Bodies of Water Rush In: An Interview
Bodies of Water is husband-and-wife team David and Meredith Metcalf. Having just released their third full-length record, Twist Again, the duo proves that they have the staying power for enchanting harmonies and sharp songwriting. Here, David Metcalf talks about gospel music, Mennonites, and the creation of songs.
ELM:How did you and Meredith meet?
DM:We met through some mutual friends.
ELM: I read that you’re inspired by gospel music. What about that genre inspires you, and how do you think you channel it on Twist Again?
DM: My favorite gospel music has a transcendent intensity to it that turns it into something other than music. I guess that must have made its way into the songs somehow, but we didn’t consciously try to channel it, so I can’t really say how it fits into the record.
ELM: I also read that you’ve been classically trained on piano. Is that training something you find yourself drawing on now? Who are your favorite composers?
DM: I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but I wasn’t any kind of serious musician, if that’s what you mean. I learned how to read music, but I didn’t really figure out how it worked until much later on. Lately I’ve been listening to Schoenberg, Mahler, Erik Satie, and Sofia Gubaidulina.
ELM: Yet another thing I read was that your first EP was intended to be longer, but you were only satisfied with a few songs. Is your recording process quite meticulous? Can you describe it to me?
DM: That first time that we set out to record, we had no means to do it, so we relied on favors from friends and acquaintances. Since everything was being done for free in people’s spare time, the songs took a long time to finish, and some sounded better than others. We ended up just putting the few that we were happiest about on the EP. It wasn’t really that we were meticulous about it, just that some things didn’t work out as well as we’d have liked them to.
ELM: What is your writing process like? Do both you and Meredith write?
DM: Sometimes I write songs on my own, and sometimes we collaborate on them.
ELM: If this isn’t too personal, what made you two decide to attend a Mennonite church?
DM: We were invited to go there with some friends, and we liked it. The morning we first visited, ‘The Jubilee Singers’ (who we had never heard before) were playing music while we came in, which was a nice welcome.
ELM: How long did it take you to make Twist Again? What was the hardest part?
DM: We worked at it off and on for a little less than a year. It took a while to learn how to use recording equipment – I’d never recorded any of our songs myself before. We were hoping that the recordings would sound more or less the way that they did when we were playing the songs together in the living room, and in most cases, it worked out that way. If we were trying to do more technically complicated stuff, it probably would have taken longer.
ELM: Who are your favorite authors/poets?
DM: Oh, I couldn’t name a favorite. Recently, I’ve been reading Mark Strand, Rumi, and O Henry. Mostly I read magazines.
ELM: My favorite track on the album is actually the first one, “One Hand Loves the Other.” Can you tell me more about that?
DM: I recorded myself playing that song on the piano, and was going to leave it at that, but Meredith thought we should expand it a little bit, so we added a few other instruments and some more singing and it turned into what it is. She is mostly responsible for the way that song was put together.
ELM: Did you produce the album yourselves?
ELM: What is “Rise Up, Careful” about, if you feel comfortable talking about it?
DM: It’s about someone who is lifted up out of a jacuzzi into the sky at night, and the way that they “process” what’s happening to them.
ELM: What is your live show like, for those who haven’t seen it?
DM: There is a group of anywhere from 3 to 12 people playing and singing the songs. At this point, though, I think the days of very large groups of us may be over. It is fun to see this many people all going for it, but if we are playing in a rock club with a pinner sound check, you can’t hear what people are doing. It just turns into an enthusiastic mess, which is neat at first, but can become boring. We may change our minds about this in the future.
ELM: If you could raise awareness of any social cause, what would it be?
DM: “Social media” is eroding our collective ability to relate meaningfully (and empathetically) to each other. Is this a “social cause?” I’m not sure…maybe this isn’t even a bad thing. It isn’t as though people have been getting along together very well up until this point in history. Maybe the next frontier of human co-existence is a world in which everyone is too distracted and/or apathetic to impose their will on someone else.