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What I Learned at Bandcamp: Waterstrider

Waterstrider, out of Berkeley, Calif., is comprised of Clayton Ernst, Brijean Murphy, Nate Salman, Alex Siegel, Sean Suess and Walker Johnson. The sextet has been recording music together since August. However, guitarist Siegel, bassist Ernst and vocalist Salman have been creating music since living together in a Berkeley Student Co-op two years ago.

In August, the band released their debut four-track EP Constellation which is available for $3 on Bandcamp. The title track can be downloaded for free.

The Spec interviewed frontman Nate Salman, read below to see what he has to say about a future full-length and Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós…

Who or what are your influences?
We are heavily influenced by various musicians and styles from South America and West Africa, but we all tend to bring our own specific influences into the band. For example, I am a Radiohead fanatic, but I’ve also been really into afrobeat and highlife music; particularly Fela and King Sunny Ade for the last few years. I played Balinese Gamelan in my last few semesters of school and I feel like the interlocking kotekan in that music has been a pretty big influence as well. Alex’s area of expertise is Brazilian jazz and Sean Suess, our flute/sax/synth/backup vocalist, exposed me to Victor Jara recently. Joao Gilberto, AfroCubism, and Hallelujah Chicken Run Band have all been in our ears lately as well.

How did you come up with your name?
A couple summers ago, a friend of mine in Santa Barbara (my hometown) started calling me “Waterstrider” as a kind of joke but also because she felt like it was my spirit animal (or spirit insect?). I came back to Berkeley in the fall and started an early incarnation of the band and it ended up just feeling like the perfect name. The natural phenomenon of the insects gliding across creekbeds and ponds has become a really inspiring image as well.

How did you guys meet/form the band?
Alex, Clayton, and I were all living in a Berkeley Student Co-op and we had been jamming together a little bit. There were some other musicians in the house as well so I started calling people to see if they wanted to start a band. It was originally this completely over the top seven or eight-piece jam band that I was desperately trying to teach how to play Afrobeat music (as though I were an expert…). Then we reduced it to the standard four piece of drums, bass, guitar, vocals/guitar but it became a little bit too punk-rock. Then Brijean, our beautiful and talented percussionist, joined the band and shortly after, I met Sean and he asked me if he could jam with us after seeing one of our co-op gigs. I was super into it. Walker Johnson, our amazing drummer, was a friend of my older brother and he just happened to call me this last summer right after our old drummer had moved to grad school. I was like, “Hey, you want to join my band? I’ll send you some recordings and you can tell me what you think.” His response was something like “I would join your band even if all I got to play was one glockenspiel note in a song.” I was stoked to have him and he brought more of the goofy and loving energy that we all seem to share.

Upcoming projects, where do you want to go from here?
We are recording a bunch of songs at the moment and we hope to release a full length in the near future, but we might have to move on from the bedroom recording techniques we used on the first EP and into a studio. Hopefully we will be able to get a couple tours set up in the coming months to help promote the new songs, but a couple of us are still in school so we are waiting until summer. Some of the new songs are a bit heavier and more politically oriented than the stuff on Constellation, but it all feels really good to play live. At the moment, we all really want to take this music as far as we can.

Plans for a full-length album any time soon?
As soon as possible! We have enough cohesive material to fill out an album, but we are still tracking everything. It will happen sooner rather than later, but we are still trying to figure out whether we want to utilize the same method for recording as we did for the first EP… that is, setting up fairly simple recording gear in my bedroom and/or in the basement of the old hotel I live in at the moment.

What inspires your music?
Nature’s power and connection to human existence is an unintentional predominant theme throughout my lyrics. I tend to write songs by writing music that I then sing nonsensical syllables over the top of. Certain sounds feel good, so I try to plug words and phrases into those sounds and the lyrics that result are some weird kind of extension of my subconscious. I guess it’s kind of hippie-ish to say, but peace and love are kind of a huge part of who we are, so that’s definitely inspiring.

What musicians or bands do you look up to?
We all got really into this incredible Malian singer, Oumou Sangare, in the last few months. Her music is gorgeous yet deeply danceable as well. Her album, Seya, is pretty much our go-to album at the moment. A lot of us really dig Dirty Projectors as well. They are definitely one of the best live bands I have seen. As we’ve been recording I’ve been constantly listening to Radiohead and Sigur Rós as well. Jónsi Birgisson has been a huge influence on me as a singer. I aspire to the androgyny of his voice.

Why do you make music?
Writing songs feels really natural to me. I think creating things is a natural part of being human. It gives us purpose. Therefore, music has the power to heal and allow us to grow. In this way, it also carries a lot of power to help foster social change and cultural awareness. More than anything though, we make music because it simply feels good to do so!


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