On Thursday, July 24, The Wind Up returns to celebrate the cerebral and colorful Thesaurus paintings of Mel Bochner at Alphabet Party. The evening will feature a genre-blending live performance by artist Will Epstein‘s latest musical project, High Water. The Jewish Museum spoke with Epstein about High Water and what to look forward to at this Thursday’s show.
The Jewish Museum: Tell us about the name “High Water” and its significance. How did you choose it?
Will Epstein: The name “High Water” represents for me a contrasting ocean of images and emotions. It embodies a sort of classical anxiety of submersion and dissolution but also through that, redemption. It’s a blues mentality that facilitates a submarine expedition beneath generated illusions and copycat wisdom.
JM: You have a long history with music — it was your major at Brown University, you listened to John Coltrane at age 14. When did you know you wanted to dedicate your life to being a musician?
WE: I think in a sense it was always my reality but it wasn’t until I learned that some people separate what they love to do from what they actually do that I fully accepted it—I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make that separation.
JM: You’ve been described as a multi-instrumentalist; do you have a favorite instrument or one you’re focusing on right now?
WE: The saxophone is almost like an appendage to me so I think I take it for granted sometimes. It’s my oldest musical connection and it absolutely means the world to me. Singing is most exciting to me these days, however, and piano playing is it’s silver companion. Each instrument does make you realize, though, what’s really special about the others.
JM: Your music crosses several genres — folk, jazz, and electronic, to name a few. Which musicians inspire you, and how do you use that inspiration to create your own unique sound?
WE: I like a lot of music that I think most people would not see connections between but are inherently linked to me. I am consistently moved by the same set of things that a piece of music or an artist embodies. The intensity of Mick Jagger laid the path for me to John Coltrane and the lyrical cries of Coltrane led me to a band like Animal Collective. Or also like Bob Dylan embodies, for me, the same freewheeling spirit of improvisation as an artist like John Zorn. These are not academic comparisons that I make in my head when I listen to something but things that I feel intuitively. My goal is simply to become comfortable enough with myself so that I’m able to let all of these influences flow freely through me and reflect through my prism.
JM: The Beautiful Moon EP debuted in October 2013 on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label. Tell us about the artistic process behind making and recording that album.
WE: That record was essentially a release of a lot pent-up sounds and images that were swirling behind my eyes. The process necessitated the taming of a lot of technology that I hadn’t used before, so it was was freeing but also very challenging on that level. [Beautiful Moon] also employs, I think, a very subconscious method of storytelling that I find interesting looking back on. There’s a sort of infant-like struggle between abstraction and communication that I think is at that record’s center.
JM: High Water has opened for Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s duo Darkside, among others, but typically in more conventional concert venues. What does a live show like The Wind Up — taking place after hours at a museum — offer you as a performer, and the audience as listeners, that recording an album or playing a theater venue perhaps doesn’t?
WE: Concert venues can be wonderful but certain nasty habits are often triggered when you enter that kind of space. The intimacy and quietude that an unusual space like this can provide is often quite special.
JM: Are you working on a new album or any new projects?
WE: Yes I’m in the studio this summer working on a full-length LP!
Catch Epstein performing as High Water this Thursday, July 24, at The Wind Up.