Water From Your Eyes' new album, Structure, opens with a picture-perfect love song. Soft and sparkling, "When You're Around" flows with the sort of misty melodies that follow two love-struck characters in an early '70s black-and-white romance. Close your eyes, and you can see the pair, hand-in-hand, gliding together through hazy streets on a moonlit summer's night. There's an intimacy in how the words unravel — warm and generous, straight from singer Rachel Brown's wide-open heart — and has there ever been a line more devastating than "I hear your voice and save it for later"? But according to the band themselves, it's all an illusion.
"It was supposed to be a falling-in-love song, but it's very much a falling-out-of-love song," admits Water From Your Eyes' musical architect, Nate Amos. "It presents as a love song, but then it's like, 'Gotcha!'"
On Structure — much like in love — nothing lasts forever. You're still wiping away the tears when track two, the abrasive "My Love's," suddenly hits, a black wall of grinding, avant-garde noise. Brown's tender voice goes dark, vacant. The bandmates both agree that the album is inadvertently "spooky," but it's never meant to be just one thing. Shifts and surprises abound, from '90s industrial freak-outs to haunting lullabies and solemn spoken word.
Completed just before the pandemic amidst a real-life romantic break-up between Amos and Brown, Structure is dramatic and mysterious new territory for the New York duo — equal parts magical and menacing. Its only real intention is that the anatomy is all unintentional. Like a dream, a nightmare or a scene from your favorite film, it's whatever you want it to be.
Despite their own cinematic-style split, no rift exists between Amos and Brown — the remarkably connected pair spoke with NPR Music about creating their weird and whimsical masterpiece in advance of its release on Wharf Cat Records on August 27th.
NPR Music: Nate, you said in the album's press release that Structure is made up of "two matching halves." How did you approach that idea of structuring the album? Especially given its title...
Nate Amos: It wasn't intentional. A lot of the songs were written really far apart, so the idea for the two parts to be matching existed way before we decided to call the album Structure. The album existed without "Monday" or "'Quotations'" for like, three or four months... then "Monday" was written as a song for my solo project, but it became very clear that it would benefit from Rachel singing it. That one has this weird duality with "When You're Around"... texturally and sonically, they're very similar.
We then decided to do a second version of "Quotations," and that made it eight songs. So we had the two versions [of "Quotations"] that were a pair, "Monday" and "When You're Around" were another pair, the spoken word pieces were a pair and then "Track Five" and "My Love's" were both kind of... similarly unrelenting.
It's the same thing with "Quotations" and ""Quotations."" The odd thing about those two songs is the version of it without the quotation marks — and this was an accident too — actually has quotation marks in the waveform. If you look at it, there are these drone periods at the very end of the song. It's one of these weird coincidental things that happened.
Sounds kind of spooky.
Amos: It's definitely a spooky album.
Was anything actually planned out, or is the whole album made up of these weird coincidences?
Brown: Nate does conceptualize the music before we write the lyrics — well, I guess "When You're Around" was different, because we wrote that when we were breaking up. [Laughs.]
Amos: Yeah, we used to date.
Brown: We're not together anymore — we're just best friends. Actually, this album helped us become friends again.
Most of the lyrics were written after we'd broken up and had taken some time apart. Writing lyrics was the first time we'd hung out together by ourselves again. But "When You're Around" was from before. It was created for a student film my friend was making that never actually got made.
Amos: It was supposed to be a karaoke song. That's how "Monday" happened, too... "When You're Around" turned out so well, I had this idea of writing a whole album of songs for movies... specifically, movies that don't exist. "Monday" is from a scene in a movie that exists in my head.
In addition to "two matching halves," the press release also mentions Mark Rothko. I was wondering if those two ideas are connected.
Brown: That's a Nate thing, but one time I was in a bookstore, and I found this book about Mark Rothko. I was like, "Man, this guy really knows what he's talking about." His quotes really resonated with me so it's interesting that Nate loves him.
But I'm not much of an art person... to be honest, I'm not even much of a music person. [Laughs.] I love music, but I myself am not a musician's musician. I'm just somebody who happens to make music.
Amos: I think the big thing with Rothko is f****** with the perception of time. His paintings do that for me. That's something I've been messing with for a long time, dating back to 2016 when I lived in Chicago. I would take super high-def .jpegs of his paintings and turn them into raw data, and then turn them into audio files.
You did that for fun?
Amos: [Laughs.] Yeah, I did.
Brown: Nate is a musician's musician!
Amos: The longer songs [on Structure] ended up being in dance music format. Stretching the songs out like that was an attempt to blur the perception of the duration of a song in the way that I find a lot of Mark Rothko's art does.
It sounds like the structure of the album, if you will, ended up being quite intentional in a way that was completely unintentional.
Amos: It's like writing. Instead of saying, "I'm going to write this idea down," you just create chaos. And make yourself the editor. Then it's like you're not even writing it.
"My Love's," the first version of "Quotations" and "Track Five" — I was trying to think of them as sculptures. I would create this big eight-minute block of sound where everything was happening all the time, and then I would chip away at it for days in little increments. That's how the forms began to emerge. Like an improvised sculpture.
Brown: It was similar with the lyrics. I really just took out my notebook and started writing phrases.
Amos: It was all laid out in a very math way. I'd have the approximate number of syllables for each line, and then we'd begin riffing within that. It was a very fast process. By developing the lyrics super quickly, that removed some of the pretension that would have happened if we'd thought about it too much.
Brown: We try to avoid being pretentious.
Amos: Which is funny, because this album is pretentious as f***! But we've been laughing about it the whole time.
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