Given recent world events, you’d be forgiven for wanting to unplug from the news completely. Which is what Hundred Waters frontwoman Nicole Miglis did for months as she wrote the songs heard on her band’s new third album, Communicating, released on Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint.
“I was like a hermit living on planet Hundred Waters,” Miglis told Rolling Stone from her home in Los Angeles that she shares with partner and bandmate Trayer Tryon, drummer Zach Tetreault, and three other roommates. “I recognized that I had a rare opportunity to get away with cutting myself off from the world when a lot of people can’t. That said, it wasn’t like a vacation; sometimes it’s harder to look in the mirror than across the room.”
But when Miglis did come out of her shell, “the scariest and most surreal thing was that the whole world seemed like it was in flames. Reality hit pretty hard and I remember crying the day he was inaugurated.” (She can’t bring herself to utter the president’s name). “I locked myself in my closet – where my microphone was – and improvised for an hour.”
These sorts of intense emotional states, from manic happiness to quailing despair, underpin Communicating, an album that finds the art-pop trio desperately trying to connect with both their audience and each other. The title track frets the lines “are we communicating?” and “it’s so complicated” until they become a bewildering tangle, as a plangent piano line and scraped noise grow in density.
For the band, the line between the personal and the public is often blurred. Originally formed in Orlando, Florida, by middle-school friends Tryon, Paul Giese and Zach Tetreault, the band took off when Tryon brought Miglis into the fold and the two became romantically involved.
“The beautiful thing about having the relationship and the band be so entwined is there’s no artifice,” Miglis says. “The music is our relationship; our relationship is the music.” Following their buzzy 2011 self-titled debut, the band signed with OWSLA and wrote their follow-up album, The Moon Rang Like a Bell, while on the road. By the time the group had finally settled down (relocating to Los Angeles in the process), their interpersonal relationships were strained to the breaking point, with founding member Paul Giese eventually leaving the band. “It was more of a gnarly mutual split than a gnarly abandonment,” Tryon says of the break. “[But] after that, making songs became simpler.”
Early on in the writing process for Communicating, Miglis and Tryon were on opposite ends of the continent, with the singer alone in New York City and him “on a lonely stint in Mexico City.” When Hundred Waters finally convened to start laying down tracks for Communicating in an abandoned church in Detroit, Tryon had conflicted feelings: “I have a really glowing memory of that time, except that Nicole and I were at our most distant.”
“Particle,” the album’s first single, addresses that emotional distance. Miglis purrs about being “a particle, a drop in you, forever dissolving,” her words breaking up. The song’s enormous bass swell comes courtesy of Skrillex, one of the group’s biggest fans and a co-producer on the track.
“Their vocals and the melodies are just really everything, they just carry that throughout all the music they do,” Skrillex told Rolling Stone. “On top of that, you have Nicole’s vocals which really carry everything. There’s nothing else like it.”
When it came time for Miglis to record her vocals, she set up a recording station in the band’s home, in the most isolated spot she could find, her closet. “I’m really shy with songs, and have to write completely secluded,” she confesses. Holing up in there “gave me a lot of comfort; it was my own little world.”
Even in the chaotic present, as Hundred Waters gear up to start touring the world, Miglis still finds a bit of solace there. “Lately I’ve been more and more into making costumes for videos and our show, so now my closet is just being filled with big ruffly things and reflective suits and big painted coats,” she says. “The microphone’s gone, but there’s still a computer monitor dangling from the back of my closet.”