Sunday Sessions 7 - Del Water Gap
By: Emma Corcoran
Del Water Gap is a alt/folk trio based in NYC that formed back in 2011, with S. Holden Jaffe as lead singer and guitarist, Charlie Schlinkert on drums and Will Evans on bass. In a recent Skype interview, ST.ART caught up with two of the band members, Holden and Will, to chat about how they've grown as a band since they originally formed, how they approach songwriting and where they find inspiration for their lyrics, what hopes they have for the future... but primarily, what it's like to be a groupie and what an ordinary day in the life of a musician living in NYC looks like.
Great live act, great band and even better people - if you're ever in the NYC area, be sure to check this group out; we can guarantee you that they will not disappoint.
An Interview with Del Water Gap:
ST.ART: You guys are three members, right? So Holden, you’re lead singer, but Will, what’s your role?
WE: I play the bass, and then the third member, that’s our drummer Charlie.
ST.ART: I notice in a lot of your videos you have someone playing what looks like a xylophone, is that what that is?
SHJ: Yeah, so that’s Charlie. It’s a vibraphone. He bought a vibraphone, just like splurged on one, like, what, seven, eight months ago maybe?
WE: Yeah, not that long ago.
SHJ: Yeah, he just sort of decided that he wanted to get one, and he got one.
ST.ART: And he just picked it up and started playing it?
SHJ: Yeah, he just bought one I think off of Craigslist, and he played I think when he was a little younger, like in High School I think. He’s primarily a drummer, but he knows a lot about harmony and theory and he’s very like-minded in composition, so it’s kind of a good middle-ground for him; he can play percussively but also express melodically, which is cool.
ST.ART: It’s a cool feature to have. It’s not a conventional instrument by any means, in your typical rock band. It just brings something different, you know?
ST.ART: So how did you form your band?
SHJ: Will and I actually met in college; we lived in the same dorm Freshman year. We met during the first couple weeks when Hurricane Sandy hit in New York City, so we were sort of trapped in our dorm. We had a generator – we were one of the only dorms that actually had power – so we started playing together in the stairwell in our dorm, playing guitar and singing, and it turned out we liked the same music and… the rest is history.
ST.ART: How do you come up with your arrangements? Holden, do you write all the lyrics of your songs and then bring it to the group or is the process more collaborative?
SHJ: It totally depends, you know, we contribute a lot together. We’re good together. We get together every week and just play over new stuff.
WE: Yeah, we definitely flesh out the arrangements all together.
SHJ: Yeah, and we’ve been writing a lot more together, like Will and I have been actually writing, I wrote a song with Charlie… yeah, it’s really nice when you sort of get to that point when you’re comfortable enough with each other to actually write, you know? Because it’s a personal thing. It’s hard sometimes to make it work, but it’s been going well. Well, we need to finish our… we’re writing a song… what were we trying to rhyme with ‘Kodiak’? We were doing, ‘Back to something, something’… [the only thing] that we could rhyme with ‘back’ was ‘Kodiak’ [laughs], so we’re writing a song about ‘take me back to Kodiak’.
ST.ART: I like that. It’s nice that you write your lyrics sort of as a team, you know?
SHJ: Yeah, and I think that comes with a mutual respect. I feel very fortunate that we all have that. I think we all really respect each other as musicians, and we’re all good at different things.
ST.ART: Which is nice, because then you can each bring something different to the table.
SHJ: Yeah absolutely, and there’s not a lot of ego, and I feel very fortunate about that, too. We put the songs first, which is nice.
ST.ART: Where do you guys find inspiration for your lyrics?
SHJ: Well, you know a lot of good music – your opinion needs to be on the record [laughs].
WE: The music is more… you know, we listen to a lot of like, country music and old country music and stuff, so we get music ideas from that, but lyrically it’s just a lot of, you know, whatever we’re getting into at the time and life in New York and everything like that.
SHJ: Yeah, we definitely mix our influences, which is nice. We’ll sort of go through fazes together, like Charlie listens to a lot of jazz and vibraphone music now, Will knows everything about opera, he’s a classical singer… we’re all sort of into folk, country stuff, some rock stuff… I think it all sort of meets in the middle.
ST.ART: Yeah, that’s really cool. You have all these different tastes, I guess.
ST.ART: I noticed that you just released a video through NPR [Tiny Desk]. How was that?
WE: It was great; it was a lot of fun.
ST.ART: Is that one of your newer songs?
SHJ: Yeah, we’ve been playing it a bit on our own, but I don’t really think we’ve played it live – just something we’ve messed with. Yeah, it’s funny because we’re sort in a place where I think a lot of young bands are in where your recorded music doesn’t necessarily line up with what the band really is, like live or like at its essence, because the whole process of recording and making records… it’s a very long process, you know, you start a record, you need six months, a year later, you get it out… and in that time, in that six months, you know, you might play like, ten, twelve shows, and over the course of playing your shows, your sound and just what you care about changes a lot, like I know we’ve changed so much stylistically since we’ve started. It’s funny to put out a video like that, where, you know, it’s sort of heavy in the vocals and sort of the acoustic vibes… and to a lot of people that’s completely new, and to us it… you know, it’s funny having people react that to, like ‘Oh, this is great, this is so new’ and you realise that like, the last music we really put out, other than like a single we put out recently, it’s just such a poor reputation of what we actually do. So it feels good; it feels good to put out something new.
ST.ART: So what’s been one of your favourite performance memories?
WE: I mean, there haven’t been any crazy stories necessarily, but for a while when we were on the road earlier in the fall, we were doing this thing with like a camcorder where we were like… just like filming anything we were doing and everyone we were meeting and just getting them on camera.
SHJ: Will, tell her the game.
WE: We played this game where we would put the camera on somebody and ask them their earliest memory. And so they would start talking and get, you know, kind of intimate about their first memory, and then somebody would kinda get close to them and then all of a sudden kiss them on the mouth [laughs].
SHJ: [laughs] So we have like, all this footage of just…
WE: …just people getting kissed on the mouth [laughs]... pushed away…
SHJ: We did this to some strangers, too, you know.
ST.ART: Oh, this was to people you knew but also strangers?
SHJ: Well, it was people we knew, but also a couple…
WE: Mostly people we knew.
ST.ART: How many people was it?
SHJ: It was like six or seven people on there, got sneak-attacked [laughs]. Yeah, it’s a good game. We’re trying to put it altogether and get some festivals maybe – film festivals, maybe next year.
ST.ART: Something to keep it interesting I guess.
SHJ: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun. You realise that going on the road and playing shows, so much of it is not the actual playing; so much of it is the downtime… like, personally what I like is just ending up in these towns that you would’ve never really gone to otherwise. We’ve had some good experiences, especially sort of Northeast – these little dairy towns. We stop where we end up, and we’ve met some really great people.
ST.ART: Are you going on the road again pretty soon?
SHJ: We’d like to.
ST.ART: Where would you want to play and perform?
SHJ: Well personally, for me, like I said, I think for us, the main goal right now, like in the immediate next couple months, is just to get the recorded stuff up to speed. We’ve been working on a record for a bit. There’s a school of thought that is don’t tour until you really have an audience to tour to. The other school of thought is sort of the more, like… maybe like hackneyed, old-fashioned… you gotta just grind and play and play in random places and play to three people and like… I think, you know, there’s some truth to both of those. I like the idea of sort of really, sort of honing our show locally, which we do – we play a lot in New York. We play a lot of little tours, like we’ll go up for a couple days, drive back… just get the recorded music really good and then, you know, hopefully the touring will fall into place once people start liking it.
ST.ART: Do you have any other songs you’re in the process of writing?
SHJ: Besides ‘Kodiak’?
WE: We've got a couple more.
SHJ: Yeah, we got a bunch of in the oven. Will wrote this great song – tell her about the ‘Matisse’ song, that one.
WE: Oh… I don’t know [laughs] … that one’s still in the oven also.
SHJ: Alright, still in the oven, can’t talk about… on the cooling rack right now. We actually just put this song together the other day that we really like.
WE: Oh yeah, it’s like pretty close to done.
SHJ: We’ve sort of been experimenting more with playing music that’s just really fun, you know, which we haven’t really done in the past. It’s been nice to sort of get over ourselves a bit and like…
WE: Do all the tropes [laughs].
SHJ: All the tropes, all the hits… yeah, it’s been fun.
ST.ART: Do you cover any songs?
WE: We used to a lot more, but now we’ve got so much of our own material, which is nice.
SHJ: We could probably play, like, two hours if we had to so, you know, once you have that many songs… I mean it’s good, you know, audiences really like covers but it’s nice to…
ST.ART: It’s nice to have something of your own to be proud of.
SHJ: We should probably do some covers. What would you recommend, what cover would you want to hear?
ST.ART: Oh… that’s a hard question.
SHJ: Don’t say ‘Hotline Bling’ [laughs].
ST.ART: Ew… I mean, no [laughs]. I’m a big fan of Wilco. You’ve heard of Wilco?
SHJ: Yeah, they’re actually playing in New York tonight.
ST.ART: Oh, really? Yeah, they’re great – literally anything by Wilco.
SHJ: What’s your favourite Wilco record, or what’s one of your favourites?
ST.ART: ‘She’s a Jar’ is my favourite song from their album Summerteeth.
SHJ: That’s a good song.
WE: That’s a great song – on Summerteeth.
SHJ: Yeah, Sky Blue Sky is a great record.
ST.ART: I like lyrics that sound like poetry, which I actually find a lot in your lyrics, too… like ‘In the Yard’ – it sounds like poetry to me. I like to write poetry, so I appreciate lyrics that have a poetic quality to them. I definitely see that in Wilco, especially ‘She’s a Jar’.
SHJ: Yeah, [Jeff Tweedy] is cool. He’s daring because I find like, especially once you… like Will and I and Charlie, too, we all study music and have studied music, and it’s very easy to start over-thinking, like melody and dividing this line between what feels natural and pure creativity and whatever the fuck you want to call it… like how much should one write songs that are really easy to bite off. One thing I love, I think Jeff Tweedy rides that line really well – his lyrics a lot of the times literally don’t make any sense, but the mood is really intelligible, and I think that’s really hard to capture a lot of the times. Like that song ‘Impossible Germany’ – if you read the lyrics on a page, they don’t really, once again you wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh this is a song about X Y and Z’ – but the sentiment is so clear.
WE: Yeah, and you feel it.
ST.ART: Especially with nonsensical lyrics – you can interpret them in all these different ways. It’s not so cut-and-dry, in terms of meaning. So yeah, that was a really long-winded answer to your question, but yeah.
SHJ: We could do some Wilco.
ST.ART: Yeah, Wilco. Also The Killers – you know, you can’t go wrong with The Killers.
SHJ: The Killers are good. Have you heard Brandon Flowers’s solo record?
ST.ART: I haven’t, no.
WE: His first [album] is good, the second one is impossible to listen to – it’s fucking terrible.
SHJ: Have not heard the first one, agree about the second one – I heard it yesterday, and I was really let down, because I like The Killers, I think it’s really good pop music.
WE: The first one’s actually pretty good.
SHJ: I didn’t realise he had a first one, I thought he just had this one… what are you doing, man? What are you doing?
ST.ART: ‘Change Your Mind’ is my favourite song by them. That whole album is just great.
SHJ: ‘Change Your Mind’?
WE: Is that on Hot Fuss?
WE: Yeah, that album is great.
SHJ: See, that’s a band where I’m like, ‘Damn, yeah.’ Like, we’ve been talking about just the idea of like… you know, it’s gotta be fun to play that type of music, you know, like being a musician and being in a rock band, it’s easy to shit on bands that are sort of like these dancing bands, but it’s gotta be a lot of fun.
ST.ART: Yeah, I don’t think you’d ever get tired of it. Like as much as I like Damien Rice and Bon Iver, their music is really soft and slow and just kind of sad… even Ben Howard – his stuff is really sad. If you go to his concert, you know, you’re not expecting to dance and rave… I don’t know, maybe it would a little bit sad as a musician singing those sad songs all the time.
SHJ: Absolutely, and I think there’s definitely a place for it. There’s something really… I feel like the times we’ve connected as a band the most with people, like live audiences, has been the former – sort of, like, the energy. And maybe that’s just our age, maybe that’s because we play college shows and college kids wanna rage [laughs]. Actually, Will and I, we went to a show once at Barclays and we saw Ben Howard. I felt like it didn’t translate all that well… like it was beautiful, like, ‘Wow, this is great, this is a great musician’, but it almost felt sort of strange being in Barclays, you know, sold out…
WE: Yeah, it definitely did belong in that…
SHJ: … 20,000 people just like… I don’t know.
ST.ART: Especially if you have an artist like Ben Howard playing after a really peppy opening act. Like I have a friend who went to a concert, and the opening act was some really vibrant performance, I don’t remember who it was, and then Ben Howard came on and the mood kinda just… took a turn.
SHJ: Was it HAIM?
ST.ART: It might’ve been, I don’t know.
SHJ: Because we saw a show, it was HAIM, Ben Howard and then Mumford & Sons.
ST.ART: If you guys could open for any act, who do you think it would be?
SHJ: I was gonna say we should say it on the count of three [laughs].
WE: Were you gonna say Björk?
SHJ: I was either Björk or Ryan Adams, one of those two.
WE: Oh, probably Ryan Adams.
SHJ: Björk would be cool, though. I don’t think she would like our music very much, though [laughs].
SHJ: I think she would think we’re a little basic [laughs].
ST.ART: [laughs] That’s rude.
SHJ: Apples and oranges… but pomegranates and… grapes. Like I think we would all gladly be the grape in Björk’s pomegranate [laughs].
ST.ART: What about doing a duet with any act?
SHJ: That’s a good question. What do you think Will?
ST.ART: Dead or alive.
WE: Probably Patsy Cline.
SHJ: Mmm yeah, that would be cool – Patsy. You could sing all the girl parts.
WE: That’d be so sick.
SHJ: Yeah, that would be cool. Johnny Cash, maybe – that’d be cool to play with him. He did a lot of those sort of celebrity guest appearances. Or maybe someone less conventional… I’m trying to think of someone that would be weird but really cool… like Black Star.
ST.ART: What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far as a group?
SHJ: Um… good question. I guess we’ve been relatively lucky, there haven’t been many challenges. I’d say a big thing is just… time. I mean, it’s everyone’s thing, just the sort of classic life getting in the way type thing. I think it’s easy as a band and even as a human being, like, ‘Oh, this is what I should be doing, why am I not doing this’, but it’s hard to structure life around anything to begin with. I admire bands that are able to move in together and do the whole thing, but it’s like… I don’t know, it’s hard to ride that line between ‘is this healthy’, ‘is this not’. I think that we’re all people who really like doing other things.
ST.ART: What does a typical day look like for you guys?
WE: Usually like… wake up, brunch, bunch of cocktails, couple massages [laughs]… get into the limo… nah, it’s more just like, few granola bars, cup of coffee, try to save some money, play a show, go home.
SHJ: When we’re all together, though, we have a very nice routine. Our drummer and vibes player Charlie, he’s very, like one of the great non-musical things that he brings to the table is being such a heard-core organiser and people-mover.
WE: Yeah, he’s just such a dad about that kind of thing.
SHJ: Such a dad – he’s got that great dad instinct. Like when we’re travelling, you know, if there’s a bit of a time-crunch, we’ll be up until 2am, maybe 3am, and we’ll have to be on the road by 7am the next day, he’s always the one nudging us with his foot, waking us up…
WE: And then driving…
SHJ: … waking you up in the yoga studio where you slept the night before with a cup of coffee for you, fully clothed – he’s got your coffee, he’s got your bacon-egg-and-cheese, he’s got the car packed up and he’s ready to go. He’ll drive the whole way. He’s definitely always there. I think we’re good together. We’re not together enough. It’s hard.
ST.ART: Is there anything else that you want to add? Do you guys have any secret talents?
SHJ: Will’s really good at impersonating Sam Smith.
WE: I’m not gonna do it [laughs].
SHJ: Parting words are always tough. Well, we’re finishing a record, which we’re really excited about, we’re playing in New York next weekend… parting words, hmm… stay in school I guess.
I have something good. Someone gave a fortune cookie the other day, and it really sort of hit a nice place for me. I think it will for the people of Scotland as well – ‘Do you believe? Endurance and persistence will be rewarded.’ Lucky numbers: 5, 14, 42, 25.
Watch music videos by Del Water Gap here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylhBJoqcpjQ
Check out Del Water Gap's new single 'Lamplight' here: https://soundcloud.com/delwatergap/sets/lamplight-single
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