The new ethereal sounds of Hundred Waters come from a more transient life, as the band realizes what it's truly like to be a full-time touring act.
For singer Nicole Miglis this means learning to live with being the centre of attention onstage, all eyes on her as she bares her soul to the crowd.
“I’ve learned to enjoy it more, I’ve gotten out of my shell a bit,” she says. “I’m still wrapping my head around what it means to perform music that I wrote.”
It's her voice that's the star here, either bathed in the band's production work or as the lone light in a digital vaccum. On their new LP The Moon Rang Like a Bell we're left clinging to every word.
“I’m a pretty shy person, so it’s not instinctive for me to get on a stage and do something, even though I love music and play it all the time and couldn’t do anything else,” she says.
“It can be so personal, you have to open up yourself so much, and I think there’s a human nature to close off sometimes, to not be too vulnerable.”
That vulnerability is tangible as Miglis delivers her lines in haunting syncopation, as the band rises and erodes around her. On The Moon Rang Like a Bell, every sequenced moment is scrutinized — lingering for no longer than it absolutely has to.
“They’re from a very emotional and personal place. I don’t think we could write them otherwise. That’s why we’re all drawn to it,” she says.
“It has to be fuelled by something real that’s happened in our lives or my life. Maybe that’s why hearing comparisons is so frustrating. You’re not thinking about all these people that the music is compared to, you’re thinking about what happened to you that made you write that song.”
And it's true that comparing Hundred Waters to another band is not so simple, with sounds ranging from (sorry Nicole) Aphex Twin to Joni Mitchell.
But the forest-nymph feel of their 2012 self-titled LP has grown into something different entirely, only sharing its flowing, layered structure — and Miglis' ghost-like vocal performance — with The Moon Rang Like a Bell. The flute often appearing on Hundred Waters, and really any acoustic instruments at all, are gone.
It's a product of the way they did their writing this time.
“Most of this music started in computers because that’s kind of the only instrument we had at the time,” says Miglis. “You’re constantly listening to it in different situations and filtering things out, so that’s maybe why it came out a bit more minimal.”
Their previous material, when singer / keyboardist Samantha Moss was still in the lineup, was recorded in their home / studio in Gainesville.
Instead of the creative incubation they were used to, they wrote The Moon Rang Like a Bell in short spurts on the road, now based in L.A. and with someone booking the shows for them.
“We were listening to this music all the time,” says Miglis. “If you’re writing in a van wearing headphones it can be very solitary. You have to try it out in different situations before you’ve finished it.”
And with access to all kinds of shiny new mics and studio space thanks to their record deal the with Skrillex-owned OWSLA label, the full potential of Miglis' voice is heard on this album — rich, warm and higher in the mix.
The result is pristine but not precious. The production is enough to make the OWSLA EDM crowd (that they've toured the continent with) salivate, while still feeling human at its core. It places some flowers in that Skrillex hair.
But despite the new studio access and label support, they're still doing the recording themselves. Bandmember Trayer Tryon mixed and produced the new LP.
Now on the second week of touring the new record, crowned with "Best New Music" from the three-pronged tastemakers and getting a rave review from the New York Times, more people are listening than ever before. Nicole says it's a humbling experience, and what's most important is doing the songs justice live by revisiting the moments that inspired her to write them.
“I think the goal in performance for me is staying in the moment as much as you can, which is kind of hard to talk about, it’s kind of like a blackout in a way,” she says.
“You’re focused completely on what you’re doing. It's all kind of meditative [...] Locking eyes with somebody in that moment and performing to them. Trying to stay true to what you’re singing about and to stay honest about it, to give as much of yourself as you can in that moment.”