Basking in the winter sunshine and admiring the multicoloured houseboats that line the narrow curves of Regent’s Canal, Water From Your Eyes are discussing their long and winding journey to get here. The sky is peculiarly bright for a February afternoon, and for experimental pop duo Rachel Brown and Nate Amos, the world feels delicious. “Things are finally happening for our band – and look where we are today,” says producer Amos, gesturing at his quaint surroundings as light catches his rings.
In a few hours, the pair will headline The Lexington – one of London’s most prominent indie venues – but for now, we’re in a dreamy, singular moment. Brown and Amos have spent the past six years working towards selling out rooms overseas, having started out as a completely DIY operation out of their home studio set-ups. Their electro sound is as healing as it is brutal: largely inspired by early New Order, the songs are wreathed in weighty fuzz, crackle and gorgeously expansive tones, while remaining distinctly self-contained.
Brown and Amos commandeer their own universe, melding affecting pop with an offbeat sense of humour. Yet that disruptive spirit doesn’t rely on punchlines so much as erratic pacing and subtle, surrealist jokes. 2021 EP ‘Somebody Else’s Songs’ recalled the lo-fi meme culture of early social media, opening with a dead-eyed cover of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’. Breakthrough album ‘Structure’, released later that year, went a step further, utilising Brown’s forthright delivery to stunning effect. “My love is lost somewhere under the ground / They know their own way out,” they sang over whirring drones on ‘My Love’s’. Nation Of Language‘s lightly abrasive synth-pop is an easy comparison point, but Water From Your Eyes’ fascinating, strange sincerity is all theirs.
“We’ve learned to balance each other out in certain ways,” says Amos. “The music is heady and intense, but there’s also an underlying relatability to it, too. That juxtaposition is what makes our collaboration distinctive.” It’s a synergy that’s heard on the forthcoming ‘Everyone’s Crushed’ (due May 26), the band’s first album with Matador Records [Snail Mail, Lucy Dacus] and the best, most carefully considered collection they’ve made to date. On album standouts ‘14’ and the flickering ‘Out There’, Brown’s crystalline, Broadcast-inspired vocal style is the heart, while Amos’ production provides the songs with their guts and pulse. Ultimately, the band’s vision in 2023 – all mismatched sounds and gentle abstraction – is wrapped up in a feeling of togetherness.
“Lately, things have gone from zero to 100,” says Brown, leading us down a leaf-strewn path as they discuss their current European support slots for labelmates Interpol. “It was almost as though the universe started balancing out a little bit. It did get to the point where, for the amount of time that we spent on making albums, it was kind of odd how little we toured. It all happened so quickly, but why should we stop now?”
The pair, who met via Chicago’s indie scene before relocating to New York, are gloriously normal weirdos, projecting their most confident – and bitingly funny – selves on record. As we talk, curiosity and warmth bubbles through their conversation, as though they’re still learning new things about each other. “When I first met Rachel, I thought, ‘This person is a riot,” says Amos, describing his bandmate as “aggressively funny”. He’s not wrong: as a “terminally online” teenager, Brown says that they aspired to perform stand-up and write TV comedy, and was a regular shitposter across ‘joke’ Facebook groups, including one dedicated to legendary guitarist Santana.
Speaking today, however, Brown regularly refers back to the band’s previous records – specifically 2018’s ‘All A Dance’, where every track is written from the viewpoint of supporting characters from unnamed movies – as examples of the “dissonance” between the playfulness and sincerity of Water From Your Eyes’ earlier music. “I spent so long veiling any sense of vulnerability I had with humour,” they say, noting that they received a ‘class clown’ award while at high school. “It was really bad for my emotional state. Before I met Nate, I wasn’t being serious about music in any sense. I was making my own songs, but I refused to show anybody.”
A significant change in Brown and Amos’ relationship would prove transformative, and reshape the type of music they wanted to make. In early 2019, after dating for four years, they broke up – but agreed that they would remain collaborators. For Brown, the overlap of their professional and personal lives had become “tumultuous”; they had hit burnout by playing weekly shows in New York, and replying to all band-related emails without a manager or booking agent behind them. “The amount of work we were putting in to keep this band going felt like an unpaid internship,” they add.
After spending a month apart from each other, the band began work on ‘Structure’, while Amos simultaneously dedicated time to recovering from the addiction issues that had plagued his early twenties. “After we separated, making music was still so much fun,” says Amos. “If either of us had tried to come up with something like Water From Your Eyes on our own, we wouldn’t have been able to make anything like what we make together.” He continues: “Honestly, we never really considered doing anything other than this project. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but we’ve stopped trying to find the answers.”
While they were creating ‘Everyone’s Crushed’, almost everything in Brown and Amos’ orbit had to be recalibrated; they moved into new, separate apartments, and learned how to build and preserve better boundaries when it came to their gig schedule. Brown compares this more relaxed work attitude to curling, a sport where the end goal is worked out in real-time, as the players move slowly along towards the target. “Even after everything that happened, Nate is still the most important person in my life,” they say, looking bashful.
For Brown and Amos, finishing album standout ‘Barley’ – an unsettlingly pretty slowburner – and landing their record deal were the first signs that their trajectory as a band was finally on the up. “Now that things are actually happening for our band, all the work that we’ve put in finally feels justified,” says Amos. “This is the right thing for us to be doing together. There were a couple of moments where I was like, ‘Why are we working so hard on this?’ I didn’t know–”
Brown interjects: “But that’s not true! The reason we kept doing this was because it was so much fun for both of us, regardless of the outcome.”
We reach Camden Lock, where our slow, relaxed walk quickly turns into a mission to dodge the large crowds snaking around the food market. As a group of young children run amok around us, flailing toy swords above their heads, Amos and Brown break into gentle laughter, pausing for a moment to take in the dizzying atmosphere of one of London’s busiest areas. Their chaotic – and uncanny – world may be expanding, but Water From Your Eyes are happy to see it evolve into something new.
Water From Your Eyes’ new album ‘Everyone’s Crushed’ will be released on May 26 via Matador Records
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