Artist Spotlight: This Is Lorelei

    This Is Lorelei is the solo outlet of Brooklyn-based musician Nate Amos, who is also one-half of the groups Water From Your Eyes (with vocalist Rachel Brown) and My Idea (with Palberta’s Lily Konisberg). When we last interviewed Amos, he was gearing up for the release of Water From Your Eyes’ Matador debut, the charmingly absurdist and innovative Everyone’s Crushed, but he says the project really crystallized with 2019’s Somebody’s Else Song, around the same time he began experimenting with more straightforward songwriting in the form of This Is Lorelei’s Move Around EP. In the decade that Amos has been dropping material under the moniker – unfiltered bedroom recordings that range from sort-of Americana to lo-fi pop – it’s never really settled into one thing. But leaning into, and self-consciously poking fun at, classic singer-songwriter tropes was the catalyst for This Is Lorelei’s first traditional LP and debut proper, Box for Buddy, Box for Star.

    Written, recorded, and produced by Amos in the summer of 2022, the album is sneakily earnest and playful at the same time, committing to the bit without veering into cliché. Prioritizing pure melody, it’s a collection of songs as shiny and gorgeous as it is disorienting; but unlike Amos’ experiments with Water From Your Eyes, the wry humour and chaos aren’t contained in the music so much as his lyricism, whose stream-of-consciousness sincerity is affecting as much as it can throw you off guard. But even when he shifts between perspectives and laces his voice in AutoTune for the sake of the song, the album’s romanticism and emotional pathos feel earned, precisely because of the funny, quotable ways Amos finds to present them. “I don’t mind the present and I like the past,” he sings on ‘Perfect Hand’, somewhat off-handedly capturing peace. “I think that the future’s worth it.”

    We caught up with This Is Lorelei’s Nate Amos for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the history of the project, the making of Box for Buddy, Box for Star, holding space for multiple musical outlets, and more.

    How does it feel to be rolling out Box for Buddy, Box for Star while you’re touring with Water from Your Eyes?

    It feels normal because that seems to be the nature of the two projects coexisting. When I was working on the Lorelei album, I was in the process of figuring out the Water from Your Eyes record deal, so it’s like one project always has business stuff going on and the other has more creative stuff going on. This album’s coming out, I’m promoting it, but my headspace is very much in working on the new Water album. I think that’s just the way it’s going to be from now on, as long as I’m doing both projects, which I want to be doing.

    Is that back-and-forth creatively inspiring? Does it feel like the projects are fueling each other in some way?

    I don’t know if they fuel each other – both of them existing allows each project to fully be what it is. If there was only one thing, I’d have to cram all of this stuff into that one. Who knows, maybe that would work, but they’re such different projects – they represent two sides of music I want to be working on, and neither could fully be what it is without the other. It’s nice to have two different very writing projects, otherwise I’d be living in one all the time and go crazy. Switching from project to project, you kind of have to come above water for a minute to make the switch.

    This Is Lorelei has existed as a side project longer than any other band you’ve had. How would you trace its timeline and what it’s served for you as an outlet?

    Lorelei was invented as a side project. Lorelei was what I would do by myself, a secret stomping ground for trying out anything. That’s very much what it was for about 6-8 years before there was a sound that came into focus. And that kind of happened around the same time it happened for Water from Your Eyes, too. That was probably around 2019, when it went from being just a pile of stuff that I could put things in whatever bucket needed them, to now being fully different projects. That’s something that’s only really been the case for the last five years or so.

    What made both projects come into focus around that time?

    Honestly, there were two things happened. The Water from Your Eyes album that came out in 2019 had a song called ‘Break’  on it, which was the last song made for it. But it got made and I was like, “Fuck, I finally found Water From Your Eyes.” And then the album Structure was based off of some of the musical concepts presented in that song – the idea of putting the same melody in multiple contexts so that it comes across totally differently, and using repetition as this hypnotic or meditative element. With Lorelei, I got obsessed with ‘All the Small Things’ by Blink-182. For weeks, I only listened to that song, but different versions of that song – there’s a bluegrass cover, there’s a lullaby cover to play for your baby as they fall asleep. That got me thinking about how a really good song is awesome regardless of the genre or sonic template you use to present it. Every version I heard, I was just like, “Damn, it’s still a fucking great song.” But it’s also a silly song; it’s a pop song, it’s fast, it’s catchy. That’s not all there is to it, but those are the rules of that song: it’s like a fast heist, they’re in and out in two and a half minutes, and it leaves a lasting impact in a very short amount of time.

    That was the inspiration for the Lorelei EP that came out that year called Move Around. I kind of view Somebody Else’s Song as the first Water from Your Eyes album and Move Around as the first Lorelei release in terms of what the projects have become. That year was when both projects crystallized into more tangible things. Even immediately before that, there were Lorelei albums like The Mall, the Country and The Dirt, the Dancing that were made at the same time as Somebody Else’s Song, and there were lots of things on both of those albums that could have gone to either project. After that year, the projects were very much on individual paths in a way that was cool because I no longer had to think about, “What do I want to do with this?” The thing presented itself, and now I can just follow those things rather than look for things, if that makes sense.

    Box for Buddy, Box for Star is billed as your first traditional LP under this moniker. What did it mean for you to make that decision?

    It wasn’t really a decision that was made before the album was written. I just wanted to write some songs that summer. I had gotten really into Shane MacGowan, the singer-songwriter from the Pogues, and it got me thinking about melody. Essentially, what I decided was to make an album with melodies that could function with or without a chord pattern, which is the opposite of the thing with Water From Your Eyes, where the melody is liquid depending on what you put it in. The idea for this Lorelei album was to create an album of melodies that would make sense if you were singing them by yourself walking through the woods as they do on the album. There are certain songs that this applies more to, like ‘I’m All Fucked Up’ and ‘Dancing in the Club’.

    But I also didn’t want it to be – if it’s this fully earnest thing, I tend to get bored and lose focus. So it was genuine admiration for that stuff, leaning into the idea of embracing a lot of these traditional things, while also – not exaggerating the stereotypes, but playing into things that I wouldn’t normally write about: good and evil, saving money and gasoline, all these classic singer-songwriter motifs. I saw an interview where someone said it was stupid to write about money, and I was like, “Cool, I’m just gonna put that in a ton of songs.” Because it is overplayed, but it is ultimately a relevant and relatable thing. It was a weird combination of studying serious songwriting and, in my own way, trying to simultaneously pay respects to it but also poke fun at it a little bit. Do you know the album 12 Golden Country Greats by Ween?

    I’ve heard of it.

    I love that album so much. It’s such a shitpost, but it’s also honest. You can feel their love for that kind of music, and the songs are just so good. Obviously, there are things on that album that are way more directly funny than anything on the Lorelei album. With the Lorelei album, it might just be things that I find funny for my own convoluted reasons, because ultimately, I listened to it a month ago and thought, “Fuck, this is kind of gnarly and depressing.” At the time, I didn’t really feel that way, and I think approaching it in a way where it was half a joke to me allowed for the honest side of it to be more honest. I think a lot of this album, I wouldn’t have been able to be as direct without laughing while I did it. I’m sure that’s something to talk to my therapist about or whatever. [laughs] A lot of this album is a reflection and commentary on ways I’ve fucked up along the dust trail, and that shit’s funny – there’s something funny about being the pathetic one.

    There are a lot of earnest self-reflections on the album, and you’ve even called them “aggressive self-reflections.” When you’re writing, how does your brain react when you’re in that earnest mode? Is it something you wrestle with?

    It wasn’t really like there was a ratio that I was monitoring where it’s like, “I’m going to be this earnest for one song and this funny for this song.” I think that concept developed very naturally; it was almost more of an observation I made after I’d done the writing. I wrote close to 70 songs for this album and tried not to think too hard while I was doing it. It became more like, “Oh, I see what I was doing there,” but for me, if something felt funny, I’d remember it’s not funny for whatever reason. It’s funny, because that period of time – I was fucking miserable when I was making this album, and finding humor in what I could was the only thing that allowed me to be as productive as I was. I don’t know how much it shows in the final album, but for me, humor was really critical to its creation. If I listen to this album, I don’t hear the music; I just remember what it was like to make it, because these are songs I’ve heard hundreds of times as I was making them. It kind of sounds like a sink left on to me, I can’t really focus on it. But that’s just for me; maybe it can be something else to other people.

    I know the record started as an experiment to make music without getting high. When did you realize that it was turning into something bigger?

    Honestly, after the first couple of songs. I think the first five songs I wrote, I threw away. I had myself a little psyched out because I decided to stop smoking weed for a while, and I wanted to be sober for a year, fully. I didn’t really know what was going to happen, because the last time I wrote a song without some substance being involved was probably when I was 11 or something. It’s not something I’ve done in my adult life. The funny thing is, it ended up being really easy. I was having all sorts of anxiety about not being able to focus enough to write. Because that’s the thing with weed, for me; if I smoke weed, I can focus on something in a healthy way, whereas if I’m sober, I’m either completely distracted or hyper-fixated to the point where the rest of my life suffers as a result.

    And that’s what happened with this album. I was able to write, but I wasn’t able to do anything else. It was entirely the focus; it was about two and a half months of just thinking about this album for 18 hours a day. The funny thing I didn’t anticipate is that in terms of actually writing, it ended up not that different, except I was writing too much. Almost every song on this album is significantly shorter than the first version. The original version of ‘I’m All Fucked Up’, I couldn’t put the lyrics in the priavate SoundCloud link because there’s more than 1,000 words in the song, and that’s definitely not something I’ve encountered before. The song had six verses originally, and now it only has three, and those three I also made shorter.

    Focus one, like I said, was making melodies of a certain quality that don’t need help from chord progressions to function as complete melodies. Focus two was writing lyrics that I’m happy with, instead of just doing it as fast as I can. I used to be much more about: I don’t need to understand the lyrics because on some subconscious level, there was a reason I said that in that moment, and then you’re gambling being like, “Well, I hope it’s good or can mean something to somebody.” But with this album, I really worked hard on the lyrics. Instead of making a ton of music and cutting it down, I just wrote a ton of words, and the musical component was more of an afterthought.

    That was really what was different about the album, that was primarily about the vocals and the words. That’s the first time I’ve ever made an album like that. Usually, the vocals are an accompaniment to the music. Music is what I’ve always been more interested in, and I haven’t been good at interpreting people’s lyrics. There are songs I grew up with where I know all the words but never bothered to think about what the person is trying to say because that’s just not so much what I’m interested in. I’m more interested in the sound of the words and the overall vibe. With this album, I really focused on one particular component and prioritized that. I don’t know if that’s how I’m going to write for Lorelei from now on, or if this album is just a blip in its differentness. The idea of releasing it on a record label kind of played into the bit of it being a classic songwriter album: 10 songs, 40 minutes.

    Is ‘Where’s Your Love Now’ the longest song in This Is Lorelei’s catalog?

    I think so. Actually, that song got cut down too. It’s like six minutes now, but it was closer to eight minutes at one point. The original version of this album, I was showing it to people and everybody unanimously was like, “The songs are just a little too long.” I was like, “The only thing that can happen is, if I’m able to cut them down in a way that I’m happy with, then it’s just gonna be more focused on the good parts.” I think it really helped it overall, because to me, this album is the longest format album that I would want to make with any project right now. I feel like people’s attention spans – including my own, I have a hard time focusing through a full-length album, that’s why I feel like a lot of the things that hit me the hardest and feel the most cohesive to me are in the half-hour range. I think that’s kind of the ideal length.

    With ‘Where’s Your Love Now’ in particular, given the weight of it, it sounds like it’s the longest because it’s also the most important song on the album. I assume it must have been a struggle to even cut it down or complete. 

    That one was funny because the parts that I cut from that song were actually largely instrumental parts. I kind of refused to cut any of the words out of that song, and that’s because that song just wrote itself. There were songs on this album where I really labored over the lyrics, making them better and better. That song was just straight up the first pass at the lyrics. I didn’t write any words for that song that didn’t stay in there. That was definitely one that fell out of the air, and I just had it all of a sudden. I don’t think it took more than half an hour to write that song. It went from not existing to being fully recorded and mixed in one evening, and then months later I made it a little shorter. But yeah, I think if this album does have a focal point, it’s that song. It’s kind of the heart of the album, or everything else is orbiting around it.

    Sometimes you can never really tell, but why do you think it came so quickly?

    I don’t know, it just did. Some of the other songs would start with some idea and drift away. Like ‘I’m All Fucked Up’, someone was like, “You should write a song called ‘I’m All Fucked Up’, and I was like, “Okay,” and then it happened. With ‘Where’s  Your Love Now?’, I just sat down with the guitar and  was like, “I’m gonna try and write a song.” The chord progression was the first thing I played, the words were the first thing I wrote down. I didn’t really begin to analyze it. Like a lot of the songs on this album, there are things about that song that are super honest and relate to particular situations, but it’s not like a direct retelling of anything. I wasn’t like, “I’m gonna write a song about this thing that happened to me.” It was more vibing out on a feeling that I had gotten over a longer period of time. But that song probably had the least conscious thought put into it. It dropped down and I just had to write it down and record it.

    You’ve described the record as a “delayed recovery album,” and I feel like the delay is maybe the most important aspect of that process.

    Yeah. When I was trying to get sober, all I could really do for a year or so, maybe less than a year – all of my conscious effort went to just not imbibing or whatever. It wasn’t until I had gotten past the physical part of that that I felt like I had the energy to go back and be like, Okay, now that I’m physically healthy enough, how did that happen? Because it doesn’t feel like me – I can’t imagine being in that place now that I’m not there anymore. But when I was there, it just felt like that was how it was going to be. So I think the delay was mostly just time spent physically recovering before I could really take a look and reflect on everything that led to a point where I had to drastically alter my lifestyle. A lot of that stuff was probably brewing subconsciously, but a lot of this album is just me thinking about that for the first time.

    Also, I hadn’t made any music in like five months, which at the time was way longer than I was used to, because that was right after our first season of touring. Before the year this album got made, I was very much like, “I just live in my room, and I make music, and that’s what I spend the bulk of my time doing, and now I spend the bulk of my time in a van driving around to shows.” You can’t really do it in the same way, so I had the sense that I had all this built-up stuff because I was used to writing constantly and I hadn’t really been able to. But also realizing I’m not gonna have time to write all the time, so if I’m gonna do something, I better do it and capitalize on this moment because I don’t know when the next time I’m gonna have two and a half months to write an album is. And then it was hard to stop – I hit a point where it was like, “I have like a month before the next tour, and I really have to stop writing so I can put this album together, actually.” Which was hard to do, because I very much felt like I could have kept writing at that pace for like a year if that had been an option. But it was already too much stuff. There’s an early version that was like 8 songs, but then it blew up and it was a 32-song album for a while, and it just felt way too long.

    It’s not like you haven’t written vulnerable songs for This Is Lorelei in the past – my mind goes to ‘Go Away’ from OK N8, for example. But I’m curious if there was a different kind of vulnerability in the way that you tracked and pitched your vocals specifically on this album.

    I think I disguised it less on this album. Unless I had a particular conceptual justification for disguising my voice somehow, I tried to just have things be vocal takes, not messing with it because. In the past, like with the different speeds, that’s something that makes it easy to put some space in between you and the music. On this album, for the most part, I tried not to do that at all. ‘Dancing in the Club’ has the AutoTune, but that’s specifically because of the song concept, nothing else on the album does. A couple of the songs have the pitched-up vocals, but that’s really just to make it clear that there are different characters through them. It’s not about hiding inside of it, it’s more just about giving a clue to the listener if they’re trying to figure out what’s making the song tick. But at the same time, it also is just a continuation of all the same stuff. It’s all one long train of thought, album to album, so this album is certainly indebted to the process of making all the albums that came before it.

    Given the kind of record you realized you were making, did you consider bringing other people in at any stage?

    No, I never really seriously considered that. I was moving really quickly and I was writing so much – in the time that it would have taken to bring in a guest vocalist or a guest instrumentalist and record something, it’s like, “I could spend today doing that, or I could spend today writing two more songs. Maybe one of them will be good enough to put on. The recordings themselves are secondary to the songs on this album. The way everything was laid out was just a gut reaction based on the nature of the song itself. I wasn’t adjusting any drum mics or anything; everything on this album is pretty much one take. The recording process wasn’t enough of a priority that bringing other people was something I considered much. Also, I was in a very antisocial place. I did not want to be hanging out with people. I wanted to be alone in my room writing songs, and I had a very low tolerance for being around other people that summer. I was doing some intense therapy at the time, so I was focused on writing and working on doing my best with my mental state. I guess bringing other people into the project wasn’t something I even thought of as a possibility. If nothing else, the baseline reason was that I just didn’t want to be around anybody.

    There’s a line that stuck out to me from ‘My Boy Limbo’, “I carried past instead of tending to the presence in my hand,” which feels like it captures the tension between past and present that unfolds throughout the album. 

    That line can go a couple of different ways. You have the past-present thing, being too caught up in another time to focus on a particular moment. Or you can think about it like gifts, in which case you’re all of a sudden walking by someone trying to give you something and be a part of your life. It meant a variety of things to me, but it was also just wordplay, playing with the idea of what presence can mean in that situation, whether past applies to past as in the time or if you’re walking past something, ignoring the physical and emotional implications of holding something; caring for it, tending to it. I haven’t thought about that line in a while – that song wrote itself a little bit, so it’s a little more rambly and less coherent than others. It wasn’t so much of a concept, more like a train of thought you might have while trying to fall asleep or something.

    Circling back to what we started talking about, does it seem daunting to hold space for different creative outlets, in terms of the energy it requires?

    I wouldn’t say it’s scary. Sometimes the pressure can be overwhelming, but most of the time, it’s energizing because ultimately, I have two different things I’m trying to do at the same time, and they’re both things I really like and want to be doing. I guess now that the projects have become a thing I’m taking more seriously and that more people are hearing, it feels like the whole thing has a little more purpose now. For years and years, music was just an escape; it didn’t feel like I was really contributing to anything, I just wanted to spend my time doing something I wanted to do instead of trying to fit into a world I didn’t have much interest in. It can definitely be a lot to handle, but it’s what I want to do, and I never anticipated doing what I wanted to do intersecting with my reality beyond my inner space – my head, my bedroom, whatever.

    That’s the weirdest part, that people actually – not an insane amount of people, but there are people that listen to the things I make now. There always were, but that number has slowly grown from like 5 people to whatever it is now. That’s the spooky part. Wearing the two different hats – I can do that, it’s like playing soccer one day and basketball the next. They’re both fucking sports, just slightly different formats. I have to do mental gymnastics to get myself to relax enough to write, because if I sit down to write a song, I think about having to write a song fans will like and music journalists will like, and then I just get freaked out and watch Survivor instead. I have to convince myself it really doesn’t matter at all. If I look at music I’ve made that I like, the recurring pattern is that when it was being made, I had no idea if it would come out or not. The outside world wasn’t something that was considered in the least.

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

    This Is Lorelei’s Box for Buddy, Box for Star is out now via Double Double Whammy.

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