by trevor elkin
Nate Amos and Rachel Brown make damn fine music.
Water From Your Eyes debut EP seemed to just land in our laps last August, setting off those elusive tingles you get hearing something really special completely by chance. It’s that happenstance which binds you to an artist and their music with much more intensity than any press campaign can muster. In fact, you can easily miss the magic kicking around in the margins of the music industry unless you occasionally take yourself away from it all. Serendipity aside, in our opinion, WFYE were/are ‘that band’ at ‘the right time’, so it’s an honour to be the first to bring you their debut album.
Few albums immediately feel quite as definitive as Long Days, No Dreams. There is something surprisingly iconic about the reverse drum and glitterball guitar intro of ‘Fly South Or Stay Here’, that (as Rob Gordon might say) secures its place among the greatest ‘track one/side ones’ of all time. Setting the bar so high, so early on (or, indeed, such high praise, barely in the second paragraph) is quite a statement of intent, and WFYE certainly make good on it. Recent single, ‘Cold Stare’, follows up offering its simple, lilting melody and softly chanted verse/chorus just long enough for us to feel a sense of loss at its lingering fade-out.
For songwriting duos, it can take a lot of hard work and thoughtful, creative collaboration to distil the essence of both artists’ intentions for a song. Amos and Brown represent the best mix of personal, romantic friendship and creative partnership, sustaining each other through mutual inspiration and respect. But, as was the case in the making of a large part of this album, what happens when you can’t actually be together, physically in the same place, for that to happen? Where does that experience lead you? ‘I Want To Feel Everything’ makes so much sense in this context. The expression of one’s true self in the presence of another who deeply cares for you is what gives life meaning. Call it love if you like, the label is not important. When this thing is missing, it can make you define yourself differently – you’re no less alive, but with no-one to witness it you can’t be entirely sure. ‘Let Me Be’ explores this theme a little more, and the physical separation of people that sometimes leads to self-discovery or doubt.
After repeat listens it becomes clear that whatever mood you go into this album with, it will work with you to help you find a balance. It’s not therapy, but it’s pretty close. ‘Late Night Show’ is great comfort for anyone feeling lonely or who finds themselves apart from the important people in their life. Brown sings in hopeful promises that imagine a future where “someday I will hear you through the snow, see your headlights pull into the garage, waiting for you sitting on the back porch oh hello, hello, hello!” But isolation and waiting for something also leads to frustration; ‘No Time For Time’ aids the attempt to escape the gravity of those negative emotions through its impatient rhythms, heart-racing bass and heavyweight synths.
‘I’m Scared I’ll Disappear’ is the most exposed of all the tracks on ‘Long Days No Dreams’. As a farewell, it’s a lot less self-assured, fading into nothing before it’s really over. The sense of discontinuity this creates urges us to return to the start, with a craving for that initial blast of gratification and happier times. C’est la vie. There is so, so much variety on this album but, while it offers something for those hungry for something you can dance to, it does so with a melancholy heart and a distant smile. Yes, it’s crammed full of those sweet hooks that make you punch the air, but the lyrics sometimes counterpose that buoyancy with just enough weight to keep your feet firmly on the ground.
It’s felt like an eternity waiting to share this album with you, but here it is finally, streaming below. You can get in even deeper by reading the conversation we had with Nate & Rachel, who share a lot more about how it was put together and what it all means.
So, for those who don’t know you yet, who are you and how would you describe what you do?
Nate: Hi, my name is Nate Amos. I moved to Chicago from Vermont about 6 years ago and have spent most of my time working on music for myself and others (as well as founding/running Grandpa Bay, a sort of loose collective/cassette label). I guess I would describe myself as a DIY music producer (I recorded and produced the majority of the material on grandpabay.bandcamp.com).
Rachel: My name’s Rachel Brown. I’m from Chicago but I currently live in New York City. I guess I would describe what we do as “hanging out and writing tunes”. Nate’s my best friend and we sort of just started making music together.
What was it like writing and recording your very first song together? How did it come about?
N: I was playing drums in Rachel’s project Thanks For Coming (around the time we started dating, Rachel had yet to move to NYC) and I was constantly annoying them with different dance/pop projects from the 80s that I wanted to share with them. I’m pretty sure that the first WFYE song (‘Can’t/Won’t’) was made the same week I introduced Rachel to Power, Corruption, and Lies by New Order. Working together came very naturally, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that making that song together was a sort of lightbulb moment.
R: I didn’t really think much about it while it was happening. Nate started writing music after we had decided to start the project after a serendipitous conversation on my parents’ back porch. It was difficult to write the lyrics at first since I can’t really be sad when I’m hanging out with Nate, but we found other avenues of writing. We just had a lot of fun writing the first couple of songs together.
Was it different when recording the album, as you’re now in different cities/states? Where was it mostly created?
N: It was a long process! I wrote and recorded demos of the songs (with basic sketches of the melody and instrumentation) after going on tour with my band Opposites and Options (I was filling in for Seth’s normal lead guitar player since we were on the road together). Rachel came back to Chicago for a few days in October and we were able to write all the lyrics and record demo vocals, after which I spent most of the next month fleshing out the arrangements and doing additional recording. Over Thanksgiving, Rachel and I went to stay with my parents in Vermont and recorded the final vocal tracks at my father’s home studio. After that there was a month or so of making a new mix revision every day until it finally felt done!
Did that distance shape the songs at all?
N: I guess I would say the nature of us living so far apart certainly had an impact on the method by which we made the album, but not so much on the lyrical nature of the album as we were able to write the lyrics while together.
R: There’s definitely added pressure since we only have a finite amount of time before one of us has to go back home. I don’t think we really think about being far apart when we’re together so it doesn’t really influence the songs.
N: I guess it’s important to point out that writing songs is the primary way that I cope with missing Rachel, so that definitely plays into the quality of the music itself.
What’s different or unique about WFYE compared to your other projects?
R: Well, I’m in one other project and I think the main difference is that Water From Your Eyes is actually music haha. I’m not really a musician, but this seems to be shaping up to be a real band. It’s also much more conventional pop music, I’m actually singing songs that have a structure rather than being a haphazard attempt with myself and a guitar. It’s also a collaborative project, which is something that I haven’t been a part of until now.
N: WFYE is the most focused and accessible project I’ve ever been a part of. Most of my last 10 years were spent writing for and playing in math rock / avant punk bands while listening to things like Fleetwood Mac and Mary Chapin Carpenter, so I guess a shift back towards pop stylings was inevitable! Rachel was, and is, also a huge inspiration for me, and a big part of the reason I became interested in writing more straight-forward music again.
What do you think give WFYE its focus?
N: I think WFYE gets its focus just from that fact that we enjoy hanging out together and listening to / making music! When we aren’t together, I miss Rachel and spend a lot of my time conceptualizing/writing little ditties that could turn into WFYE songs.
There’s definitely a sense of melancholy in the album, but it’s wrapped up in some really uplifting melodies – does this mix represent your own individual preferences in songwriting?
N: I think the juxtaposition of beauty in melodies and melancholy in lyricism is at the heart of WFYE. The way I think about it is it stems from a couple different ideas. It’s human to be anxious and to feel uncomfortable with yourself – there’s nothing wrong or ugly about not being sure, and maybe the beauty of possibility outweighs the stresses of not seeing an immediate path. There’s nothing wrong with being sad. Additionally, to quote Tom Waits “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”. I don’t think that necessarily applies to WFYE, but it definitely is something that sits in the back of my mind whenever I write.
R: The whole idea of WFYE was that it was music that you could dance to, but the theme was going to be sadness. Nate and I both write sad music on our own, so we thought that it would be fun to make a ‘sad dance’ band. I personally prefer sad music, but I also really enjoy upbeat music, so it’s a nice blend of both.
You have some shows coming up with Eskimeaux (we love them!) and Told Slant, how did you get connected? Any more live shows this year?
N: We’re playing with Eskimeaux just after the album comes out. I don’t personally know Felix, but Rachel has gotten to know them and was the person who introduced me to Told Slant.
R: We’re playing with Eskimeaux, April 22nd in Chicago. We don’t have any shows booked beyond that but will hopefully have a show-ready band in NYC by the end of the year.
N: Yeah, I’m moving to NYC at the beginning of the summer and getting a solidified live version of the band together to play shows is top priority.
That’s a big step, what do you/will you miss about Chicago?
N: I’m definitely going to miss Chicago when I move. The scene there has been a wonderful incubation chamber for writing/producing music and I’ve made some friends that are remarkably talented (Seth Engel from Options, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Marc [Jamarcus] Drake). I’m really, really looking forward to moving back to the east coast and obviously really looking forward to being with Rachel and working on WFYE from the same location. It’s a little bittersweet as I’m also capping the online archive I’ve been running in Chicago since 2013 (grandpabay.bandcamp.com) but it seems like the right time to turn it into a time capsule anyway.
RB: I miss pretty much everything about Chicago, except the painfully cold weather. Chicago is and will always be my home. I lived in the same house for 18 years, so moving to New York was the first big change in terms of my living situation. New York is really cool and I’m gradually getting more and more used to it, but Chicago is still the best city in the world. I definitely miss being close to my family, but as Nate is moving to New York, I won’t have to miss him anymore. I also miss the DIY community in Chicago, it isn’t as much of an industry as it is in New York, it’s just a small collection of extremely talented and exceptionally kind artists and creators. I’ve met some of the best people I think I will ever know in the basements and backyards of DIY venues. I think a lot of the time I miss Chicago I just miss being a kid, but another good portion of the time I just miss being close to a large body of fresh water and being on solid ground. Being stuck on an island where the only way to get off the island is to go through another island really freaks me out. It’s cool though, I’m having fun!
‘Long Days No Dreams’ is out on 14th April, via Sooper Records