Writer Of The Week: Low Water
Meet Brooklyn rockers Low Water. Their new album, The Taste You Know And Enjoy, is recommended listening for all fans of intelligently designed pop music. We polled John Leitera (guitar and vocals) and Dave Rubin (guitar) on getting TV exposure, their favorite venues, and being compared to one of our all-time favorite acts.
Your band is frequently compared to Wilco. Do you agree? Are you fans?
John Leitera: I think a lot of our early press compared us to Wilco and other “Americana” bands, and that comparison has stayed with us. I personally am a big fan, and I really respect Jeff Tweedy as a songwriter and lyricist. I don’t really think we sound all that much like them, but I do think we’re coming from a similar place maybe, emotionally, and people pick up on that and that’s where the similarities stem from.
Dave Rubin: I saw them play with Billy Bragg when the Mermaid Avenue stuff came out, and I really liked them. And I think the sentiment in John’s lyrics is what ties us to Wilco.
What genre would you describe your music as falling under, or do you not subscribe to labels?
JL: Well, we’re a rock band, first and foremost, I suppose…”independent” in the sense that we pretty much do everything ourselves, but “indie” has taken on it’s own meaning over the years, and we’re probably not what immediately comes to mind when you hear the term “indie rock”…I’m comfortable with any of it really; if people are listening and liking it they can call it anything they want.
How did you land your music on All Songs Considered? Did that open up any doors for you?
JL: We just sent a song to the “All Songs Considered” website, where they were posting songs that they liked and thought fit in with the vibe of the show, and they said they liked the tune (“Stay Away From Me, Girl” from Hard Words in a Speakeasy) and wanted to include it. That was the first record, and I think it helped us at the time realize where we were genre-wise, kind of gave us a handle on how people may see the band…NPR as opposed to, I don’t know, Radio Disney, I guess.
How did you get your music on the PBS series Roadtrip Nation, and on HGTV?
JL: Well, we’ve never worked with a manager or a publicist before this record, so we really worked hard at getting our music out there anyway we could; TV and other media is a good way to be heard, and like the “All Songs Considered” thing, we have found that there’s a general feel with what we do. The folks at PBS were really into the band, and Roadtrip Nation used our music two seasons in a row.
What are some of your favorite venues to play?
JL: Here in New York City there’s different places that fit different things we do; the Mercury Lounge is great; we love Spike Hill in Williamsburg, which has become a kinda homebase for us; we recently played some shows up in Vermont and had a blast at a little place called Parker Pie Company in West Glover, way up in the Northeast Kingdom where they have great food and everyone was really appreciative of the music. I love the Make-Out Room in San Francisco, the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, Club Cafe and Brillobox in Pittsburgh are always really fun as well. There’s so many.
What’s a song on your new album you really want people to hear, and why?
JL: I think “Sideways Sonnet” would be my pick. It really represents what the band is all about, and covers all the bases–musically, lyrically–I’m really happy with that one.
DR: “I Amplify” is my favorite. It’s a song that’s been around for a while, but we never played it live. We re-worked it with some big harmonies and a guitar riff, and I was able to sneak a Shepard Tone into the middle of it. Look out!
What’s a lyric you’re particularly proud of on the album?
JL: “Now if you are one who’s prone to bruisin’ like a berry / If your eyes hold the mist like the light from a ferry /If your ears get to burnin’ from the urban grapevine / If you’re spreadin’ it as thin as a Daily News headline / Let it go”
DR: John writes the words, and I think that my favorite line is from “Down Swingin'”:
“Picture what could have been without the crop.”
Are there any words you love, or hate?
JL: I’m not a fan of using words as placeholders, like “really really…” and that kind of thing. Also, there’s a lot of songs about guys riding on and/or waiting for trains I’m not sure I believe. Also stream-of-consciousness stuff is tricky. Some people, like Michael Stipe in the early R.E.M. stuff, can pull it off.
DR: I’m not a fan of the word “doily”, and I can’t believe that Kid Rock can get away with this rhyme: “And we were trying different things, we were smoking funny things”. It’s the same word!
Or that Kanye can get away with: “Since Prince was on Apollonia, since OJ had isotoners”. It doesn’t rhyme!
How do you typically write songs? Words first, or melody?
JL: I usually start with a line, and that line is usually part of the “chorus” although lately it’s harder to tell what’s what. Then I put chords to that, and continue with the words and music at the same time. I bring things in to the band, and then we work together arranging it, editing and adding things.
DR: John brings a song to the band, and it’s about 90% done. Joe, Turner and I usually work out the rest of the musical arrangement. We play it several times, record it (lately onto Joe’s phone), and email the version to ourselves. We’ll come back to it at the next rehearsal, and keep working on it until it takes shape.
Do you find yourself revising a lot, or do you like to write automatically?
JL: Absolutely, I revise lyrics all the time. I think they need to sit for a while in general. Sometimes there’s filler just so I can get the song to the band, and in that sense, it’s “automatic”, but I won’t stop if I can’t think of a certain line. I will go back later and really spend time on the words, and I usually have a better idea what works when the music is solid.
DR: Musically, the songs keep evolving, even after they’ve been recorded. Someone will change up a beat during a live show and it’ll sound cool, and it’ll make it’s way into the song.
Who’s an underrated songwriter, in your opinion?
JL: Tim Rogers, of the Australian band You Am I is one of my all-time favorites, and one of the best lyricists on the planet, hands down. He’s pretty well known there, but doesn’t get near the attention he deserves here in the USA. Also Luke Buda from the New Zealand band The Phoenix Foundation, another criminally unrecognized band here.
What’s a song you wish you’d written?
JL: Oh boy. “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road” (the Percy Sledge version)? “Let Them Hang High” by Syl Johnson? “Surrender” by Cheap Trick? “Funny How Time Slips Away” by Willie Nelson? Those are a few that come to mind instantly…