When Gainesville, Florida four piece Hundred Waters released their self-titled debut album back in 2012, it was as elegant and stately a mix of folk and electronics as you could wish to hear.
Composed of singer Nicole Miglis, guitarist Paul Giese, drummer Zach Tetreault and multi-instrumentalist (and definite non-band leader) Trayer Tryon - the record was as self-assured a release as you could get: a band who knew what they wanted to sound like, without any worries over a killer single or standout album track…just a collection of songs that you had to hear as a whole, blurring the lines between the organic and the synthetic.
It was something of a surprise, then, that the record came to the attention of bombastic King of the EDM drop, Skrillex who couldn’t wait to sign the band up to his OWSLA label and then get them out on the Full Flex Express tour alongside unlikely bedfellows Grimes and Diplo. The time with those dance titans doesn’t actually seem to have had much of an influence on the sound of new album The Moon Rang Like a Bell; an intense furthering of the sound of their debut, it finds Hundred Waters blurring the lines between vocals and music, using Miglis’ beautiful vocals as another layer of sound as the band switches between the ethereal gorgeousness of lead track “Down From the Rafters” through to more obviously dance-influenced songs like the agitated buzz of “[Animal]” and “XTalk”.
We asked Trayer Tryon, guitar and electronics wizard in the band (“You can call me the producer of the record, although I don’t fully identify with the word,” he tells us. “I answered these questions on a personal level, but this isn’t ‘My Band’ and I’m not any better than the rest of these fools”) to take us through how The Moon Rang Like a Bell came together, the influence or otherwise of dance music on the band’s development and an in-depth look at how important not separating the vocals from the rest of the music is to Hundred Waters.
Okay, so when your debut came out on 2012 there was a lot of talk about how sonically perfect it sounded, and I can confirm nothing has changed on the new record…so I guess the question is where did the sound originate from? Are you all fans of such immaculate production and clarity?
I don’t give a hoot about production. It’s equivalent to twiddling one’s thumbs while lost in thought about other stuff. If the record sounds good it’s because there was a lot of other stuff to think about.
Did going on that Full Flex tour have any impact on how the new album sounds? The track “[Animal]” feels like something you might not have done before it…
“[Animal]” started before our intersection with OWSLA. We were having fun, catching relief from feeling grave. We’ll probably never be comfortable in a tiny aesthetic. We are not house pets, we are whales, and we need lots of room if we are to feel free.
So it’s not a case of embracing dance music due to interacting with Skrillex?
It’s cool if people draw comparisons between our music and dance music. I don’t think we’ve absorbed its dogma. We don’t talk in terms of genre when making music but we have no qualms when others do. Really, it’d be nice to have more common language with the outside world. We’d feel less isolated.
How did the new record develop; did you push yourselves further than before?
We did whatever we possibly could to make music for three years while living in constantly changing living situations. We did it all ourselves and without help. Getting a song to 80% completion usually required no effort and happened naturally and ecstatically. Then a roadblock might arise, making the last 20% hellishly difficult. I don’t remember the first record being very painful to make, this one nearly killed us towards the end. We repeatedly made deadlines for ourselves and then broke them, keeping us badly sleep deprived and emotionally fucked up. It was great for making potent music but I don’t think we’re ever going to return to there.
There’s more of an intensity about The Moon Rang Like a Bell; more of an electronic feel and a move away from the folk/organic aspects of the debut – was this intentional?
We made a lot of music over the last 3 years. There are about 60 songs, in a few separate groups. One of those groups is much more organic, pretty much acoustic. This one, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, covers the biggest range emotionally and is probably the most argumentative. It had the greatest attraction for us to finish, so we did. I don’t think we had much of a say.
The track “Broken Blue” feels like the centrepiece of the record, can you tell us anything about that particular track?
We had just moved to California. Nicole and I lived in a cabin a few hours north of LA, the others in Chinatown. I got a $1200 traffic ticket on the way up to the cabin. After a month at the cabin, I drove to LA to fight the ticket in court. Nicole was alone at the cabin and wrote the lyrics and piano part. We talked on Skype and she played it for me on piano, which I recorded. The bad Wi-Fi reception made the piano sound wonderfully broken up, and the moment was so real and fitting for the song that we decided not to redo it traditionally.
Months later, we were in Miami when an old friend of Zach’s died. He wrote the instrumental for the middle section in the days after. It was a very sad time but beautiful music grew from it.
I like how the album conveys certain emotions without an over-reliance on lyrics or an understanding of what’s being sung about – the vocals are slightly hidden behind effects and the music; was this a conscious decision?
In general, there is a very fine line that we teetered. Nicole typically made the call on where they sat. I don’t see any other way to answer this than to do it in detail…
• “Murmurs” - “lead a, lead a light of thee…” That part is slightly obscured, like you’re a baby listening to mom sing;
• “Cavity” - starts with very clear, visual lyrics which over time get flooded away and overwhelmed so that you see no picture, just feeling;
• “Out Alee” - “why am I hiding” surfaces from below; “get if off me” has painful scraping sound like a nervous-tick when repressing a bad thought; the “no sign…no way out” parts are just exasperations, not clear lyrics;
• “Innocent” - confused internal chatter, blurring lines between first and second person perspective, and the low vocal works like a taunt from within;
• “Broken Blue” – this one was mixed [for the vocals] to come from within;
• “Chambers” - this song isn’t real;
• “Down From the Rafters” - starts bone dry like faceplanting on the concrete, then wanders dazed between half intelligible and clear;
• “[Animal]” - clear and resolute;
• “Seven White Horses” - clear but gets overtaken. The end vocals fight to be heard (“When I talk to you / Do you hear me?”);
• “Xtalk” - tried to have perfect balance.
There does feel like a clear progression of emotion from “Broken Blue” onward, and things come to some kind of euphoric crescendo with “XTalk” – did you want to take the listener on a journey, to make sure the album ran together as one piece rather than a collection of songs?
The track list and their order came well before the songs were finished, so the songs couldn’t help but talk to each other. That’s partly what made this record so difficult to finish; every new move had to answer to multiple ways of interpreting the entire album.
Is there a theme going on that links the songs?
We built in a few ways of reading it. Each way is vague enough to not be pushy. We don’t want to force an interpretation. I can’t help but hear one particular path through it, but it’s different from what Nicole hears, and we chose to keep it open rather than force it down a single path. I can’t elaborate on what I hear because in doing so I’d overexpose someone I love.
Since it’s been a couple of years since your first record, do you find your roles in the band changing much, or are you all settled into designated roles?
They haven’t changed much. We have something that works in the background. We try to keep it rather loose - the word role doesn’t get used around here.
You all met either at high school or college; is it difficult to maintain friendships when you’re in – presumably – close quarters with each other?
No, not with each other. It’s difficult to maintain a grudge in close quarters. We definitely slip up, but we know how to move past it. We’ve lived together since long before the music.
What’s next for Hundred Waters? Where can you see the band heading next?
We have a lot of music in the works that we’re desperate to spend time with. Touring is fun but if you go too long you feel pent up like a dolphin doing tricks in an aquarium. The opposite is true as well, too much time at home music can disconnect you from the world at large. We want a better balance between the world and home.
The Moon Rang Like A Bell is out now via K7 / OWSLA.