On the Water, a dark folk project from Philadelphia, will soon release their fifth album, Cordelia via Punks and Criminals. Fletcher Van Vliet, songwriter and founding member, describes the album as a dark love poem about self-discovery, realizing the things you love, close friends and adventure, limitations and failures, and bouts with depression. Some of the songs are directly about the loss of his father, who unexpectedly passed away in 2012 of cancer. Vinyl and digital releases of Cordelia will be available on May 9, and can now be pre-ordered from Bandcamp.
On the Water‘s members have always been in flux, ranging from one to nine members. The project began in 2007 as an outlet for the raw, honest folks songs that Van Vliet had been writing. The band had a wild, high-spirited air about them, fueled mostly by whiskey. When they performed live, the group would set aside microphones and set lists to better complement their desire for spontaneity. As an eight and nine-piece band, On the Water released two albums: Anchor (2011) and False Starts (2013). In 2014, the group dwindled to four core members (Fletcher Van Vliet, Robin Carine, Taylor Jamison, and Lucas Carine), ending an era as Philadelphia’s dark folk orchestra, but jump-starting a prolific collaboration. The result was two new albums: Baptism (an EP released on December 31, 2014) and the upcoming full-length, Cordelia, both recorded over the course of only two days. Cordelia also features three guest musicians, including Evan McGonagle on cello and Jesse Sparhawk on harp, and Aubrey Van Vliet on vocals.
Stay tuned to On the Water‘s upcoming three-month tour throughout the United States, May through July of 2015, by following them on Twitter and Facebook.
Ghettoblaster recently spoke with Van Vliet about the album. This is what he told us.
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
I began writing these around two years ago, mostly in between tours supporting our last record False Starts. These songs were a lot more demanding than our previous songs, so we spent a little less than a year developing them as a band.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
“Kahuna” was probably the most difficult for me to get through mixing. The songs first incarnation was with our bigger folk collective line up. In my mind I can still hear other instruments which are sadly not present on the record.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Born in Reverse” started out with much louder drums and myself on electric guitar, very jazzy and pulsing, very cool sounds. We put the song on the backburner for about ten months and it was eventually re-developed with Cello and Harp. It really took on a whole new character which seemed to fit with the calm eeriness of the song itself.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Jesse Sparhawk is a well known harpist in Philadephia music circles and we were happy to have him as a guest once again on this record. It is always a pleasure! Evan Mcgonagill and Aubrey Van Vliet came into the fold as guest musicians for the albums bookend songs. It’s our good fortune that both of them are working with us on developing the next record!
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
We recorded the record at Sex Dungeon Studios, which will be our fourth production with them. I’d say, rather than changing the shape of this record in particular, James and Dan really helped developed our recording ethos overall. We would all rather capture something flawed than something overcooked or excessively polished. Often the best take is fraught with mistakes. I will quote one of the great masters here, “When people censor themselves they’re just as likely to get rid of the good bits as the bad bits.” That’s Brian Eno, the man knows what he’s talking about.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
I was traveling a lot and also trying to develop a relationship with my girlfriend (now wife) Aubrey. My previous relationship had been pretty dark and it was a massive challenge to pull myself out of that head space. I lost my father unexpectedly around this time which was a huge blow to me emotionally. There is a lot of self doubt and despair on this record but there are also many moments of tranquility and peace. Personally, I was using these songs to see my life more clearly, trying to remember what is most important when life seemed its darkest.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
We’ve been playing these songs live for a while now, “Curtains” is definitely a crowd pleaser, it’s got such energy and its pretty metal but also kind of surf rock! It’s fun and the manic pace certainly demands attention. We only started doing “Born in Reverse” and “Cordelia” live recently and people have had a very strong connection with these songs. We had gotten into really loud amp driven sets so I think our fans appreciate the return to a raw acoustic dynamic. I certainly have!