[Q&A] Hundred Waters on shows with Skrillex & Julia Holter, remixes, and crafting their sound // 09.19 @ Great Scott

While waiting for HUNDRED WATERS to begin their set at Hotscotch Festival earlier this month I could already tell the audience was edgy. The shows had been starting late all night, and a lot of people were trying to decide if they should stick around or run to some of the bigger acts that were starting. The people who stayed, however, got to experience something truly special. Once the five-piece band -- our 50 Bands 50 States Florida pick who are at Great Scott tomorrow, September 19 -- began weaving everything from flute and cowbell to dual female singers and Ableton programmed laptops into their dense tapestry of sound, they converted the entire room into fans. In between songs people would turn to each other with these big beaming smiles and produce nonsensical sounds of amazement. The reaction was completely deserving too and despite the staggering number of different sounds and instruments, it never feels cluttered. In fact, Hundred Waters produce almost overwhelmingly spacious music, they’re the aural equivalent of an iMax.

At Hopscotch I saw down with all five members of Hundred Waters -- Nicole Miglis, Trayer Tryon, Zach Tetreault, Sam Moss, and Paul Giese. Sitting in the hot afternoon in downtown Raleigh, discussed the differences between playing with Skrillex and Julia Holter, their new experiences with remixing, the poet Percy Shelley, and how their acclaimed eponymous debut was created.

Have you gotten a chance to check anything out at Hopscotch so far?

Tetreault: Zammuto! We’re all really big Books fans. We saw Zammuto on our floor and just gushed to him about our love.

How do you feel about the Books finally ending?

Tetreault: I mean I think that every good thing has to end at some point, but Zammuto’s pretty awesome. He’s great.

Tryon: Yeah I don’t necessarily feel like it’s ended as much as it’s drastically morphed to the point where it needed a new name.

Tetreault: We talked with him a bit before his show and connected on a lot of common ground, musically.

What kind of common ground?

Tetreault: Just like our love for a lot of the same kinds of music, and ways of composing. He had actually never heard our music before, and we told him our band name and he actually checked us out when his set ended and came to our show and we hung out with him there. I think he stuck it out for our whole show. So we’re definitely going to try and keep in touch with him and see if we can do some stuff in the future.

How has the tour been going so far?

Tryon: Amazing.

Have some musical things kind of evolved over the time with it?

Tryon: We played some sets that... so the last tour we came off of was the tour with Skrillex and Pretty Lights and Diplo and Grimes and all of them. So that, we played a lot of more heavier songs for that one, or we played them heavier. As this tours went on we’ve kind of lightened it a bit to the point that our last show with Holter we played with just like drums, bass, and guitars and pianos and singing; way different than any way we’ve played in the past. And Nicole played her own songs too. So it kind of --

Tetreault: We’re learning to adapt to both extremes of wanting to play like the heaviest, you know, most dancey songs to being able to play in a coffee shop for, like, 30 people squeezed in. But being on tour, it’s only really just begun. We’ve only done five dates so far, four of them with Julia Holter, we’ve got quite a few of them ahead. So things are only going to continue to evolve I’m sure until like the 30th date... we’ll have no idea what happened, but I’m sure we’ll be a lot tighter and have figured some things out.

You guys didn’t get here in time for Holters set did you?

Collectively: No.

It was really cool, they had her playing in a church.

Tetreault: Yeah, these venues have been really good for her.

When you guys play live, there are just so many instruments everywhere. Was that your plan from the beginning, or did you add stuff over the course?

Miglis: Well we wrote all of the songs before, without even thinking of playing them, and then when the album was finished we sort of delegated the tasks to who would play what parts, and we pretty much covered all between the five of us, but there was no intention to play it when we wrote it. So that was a really difficult task.

You mean play it live? You were still going to release it?

Maglis: Yeah, well, sort of halfway through it became an album, but even from the beginning there wasn’t any intention of writing a complete album. It started as individual songs, but there was no intention to play them.

Tetreault: And we’re all pretty hands on, we’re all more or less, we all come from a background of performing so even though there’s a lot going on in the songs we have a sort of pact with ourselves to play everything tactly, as opposed to sampling long loops or playing to any sort of backing track, so there’s a lot of doubling and multi-tasking on stage.

And I was wondering, you guys are sampling your voices live? Are you?

Maglis: No.

Tryon: Probably the biggest extent of that is like reverb and delay. And maybe there’s one of two parts with keyboards that are made out of “ahhs” like [sings “Ahhh”].

Tetreault: It’s pretty minimal the amount of vocal sampling. Minimal to nonexistent.

Giese: There’s no sampling at all, it’s vocal processing. Oh yeah, there is sampling in SOS.

Miglis: But that’s more like creating an instrument out of a vocal timbre.

Tryon: Yeah, all the sounds we play, there’s no straight, just “keyboard” sounds. We put in every note our own sounds that we made, and sometimes those notes we made will be like made from voices, sometimes they’ll be made from guitars, they’ll be made from who knows what.

With the stuff you guys do on laptop, if you don’t mind me asking, what programs do you run?

Tryon: We both run mainly MainStage and Ableton.

And with some of the songs, like with the Skrillex tour they’re heavier, and with Holter they’re more gentle. Are some of these songs starting one way or the other, and you’re expanding it?

Tryon: Yeah, some of our songs there are alternate versions of. Last night we played pretty much the original versions of each song, but for certain songs we have other ways of playing them that don’t use the same instruments, or don’t use all the same instruments.

Like which ones?

Tryon: There’s a song called “Visitor,” there’s actually a video of it that was just put up by Pitchfork a few days ago that has our other way of playing it, and it’s like a vastly different song that the way you heard it the other night. And the song “Caverns” there’s a version that’s really piano based, and --

Tetreault: And we’ve created intros and outros and certain things to connect songs, or to extend an interpretation of like one section to have a more dynamic segway between songs. Stuff like that that we’ll either include or not include based on what we feel like that environment we’re in will be suitable for. So maybe we’ll do like an extended jam section of a song if we feel like we have time.

And is that something you decide going on, or in the moment?

Tetreault: We always talk about our set the day of.

Tryon: Like last night I didn’t know completely what we were playing until we were on stage setting up, but there’s a pretty -- there’s a few different general ways of doing it and we can pick one of them, but we always have to adapt for whatever the specific situation is.

You have such a vast range of audiences. From thousands at Full Flex, to last night, which was so intimate. What’s that been like?

Miglis: It’s not as shocking as it seems like it would be! [laughs]

Giese: As long as the energy’s good on stage, and you can hear each other and feel good before and after the show, and the crowd is smiling’s all the same.

Moss: To an extent it’s like we’re in, kind of, our own world for a part of it, we’re just like in...

Tryon: At least us boys are, I know Nicole is trying to stare people in the face like the entire show.

Miglis: Yeah! I try to look at people. [Laughs]

Tryon- I rarely look up, but I get a feel for how things are going if I look at Nicole.

Tetreault: Silence is a really good gauge of how the show's going, there’s a lot of sections in our set, certain songs where we bring everything down to a whisper and if there’s no noise from the audience then it’s a really good sign from the audience.

Tryon: But for a lot of these Holter shows those parts of songs and those songs that do that have worked really well because her music is a lot like that too.

Yeah! With her set, I mean if someone coughed... people were like twitching.

Tryon: Yeah and we love that. We have a lot that we play that has that type of feeling to it and we can play all of it on this tour when we want to, so it’s nice.

So I was wondering, what was the last show like right before you started the Full Flex tour?

Tetreault: I think it was in Orlando. You could also say what was the show like after Full Flex, which was in Vancouver, and then we played a show in Portland. And it was like a drastic snap back to reality, which was a comforting experience. It was in an intimate venue, and there was maybe 30 or 40 people there and it was that scenario where people were there to see us and you could hear a pin drop in the last song, but there was 30 or 40 people there as opposed to a thousand.

Do you prefer that?

Miglis: I think it was exciting, but we didn’t really play that many shows before Full Flex, so I think it took a certain degree of courage to play for that many people, and that many people who hadn’t heard us and were kind of questioning why we were there. But I think we learned an incredible amount about that scene, and that music, and playing that kind of venue in general so we definitely learned a lot but it felt like we were a little more at home with the smaller sort of venues with silence... [her thought is interrupted by some guy trying to get behind her chair.]

I was curious about the first song on your album, “Sonnet,” what was the significance of putting lyrics by Percy Shelley?

Miglis: No one’s asked that yet! That actually, not to take away any of the romance of it, but it was sort of a random decision. I was reading those poems and sort of turned to one of those pages and the syllables and the cadence fit perfectly with that song, it was originally a piece with a lot of guitars and written, a lot of, by our friend Alan, and then Tray sort of asked if I wanted to sing on it, so I didn’t really know what to write for someone else’s piece of music so I chose a poem by a poet I was really into at the time, so i think choosing someone else’s words was kind of easier for me to sing over someone else’s piece of music.

Tryon: It’s kind of cosmic though at the time that you were working all of these church gigs playing piano and the lyrics of that song have...

Miglis: Yeah, I was definitely in a more archaic time period, I came from studying classics in school, studying piano, studying romantic time periods and a lot of European and English inspired music, and I was working, playing piano in churches a lot. But yeah, I think the time period of Percy Shelley kind of came from where I was at the time.

So because the Full Flex tour was such a big deal, I feel like so many journalists must just be asking you about the Skrillex stuff, is there any stuff that you’ve been wanting to be asked?

Miglis: Well pretty unanimously I think we hope the music speaks for itself, but we understand people asking about the Full Flex and Skrillex stuff because it’s bizarre.

Tryon: One thing about that world and mostly him, is that most people who ask us about that, don’t know anything about him or that world, but they know who he is and this kind of way he’s portrayed amongst other writers such as themselves... we didn’t know much about with him before we played with him or met him. We were pretty unanimously impressed by the whole situation, like his whole way he goes about making music, it was pretty freaking awesome. We, I would say, he widened our understanding of different cultures of music a lot just from seeing that every night.

So just one more question. You guys have the reissue coming out, and the EP? What’s in the future for you?

Miglis: Another album? [laughs]

Tryon: We have a lot of other music we’ve been working on too, like nearly an albums worth of songs, not that they’re all going to end up on it. We have a lot of music that we’re always working on, and it’s going to be funny that we have this album isn’t even fully released yet and we have so many other songs so I imagine by the time another album is gonna be released we’re going to have a lot to pick from. I’m pretty excited about that.

Giese: I don’t know if it’s kosher to say, or not, or if its even accurate, but I think that it’s pretty safe to say that another album would be out by us by spring next year. I think if we had it our way, I don’t that that’s unrealistic at all.

Tryon: Well, it’s important to remember that things like the Full Flex tour came out of nowhere, we knew about that only like two weeks before we left. We had all these plans that got pushed aside. So saying something like the album’s gonna be out by next year, who knows what else will come up. We might end up going to somewhere crazy awesome that makes it difficult to finish an album and do that instead.

When you were talking about some of the alternate versions of songs, would some of these alternate versions get releases?

Tetreault: Yeah, well the two that Tray spoke of, “Visitor” and “Caverns” we’re going to release on a 7-inch from a small label, undisclosed for now. Also there’s another music video of ours that we’re working ...well we’re not working on, but a director of our choice is working on right now that we hope to get out within the next couple months.

I think Rob [the band's manager] mentioned that, but he didn’t say who it was.

Tetreault: They’re Borschtcorp? They’re Lucas Leyva, and Jillian Mayer making it.

Tryon: They’re friends of ours, but we don’t really know their name.

Tetreault: I think they go by... Borscht is there production company, but we’re really excited about that, they’re doing a video for “Boreal.”

Tryon: We’re trying to round up remixes for a song called “Boreal” from our childhood heroes, so we’ll let you know how it goes.

Tetreault: Aside from that we did sort of a weird, we participated in this sort of thing that’s foreign to us, remixing a song from the Halo 4 soundtrack.

Tryon: It was awesome!

Tetreault: It was the first time anybody... any of us participated in any sort of remix.

Tryon: I did a remix, well it wasn’t, it was a song. It was a song where I used piece of music. The guy who wrote the score is a guy named Neil Davidge, he was a part of Massive Attack. He’s awesome, so we read that that he wrote the score, so we were like, “Okay we trust him with the music” and it was great.

Tetreault: So that’s coming out in October

And how do you guys feel about other artists remixing your songs?

Miglis: It’s new. It’s great!

Tryon: Especially when it’s someone we all listen too, or someone some of us liked a lot before, you know? That’s -- that feels amazing.

What do you get out of a remix? I was talking to one of the guys from Liars a day or two ago and he really wanted the artist to destroy what he made. Do you want it to be a sort of deconstruction, or want something to enhance it, or what?

Tryon: Not necessarily a particular thing, like not a sort of, “Okay we want you to do this with this.” If there’s more than one person then they should take their own slant. There might be someone that destroys it, or someone that builds it further. We don’t want everyone to do one thing, same thing with the videos we’ve been making it’s an act of creation that we’re not necessarily dictating, so it’s kind of like a collaboration.

Giese: It’s like if you go into a kindergarten and give 20 kids the same set of erectors or Legos, and you leave the room and come back and they all make different things, and you don’t want them all to be the same. I think it’s a really cool concept. It’s really awesome as soon as we get one in we all crowd around the stereo and get to see what they did with it.

Tetreault: And it’s all the same... they add their own instruments, but it’s all the same stems.

What’s the remix that’s most surprised you guys so far?

Tetreault: Of the ones that are out from the Thistle EP we were all pretty in awe of Different Sleep and Troublemakers interpretation of "Thistle." Lots of high pitched noises coming out of...

Miglis: Really creative ways of doing vocals.

Tryon: We even made a little short film that was heavily influenced by that, that they used for the release. That song itself has the scene of a giant bunny thing on stilts that we made out. It’s just a really imaginative rework of that song.

Miles Bowe is an intern at the Boston Phoenix. 

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