Q&A: Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis Discusses Life On Skrillex’s Label And New Album Communicating
There’s a good chance that you’re having a better 2017 than Ja Rule, but you can’t back it up with objective criteria like Hundred Waters. Granted, none of their songs will likely manage the ubiquity of, say, “Holla Holla,” nor can Nicole Miglis’ voice be imitated by people who want to score a cheap laugh at a sports bar. Hundred Waters have never starred in a Fast & Furious vehicle … yet. But in the span of three months, the experimental pop trio will have released an EP featuring production from Skrillex as well as their highly anticipated third album Communicating, all while successfully curating an immersive experience of a festival in a far-flung locale. Miglis, Trayon Tryer, and Zach Tetreault may not be legends, but FORM Arcosanti has evolved from an OWSLA-funded release party for Hundred Waters’ 2014 sophomore LP The Moon Rang Like A Bell to a groundbreaking multimedia affair whose head-spinning lineup spanned from Solange to Deafheaven to James Blake to the Hotelier to Father John Misty, all of whom actually showed up.
Given the seemingly endless schadenfruede directed at Fyre and the trio’s seemingly endless and thankless behind-the-scenes planning, one could forgive Miglis for taking the opportunity to gloat a little. But when we speak on the phone, it seems like she’s still emotionally recuperating from the chaos and stress of FORM and politely demurs. Her bandmates are more involved in the nuts-and-bolts of the festival and have empathy for people who get into this world having no idea just how much effort it takes to see it through — not just money. Miglis focuses more on the artistic presentation of it all and is extremely sensitive about FORM’s off-putting albeit unavoidable application process, which requires an essay and the possibility of rejecting fans. “It kills me,” Miglis says. “I’d love to eliminate that feeling. We’re trying to battle reality and [find] the best way to have people in a space you can’t really control that’s someone else’s environment.” Unsurprisingly, she rises above the rest of us laughing at the saddest cheese sandwiches to ever grace Instagram — “I empathize with people feeling the need to spend so much money to have an experience.”
Even given the warmth and spiritual generosity of Hundred Waters’ music, this seems like Miglis showing superhuman empathy skills — not much about her or her band’s artistic process suggests they’re much for glamping and she explained the artistic process for the Currency EP as such: “I cut myself off from a lot of the world when these songs were recorded, and I really tested the limits of solitude.”
Hence, the concept behind their unusually plainspoken new album Communicating. Regarding the title, Miglis offers, “With these songs more than any, there’s frustration in there, the frustration of trying to tell someone how you feel. The arc would be the chaos to the clarity.”
That’s lowercase-c “clarity,” not a reference to the EDM-pop classic from former OWSLA artist Zedd. Despite the smirks that will always seem to accompany a mention of Hundred Waters’ label, they have not fulfilled any sort of fears that they’d go Ultra Music Festival on us. Communicating does have more pop and thump than the bejeweled, insular The Moon Rang Like A Bell, but in a way that’s reminiscent of Jamie xx’s In Colour or Caribou’s Our Love, club music for indoor kids. “It’s exciting to bring it to a bigger stage, but it’s difficult,” Miglis says. “Literally, because I’m singing in a whisper.”
Though the continually extending reach of FORM and Communicating suggests a band ready to engage with as wide an audience as possible, Hundred Waters are very selective about the people to whom they give their personal time. Once a five-piece, all that remains are Tetreault, the logistical leader of the band, along with Miglis and Tryon, who’ve quietly maintained their long-term relationship. Each album has resulted in a departure: Samantha Moss left after 2012’s self-titled debut and multi-instrumentalist Paul Giese split following The Moon Rang Like A Bell, both for similar reasons. “There isn’t any bad blood, it was more like…,” Miglis pauses. “[Giese] had a lot things he felt he needed to express and I think he’s just happier doing that outside of the band.”
Hundred Waters have also lived together since their beginnings in Gainesville, though in a different location for every record. Upon moving to Los Angeles from Florida, they took up residence in “The Nest,” a warehouse in Chinatown owned by OWSLA. Two years later, they’ve decamped in an eye-popping house in Hollywood that has a bridge leading to its front door — you have to cross something close to a moat. Six people call it home, the three members of Hundred Waters, two creative partners, “and my friend Moses.” Seeing as how Moses Sumney is named on the FORM website as a fellow curator, I ask the obvious and she jokingly confirms, “the Moses.” Though they’ve exchanged notes on their respective upcoming albums, even Sumney needed to put in a year’s worth of friendship to start collaborating with Hundred Waters — when Miglis lost her voice, she asked him to sing over a keyboard loop on “Particle,” and you can hear remnants of his chopped-up improv on the lead single from Currency EP, which also appears as the leadoff track from Communicating.
Given the three-year gap between albums, as well as the band’s admitted lack of extracurricular hobbies, it felt like fair game to ask what exactly everyone does with their downtime. Sports? Hiking? Horticulture? Do they just hang out together and watch You’re The Worst? “I’ll probably just talk about emotions with people,” Miglis laughs. “Maybe that’s what artists do. We don’t go the movies or something. We’re probably the most socially awkward band, so we just make music.”
Our interview with Miglis is below, but before you read that, check out Communicating’s first single, “Blanket Me.”
STEREOGUM: How long did it take for you to decompress after FORM Arcosanti?
MIGLIS: It took me about a week and a half, it was a pretty intense shift. We worked so much up to that point. The booking and organizing and everything is Zach, he does a lot of planning. Trey will help with suggestions for artists and curating, he probably keeps up the most with music. I’ll give opinions on certain things and focus on our show. This year we released an EP during all that, so I did the thing with giving the music to the world, it was very stressful.
STEREOGUM: With an album on the way, what was the intention behind releasing Currency?
MIGLIS: Part of it was putting something out before we did the festival, but we just had to put it out for our sanity — it made sense to lump it together. In retrospect, I don’t know if that was too much at once and I think that they kind of washed together.
STEREOGUM: There’s a much different look for the band this time around — very stark, immediate, black-and-white, it’s a far cry from the more naturalistic imagery from the debut and even the last album. Did you feel that Hundred Waters need a reintroduction after three years?
MIGLIS: Three years is a really long time. We’ve gone through different phases, but this was the one we captured at the time — it wasn’t totally intentional. This very simple black-and-white aesthetic felt very immediate and instant as possible for us to resurface. It felt like something that was less tied to time, [for us] to not be associated with any kind of time period and not be attached to something or seem too in this moment or of this generation.
STEREOGUM: When Hundred Waters signed with OWSLA for The Moon Rang Like A Bell, it was an unusual partnership for what most would consider an “indie” band. But having seen the direction of the industry since then, do you feel even more validated given how much support and freedom you’ve been granted?
MIGLIS: I don’t really know the other side of the coin, so it’s hard to say. I’m grateful that we [and Skrillex] are peers, there’s a lot of more casual human interaction because of the friends in our circle at the label and it’s not this very divisive thing. It’s a completely different world than three years ago with music and budgets.
STEREOGUM: What are the new challenges on that level for a band like Hundred Waters compared to 2014?
MIGLIS: Creatively, there are so many outlets where people see your image and your music, and much more than ever, you’re almost fighting against what somebody else’s aesthetic is. You’re in Spotify’s world, and it’s not the artist’s, so you don’t have control in a lot of ways where you could put out the cover art and trust that would be attached. There are so many different channels where you have to make it cohesive or people will just get overwhelmed. It was an interesting challenge to try and make everything as cohesive as possible and feel connected.
STEREOGUM: You had mentioned during the release of Currency that you had been in something close to isolation. Did that make things awkward once you shared your work?
MIGLIS: Completely. I learned that as soon as you come back from those states, it takes a lot to feel not misunderstood and to funnel all of your energy into communicating. I think I did that. And I know what that feels like and I’m not gonna do it again. It can cause a lot of misunderstandings, when you go away and come back and assume that people will know what you’ve been doing.
STEREOGUM: Who are the people with whom you find it most challenging?
MIGLIS: In my personal relationships, the people closest to you — that’s the hardest. That’s what’s frustrating; you assume people should know things because you’re around them, that’s the challenge of life.
STEREOGUM: Was Communication written over the span of three years?
MIGLIS: I think it took a full three years. When we write together, it can be pretty erratic, some songs might be around for a year and a half until some idea like a title will bring it back to life. We can do that because we work from home and it’s all right here, we don’t have to schedule or anything. It feels like a part of every day.
STEREOGUM: With the constant creation, are there Hundred Waters songs that will never see the light of day?
MIGLIS: If it were up to Trey, we’d release everything we ever made. I think I’m lightening up a lot more in terms of what we release and what we don’t, I would love to see everything we ever made would be out there, but some things just don’t feel finished. Some day hopefully! We make a ton of music — they’re interesting [songs], the weirder music we make, it’s not a shame thing — I’d want to put those out. We did this project with our friend Rob where we all got on instruments we never played on and improvised. We called it Children, it was our free jazz project, and it’s just chaos and it works.
STEREOGUM: Given your experiences working with Bonobo and Mas Ysa and Chance The Rapper, are you more open to outside collaboration now that the record is done?
MIGLIS: We’re 180-ing right now, being more extroverted. We just now surfaced after getting everything done, it’s the best time because you can play around — we’ve been making all kinds of pedal music and ambient stuff. We had to go inward as we did, but now I want to write with people, produce with people, I’m sure Trey wants to do other things to. It feels like a rebirth now that we can finally learned what we learned.
Communicating is out 9/14 via OWSLA. Hundred Waters will tour behind it, here are the dates:
09/23 San Diego @ The Casbah *
09/24 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom *
09/26 Salt Lake City @ Kilby Court *
09/27 Denver, CO @ Bluebird *
09/28 Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar *
09/29 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry *
09/30 Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle *
10/03 Montreal, QC @ SAT +
10/05 Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall +
10/06 Washington D.C. @ U Street Music Hall +
10/07 New York, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg +
10/08 Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts +
10/10 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl +
10/12 Orlando, FL @ The Social +
10/13 Miami, FL @ iii points festival
* w/ Lafawndah
+ w/ Kelsey Lu