Artist Spotlight: Water From Your Eyes

    Water From Your Eyes is the Brooklyn-based duo of Nate Amos and Rachel Brown, who have been making music together since they met in Chicago in 2016. They both have their own individual projects – Amos makes music as This Is Lorelai, Brown as thanks for coming — but their disparate and singularly offbeat sensibilities collide in fascinating ways in their collaborative work, which also tends to reflect the evolution of their personal relationship. They were dating when they made their self-titled debut EP in a week, broke up following a move to New York City, then started working on 2021’s Structure, their fifth record, which brought their knack for hooks, mangled experiments, abstract lyricism, and playful sincerity together and closer to the fore. It’s a balance they continue to toy with and perfect on Everyone’s Crushed, their first LP since signing to Matador, which is out today. “I’m ready to throw you up,” Brown sings on ’14’, which you might hear as off, because that’s exactly what the album keeps doing – the songs twist and tease and tie themselves into a knot until you almost can’t stomach it, but it’s the same chaos that feeds you, so you can’t help but come back. Throw you off as they might, there’s real tenderness and beauty there, and it’s all as thrilling as it is violently, inescapably funny.

    We caught up with Water From Your Eyes for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about their collaborative relationship, the making of Everyone’s Crushed, the role of humour in their music, and more.

    Rachel, you said in an interview a couple of years back that your last album, Structure, was the two of you being personal together. By comparison, you’ve described Everyone’s Crushed as your most collaborative record to date. What’s the difference between those things in your mind?

    Rachel Brown: I feel like Structure was the first time we wrote an album together without any gimmicks. We used to write lyrics together based on, like, the viewpoints of animals or side characters in movies. Structure was the first time where we were writing music that wasn’t from anybody else’s viewpoint and had emotional ties to our own lives. I think in Somebody Else’s Song, the album before that, it was a little bit like that, but that was the least collaborative album, I would say, because it was made at the end – not at the end of our relationship, but while we were dating and living together and being in the band, and it was like pulling teeth, to make that album. Structure was the first time that we’d moved out of the apartment we were living in, so I had to go to Nate’s house when we were working on it, and that was nice. But even on Structure, there’s a couple of songs that Nate wrote entirely by himself, and also, four of the songs are just the same lyrics. This was just more songs that we worked on. It’s not that this was not personal, but it was also more collaborative. The process is like, Nate mixes the music and then we write music together. And this was the first album in like two albums that Nate didn’t write any of the lyrics entirely by himself, right?

    Nate Amos: Yeah. The lyrics on the opener, ‘Structure’, is entirely Rachel. But apart from that, every song on this album, the lyrics are a collaboration. Rachel takes the lead lyrically, usually – in the past sometimes, but especially on this album, the process is, once the track is made, I’ll have some sort of kernel of an idea, a particular lyric, like one phrase. And then I pass it off to Rachel, and Rachel takes it and runs with it, and I function more as an editor or reflective surface from that point moving forward. So I think the lyrics on this album are largely Rachel, but I kind of build a little playground for Rachel to run around it. [laughs] My contributions are more like prompts than the bulk of it.

    Did working in this looser, more direct manner feel like a natural evolution of what was already happening with Structure, or was it more of an intentional shift?

    NA: I think it was intentional. A lot of different things to the way this album was put together point towards it being more exposed. I think in the past, a lot of the lyrics that would happen when were in the room together were kind of more obtuse or vague – not that there aren’t vague lyrics on this album. But also, on the old albums, a lot of the vocals were double or triple-tracked, and everything about the songs was kind of hidden; it was hard to hear any individual ideas or thoughts. Whereas on this album, the idea was to leave everything very exposed. The vocals are almost entirely single-tracked, relatively unprocessed. I think a lot of that is us feeling more comfortable letting it be what it’s gonna be.

    RB: I also do think it was organic, though, our relationship on a personal level working on the music. I feel like a lot of the albums kind of reflect where our relationship stood. The first couple of albums, it was really goofy and silly, and it sounded like we were dating, and also quite young. And then there are a couple albums – even the amount of time between the albums became a lot more – where our relationship was getting more complicated because there were so many different dynamics that we were dealing with, and some of them weren’t working. And then Structure being the first album that we got out of those dynamics and really building the ones that were working – our friendship and being in this band together. I guess this was the culmination of us really having become our own –  not that we weren’t our own people, but I don’t know, I was pretty young. Structure, we made that when I was 22, and this was 24, 25, which I know isn’t a big difference in terms of years.

    NA: I think that’s a big difference.

    RB: I think it’s a really big difference in terms of life. But Nate’s always been my best friend, and it’s nice that we are so solid in that now. I feel like the project is evolving as much as we’re evolving as people. I also feel like we learned to have fun. We did a cover album in between Structure and this, which, I feel like we were learning to have fun together without being, like, really silly.

    I think an interesting example of the way your voices creatively come together on the album is ‘Remember Not My Name’. The instrumental seems to respond to Rachel’s words by being both dissonant and tender, and it’s like the music and the lyrics are both mirrored and layered against each other. How conscious were you of that dynamic?

    NA: I don’t really remember how that song got made. I just remember the music got made, and the only thing I had was the phrase “remember not my name” and part of the vocal ideas. I was just thinking about, like, Bridgerton – it’s just a super dramatic phrase that you would say as you’re saying goodbye to someone or something. To me, that’s the funniest song on the album.

    Because of that sense of melodrama?

    NA: It’s really corny – that phrase is a really corny starting point, and I feel like the music is very melodramatic and odd. The middle section, with Rachel narrating the poem on top of the little classical guitar solo, is really over-the-top. And then there’s these goofy musical things that happen. There’s the whole tempo change thing, but some of the things don’t change tempo, so the cowbell stays at the original tempo, which is this horribly grating thing on top of what would otherwise be groove. The whole song’s falling apart, in a way. Maybe it’s knowing these little things about it – to me, it’s this consciously over-the-top drama song.

    RB: I feel like it’s sickeningly – it’s sweet, but it’s not sweet, ‘cause it’s like a breakup? I don’t even know what kind of song it is. But it’s funny because I feel like I was also watching Bridgerton, but I don’t think we talked about that until a couple months ago, when I was like, “Man, this is some Shakespeare fucking shit.” I had a big crush at the time, but it was so not based on reality, so I feel like when I hear that song I’m like, “What the fuck was I on?” It’s definitely the outlier on the album, which I guess is to say because –

    It’s an album of outliers.

    NA: Yeah.

    RB: [laughs] I really don’t know what I was going on about.

    You’ve talked about how the album moves in this space between humour and darkness, which isn’t necessarily something new in your music. But what seems to have changed is that there’s a different kind of purpose behind each of these elements. Even on ‘Remember Not My Name’, the humour isn’t clouding the vulnerability, but almost allows you to lean into the emotion in a different way.

    NA: I think it’s not so much humour, but poking fun at more serious emotions. Recognizing that emotions are just that – emotions.

    RB: I mean, I think there have been times where we’ve leaned into the dark sense of humour. There’s this one album, Feels a Lot Like, which is about Jazz Kennedy, a dog in a dog’s world. He’s grieving the death of his father by walking around, what is it, Mount Fuji?

    NA: Yeah, it’s about this dog mourning his father from four different locations on the painting that we chose to be the EP cover. I think that’s like the highest we ever were when conceptualizing an album. [laughs] Which is funny, because it ends up just being an EP about grief, but in our head, it was this cartoon with this dog driving around on a boat, like, thinking about life.

    RB: Obviously, we’re not doing that anymore, but that’s where we started –

    NA: You never really shake origins like that.

    RB: Maybe the one through line of the project has been writing songs that are true to some emotions – whether it be ours or an imaginary dog’s or other imaginary characters, and at this point it’s more oftentimes our emotions. But I feel like neither one of us, not that we don’t take our emotions seriously – I think, actually, perhaps we both take some of our emotions a little too seriously. We both, at least in the past, have been quite tumultuous in how we handle our emotions, but we both have the sense that we can laugh it off after the fact, regardless of what emotion it was. There’s this sense that things are serious, but that doesn’t mean they’re not funny.

    At least my family, they’ve got a dark sense of humour, so I feel like we just learned to laugh at things, that you can be emotionally distraught and also know that life is just such a funny time. Like, at my grandma’s funeral, I was so sad, and then the priest started talking about how he was so glad that communism stopped existing in the Czech Republic. And I was like, “Man, what’s this guy talking about?” I started laughing, and then my dad was elbowing me. I was like, I’m sorry, but my grandma would be rolling – well, she is in the grave ‘cause she died [Nate laughs] – but like, she would be livid if she was alive right now. Not that she’s a communist, but she’d be like, “Man this is my funeral! This is about me!” Even when you’re crying, things can be really funny.

    This is a weird transition from you mentioning communism, but the way the album is framed with the songs that bookend it, you’re also being actively self-aware about the role capitalism plays in your existence as a band.

    NA: I think that’s kind of inevitable the way that we’ve approached music, but this album acknowledges it in a more direct way. The album essentially ends with an advertisement for itself. There’s the cracked intro song, but then it’s like, “Look, this is the closest-to-pop song that we can make,” and then it drifts into weirdness, and then lands in ’14’, which is the opposite of a pop song, but then it snaps back to ‘Buy My Product’, which is like, “Hey, remember, this is an album, and we’re broke. You should give us money.” I guess that’s never been stated so blatantly with one of our albums before. [laughs]

    RB: That’s the thing about being alive – you can have all these personal problems that may seem unrelated to the institutions at large, but at the end of the day, even your most personal relationships, your idea of what they should be, are inspired by capitalism. This album is a lot about, living in America, there’s this sense of the American dream – that to make it in America you have to get a job, and buy a house for your wife, and have little kids that win prom queen and king and whatnot, and then they get jobs. That’s literally what we’re told is the epitome of success or what a happy life looks like, what happiness looks like; happiness is when you can buy things, or when you can show off your new things to your neighbours and make them jealous of what you own. Obviously not all relationships, but I think there’s a fundamental aspect of love in America that’s tied to, like, “This person’s mine,” this idea of possession and belonging. You can’t get out of it – I don’t know if you can anywhere, but definitely not here. This album was also made in 2020, 2021, and once the pandemic happened, unless you had your eyes closed, it was pretty obvious that everything is made for us to fail.

    Can you share one thing that inspires you about each other?

    NA: Rachel works hard as shit. I find that very inspiring.

    RB: I was gonna say that about… [all laugh] Nick has this way of tapping into creativity that I’ve never heard of – I don’t know if anybody has, to be honest. He’s like an explorer, but instead of land it’s ideas and music and sounds. How can that not be inspiring? He’s making noises that I never could imagine. And he does, he works so hard. He makes music every day, it’s so crazy. I’ve been doing nothing for like a whole week now, literally playing a game on my phone where I take care of my imaginary town while I’m sure Nate’s made like 15 songs.

    NA: I’m trying.

    RB: Nate has an uncanny ability to make music that’s so beyond my understanding of art. I feel like I don’t meet a lot of people who say that they’re artists, but Nate – actually, I don’t think he’s ever said he’s an artist, and yet he’s making art like nobody’s business.

    NA: Well, shucks. I think part of the reason the project works on a creative level is that I tend to get lost in space with a lot of stuff and I have a hard time bringing it down to earth, and Rachel has a way of grounding it, taking these more obtuse ideas and framing them in the context of things that are actually going on. I think it’s Rachel’s contributions that actually turn the music into something that’s relatable in a way that applies to everyone. We have complementary skillsets that are allowing us to do things and go on all sorts of adventures that wouldn’t really be able to do without the other. If it wasn’t for Rachel, I would probably just be sitting in my room making music for nobody forever. [laughs] You know when superhero teams do the first pound and then it’s like a laser that shoots up in the sky? That’s kind of what it feels like.

    Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to share?

    NA: I was watching a YouTube video that claimed no current band cites the Red Hot Chili Peppers as an influence, even though they’re the undeniable kings of alt-rock. So I’m gonna throw – I think the Red Hot Chili Peppers influence us.

    RB: We love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You know why people don’t cite them? ‘Cause they’re cowards. Also, I feel like people know that you just can’t make music like that.

    They like to cite members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but not the whole band.

    NA: I think specifically the creative relationship between Frusciante and Kiedis is something that resonates with us.

    RB: Yeah, I’m obviously the Anthony Kiedis in this situation. I mean, I don’t love him, he’s done a lot of probably really awful things in his life, but there’s this video of him where he plays guitar… [laughs]

    NA: Are you talking about the “Oh, how I love Diana” thing?

    RB: Yeah. I love his vocal delivery, but I also loved that band when I was like 10, so I feel like I have a lot of sentimentality that’s attached to it. But they have some undeniably good songs. My favourite one to bring up is ‘Soul to Squeeze’. Even if you don’t like alternative rock or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, that’s a perfect song. But yeah, he just kind of shows up like, “I have words,” and John’s like, “Okay.”

    “I forget them sometimes, but it’s okay.”

    Yeah. He has this video where has a guitar and you think he’s about to play it but he just starts singing so out of key. [laughs] It’s so funny. I’m like, “Yeah, that’s me.”

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Water From Your Eyes’ Everyone’s Crushed is out now via Matador.

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