words by alex wexelman
photo by wojciech powalka
When Rachel Brown excuses themself to use the bathroom, Nate Amos, their romantic and musical partner, leans in and for the first time that night takes a serious tone. “Just so you know,” he says, “Rachel uses they/them pronouns.”
As a non-binary person myself, I always make sure to confirm pronouns ahead of time, but it was one of those small moments from which you can glean that someone really cares about the other. This is also evident in how they interact. In conversation, Nate and Rachel collaborate: finishing each other’s sentences, building off of each other’s ideas, breaking off into side discussions. Their dynamic teamwork is best exemplified from their working relationship in their band, Water From Your Eyes.
Apart, each helm prolific projects: Rachel, Thanks for Coming; Nate, This is Lorelei. Together, they merge their disparate sensibilities creating hypnotic dance grooves that play to their strengths. Nate brings his production acumen and Rachel brings their relatedly bummed out lyrics and dynamic voice. Over Chinese food, the duo spoke to me about All A Dance, their forthcoming album and the penultimate release in Exploding in Sound’s tape club.
Nate, you said you’ve developed a pretty good system for lyrics that kind of isolates Water From Your Eyes from your other projects. What’s the system?
Nate: It varies.
Rachel: The first album, every song is from the viewpoint of an animal in a sad situation. It was kind of a joke project. We wanted to do a New Order band.
Nate: We were having trouble writing actual sad lyrics because we were just getting stoned and hanging out so the system is creating characters to write about from a viewpoint of.
Is this album also a character? It sounded like there were recurring themes of lies and deception.
Nate: Each song on the new album is written from the point of view from a character in a movie that we’ve watched.
Rachel: Yeah, so six different movies. Most of them are thrillers.
Do you remember what they are?
Nate: It’s funny, that’s the only problem. They’re not cool movies to have written about. “All A Dance,” the song, is written from the point of view of [Antonius] Proximo in Gladiator, the Russell Crowe movie. It’s never super specific. It’s just a launching point to find something because as lyricists we’re both, in our own projects, we’re both…
Rachel: …really sad
Nate: …and solitary and personal. So it was really hard trying to…
Rachel: …do it together
So you collaborate on the lyrics? How does that process look?
Rachel: well sometimes I get mad [laughs]
Nate: It’s not always the easiest process. Before we write lyrics, all the song exist in a sort of karaoke format with little bells or guitar melodies in rough shape of what the vocals will be and usually chart it out by…
Nate and Rachel: syllables
Nate: and come up with lines and spitball. Usually with a given song, either we have all the lyrics really quickly or it’s just not happening at that time.
Rachel: It’s either really easy or I just get mad at Nate.
Nate: You don’t get that mad. I’m not always the easiest person to be in a band with. You probably have good reason to get mad at me.
Rachel: Sometimes Nate will say something and I’ll just shut it down and then I’ll say things and when Nate shuts it down I’ll get mad even though I just shut down five things that Nate said.
Nate: Maybe this is a more stressful process for you than I realized. I usually feel pretty chill when we write lyrics.
Do you guys perform live? What was that set-up like? What were the six people doing?
Nate: Back in Chicago we actually had a six-piece band put together, which was dope. The first incarnation of it, we had…
Rachel: …one synth, one synth-guitar player.
Nate: Well, one person who played synth and guitar on different songs. I played bass, we had a drummer, a guitar player, a synth player, and then someone who switched back and forth between guitar and synth and then Rachel sang. Then in the next version I played drums and we had a different bass player. Out here, I play guitar, Rachel sings, whoever can play with us that night plays guitar and I press a button on my laptop.
You said that the band has a specific voice, how would you describe the voice?
Nate: I mean I don’t know exactly, it’s just sort of developed. There’s definitely an ethos that’s developed, I’m thinking musically more than lyrically, but there’s always a new direction by the time we’re finished working on something.
Tell me how you both initially began collaborating…
Rachel: Well we were dating…
Nate: Yeah, we started dating two and a half years ago. I played in the Chicago version of Thanks For Coming. Water From Your Eyes didn’t exist until last year. [To Rachel] I was showing you New Order and we were listening to a lot of cheesy, sad ‘80s dance music and I think we just…
Rachel: …decided to do it ourselves.
Nate: So that was where the initial concept came from and it wasn’t something we decided to take seriously until Trev [Elkin] found it. This was a side-project that just ended up becoming a main thing. There were a couple other goofy one-time bands that would just have one release and that was it. This one just happened to gain some traction.
What does a side-project offer you that maybe a main-project can’t?
Nate: Well I mean especially the first Water From Your Eyes EP, we were listening to very specific music and more so than any other releases there was almost a character that we were playing. Whereas Thanks For Coming for Rachel and my project for me were generally…
Nate: Yeah personal, very honest, and straight-forward whereas this project was the opposite of that.
Nate: This one in particular was a rush. From the early conceptualization to being done mixing and mastering, I think it took about two weeks, which, I guess it’s only six songs, but it was really fast. There was definitely a specific headspace for this one but not anything intentional. It was kinda just the aesthetic that came out at the particular point. A lot of it honestly has to do with whatever resources we have. This was the first album we did after I moved here. We didn’t have access to my recording studio in Chicago so on this album all the drums are programme made from a sample pack that I made back in Chicago and the vocals were recorded with lo-fi equipment.
Rachel: We recorded the vocals in the bathroom.
Nate: Almost all the guitar and bass content is actually just one guitar manipulated in different ways so actually production wise it’s probably the most in-the-box dancey electronic muiscy thing we’ve done but just out of necessity.
If you met an A&R person in an elevator and they’re like, “what’s your project like?” how would you describe it?
Nate: I’d probably say intelligent dance pop.
Rachel: I was gonna say sad dance music. What about evolving dance music you can cry to?
Nate: Yeah, sure. Music you can dance to and cry to at the same time. It’s also self-aware. It’s kinda tongue-in-cheek. The first single, “We’re Set Up,” is essentially a house-beat song, but it’s in 5/4, which doesn’t make any sense, so making something weird and then incorporating the right element to make it accessible and ultimately hope that people don’t even realize how complicated it is.
Do you hope people will dance to the music? How does one dance to sad dance music?
Rachel: I just wish people danced more in general. It’s not like disco.
Nate: But it’s groovy. You dance away the sadness.
Rachel: However they wanna dance as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. No moshing because that’s rude.
Nate: I don’t even know how to dance.
All A Dance is released on January 19, via Exploding in Sound
Pre-order it here