Waters: TAS In Session
When Port O'Brien fell apart in 2011 after a six-year run of three critically-praised albums, fans — like M. Ward who cited the group as a favorite — were saddened. Fortunately, one of the band's two founding members, Van Pierszalowski, regrouped quickly with a new band, Waters, and a debut album, Out in the Light, which was released last fall on TBD Records (City Slang in Europe).
A harder-rocking band than its more folk-leaning predecessor, Waters is in the midst of a North American tour and arrives in New York this Thursday, March 29, to play a sold-out Webster Hall show supporting Delta Spirit. Not long ago Pierszalowski and his Waters bandmates — guitarist Nikolai Haukeland, drummer Nicholas Wolch and bassist Alexander Margitich — visited The Alternate Side for a session which you can hear this Friday, March 30 on TAS on 91.5 WNYE and streaming on The Alternate Side.
Below, check out highlights of the interview and videos of live performances of tracks like the sublime "Mickey Mantle" or the far tougher "For The One."
Alisa Ali: It is clear, from your very first song, that this is not like Port O’Brien. I heard that Port O’Brien broke up because of creative differences? Is that the story we’re going with?
Van Pierszalowski: That’s the story we’re going with.
Alisa: So when you first started making [Out in the Light], did you want it to be completely different?
Van: Not necessarily. That wasn’t the overall intention, to make a record that was totally different. I’d been wanting to make a record that was more raw, more noisy, more rocking for a while. When I started writing the songs for the record, over the course of a year really, as soon as I wrote them, it just made sense to put them in that context. The song that we just played, for the one, wouldn’t be that cool in a folky, acoustic way. It is a rock song. So I didn’t want to hold anything back and conform to that, because that’s what I had been doing. I really love this type of music. It’s more of what I’m passionate about.
Alisa: When you were in Port O’Brien did you not feel like rocking out? Did you feel constrained?
Van: In Port O’Brien, we did rock out some. There’s a few songs on the first record that could be Waters songs, almost. In the live show I think we always took it more in a rocking direction than we did on the record, so we were always trying to go there. Port O’Brien was more of a democracy and [mine] wasn’t the only opinion. I was wanting to rock out a little more than we were, but I was also really passionate about what we were doing.
Alisa: Those are great records also. I will also not say that this Waters record is completely different — it is your voice after all — but the song “For The One” is very different from Port O’Brien stuff. The rest of the record that I do think could be Port O’Brien songs.
Van: There are definitely softer moments, like “Mickey Mantle” and “The Ones You Had Before.” I’ll also always write songs like that. The record’s kind of varied, just like the Port O’Brien record. I’m always one to let a song be how it wants to be. If that means that a record will have all sorts of different sounds, I think that’s for the better.
Alisa: I was wondering if you were really laboring over the sequencing of this record?
Van: You have no idea (laughs). That was my obsession for three weeks. You should ask my girlfriend. Maybe it’s more for the artist, but everyone I know who has a band, that’s the part of the record-making process that they labor over the most. The sequence does play such an important role. You can have the same 10 songs, throw them in a different order, and all of the sudden, the record has a totally different feel. I would have the order all set, then wake up in the morning and be like, “No! It’s this way!” Still, a month after release, I’m still pumped about the sequence. I feel it’s right.
Alisa: I like that you end with “Mickey Mantle.”
Alisa: You were living in New York for a short period of time?
Van: I was living in the Brooklyn; the Fort Greene-Clinton Hill area. I spent most of the last year and a half in Oslo, but I’m not allowed to stay there full-time, of course.
Alisa: You have a girlfriend there. But how long can you stay there?
Van: I can stay there three months at a time. But it’s more confusing. Three months every six months, so it’s an accumulative amount of days in every six month period. Of course she can’t stay here for longer than three months. So we’ve been going back-and-forth, following each other around. So one of those times we were here for three months.
Alisa: After Port O’Brien broke up, you went directly to Oslo?
Van: Kind of. I started going even in between the last few tours. I met a girl there on tour, fell in love, fell in love with the place and found it to be a really perfect place to get my footing again. Re-focus. It’s a very beautiful, quiet place.
Alisa: Did you take a break from music for a little while?
Van: I took a break from touring, but I never took a break from writing and rehearsing. As soon as I got there, I found Niko and a couple of his friends and started playing a lot. Niko came on the last tour with Port O’Brien in Europe. The drummer on the record and sometimes our bass player in Europe are his friends from Oslo.
Alisa: You started writing this new record right as you got to Oslo.
Van: Yeah. I think that’s fair to say it started in Oslo and continued to New York, up to Alaska and down to California.
Alisa: I read that you liked swimming in the Norwegian fjords.
Van: Coming from California, you think of Norway as a very cold place, which it is most of the year, but in the summertime, from the Gulf stream, this warm water comes in, deep into the fjords, so the water in Oslo, in the summer, is way warmer than the ocean water ever gets. Its an amazing time to be there.
Alisa: Do you have a boat?
Van: My dad has a boat.
Alisa: So where are you finally going to settle down?
Van: I’m not living anywhere at the moment. I’m living in a van.
Alisa: Van in a van.
Van: I haven’t really “lived” anywhere in four or five years. Other than three months on and off in Norway. But San Francisco, I feel, is my real home and that’s where I’m planning on settling down.
Alisa: And then you’ll get a boat.
Van: I’ll get a boat and live on a boat.
Van: This song was a challenge from a friend here in New York, Sean Bones. We were challenging each other to write a song with no minor chords in it, which I’ve never done.
Alisa: You worked with John Congleton on this record. How did he come into the mix?
Van: I’d actually never worked with a proper producer ever before. It was something from the beginning that I knew I really wanted to do. I spent a lot more time writing these songs, so I had them in my head for a year, maybe. I found that I was a little too close to them and I had maybe developed such a specific vision that maybe there’s some things that can be improved upon. I looked at my record collection and tried to figure out who was behind the ones that I liked, and John Congleton kept popping up. When I talked to him, I immediately felt he was the right guy.