Nine Songs: Hundred Waters
The songs that have soundtracked the members of Hundred Waters lives are as emotional as they are eclectic. As with their own music, their choices mix storytelling with deft instrumentation, where the sound of a song is just as important as its words.
On their third album Communicating, the three piece of Nicole Miglis, Trayer Tryon and Zach Tetreault are as bombastic as they are fragile. In one moment a classic House piano undertows their melodies and in another Miglis wails ‘blanket me, blanket me’ along to instrumentation that’s as crushing as their overt emotion.
When lauding the songcraft of Joni Mitchell, Miglis says “I really cherish that confessional feeling in songwriting,” and while their choices of songs reflect the genre shifts so inherent to the band’s music, it’s that confessional quality that each of these songs has most in common with each other.
Miglis recalls the nerves she felt ahead of her final recital at classical school in one of her song choices, Tryon explains how Three 6 Mafia’s music drew a line between his badly behaved youth and the person he relates to today and Tetreault remembers crying with his brothers to Jeff Buckley after his mother left the family unexpectedly.
When I asked if there was a theme behind these song choices, Tryon said “they’re just songs that really matter to us.” He wasn’t lying.
Miglis: “I chose this because I went to school to learn classical piano. I had to learn this for my final recital and Debussy’s music changed the way I thought about music. His music is very impressionistic, it’s a picture that he paints and it taught me that music can be more like painting than just pure emotion. It can be like painting a picture of a scene, something in nature, or something in front of you and you can paint it with sound.
“The recital was pretty scary; it was a lot of memorisation, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do musically. It was really intense to learn his music, to read it and internalise it, but because I had to perform it from memory I had to internalise it in my muscles and every part of me. I had to really know the music and that was a really powerful experience, having to spend so much time with one composer and having to learn so much more about them, the place they wrote it and the time they wrote it. It was a really powerful experience and it really forces you to try and understand a person’s music and personality.
“I’m really grateful that I’ve had that experience now, with how quickly we ingest music nowadays I was forced to spend a year with that piece, which is so rare. I think that the pure amount of time I had to think about this music really changed the way I understood the depth that’s behind music and how much thought there is behind everyone’s music.”
Tryon: “This blew my mind when I first heard it and it’s our pre-show, go to song. I was maybe 18, I had just made my second record and I had this one song where I thought I’d come up with this totally new way of making music that I’d never heard before. Then I heard this and discovered someone had done a similar thing but 40 years earlier and 40 times better. It blew my mind and to this day I listen to it once a week, it’s a perfect piece of music.
“When I made my second record – and this was before MySpace - I painstakingly handmade CDs and took them to the CD store across town in Orlando and sold it there. That was a huge experience for me in itself, just to drop it off and hear back from two people that night that they thought it was amazing, that did so much for me in music, whereas nowadays 20,000 people can say they like your music and it doesn’t mean anything to you.
“I went back to give them more copies and I saw they had it on a display and it said ‘for fans of Steve Reich.’ I went in there and bought that Steve Reich CD just to hear what they were talking about and there it was.”
Tetreault: “This song came for me at a time when I was experimenting a lot with friends in high school, just playing openly and playing a lot of music with Tray. We were playing some proggy, technical rock and really feeling like we were on to something, that we were tapping into something unique and meaningful. Then hearing this group, they became this beacon of a band who were realising what we were tapping into.
“I listened to it a lot and learnt all of the parts as best as I could. That was such a developmental time for us emotionally and as humans, going through high school and experimenting with LSD, that was the start of that chapter. This song in particular is tied to that feeling of freedom, of driving alone on the open road for the first time, where the world is available to you all of a sudden.”
Miglis: “I really remember the first time I heard Joni Mitchell, for some reason it stuck in my head. I was in a friend’s car in college after a party, I was probably pretty drunk and they were playing the album Blue. As soon as I heard her melodies, her voice and her words I was just frozen, I remember that so clearly.
“I’m fascinated with her songwriting, the way that she paints her words with melodies and the way she sings words and structures them. I think she’s so honest and fearless to put her experiences into songs, she’s revolutionary in the things she wrote about, that women didn’t write about then. I loved how confessional she was and I really cherish that feeling in songwriting. I remembered Joni the next morning, I got every CD and I listened to Blue obsessively. I could probably sing every lyric she’s ever written and I’ve probably watched every interview with her - I get really obsessed with songwriters.
“The range of the voice in ‘California’ is so good and now that I’m in California I’m relating to it, it’s kind of funny. I think a lot of great songs change over time, you find what you want to find in them at that time and later you relate to them differently. It’s really beautiful that songs can change like that.”
Tryon: “I heard this in maybe 2005. I feel that’s the period of time that I became the person who I am now and beforehand I can’t really relate to that person. Sigur Rós’s stuff was totally faceless, I didn’t know anything about them, all I knew was that they were from Iceland.
“When I think of this song it immediately puts me to this one place I used to go to a lot called Shell Island. In Florida there’s a bunch of rivers, we’d canoe down river to this island and camp there. The island was made of shells, it was like a Native American trashcan, it was basically a big mound they threw their shells at like ancient, ancient shit. The last time we went there we were kicked out by the cops, because it turns out it’s a really important protected historical site, so we never went back, but before that we went there all the time.
“This music symbolises a mish-mash of all the times we were there, canoeing down the river at night in the pitch black with the music playing on a little speaker and we’d be doing a lot of mushrooms and LSD back then. This album has no English language, I don’t even think it’s Icelandic language, he says the same thing throughout the album over and over again, it sounds like something about a fire and it’s tied up to being around a campfire.
“It’s also tied up with the experience of us trying to get away from the society that we hated at that time in Orlando. It’s like a carnivalist, capitalist hellhole, there’s a lot you see there that makes you mad and this song is so removed from everything you’re given in Orlando.
"A month ago, we had Jonsi (Sigur Rós lead singer) over. I was asleep and I heard Jonsi singing, I went into the next room in the dark and I laid down in there and sang with Jonsi, Julianna Barwick, Nicole and Moses Sumney. Jonsi was on the piano and the rest of us were laying on the floor in the dark. We all played music in the dark for three hours and I never saw Jonsi, he left, because it was pitch black, then I just went back to sleep. It’s amazing. I’ve still never met him.”
Tetreault: “There was always a lot of trumpet in my house, my older brother played trumpet a lot, my Dad even played, so by default it was the first instrument that I picked up and played a lot. It was always something I was somewhat embarrassed about, but I still kept up with it.
“So when I first heard this record it caught me, because I could actually play this stuff, there was no crazy key changes. ‘So What’ is a classic standard, so I would play it a lot in jazz combos with friends and we started a little jazz collective in college, where we played at these shitty little bars for our friends every Tuesday night. ‘So What’ was always a good go-to for me and my friends, because it allows you to be so free.
“I didn’t really think too hard about putting this one down, I just knew that Miles Davis and jazz were a huge part of my life and why I wanted to keep playing music. That was the first time that I felt I had a voice with an instrument.”
Miglis: “With this one I basically chose my favourite song from Aphex Twin's album, Selected Ambient Works 85–92. I think that record really changed the way I thought about music. It was mostly the kick sounds in this song, that kind of droney, ambient sound that he has, I just think it’s so beautiful.
“It was the first record that got me interested in electronic sounds and making music on my computer. It influenced a lot of things that I wrote and the composition of those songs really influenced me, how concisely and how perfectly they are written. It was a different approach to songwriting, it was like taking all these blocks and puzzle-piecing them together and that really influenced me.
"When I was growing up I didn’t listen to any music made on computers, I grew up in a pretty small town in Florida, but when I heard this I started realising the sounds you could make outside of tangible instruments.”
Tryon: “This was biggest for me when I was maybe 14 years old. My older brother was obsessed with this group, it was literally the only thing inside his brain. At the time I’d gotten into a lot of trouble with my parents, my Dad came into my room and me and my brother were smoking this drug called Salvia, it was this weird drug that you could buy at the time and it makes you hallucinate like crazy for three minutes.
"So we got caught and my parents didn’t know what to make of it. They sent me to this place in Oregon where I was supposed to walk around, dig holes and hike, it’s like a behavioural reform thing, everything you do are things that you don’t want to do.
“My friends were back at home and I imagined they were having the best times of their lives. I remember going on the plane there - by the way I had no idea where I was going, I was woken up in the night and told I was going away - and this was the last music I remembered hearing before getting there, the last musical note I heard for the whole seven weeks of being away.
“The song perfectly sits at the pivotal point of all my life before that time and all my life after, which was drastically different. The experience hardened me, made me not want to bullshit as much and waste time, it disconnected me from a group of friends that were up to no good. The song represents the fucking around that I would have been doing previously.”
Tetreault: “This is probably one of my favourite songs of all time. With all of these songs, they hit at a time when they were really needed and I remember hearing this song with my brothers at a time when things were really intense with my family. My Mum had just left the family really unexpectedly and we didn’t know what was going on, she just kind of disappeared out of our life for a couple of years.
“We were spending a lot more time together, me and my brothers, and I remember I went down to Miami to stay at my brother’s house with my other brother and we watched this Jeff Buckley live DVD and it’s the most incredible performance. I remember hearing this song in particular and we were all crying and since then that record Grace has always been one of my favourite records. It’s really powerful, it has you screaming by the end. I needed something that direct at the time.”