Other Person’s Presence; An Interview with Hundred Waters

About sixty-five miles north of Phoenix is where you will find Paolo Soleri’s stunning Arcosanti. Soleri’s vision was simple: to build a fully functioning, environmentally responsible city that balanced architecture and ecology – a compact alternative that felt more natural, social, and aligned with how people were meant to live. Cities were becoming too big, too wasteful, and were isolating in the eyes of the architect. Today, Arcosanti has become wildly known worldwide for its innovative design and its environmental accountability. The non-profit has also become home for the FORM Festival, a yearly event that’s held from Los Angeles-based group Hundred Waters (Nicole Miglis, Trayer Tryon & Zach Tetreault). “We started FORM as a release party for our album, The Moon Rang Like A Bell,” said Tetreault in an email exchange. “It felt so good that we decided we wanted to do it a second time. And then a third and a fourth.”
After this year’s FORM festivities concluded (the bill included such acts like Solange, Father John Misty, Skrillex), Hundred Waters went back to work wrapping up their latest album Communicating. In the interim, though, fans didn’t have to wait long for new tunes. In May, Hundred Waters surprised everyone and released the atmospheric pop-influenced EP Currency.
“We make a lot of music all the time. There are probably about 200 songs from the past few years,” Miglis said. “But when you start to put songs together in a group, they give one another different meaning than they had alone. Once they’re finished, making them into families and relating them together is a different thing altogether. With this family of songs, there were certain themes that started to poke out. So we sat them all down together in the same house and named it Currency, which worked out nicely with the album. They complement each other.”
“We just really like these songs and wanted them out there while they felt fresh. Otherwise, they’d never see the light of day or it (would) be a long time & we’d forget about them,” added Tryon.

During the recording for Currency, Miglis exiled herself from the outside world, a process that she said is typical when creating music. “Part of it’s because I’m too sometimes detrimentally self-aware that I wouldn’t be able to reach the same emotions with someone else present. Or it wouldn’t be as honest. I’d be too worried about the other person’s presence. I have to really trust and feel comfortable with anyone I work on music with. Vocals especially, they’re kind of a sacred thing to me. They just exist in a different place. Plus it’s an instrument that only works if you’re being completely honest. The second you stop being honest, it just doesn’t work.
I spend a lot of time alone when I write and record. I need solitude as a songwriter. This particular record, I did go pretty extreme in solitude, though, it’s true. I really shut off a lot of things, my phone, the internet, things that would distract me. But my reason for doing it was that I wanted to make the best possible art I could make, and pull from the truest parts of who I was. I guess I was at a place where I was searching for that too. And I also thought that if I went as inward as I could, I would heal the parts of myself I didn’t like, or I would become less doubtful, more self-assured, less depressed, more conscious. That didn’t really happen, I just learned that there are parts of who you are that will never change. But that was a good thing to learn. And I learned that no matter how hard you try, you’re just not an autonomous thing, you’re a human, you need other people. None of the things around us would exist if we could each operate in a vacuum.”
As for Communicating, I asked Hundred Waters what fans should hear. “It’s kind of hard to tell how the music has changed because we haven’t revisited or play our old music, but it seems like it goes to greater extremes,” Tryon said. “The serene is more serene, the jarring is more jarring, the mundane more mundane. There’s a huge place in our hearts for making stuff that’s beautiful, but in the end, we gotta take risks and go overboard and feel that hanging-over-the-edge feeling or else we get bored. So in terms of pure-sound and personalities, putting this record together has been a lot about finding a way for different extremes to live together.
Miglis adds, “I hope more than anything it’s something people can relate to.”
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