Hundred Waters' sophomore album The Moon Rang Like a Bell comes on like an alternate soundtrack to filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's aptly titled "Dreams," the Florida four-piece weaving an ethereal web of electronic textures, gurgling percussion and singer Nicole Miglis' evocative vocals, which she manipulates as effortlessly as oil paint on a canvas.
Hundred Waters’ sophomore album The Moon Rang Like a Bell comes on like an alternate soundtrack to filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s aptly titled “Dreams,” the Florida four-piece weaving an ethereal web of electronic textures, gurgling percussion and singer Nicole Miglis’ evocative vocals, which she manipulates as effortlessly as oil paint on a canvas.
Though the music tends to sound weightless, hovering cloud-like in the atmosphere, the songs themselves are actually grounded in comparatively concrete day-to-day realities, according to the band’s frontwoman.
“I don’t know that we’re aiming to be dreamy or ethereal,” Miglis said by phone in an early July interview. “The songs come from a very real place and a very grounded place … but because of what we’re drawn to musically it tends to get more textural and atmospheric. There’s a lot of logic and work that goes into the songs, so they’re not intentionally dreamy. It’s just what comes out of us.”
The bandmates, who visit The Basement for a concert on Sunday, July 13, crafted a bulk of The Moon while crisscrossing the country in support of their self-titled 2012 debut, and those panoramic vistas and miles of open road bleed into roomy tracks like “Chambers (Passing Train),” a spacious number that stretches out like an endless highway cutting across the plain.
In a way, Miglis feels most at home during these more solemn, deliberate moments. The singer described herself as a quiet, introspective child — “I was a mute,” she said bluntly — content to perch herself alone at the family’s piano for hours on end.
“With speech, you’re so affected by nerves,” she said. “I think music is a much easier way to communicate for me than other means. It’s one of the only things I’ve always been comfortable with.”
Miglis, who was raised by a chiropractor father and an office manager mother, was encouraged in her educational pursuits from an early age. Her father, who doubled as an amateur astronomer of sorts, would regularly host “star parties” where friends and colleagues would bring over telescopes and spend hours lost in the night sky. This inbred thirst for knowledge has carried over into the singer’s musical explorations, fueling the sense of experimentation that has come to define Hundred Waters’ short existence.
“My dad was always learning and always telling us stories and passing along information, which definitely [cultivated] a sense of wonder in me,” Miglis said. “Making music is an opportunity to discover, or to stumble upon something you’ve never done before. That’s a big part of it, for me — the endless possibilities.”
The band’s music, in turn, continues to evolve, growing in new, unchartered ways. While its debut tended to be musically dense, Miglis said the players took care this time around to “chip away a lot of the layers,” and the resulting tunes move with an instinctual grace. Miglis has also gained confidence as a vocalist. “Do you hear me?” she wails repeatedly on “Seven White Horses” as the music threatens to swallow her whole, though there’s never a doubt her words are getting across.
“I’m more confident, or at least I have more of a grasp of what I’m doing now,” Miglis said. “It’s still bizarre to me that I’m a singer, to be honest. I always played piano, and I started writing songs when I was younger for an outlet, but I never trained my voice like an instrument. I still don’t intentionally do things with my voice to make it sound a certain way. I shut off that part of my brain … and just let it happen.”
When it comes to the lyrics, however, Miglis weighs each word carefully, saying, “Language can be just as musical as the instruments.”
As with the band’s music, Miglis’ songwriting continues to grow and adapt. In her teenage years, writing served a largely therapeutic role — “It all came from a need for survival,” she said — and her words tended to convey heavier messages, delving into subjects like heartache, confusion and regret. Nowadays Miglis occasionally lets the sun peak through, as she does on The Moon’s mantra-like opener “Show Me Love,” singing, “Don’t let me show ugliness, though I know I can hate.”
“I think my songwriting has grown a little from those immediate, emotional songs,” she said. “When I was younger I was writing from a sadder place, and I think I wrote about melancholy more than I do now. I’m becoming more appreciative of everything in my life and more aware and happy just to be where I am. I have more gratitude now than I did then.”
Tonje Thilesen photo