Hundred Waters interview: "It's about finding yourself in a bigger thing...how do you communicate who you are with all that's going on?"
Recently Hundred Waters surprise dropped a new 5-track EP Currency, with the promise of a new album to follow. Yesterday the Florida-bred band announced Communicating, the full-length follow up to 2014's exquisite The Moon Rang Like A Bell.
The 405 was lucky enough to hear an early master of the new Communicating album, and had the opportunity to sit down with the three band members to discuss the upcoming album, their recent EP, the thematic and practical links between them, and a lot more about their collaborative creative process. On a warm and sunny June evening, we sat out on the balcony of Bush Hall, ahead of their headline set that night, which would feature almost exclusively songs from Communicating and Currency. This demonstrated Hundred Waters' excitement and confidence in their new material, something which certainly came across in speaking to the trio.
Before we got into that though, we had to discuss the latest fad, fidget spinners, which Nicole seemed to have become inoculated into...
The first thing I want to ask about is the fidget spinner...
Nicole: Someone gave me this a couple of days ago at a barbecue in London.
Have you seen them before?
Nicole: I've seen them, this is the first time I've had one.
What do you think of it?
Nicole: I love it! It's actually really calming for me.
Are you generally quite a...
Nicole: Anxious person? I think I've gotten it relatively under control
Trayer: Spun it all out
Nicole: I haven't done any tricks. I just like the sound of it.
Have you guys had a go on it? Do you understand it?
Zach: I absolutely do not understand it.
I slightly understood yoyos when they became a big thing. But this makes less sense than yoyos.
Trayer: Very much so.
Anyway, let's talk about music. You guys have been gone for a while, you played a couple of shows in the States, but what made you decide to come to London for one of your comeback shows?
Trayer: We just wanted to come to Europe. And when you come to Europe you come to London.
Zach: We had some festival shows this week so we were out here already. We played at Best Kept Secret in Holland this weekend, and then we're in Dublin for Body & Soul next weekend.
Have you much chance to play the new songs live?
Nicole: Yeah most of our set is new.
Zach: It's like all new. They're about to find out down there [indicates venue hall]. We've actually been talking about that out here. About like what people are expecting. Because we've had a few shows doing this. It goes well, but maybe not as well as it could've if we were playing more old songs.
You've gotta be brave and confident about the new material. How does it sound?
Zach: I think it sounds amazing.
Nicole: Yeah I like playing it better than the old stuff, so we're doing it. I think it's a lot to hear at once for the first time, which I really like! But they may be a little overwhelmed.
Zach: You gotta be a die-hard fan to be down with a band that you're going to see not play anything that you know. I went to Majical Cloudz and he was playing nothing but new music - I loved it!
And you want to know what the band has been up to after a while away. You don't want to be taken back in time three years, you want to know what's next.
Trayer: And we especially don't want to be taken back in time three years, so that's why we're not doing that [laughs]
Why do you say that?
Trayer: We're excited about the future. It's like when you sit down to play an older song it doesn't feel nearly as good as playing something that has just happened or is still happening to you.
You guys obviously have a lot of new material, you put out the new EP Currency as a surprise - what made you decide to do that?
Trayer: We just had loads of material.
Nicole: (puffs out her cheeks) hundreds....
Trayer pulls out his phone and shows me a playlist of all new material that he seems to be scrolling through forever.
Wow. That's a lot. Do you think most of that will never see public release?
Nicole: Uhhhh, maybe.. I dunno... it kinda depends... something else could happen and some things get finished
Zach: A few of those 50 or 60 you just scrolled through were EP songs
So how did you decide which ones would go on the EP?
Nicole: They all kind of like thematically worked together. It's kind of like which titles fit and look good together - with the title, the names and everything. Because musically I feel like we're a bit all over the place with everything, so it just comes down to the naming.
You want to have a cohesive statement.
Trayer: And those songs [on Currency] are ones that we always thought would be nice to have other people hear, because we put a lot into this music. And all those songs we kind of zipped past and it kind of sucks that most of it is never going to be heard. So those songs we always knew we wanted people to hear somehow. So we found a little window of opportunity to put them out real quick, before the album became the thing to focus on, and we just kind of edged 'em out like that.
Was that exciting? Did it feel good?
Trayer: It felt amazing to have finished them. Putting them out is pretty good too. It's more about just like making it though.
Nicole: That was probably the most stressful part, putting them out into the world.
Trayer: Yeah because making them you're just free, you just do whatever the fuck you want.
Nicole: Yeah it was like very free and not tied to anything, and then you put it in the real world and you kind of have to...
Trayer: You gotta think about how it interacts with the world.
Nicole: It's like introducing somebody to somebody else; you kinda have to figure out how to introduce this thing that's been in your head. It's a little stressful.
You don't have any pressures from the label [Skrillex’s OWSLA] to hurry up?
Nicole: Uhhhhh they do.... (laughs). All the time they're asking us, people are constantly asking us.
But it's still your favourite part, the creation, even though there's pressure?
Zach: It's not like hard pressure though.
Nicole: Luckily people around us believe in it enough for us to keep sliding by deadlines.
Trayer: Because they just want it to be as good as can be. It didn't ever feel like we were under pressure to put something out. We just continued working because we liked what was happening. And then after a ton of it had been nearly finished, they were like "hey, you guys should probably put something out." And then that's when that started. But when it was all being made, we weren't feeling any kind of pressure to release anything.
Is there a chance that you might have just carried on making more and more songs forever?
Nicole: Yessss (laughs)
Zach: But then again when you do that you start to feel like you are disconnecting from the universe. There's the draw to come back and come to England.
Nicole: Yeah and I think if you wanna write a good song you want it to reach people and to mean something to humanity (laughs). So it's better that you put it out than hold on to it forever.
I wanna talk about the alphabet on the cover of Currency. Who created that?
Nicole: That was created by someone called Brian Roettinger - he designed the glyphs on the art.
Zach: He was someone that we've been communicating (ha) with for 6 months maybe, throughout this whole thing. When we went into thinking about releasing music, we knew he was this super talented amazing artist, so we tried to work with him.
You mentioned that you chose the 5 songs for the EP based on things that fit together thematically, so what do you see as the themes of Currency?
Nicole: Worth in yourself, and those around you, but mostly yourself. Because how you treat people around you has a lot to do with how much worth you have in yourself. Also vulnerability, being vulnerable with other people and trusting other people; to take that for good and not take advantage of it. Yeah it's really just the balance between yourself and somebody else and the line between relationships and worth and valuing yourself and other people, and the ways that you value things and show appreciation of things.
Then when it comes to the album, Communicating, are they similar, are they tied to the EP?
Nicole: I think they're related, yeah. To me ‘Currency’ is the worth. There's money and language, and you either show things in like the way that you treat people or love them, by 'communicating', or you show things with ‘currency’, hard money. I dunno... it's hard to explain. I haven't figured it out quite yet, but it's kind of like we either show worth in one way or the other. We either equate it with numbers or we equate it with respect. So ‘Communicating’ is the way that you let somebody know how you feel. The ‘Currency’ is how you can show someone simply, you can show someone immediately. ‘Communicating’ is much more complicated; a bit more difficult.
You say you're still figuring it out, but I think that's what a lot of the lyrics are about, the figuring it out.
Nicole: Yeah, right, and I think the language with the glyphs was important because we put so much worth on language, but it's such a small part of how we communicate. There's body language and so many other ways.
'Currency' the song, is it kind of an oppressive feeling you're expressing, do you feel like you're being devalued?
Nicole: Yeah it's probably a little more pessimistic at first, but I think in general that by the end of it it's kind of like the feeling that you're so vulnerable with somebody, and that's kind of a currency, showing somebody that you're sad about something they did. Showing that you're affected by somebody is kind of like a currency, because it's kind of like the fact that they can affect you is empowering, so you have to be vulnerable and show somebody, you have to be open.
The songs on both the EP and the album sound brighter, even though the lyrics are similarly dark. The second track on Communicating, 'Wave To Anchor', is kind of the most unabashedly housey thing you've done. Was this a conscious move to a brighter sound?
Trayer: That song was never housey. And then one day we found out that it was.
Nicole: Yeah we're kind of oblivious to that stuff. You just wanted to put a kick on it one day, and that happened...
Trayer: Yeah we put a kick like that under plenty of songs, but they don't all come out like that. For some reason that one...
It's the piano as well, it's very bouncy
Nicole: Yeah, and the key change is very Donna Summer.
Zach: That's a good car song, randomly.
But you wrote 60 or 70 songs, are they all similarly bright and poppy?
Trayer: They're all fucking entirely different. Every single one is its own universe. It would have been easy to put out an album where every single song was completely different, all outliers. But we didn't want to. What we came up with, we didn't want it to be too confined to being morose or being this emotion or that emotion. We wanted to put all the feelings, or at least a good range of the feelings that we've felt in the last 2-3 years in there. But it was never supposed to be overtly this or overtly that, and I still don't think it is. When I hear 'Wave To Anchor' I still think it's bizarre as fuck (laughs)
Yeah, there is a lot of crazy stuff in there. That kind of pinwheeling synth line is amazing!
I want to ask about a specific lyric from 'Particle', which features on both the EP and the album. Specifically the "Too much light up in the sky/ an expired constellation" metaphor about a fading relationship - what inspired that?
Nicole: Now let's see... that song was one of the hardest ones, it was a nightmare to finish. I mean that image specifically probably came from my actual porch in LA. When I was recording vocals I would go out and take breaks on the porch at night and look up. That image was probably printed in my mind. The expired constellation thing - I just love that image of being overwhelmed, there's so much light... I'm just figuring this out as you ask me, but my dad was also really into astronomy and would always talk to me about light pollution. He was the kind of dad who would leave pamphlets in mailboxes for the neighbours, telling them to turn off their lights at night because he wanted to look at the sky. So the expired constellation is light pollution to me - there's just so much being broadcast all of the time that you can't connect any dots anymore, it's just chaos. So yeah, just the feeling of so much light, so much that like these ancient ideas of shapes in the skies and religion and all this stuff doesn't exist anymore. It's weird that it's just gone and we're in a completely new place.
Trayer: And then I would imagine there's a very hyper-personal angle to that too, that's harder to get into.
Nicole: Yeah I mean, that goes macro and micro I think.
Has the way you create songs changed at all in recent years?
Nicole: That kinda has to be answered on a song by song basis. It's pretty random.
Trayer: We don't really have a tendency to come up with a formula and just do that. It definitely feels better for every move you make to be some kind of new move. So we typically do that, and every time it makes something go in a different direction. That's why it's hard to stop, we just keep on finding new shit and it keeps on being fun.
I get a feeling of a kind of symbiosis with nature in these songs, is that just me?
Trayer: It would be nice to have more of that, but we live in the city now.
Nicole: I think with anything super introverted I think there's a lot of comfort in nature and things that are totally outside of cities and society. It's probably because we grew up in Florida and there's so much nature where we come from that it comes across in our music.
Trayer: It's not like music that was written with 10 people in a room.
Nicole: Yeah it's very inward.
Trayer: But in that sense it’s closer to nature because it's not music that comes out of the music factory studio situation where you have the glass and the board and the people on the other side. It comes out of just our life, because we do it at home. And then when we go to actually record it's like a one-off thing, we go to a cool place we have in mind. We went to Detroit for example, and rented an abandoned church and put a piano in there and got it recorded for two or three songs. That's instead of renting a studio in Los Angeles for two months to create an album. That is unnatural. The way we do it is more natural, because it's continuing to try to enjoy it and come up with fun places to be, like making music on our roof or in Nicaragua or whatever, because it can all come out of a laptop. It's more natural, but it's not necessarily like 'we're going camping and thinking about what we're going to do for the album'.
Why did you end up recording in a church in Detroit?
Trayer: Well recording is like a small part of it. Nicole went to New York alone for three months. I went to Mexico city for a while. Zach went a bunch of places. We lived in three or four houses in LA. When we were on tour travelling we were making this thing. But the Detroit thing - just because it's the last place we'd ever spend any time.
Zach: Yeah we didn't know anything about Detroit before.
Nicole: We knew some people.
Trayer: It just had a good feeling when we were thinking about where we wanted to record. We had a loose connection there.
Zach: A friend of ours has a church there that he's doing recordings and stuff in.
Trayer: We dropped a piano in the bottom and put a drum kit in the roof and we would record them at the same time - or separate.
Nicole: It's a super cool place. It's called Assemble Sound if people wanna check it out. They're always looking for musicians.
Zach: Good people.
Trayer: And the people that were at this church are people that are really into it for the right reasons. They haven't had a huge taste of success in the music industry or whatever the fuck, so they're not jaded in that sense. All those kind of pressures were gone; it was just kind of back to like when we first started making music when were in Gainesville.
Did the songs change in that space or were they set?
Nicole: That was kind of like the first time that we played those songs together in the same space. Like 'Prison Guard' we'd never played together.
Trayer: Of the stuff that is live sounding, it was recorded there. A lot of it sounds live but it's not - but if it's like an overt drum kit...
Zach: Yeah there were like demoes that were made, that maybe Nicole made the beat and then I replaced the beat with a live drumkit, and then we had that for a while, but we never played with Nicole playing piano and me playing drums until we were actually there.
Trayer: But it was always in the back of our head like 'this is gonna be turned into drums one day'. Then we went there and did it and it ended up being something that you couldn't actually imagine in detail. It felt really good to have these songs come to life and drastically shift in a new direction really quickly.
You mentioned 'Prison Guard' from the new album, tell me about that song.
Nicole: I think that song is just about feeling justified and feeling like you don't belong somewhere, and you're questioning if you're in the right place, or if somebody's oppressing you, or if you're oppressing yourself. It's pretty literal, I think; it's just pleading to somebody to release you - it can either be yourself or somebody else.
And in 'Re' you've got a sample. Where did that come from?
Nicole: That's from a Dean Martin song called 'Return To Me'. Pretty strange way that came about. I made a song with my friend who never really sings, and I was trying to get her to sing. I was like “we're just going to improvise and come up with something,” and I started playing piano and this song just came out of her. She kept saying this "return to me," it was like the chorus. She's never written a song in her life, it was very strange, it just came out. I was like “it's a cool title, I wonder if that's a song?” and I looked it up on YouTube and there was a Dean Martin song called 'Return To Me' and it was in the same key and everything. So I took that sample from it and brought it in - and then scrapped the other song and rebuilt a song around that one sample. It was pretty weird.
Are there any other samples on the record?
Trayer: No. There was one song that we wanted to have on the record but we couldn't because it had like a 2-minute-long sample that was unclearable. Very unclearable. It was just not gonna happen.
You put 'Particle' on both the EP and the album, what makes that song special to tie them together?
Nicole: It's a similar feeling between Currency and the album. There's a lot of themes of identity and finding yourself amongst a bigger thing, and 'Particle' touches on those. It's just like how do you communicate who you are, or find out who you are, with all this stuff going on? How do you communicate that to somebody else? Finding your worth and communicating it to somebody else.
Hundred Waters new album Communicating comes out September 15th through !K7/OWSLA.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 13th July 2017.