This story originally appeared in the summer 2023 issue of Alternative Press. Read the cover story here.
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Water From Your Eyes once had a brilliant idea. Inspired by Blue Man Group, the indie-rock duo made up of Nate Amos and Rachel Brown spitballed a plan to cast a bunch of people who vaguely resembled them to play a series of concerts or even go on tour. Amos and Brown? They would stay home — probably to rewatch their favorite episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, they scrapped it.
“Turns out we know somebody who actually does that already,” Brown says, their earnest tone making it a little unclear if they’re being serious.
In fact, it’s a little unclear whether the band really considered their DIY lookalike scheme. The two of them call it the most ridiculous idea for a bit that they’ve ever come up with and never saw through, but they describe it rather matter-of-fact. It wouldn’t be too far off if they decided to revisit it, even for one night; really, no band are quite as in on the bit like Water From Your Eyes.
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[Photo by Eleanor Petry]
An absurdist sense of humor is ingrained in the group, who met in Chicago in the mid-2010s before settling in Brooklyn and becoming DIY mainstays with their extensive experimental discography. They often put on self-serious, sunglasses-indoors personas onstage, but photo opps are a chance to get goofy (from wearing matching Bulls jerseys to “I Love New York” tees in Times Square), and their merch has included sewing kits because they wanted to sell shirt buttons instead of pin buttons. Recently, they played an NYC residency, which included a night of bowling, no music.
To be fair, bowling has become one of their favorite things to do together — but that itself also began as a bit. (“It seems like the less there is to do somewhere, the higher the chances the bowling alley is too packed to get into,” Amos jokes, who would know, given they frequented it on pit stops during their recent tour with Snail Mail.)
While the members of WFYE are clearly adept at humor, they don’t make literal comedy music. Their arty indie rock is off-kilter and wonky, full of ambiguous lyrics and tracks that waver between sounding jittery or with a pop sparkle. It does contain some in-jokes every now and then, though — like the opener of their new album, Everyone’s Crushed (out now on Matador), is named after their 2021 record, Structure, and an interpolation of songs off 2020’s 33:44.
But on Everyone’s Crushed, it’s as if the duo really are looking for a sense of ease, and to laugh. Throughout the past couple of years, they dealt with — and worked through — depression, isolation and substance misuse. And coming out of that, they crafted an ambitious, surrealist record about coping with the shitstorm that can be living in the 21st century and trying to find hilarity to lessen the pain.
“I think [laughter is the] only coping mechanism that I have mastered. For me, personally, it’s been really important,” Brown says, noting how they come from a family with a dark sense of humor and how that’s helped the ebb and flow of their depression. “If you find yourself spiraling, one of the few things that works instantaneously is the feeling of guttural laughter. There’s nothing else that really feels that way.”
It may not be guttural laughter, but Everyone’s Crushed is like a hallucinatory blitz of dance-rock guitars and synths that essentially feel like the summation of the memey phrase “embrace the chaos.” That’s nearly Water From Your Eyes in essence and what’s made them a percolating band-to-watch for years — now finding an audience beyond Bandcamp devotees and Brooklyn DIY spaces, as they’ve signed to Matador and since toured with Interpol.
“A big part of the writing process is editing chaos,” Amos says. “It’s creating chaos, trying to see patterns and then editing things down to exposed patterns that naturally occur within the chaos — which probably applies to our lives to a certain extent, too.”
Brown adds that a few years ago, their “slogan for the year” literally was “embrace the chaos.” “I really haven’t gone back! Not by choice — my life has just not gotten any less chaotic. But that’s a big part about life: You learn to accept that things are really chaotic, and that’s it,” they say.
You could say that acceptance is what led them to make sarcastic art-rock about capitalism (“Buy My Product”) and tracks that explore the weight of loneliness with wordplay and jolting percussion (“Everyone’s Crushed”) on their new album. The band originally started out making what they called “sad dance music” — that itself being a bit, wanting to make New Order pastiche and finding the image of blasé-looking people making “pop content” funny. And while they’re far from that now, the catharsis remains.
Their relationship — which they equate to Brown being like a “big brother,” despite being younger — has gotten them through.
Much of that closeness has felt most at home watching hours of their favorite sitcoms — BoJack Horseman, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Party Down and Tim and Eric being some of their favorites. Amos falls asleep to old videos of Norm MacDonald, too.
“I feel like spending a lot of time being on drugs and watching Tim and Eric had a big impact on the way I make music and art in general,” Amos says, highlighting the comedians’ surrealist style. “It’s the way that they approach comedy as a medium and the way that you can look at that and apply it to however you approach your own medium.”
Brown agrees and notes how they’re also drawn to that fine line of exploring dark subject matter with humor, like BoJack or Party Down. While it might not be so forthright, it’s all there in WFYE and their many bits. You can just about guess how many of them were born after bingeing a series of Adult Swim sketches.
[Photo by Eleanor Petry]
“Never in a million years would have expected this to happen,” Brown says of the band’s recent breakout, which has come six years after they released their first album. “I thought we were going to be that local band people talk about for years. But now we never even play in New York.”
They say that in earnest, and then make a joke about how nowadays their life is just more so spent in the car more than ever, and they don’t have time for regular tasks like laundry. But it’s almost as if it’s one big bit that WFYE and their indie-pop chaos have started to take over in the way that it has. But again, they’re always in on the bit.
Water From Your Eyes appear in Alternative Press’ summer 2023 issue. Grab a copy here or below.