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bill waters – humid

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note.  the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span.  this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: bill waters.

bill waters is a blank canvas; he could be an unassuming next-door neighbor, the vaguely-recognizable guy from the bus, an office curmudgeon.  in this context, waters is the moniker of songwriter and producer william smith, a twenty-something who hails from the hudson valley.  humid is his first serious solo venture and bill waters is the vessel through which it is delivered, a beleaguered persona that allows songs to wax romantic freely, without any elements of self-consciousness trickling in.

the six songs that span humid are varied, but all harken back to the 1960s & 1970s soft pop waters acknowledges as a touchstone; the brisk “new car” segues seamlessly into the woozy, laid-back haze of “easy,” while penultimate cut “polyphone” is a sparse, tender entry swaddled in the warmth of an electric piano.  equally impressive throughout humid is waters’ dedication to exploring the peaks and valleys of his vocal register.  perhaps no one song better captures this than “milo and me,” a raucous ode to companionship that finds waters’ rich, sonorous baritone flirting with the cusp of falsetto.

through and through, humid is a remarkable songwriting achievement, a showcase of the depth possible with a modest amount of tools.  we recently caught up with the man behind bill waters to chat about the album process; check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

you record under the moniker bill waters, whose given name is an abbreviation of your own.  is the moniker simply a stage name, or more of a persona you slip into while writing?  maybe something else entirely?

bill waters is definitely a persona for me to slip into while writing.  i think he’s some jaded 1970s recording artist that chain smokes and takes a lot of amphetamines – definitely a character that i lean into while writing and recording.  it feels like something to almost hide behind, or like a barrier to put up while being maybe a little too sappy or romantic with the lyrical content.

i believe humid is your first venture as a solo artist.  what projects have you worked on in the past, and what was the catalyst to strike out on your own?

i played in a band called dumb talk for a long time with a few of my good friends.  that was great; we put out some vinyl and gigged around.  that helped me get into the nerdier, engineer side of music as well.

i think with humid, i wanted to prove to myself that i could write, record, and produce something completely on my own.  i was working a lot, and when you’re doing that it’s hard to coordinate schedules with other people and friends who also have lives.  it’s also a good chance to release all of the little control freak tendencies that every songwriter has.  there are definitely pros and cons to doing a record on your own, as opposed to with a band or engineer.

Bill Waters.jpg

photo courtesy of the artist

to that end, how did you approach the writing and recording process for the songs on this ep?

the writing process came in waves over the past year.  a lot of it was me getting high and sitting in the bathroom with a nylon string guitar for an hour or two.  the lyrical content seemed to flow pretty easily; i was starting a relationship with someone, and got to use all of the romantic influence that comes along with that.  i think it’s hard to be falling in love and not write about that.

recording was a pretty special, interesting process.  i was living with my friend in upstate new york and we had a little studio set up in our apartment.  towards the end of july 2017, i had a week off of work, so i decided that was when i would record and mix everything.  looking back, it was kind of a dark week.  i would wake up, eat some eggs, binge on adderall and coconut water until i felt like i tracked enough, then pop a xanax and start drinking to bring my body to a screeching halt when the sun came up.

and for all the nerds out there: i used an sm7b for all the vocals, played the guitars through a fender twin reverb and a blown-out fender solid state amp, and i recorded most of the drum takes into a tascam 4-track.

i kept the air conditioner off because it was obviously loud as hell, and i think my body reached its peak temperature that week.  i definitely had a moment where i realized the album had to be called humid as an ode to the remarkable amount of sweat my body released while tracking drums.

one of my favorite tracks on humid is “milo and me,” in part due to the noodling guitar lines and in part due to its subject matter.  is there a particular backstory to that song?

oh yeah, there’s a juicy, sad story behind “milo and me.”  milo was my sister’s dog that was staying with me for a bit in the spring.  we had a great time an i got pretty attached.  about a month later, he got hit by a car and passed away.  i think that was the most depressed i’ve felt about a beloved animal passing away.

on a lighter note, i was listening to a lot of 10cc and sheer mag over the past year, and that’s definitely where the guitar riffs came from.

you seem comfortable in, and with exploring, myriad vocal registers.  are there specific artist you’ve taken cues from while working on this project?

with recording humid, i had a lot more time to experiment with vocal performances and production.  i think that gave me the space to find new registers, but there’s definitely some production trickery in there.  i was messing around with varispeed (changing the tempo and pitch of the song) and was just discovering the magic of double vocal tracks and auto double-tracking.

as far as other artists go, todd rundgren was a big influence and kind of always has been.  also, connan mockasin was a big vocal influence as far as experimentation goes.

humid is out now via forged artifacts.  take a listen to the entire album below.

 

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