 27, at McDonald Theatre; general admission tickets are sold out, platinum-level tickets available, all-ages, check with venue for COVID-19 safety guidelines.