We caught up with Brooklyn-based band QUARTER WATER following the stunning release of ‘What’s The Word’. Read the full interview now!
How did quarter water get together?
Gabe: I’ve wanted to play in a good hip hop band… basically since I started playing music, so putting together the Quarter Water lineup was years in the making.
Leland and I are both from the Northeast (Providence and Boston, respectively) but went to school in New Orleans. Although we never actually met in NOLA, we were connected later by mutual friends and started playing together in Boston, at sessions and venues like Slade’s (still one of my favourite venues ever.)
Googie and I both worked at a 3D printing company for a while and met over lunch at the factory in Queens one day. We had a heated conversation about rap music for about 2 hours and then carried on with the day. I later realized we didn’t even exchange names.
Months later when I dragged my girlfriend to a Salomon Faye show at this tiny venue in Brooklyn called The Flat, I ran into Googie, and he was like “Yooo what the fck are you doing here?!” I was like “I’m here to see Salomon Faye, what the fck are you doing here?” and he was like “I’m the opener!” We proceeded with the typical “Oh you make music, I make music, let’s collab” conversation, and unlike most of those conversations, we actually followed through, doing sessions every few months, mostly at Rivington Studios in LES.
We had a rotating cast of drummers and keys players for a while. We would usually just jam or cover songs, and Googie would freestyle or spit bars from other songs he’d written. In 2017, we finally started to get more serious and locked in a formula: I would send Googie a bunch of beats, he would pick ones he liked and write to them, and then the band would learn the song.
Our first serious drum and keys lineup was Arun Janssens and Alex Han, both on the first EP, who Leland knew through Providence connections. Arun had to move out of the country, and Alex had to step back to focus on taking over the legendary Lesson slot at Arlene’s Grocery, so I pulled in Bennett for drums, who was a good friend from high school and had recently moved back to NYC. He asked Kaley aka Puck, one of his classmates from the NYU jazz program and now resident keyboardist for Sza, if she’d be down to play with us.
I was hype, albeit a little nervous, when she agreed (I had played with her a few times before and was always intimidated by how good she was) but the new lineup chemistry gelled almost instantly, and the new Quarter Water was locked in.
Who influenced your latest release ‘What’s The Word’?
Googie: I wanted there to be a song that highlighted the different feelings of vibing out on bud. Usually, songs dedicated to the effects of weed have a slow tempo feel, but sometimes feelings come in fast when you have inhaled the sweet, sweet sensei, hence the juxtaposition between the slow chorus and the speedy verses. Also anytime there’s double-timed verses it is an ode to Busta Rhymes.
What’s the music scene like in Brooklyn?
Kaley/Bennett/Googie/Gabe: The music scene in New York is so beautiful. The scene here is unique in that before the pandemic, there were more jam sessions happening here than in other cities, simply because the bars stay open until 4 am.
People party, spaces want something to draw crowds. There are more shows here. And really top-notch music programs, so there’s a steady influx of talented musicians. I think even the theatre industry or live TV industry here in New York are influences. They raise the bar and are examples of folks making a living as musicians.
All of it makes the level of playing, and the shows that we put on here really incredible, even at a DIY level. I see the New York scene struggling with being able to roll out projects compared to places like LA, which have less live playing at all levels, but loads of music and film studios. The New York hustle, just keeping up with rent, also makes it difficult for our artists to move quickly.
I think those are reasons why the New York scene has gotten slept on for a few years – media often doesn’t notice how many collaborations are going on, or all the different records that are coming out, collectively. Artist-planned shows here are very special things, and though they’re a bit more plentiful than other DIY-scenes around the country, they’re still major nights of celebration and connection and blowing off steam for our community. Major accomplishments to put together. I’ve really been missing those nights during the plague.
Kaley: Also, the history here is everything – NYC as a whole, not exclusively BK. It’s so exciting to walk on the same streets as defining legends of hip-hop, jazz, punk, rock, nightlife, painting, comedy, cuisine… The city has clearly changed, but at the end of the day, we are still inspired by the same bridges, buildings, and (primarily) people that all contribute to this city’s energy.
‘What’s The Word’ has been superbly mixed and mastered by dane.zone of Sonnymoon, what was that collaboration like?
Gabe: Working with Dane was absolutely awesome. I really liked his work in Sonnymoon, and more recently had gotten super into his production for Nappy Nina and his solo work.
Off the bat, things were really comfortable and focused on the art – not worrying about many rounds of edits we’d do or sticking to a strict timeline, but making sure we got it right, which I really appreciated. He nailed the mix almost immediately.
The biggest challenge was more of an existential question for the record: do we want it mixed and mastered more like a traditional hip hop record, with really up-front vocals and massive drums, or more like a live R&B/ soul record, with a more balanced and intimate vibe? It took us a while to dial in the right balance, but I think it landed exactly where it needed to, and Dane was super patient and pro at helping us get there.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Googie: Most definitely, from a Hip-Hop perspective Mannie Fresh who will always be my favourite producer. The bounce is undeniable. Musicians, in general, would have to be Kanye because of what he brings out of other artists and Thundercat because of his musical style and sense of humour.
What’s your dream venue to play?
Googie: The Garden is where anybody who grew up in NY wants to eventually play. Its the ultimate validation.
Other than music, what are you passionate about?
Leland: Passion is never-ending for me; there are many things I’m passionate about. For me, my passion is driven by trying to find a centre (focus) to connect to all things around us (on Earth) and beyond us (the universe).
Quarantine has definitely got me and my partner trying to make everything ourselves in the kitchen. She got me an ice cream maker, which is dangerous, but loads of fun With the erasure of food/drink culture (which was a previous non-musical passion), its been great developing some culinary skills. I’m definitely not the only one either – If you haven’t seen Googie’s cooking show, it’s an absolute must.
What changes would you like to see in the music business?
Kaley: It’s really more of a change to capitalism that I want than a change to the music industry specifically.
Bennett: On the other side of that coin, though, there could/should be more ways for artists to get paid within the capitalist structure. Obviously touring/performing is on hold, but we are in a media golden age (Streaming/Social/Gaming) that opens a massive window for new business. The bridge between artists and administrators or producers could be a lot less bottle-necked.
Band: Furthermore, the pay structure for royalties and credit is completely out of whack. I’m an optimist though, and I think we are figuring out post-Napster sales and royalty tech slowly but surely.
If you could choose one thing for fans to take away from your music, what would it be?
Googie: When the vibes is right, it’s hard to feel all the hardships and problems people face daily. Our music is created to facilitate that kind of atmosphere.
Have you started working on your next release?
Googie: Yea we definitely have something cooking up that will define Quarter Water further and hopefully catapult us to a place of recognition.
FVMusicBlog January 2021
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