“It’s Like A Puzzle” Water From Your Eyes Interviewed

Rachel Brown and Nate Amos in conversation...

“I think that listening to our music is like going to the grocery store without a plan,” says Rachel Brown, one half of Water From Your Eyes.

A duo of vocalist Brown and electronic musician Nate Amos, the Brooklyn group recently released their eighth album ‘Everyone’s Crushed’. Containing nine incisive, resolutely uncategorisable tracks, ‘Everyone’s Crushed’ exemplifies Brown’s quote about the band’s music. Here you will find sharp and unpredictable handbrake turns, obtuse structures and oblique lyrics that are like abstract word paintings.

This is rock and pop music that’s been deconstructed, fractured and atomised, and then rebuilt to make something recognisable from its fragments, yet which is also completely unique.

Water From Your Eyes formed in Brooklyn in 2016 after Brown and Amos decamped from Chicago, where they’d each curated other projects – Brown with Thanks For Coming and Amos with This Is Lorelei – both of which still exist in parallel to their work together.

“When we began the Water From Your Eyes project, the concept was for it to be very straightforward pop songs,” explains Amos.

If that was the plan, it didn’t last long. Even when viewed with a long lens, trying to attach any sort of accessible pop sensibility to the music recorded for ‘Everyone’s Crushed’ seems foolish. Nevertheless, a listen to their earliest material – their debut, self-titled EP from 2016 and the ‘Long Days, No Dreams’ album from the following year – feels like a different band. The structures on these songs are recognisably ordered, unlike the almost randomised sound of ‘Everyone’s Crushed’.

“That idea of making pop music just kind of drifted away at some point,” continues Amos. “We released an EP called ‘III’ in 2017, and it feels a lot like that’s where we kind of pulled it apart a little bit.”

Brown doesn’t necessarily see it as quite such a linear progression, though they concede that ‘III’ had “some really weird songs on it”. They point to ‘Feels A Lot Like’, the EP that followed ‘III’, as still having extremely straightforward songs, and the second album ‘All A Dance’ as sitting somewhere in the middle of the duo’s sound as it developed toward where it has arrived at today. Along the way, they’ve flirted with pop time after time, with the two similarly named albums ‘Somebody Else’s Song’ (2019) and ‘Somebody Elses’s Songs’ (2021) being the most overt. The latter found the duo covering Tears For Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Scar Tissue’ and, in a moment of unbridled freedom, Carly Rae Jepson’s celebratory ‘Call Me Maybe’.

With their predilection for seeing Water From Your Eyes as a vehicle for expressing wherever they are at that precise moment in time, it’s hard not to think of the duo as having some sort of umbilical link to the artistically free-spirited New York bands that preceded them. Brown doesn’t see it that way, though they admit it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when you’re in the heart of the forest. 

“Living here, you don’t really feel like what you’re doing has any real connection to anything else,” they admit. “But also, I do think the city just has this way of bringing together people who really want to be making art, and really want to be doing new things. And I guess in that sense, the creativity and inspiration that New York nurtures does feels like something you want to connect with.”

If Water From Your Eyes offer any comparability of aesthetic to New York bands that have come before them, it is probably to Liars, whose Angus Andrew has similarly navigated his group in all manner of different directions. 

“I tend to gravitate towards bands that design and create a new world for every album,” says Amos. “Liars and Ween are the two bands I think of when I’m thinking about that. It’s like every project has its own unique space. That’s something that I’ve always really admired, in a broad conceptual sense. I think that idea definitely had a significant impact on the way I approach whatever project I’m working on, whether it’s Water From Your Eyes or something else.”

Brown, on the other hand, draws vocal inspiration from the sorely-missed David Berman of Silver Jews. 

“He used run-of-the-mill, everyday words and ideas to say the most profound things, and I find that beautiful,” they say. “The Water From Your Eyes project is interesting, though, because the lyrics usually come from thoughts that I want to communicate, but those ideas have to fit into what’s already been designated in what Nate’s designed for the track. It’s like finding a way to communicate, but in very, very strict terms.”

“It’s like a puzzle,” suggests Amos, and Brown nods in agreement.

Brown’s explanation of trying to fit ideas into existing structures goes some way to describing how ‘Everyone’s Crushed’ was made. A look down the credits for the album indicates that the music is all from Amos while the lyrics are all Brown; however, the vocal melody is as often as not written by Amos as it is Brown.

“Yeah, it depends on the song a lot,” says Amos. “Things are written on the computer and the melody is often a part of that. Sometimes, in order to build the rest of a song, I’ll have a melody in mind. Other times there will be some sort of vocal structure. For this album, if I did have a melody in mind, I would usually just sing a bunch of numbers, and that would become a scratch track, which we’d then go and flesh out. It wasn’t always like that, though – ‘True Life’ was one song where I barely had anything, and so Rachel wrote a lot of that.”

“Nothing is not set in stone,” adds Brown. “It’s always going to vary each and every time we come together to work on something as Water From Your Eyes.”

Amos explains that he generally gives Brown a prompt to work from, sometimes a relatively complete melody or sometimes just the vague style of a track. It becomes Brown’s job to solve that puzzle and take the song to where it needs to go to.

“A lot of the time, I’ll already have a lyric, or a sort of theme, I guess,” they say. “I’ll have a phrase, or maybe more than one. And depending on how many of them we like, sometimes we’ll just keep one, and sometimes we’ll keep more. But a lot of the time, it’s just going off what’s already been written by Nate. It kind of depends on the song. There’s one track on this album called ‘Open’. Nate had recorded things and I couldn’t understand what he was saying, so my lyrics are basically misinterpretations of what he had. I don’t think I got any of them right. On ‘Open’, some of it was also a case of, ‘I hear this, but I’d rather it be this,’ or ‘This is a word that I would rather have here.’ I guess I was choosing words that were fitting a narrative in my head, whether Nate had actually been singing that or not.”

‘Everyone’s Crushed’ begins with a song called ‘Structure’. ‘Structure’ is an excerpt from ‘16:17’, a song that appeared on ‘3344’. ‘3344’ was perhaps Water From Your Eyes at their most sprawling and adventurous. The album written and released during the 2020 lockdown when Brown and Amos were prevented from being in the same room together. Just to add to a sense of confusion, ‘Structure’ was also the name of an unrelated 2021 album that the duo released.

“Making ‘3344’ was different from our other albums, because there wasn’t any feedback between us,” sighs Brown. “Nate would send me a track, and I honestly didn’t have anything to say about it. I wrote all the words in a very stream of consciousness style and sent that back to him. And Nate didn’t really have anything to say about what I sent him either. It didn’t feel good. I feel like when we’re in the same room, there’s more of an editing process, and more of a dialogue between us.

“I feel like we’re both inspired by the moment in time, and just trying to get everything out about how we are both feeling in that moment, but in our own way,” they continue. “Writing ‘True Life’ from this album was interesting, because I remember just freestyling in the room with Nate, and then at some point, the song just came together. With ‘Barley’, that was mostly just made with Nate’s original counting. We kept most of the numbers, and then we rewrote a whole verse because it originally ended with the words ‘fields of gold’, like the Sting song. We rewrote a bunch of the words in that verse to be words from the Sting song. It felt like a very different process this time around. It was much more varied.”

When I saw Water From Your Eyes supporting Interpol on their UK tour in May, I was struck by Amos’s guitar playing. Something about his way of executing riffs felt a lot like Robert Fripp’s work with David Bowie around the time of ‘Scary Monsters’ – almost as if it had been sprayed spontaneously into a gap left in the song just for him to fill as he saw fit. That style of playing is most pronounced on ‘True Life’, where Amos’s guitar feels harsh and splintered yet delivered with a loud, punkish insistence.

“It’s supposed to be kind of jarring,” admits Amos. “That was a big switch on this album. A lot of the guitar on the past albums has been either heavily processed or was part of the overall texture. With this project, in the past, all the individual elements have been blended in a way where they become one thing. On ‘Everyone’s Crushed’, all the individual things are very intentionally exposed and kind of jagged. This is the first Water From Your Eyes album where it’s felt like the guitar is actually like an important part of what’s going on.”

No two moments on ‘Everyone’s Crushed’ are the same. Though these songs have come from the same minds, each one feels like its own unique artefact, its own unique piece of wildly adventurous sonic art. Sounds collide together to create melodies and rhythms seem to coalesce rapidly out of non-rhythmic elements. It is a vital, visceral and vibrant addition to the Water From Your Eyes catalogue.

As we conclude, I am reminded once again of Brown’s suggestion that the duo’s sound is a lot like shopping for groceries without a plan.

“It’s kind of exciting,” they say, with a laugh. “I mean, you’ll rarely ever get the ingredients to make anything edible, but it’s really good fun.”

‘Everyone’s Crushed’ is out now on Matador.

Words: Mat Smith
Photo Credit: Miles Kalchik

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine