Songs of Water Returns to Workplay

Songs of Water - Press ShotSince 2008, North Carolina’s Songs of Water have crafted elegant and adventurous compositions that bear strong resemblance to a bluegrass and world music-influenced Sigur Ros. Their first two releases garnered the band strong praise from NPR and other major outlets. Their upcoming release will continue this tradition with even more sonic exploration and the addition of a stronger lyrical presence.

Chris K. Davidson for You Hear This?: You’ve got a new album coming out soon, and it’s your third. A lot of people always discuss the significance of the third album because of records like Radiohead’s OK Computer. What does this album mean for Song of Water?

Stephen Roach: I really think this is the most significant work we’ve done to date. It’s more collaborative than anything we’ve done before. We’ve always been very collaborative, but this one for us is a more mature expression of everything we’ve been cultivating over the past several years. We’ve been on the road together for a while now, we’ve been creating together for a while and I think the songs on this next record will showcase that depth that we’ve built together. Interesting enough about this album, most of what we’ve done before has been primarily instrumental with the exception of the a few songs, but this one – as it turned out – has a lot more lyrical work on it than before. I’m pretty excited about that myself as one of the lyricists and vocalists. This one is different in that way.

We’ve also been working with a producer that we haven’t worked with before, and he’s really contributed to the direction and shaping of some of this. We’ve also collaborated with a videographer named Ben Stamper. He’s part of the Asthmatic Kitty crew in New Jersey. He just does incredible work. He’s already filmed a video for us that will be for our first single. We’re just waiting for the final mix, and then we’re going to release the video pretty soon.

YHT?: Is this a full-length documentary on the making of the record?

SR: I’m not sure how the documentary will be yet. We’ve just followed the creative process. When we first started this recording, we went into the studio with no preconceived notion of what we would come out with. We started from the ground up and took 100 different, possible ideas with us and came out with ten solid songs. The documentary follows that process of creating something out of nothing in a sense. We are working on that as well as a sister project album and just watching these things form.

Another interesting thing about the record that is worth noting, we’ve always been known for experimenting with different instruments and genres and styles. For this record, we’ve added several instruments that we’ve never used before on recordings until this album. Several Africans harps and a Chinese instrument along with several others that we’ve not used before. One of the other interesting things about the record coming up is somehow we’ve stumbled upon this intersection where we’ve captured the most experimental album we’ve ever done. At the same time, it’s probably the most accessible work we’ve ever done for someone that may not be so inclined to the novelty of so many different instruments. But if they hear good songwriting, they’ll connect with it. We’ve bridged that gap with this album, where it’s not just a menagerie of a thousand different instruments, but at its core, it feels like you’re listening to good songwriting. You just don’t realize that there’s not a guitar in the song.

YHT?: I saw that you’re still trying to come up with the album title.

SR: It’s funny. We’ve had a list of about 25 different options that myself and a couple of the other guys have come up with. That’s the beauty and the chaos of working with six other collaborators. Each title hits the ears differently. Finding that one that resonates with everyone, we haven’t quite landed there yet.

YHT?: I can definitely see where it’d be hard to get six other people to agree with you.

SR: I think the guys will trust the majority of whatever resonates with a few of us. Everybody usually comes on board. It is like naming a child. Even with this record, we didn’t know the characteristics of this record until the songs started forming. By the end of the process when we know what the characteristics of this album were, the parallel themes started jumping out from the lyrics and different songs that we never knew were connected. Disparate pieces of music take on a common theme. I’ve been watching that happen. I think whatever it ends up being named will be something that embodies all those connections.

YHT?: What are some of the themes that you’ve seen come up in the lyrical aspect?

SR:  For me as the primary lyricist, I’m really inspired by the French surrealist poets back in the 20s and 30s. William S. Burroughs and some of those guys who really took wordplay and stretched it to its outer limit, where you can take these words and concepts that you really don’t associate, then you put them in context and this meaning comes out of it that you didn’t recognize in the beginning. A lot of my lyrics are inspired by that or are inspired by wordplay and surrealist imagery, but I think overall as I’m looking back on it, the album really seems to be a meditation on the place between places. “Strangely Beautiful” takes a birds-eye view of everything that happens in life; everything from a war to a children’s playground and just watching all of these things happen at once and finding the beauty in the middle of all that. As I began listening to the songs and meditating on that, it really embodies that longing that we all share for something beautiful.

Songs of Water will play Workplay Theatre with Birmingham’s War Jacket and Austin’s Roosevelts on Saturday, July 26th. The 18-and-up show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10. 

About Chris K. Davidson

Chris K. Davidson is a contributing writer for You Hear This. He has written for Birmingham Box Set, AL.com, among others.