Iowa City’s yearly Mission Creek Festival is this weekend, where many artists and writers, local and national, come here to perform and speak. One of these acts is the eccentric experimental pop band Water From Your Eyes based in New York City. After consistently putting out eclectic danceable albums over the past few years they have recently signed with Matador Records. Their new album “Everyone’s Crushed” is set to release on May 26th.
I had the chance to sit down with Nate Amos and Rachel Brown, who make up the duo, ahead of their performance on Friday April 7th at Gabe’s in Iowa City, and ask them some questions about their lives, creative processes, and more.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
Image via Mission Creek Festival
I’m going to start out by taking it back to the beginning, tell me about the days you were born.
Rachel: It was really cold; it was like one of the coldest days of the year. My mom was scheduled to get surgery to get me, and the cyst growing next to me, out, and they did it right on time at 9:45 am, and it was really cold in the hospital room. It was January in Chicago. That’s all I know.
That’s all you can remember?
Rachel: I mean no, I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember anything before I was like four.
Nate: I was born in January in Denver, so I also assume it was cold. But the only thing I know was that I was born to Enya playing in the hospital room. She’s Irish, and like new-wave easy listening. I think that’s why I’m so fucking chill.
So, Enya was like the first thing you ever heard, do you think that music seeped into your consciousness, and reflects in some of the things that you make?
Nate: Um, maybe [chuckling]. Who knows. It could be possible.
How do you guys write songs, and what’s the process behind it, since you have released a lot in the past few years?
Nate: Generally, I’ll write the music and have a track prepared. I show it to Rachel along with either a melodic or lyrical prompt as a starting point to roll off of. Then Rachel will expand with lyrics from that point. That’s the basic bit.
Rachel: It’s pretty streamlined in which Nate makes the music and then I come later where we write the lyrics together. Sometimes it’ll be a couple days after he’s been working on it, or sometimes Nate will dig up an old track that hasn’t really been fleshed out over months. Then finally one day it’ll just make sense and fall together.
Image via Botanique
Rachel, do you add musical aspects to it, or is it Nate who does all the composing?
Rachel: Nate does all the composing. I think there has been one release where I played something on keyboard, and Nate made music off of that. That song is actually really messed up. It’s pretty weird.
What song was that one?
Rachel: It’s the horse song. I don’t remember what it’s called. It’s about the horse in the sky.
Nate: It’s track 3 on the EP called “III.” I’ll figure out what it’s called. It’s called can’t “Can’t Hold Me Gravity.”
Where’d you get the inspiration to write a song about that?
Nate: There was this picture of a horse balloon, and we just went with it.
Do a lot of the lyrics come from inside jokes, or do you have a main lyrical concept behind a lot of your songs?
Nate: At the time of writing that song, a lot of the lyrics were based off of inside jokes, but that’s not really the case anymore.
Rachel: I think the way we write lyrics now there’s not really a way to misinterpret them, cause there’s no definitive meaning. But I guess that’s how I feel about all lyrics. Like when I listen to a song I think it’s about me if it resonates, and I think that’s an okay way to listen to music. The new album has more distinct themes, but they’re still up for interpretation.
Do you leave the lyrics ambiguous so the listener can imprint on it better?
Rachel: No, it just is ambiguous. The way the lyrics come together, it’s like they’re ambiguous to begin with. They’re not always an entire idea, but instead parts of ideas made to fit a melody. It’s more about the presentation, than it is the intention. Words are always up for interpretation.
Nate: I feel sometimes with more literal lyrics, it’s the more likely I am to interpret them as an allegory for something. As soon as there’s an actual story being told I tend to gravitate towards thinking this story must be a metaphor for some other thing.
So, you all have recently signed with Matador, what are some cool opportunities that have come recently from that?
Rachel: They got us a birthday cake. They get us a lot of lunches too. There’s the obvious things too, like touring with other artists on the label like Spoon, Interpol and now Snail Mail. Also, wider outreach. I’m assuming more people have heard “Barley” than any other single we released. It’s also fun hanging out with the people there.
With the Barley Music video, it seems like there’s a higher production value that went into. Does that come from more resources from Matador?
Rachel: No, that’s more because my friends are doing better in the industry, and we basically did it for free. I unfortunately paid my friends low rates, but that’s because there was not much budget. There’s more of a budget now, but even if we weren’t on Matador there’s a good chance we would’ve still made that video. I went to film school, and my friend who graduated last year shot the video. He’s in Los Angeles now so he has been working more, and I have had more time to hone in my directing skills.
You’ve directed all the past videos, right?
Rachel: Yeah, it’s cheaper that way. You’re much more willing to do something for free when it’s for yourself. I feel the other videos we did, like with “Track Five” they don’t have as much of a plan or schedule.
I do get the vibe from that video that you all just went out into a field and tried to see what you could make look cool.
Rachel: That is kind of what it was. With “Barley” we did plan more, and my friend was very adamant about getting things a specific way to make it the highest quality it could be.
Image via Under the Radar Magazine
Is it as time goes on you all get better connections?
Rachel: Yeah, but you also get better at your craft. You watch more movies, and you remember the things they taught you in school that you just wrote off. Money of course helps, but even if we were on a different label, we probably would’ve still done something similar.
Your manager Nikolas mentioned in an email that you were shooting a video last week; do you want to give any insight on that?
Nate: We were supposed to go to Kansas City to shoot a video, but then the person doing the video got sick, and had to cancel it. We only found that out a day before we were going to fly there. Somehow, Rachel managed to put together a whole treatment and get a different video shot within a week, which is insanely impressive to me.
Rachel: I’m going to be completely honest, we filmed all of the lip sync stuff at the wrong speed.
Maybe that would be a cool effect.
Rachel: It’s not, it just looks really bad. I gotta test out this other speed that I did the math for. It’s a good thing it wasn’t centered on that. It’s just a few shots, but it made me feel real stupid. You learn something every time though. Shooting in slow motion is not twice as fast. I just gotta figure out the right speed.
How are you all feeling about this new tour, and coming to Iowa City?
Nate: Really excited. We’ve got some sleeping situations to figure out and a lot of things to do, but still very excited.
Rachel: I hear in Iowa City it gets busy on the weekends downtown with like people coming from outside and it being a college town. It seems like it has a very Midwestern vibe to it.
On the weekends there’s a lot of heavy drinking, and like this chaotic Mad Max atmosphere.
Rachel: I get that, I’m more so excited to experience it for the night.
You can catch Water From Your Eyes on Friday, April 7th at Gabe’s in Iowa City for the Mission Creek Festival. You can listen to their music on their Bandcamp and other streaming services. Their new album “Everyone’s Crushed” will be out on May 26th via Matador Records.