The debut record from Hundred Waters is an intricately weaved set of celestial songs built from the organic and the electrical – which roughly translated means it’s bloody gorgeous. 2012 has seen the momentum build for the Florida five-piece, and we for one wanted to climb aboard, hence we tracked the band down during their European Tour to talk Folk, Wonderboom trees and Skillrex.
Bowlegs: Nice work on such a gorgeous debut. How did you guys get together and reach the sound we are hearing on the record?
Paul: Tray, Zach, and I met in elementary and middle school. We started playing music together when we were about 15 and have been making music together ever since in various forms. We all ended up going to school at the University of Florida, where Zach met Nicole, and she moved in with us while we were playing in a group called Levek, where we then met Sam (a vocalist in the aforementioned project). After Nicole moved in with us, we toured with Levek, and a romance bloomed between her and Trayer, prompting her to collaborate or take the helm on many old and new songs we (plus a good friend of ours, Allen Scott) were working on, with a new, different energy and direction from our previous projects. “The rest is history”
Bowlegs: Digital folk, Folktronica, Electronic folk – the word Folk seems to be consistent when people are describing Hundred Waters. Is that how you hear it? What qualifies a record as Folk music?
Paul: “All music is folk music, I ain’t never met no folks who didn’t like music” -Louis Armstrong
I don’t know how to make a qualification calling a record one thing or another, though I think a narrative and lyrically focused song may imply that sort of connotation in popular culture. It isn’t what we were going for, and it’s not how we hear it. We compose music mostly on a qualitative basis, choosing words like ‘sparkly’ or ‘clanking’ or ‘spacious’ to describe parts rather than ‘folky’ or ‘electro-sounding’. It keeps our palate of possibility and translation infinite, it’s also why it sounds the way that it does. I’m sure there is influence from artists that many would call ‘folk musicians’ on the record, though it’s hard to say exactly where.
Bowlegs: Keeping with the Folk thread – are their Folk artists that inspired this record?
Nicole: Paul put it pretty well, we don’t really think of it as someone or something that inspired the music. Although there are artists that made me admire songwriting personally, like Joni Mitchell.. I went through a Joni Mitchell phase in high school, like a lot of girls… but honestly I don’t listen to a lot of songwriters when writing because they get in my head too much. I read mostly when I write words.
Bowlegs: There’s almost a classical feel to this album, real intricate instrumentation – like on the excellent Gather. Are you all like highly trained musicians?
Paul: Nicole has studied classical piano since she was very young, and went on to study music in college. Zach also has been classically trained for the trumpet since he was young, also studying music in college. Tray and Paul took guitar lessons for some time in high school, and Sam has never studied music. We are certainly trained, but much of the training was through ourselves of course, trying things and learning what works and doesn’t, or more like what we want to work or don’t. Gather was written and played mostly by Nicole, which might explain your hypothesis in regards to that song.
Bowlegs: Electronic sounds on this record create a more modern ambiance to the set – does a song start on the acoustic then grow from there? A track like Me & Anodyne sounds more electronic than acoustic?
Paul: The songs start in many ways… always starting with a draft, a piece, or a fragment of an idea. Many times they are acoustic pieces, but songs have arisen from digitally composed melodies or rhythms, even just pieces of audio from our journeys and experiments. Songs are sometimes composed in the computer, then played on acoustic instruments as well. Me and Anodyne, for instance, started with a recording of a jam session that happened in our living room, played on a microKorg (actually played by David Levesque of Levek) and Trayer playing a sampler. This session was then re-imagined and re-arranged instrumentally with many digital instruments/samples from there.
Bowlegs: The beautiful opener, Sonnet, includes words from a Percy Shelley poem? How did that come about – what makes Shelley an influence for you guys?
Nicole: That song started as a guitar piece our friend Allen wrote and Tray was arranging.. I had just moved in with everyone when Tray was mixing it and he asked if I wanted to sing on it. I was writing songs by myself then, that was the first time I’d ever thought of words for someone else’s music… so I decided to sing someone else’s poem, and that happened to be from a Percy Shelley book that was on my floor at the time. I wouldn’t say Shelley is any more of an influence than other writers or composers, but those were the words that came up in that moment. Looking back, though, that poem has a lot of significance to the record. Shelley was really radical … a lot of his writing never surfaced during his lifetime because he openly declared atheism in a time where no one spoke out against the church. I interpret that poem as there’s really no answer, and that you can’t judge another for painting a reality, or finding truth where you don’t.
Bowlegs: Wonderboom is a song seemingly built around rhythm rather than chords. It’s a great moment- how did that song come about and what is a Wonderboom?
Trayer: The idea was to begin a new song, but to keep it wide open for Nicole to write to. It needed to be devoid of chords or purposeful ‘notes’ in order to avoid pigeonholing her into a certain feeling. This meant finding melodies in the rhythms instead of the notes. So the piece given to Nicole was tuneful not in the sense of whistling it, but in the sense of knuckling it on your desk. See the song Gridin’ by Clipse- everyone back in middle school doing the beat together on the bleachers. So I recorded the thing on hand drums and put it in the boneyard for some months until Nicole found it worked for a feeling and made a song out of it.
Nicole: The Wonderboom tree is a giant cluster of trees in South Africa that look like one enormous tree. I think it’s also called the “miracle tree”. I found it one day going through wikipedia articles.. I’m not sure how I got there, but I really liked it when I found it, so I wrote it down, and it ended up in that song. It’s not a song about the Wonderboom tree so much as not listening to what other people think you should be doing. Wonderboom is standing your ground.
Bowlegs: You were signed up to Skillrex’s label – how did that happen and has it been a good experience so far?
Zach: We first met Tim Smith (Sonny’s manager and co-founder of OWSLA) at SXSW last year when he came to one of our showcases. He’s a good friend of our manager, Mike Feinberg. Tim really liked our show, and told the rest of his family at OWSLA about us, including Sonny. Everyone had a common interest in what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it. After speaking with them about the ethos of OWSLA and their confidence / excitement about what we were doing musically, it began to feel very comfortable to work with them. After committing our record to their care, we feel like we’re part of an amazing family and have had nothing but great experiences with them. The Full Flex Express tour was just one of those things.
Bowlegs: Being that your debut has been so well received do you feel a certain amount of pressure to make the most of it – ride the wave as it were?
Zach: There is certainly no such feeling of riding a wave with this record. We made the record about a year ago and have been touring on it for most of 2012. We actually had no intention of even making a record when creating the songs for Hundred Waters so it has truly been a wonderful surprise for it to have been so well received. We love making music and we are all best friends, so logically this is the only thing that we could imagine doing and it isn’t for anyone other than ourselves that we’re doing it.
As of now we’re well underway with our second album and are very very excited to begin releasing and performing new material in 2013.
Bowlegs: What bands in 2012 have grabbed your attention? Any up and coming Florida groups we should check out?
Nicole: Levek and Maximino are both mind blowing-ly awesome musical projects blooming from Florida – from Gainesville and Orlando, respectively. There is also a young man from Orlando going by the name of XXYYXX who is creating fantastic music as well who must be checked out.
-Interview by Sophia Ward-