Del Water Gap on Smash Mouth, Quarantine and "Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat" [Premiere + Q&A]
Photo: Angela Ricciardi
Some music is just so vivid that when you hear it, you see it. In the same vein, some songs are so personal that when you listen, it's like peering into someone’s innermost thoughts. Each one of Del Water Gap's songs possess that power. The artist's newest single, "Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat," effectively peels back the curtain on a wandering mind's thoughts.
"Ode To a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat" explores feelings of apprehension and angst at the possibility of a lover finding love somewhere else. Frontman S. Holden Jaffe's soft-hearted vocals flounce over folksy guitars with rock-leaning layerings. The song's undercurrent is akin to Del Water Gap's previous classic singer-songwriter style displayed on his Don't Get Dark EP. But Del Water Gap's 2020 sound is becoming more and more accented by contemporary touches and heightened tempos.
We caught up with the man behind the project to find out more about "Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat," his obsession with Smash Mouth, and how his quarantine is going.
Ones To Watch: So you're from rural Connecticut, but moved to Brooklyn during your young adult years. How have or haven't your surroundings aided in creating your sound?
Del Water Gap: At the time I moved to the city, there was still a really vibrant indie scene happening. CMJ was in full swing, and I was out every weekend seeing bands like The Virgins, Public Access TV, The Drums... The Arctic Monkeys, The Antlers, Diet Cig. Bands and bands. Running into Fabrizio Moretti by the NYU library. I was spending a lot of time at St. Dymphna's and borrowing electric guitars from my friend Dylan. I loved the music I was ingesting and the scene that came with it.
Did you choose music or did music choose you?
Music chose me - but I was an ardent enabler. I remember standing on my living room table and playing harmonica along with the radio as a kid. Everything in C major sounded decent…? I figured out what one-four-five felt like years before I knew the words for it, just staying quiet and listening. My relationship with music has been a bit of an abusive one in recent years, but I know I'm here for life. I've fantasized about quitting and doing something simpler hundreds of times, but i know that’s not going to happen any time soon.
What was it that made you decide to grow Del Water Gap from a personal project into a full blown touring band?
I put out an EP in 2012 under the name Del Water Gap because all of my heroes at the time were solo artists using monikers; Bon Iver, Tallest Man on Earth, St. Vincent... and so on. I moved to NYC without any aspirations of being a performer, but the record started performing a bit on local blogs and my best friend at the time basically forced me to play a show. She said "these are songs to fall in love to." I refused and refused until she offered to play the show with me, and I finally gave in and booked a slot at Sullivan Hall in the village. I think we nearly sold it out.
Who would you say your music is for?
People who have run out of podcasts.
You've released "My Body," featuring Claud, and now "Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat," both of which admittedly sound a little different from your previous work. The newer singles still have a folksy charm but seem more electronic-leaning or even more pop-leaning. What's leading this explorative venture?
As I was finishing college I started producing some indie pop artists with my friend Mike Adubato. It was really just a way to help make ends meet, but I spent a year looking over Mike's shoulder as he built out arrangements. I really got a holistic education in pop production that way. As artists, I think that our work is defined both by our strengths and our limitations, and as my limitations broke open, my work changed. I would simply sit down to make a song and reach for different colors. I also started consuming more indie pop records, and I eventually made the realization that I could take influences from those records without sacrificing any part of myself as a writer or protagonist.
We love how tender "Ode to a Conversation Stuck in Your Throat" not only sounds, but actually feels. There's a ton of intimacy there. It feels like we're reading a diary entry. Can you give us some more insight into the song's origin?
The song came out of a slow night in the studio with my good friend Gabe Goodman. We had been in a secret boy band that broke up in 2017, and it was our first time really writing together since things ended. I programmed some drums, and Gabe put most of the music together - we were just getting into a flow when a friend invited us to dinner with one of our musical heroes. We looked at each other and said "Should we go? Do we stop now?" "No, no, no we stay," we decided. So we kept writing and had a spiked seltzer or two.
I came back to the studio the next day and moved a few things around and wrote most of the words. I was seeing someone at the time who I really liked, and we had both been walking up to the line of asking the other to be with each other and no one else. Finally, we were sitting together one day and it got all quiet and she goes, "I've had this stuck in my throat all day..." And that was the start of our togetherness and the inspiration for the song.
We were creeping on your Twitter. What's going on with you, bowl cuts, and Smash Mouth?
I thought you'd never ask - a few months ago, I was having a coffee playdate with my friend Charlie Burg and he was sketching me from the across the table. He's really a very good artist, so I was feeling a little competitive and decided I would try my hand at sketching as well. So I grabbed a pen and a napkin from the table and drew this ridiculous line drawing of a horse with a bowl cut and a human face. It looks like something a six year old would draw in art class. It also has this disturbing and surrealist quality to it. We were laughing and laughing at my ridiculous creation and I turned to Charlie and said, "Do you think I could sell this online?" So I threw the napkin on my web store and it sold in five minutes and the whole event was so delightful to me that I made "commemorative" t-shirts and a Horse With Bowl Cut fan club account on Instagram. So a lot of bowl cut content makes its way to me these days.
Not much to say about Smash Mouth other than the 2001 Smash Mouth self-titled LP is one of the greatest records ever made, and I will gladly teach a college level course on it if any university will lend me a classroom space.
I read that you draw inspiration from what you eat, But when it comes to flavor, how would you describe your musical palette?
I would describe a musical cheese plate; sweet and savory. Trou Du Cru, a truffle Moelleux des Alpes, a hard Beaufort. Some honey and jam on the side, olives and cornichon. With a generous pile of those really expensive fig crackers they have at Whole Foods.
What's been one of the defining moments of your artistic career so far?
My dad FaceTimed me the other day from quarantine wearing a Del Water Gap mock turtleneck and listening to my song "Theory of Emotion." That was pure power.
What's next for you?
I'm putting out the best work of my life so far - a few songs now and a few over the summer and into the fall. I'm touring with girl in red. I'm surviving this pandemic and everything that has come with it. I am trying to be a better friend and take better care of my brain and my body.
We of course hope you're staying safe during this time. But how are you keeping quarantine interesting? Or are you?
I am very lucky to be safe and comfortable - I've run away to a friend's house by the ocean, so I have some fresh air and light, and I get to say hi to a seal once in a while. I've been journaling and cooking and trying to run twenty miles a week. I've been coloring a lot and watching Nashville. The excess of free time has not led to an excess of creation, but I'm trying to be gentle on myself. I think the collective anxiety has taken a toll on all of us. We'll be writing about this for years to come, but we may have to wait a few years before we start. I shot a music video for "Ode" from quarantine, and have been finishing up my record remotely with Mike and Gabe. One of my best friend's dad is a practicing buddhist, so he's been sending me some really powerful literature each day, helping me move towards a more organized spiritual practice. All we can do right now is sit in this and keep in touch with the ones we love, so that's my work.
Lastly, who are your Ones to Watch?
I love Rosie Tucker's record Never Not Never Not Never Not. Miss Grit played one of my favorite shows of the year opening for Daisy the Great at Rough Trade in August. Briston Maroney is making really powerful records. and Claud of course! One of my friends has a new project called Honeywhip, which I have been literally playing on repeat.