Redbull Select & Troubadour Present:
Nick Waterhouse, Baby Alpaca, Gallant
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069
Everything about Nick Waterhouse started with a single 45. Actually, if you’re reading this, you understand that just about EVERYTHING started with a single 45, and you understand that I’m writing this and you’re reading this because we once heard a certain kind of song on a certain kind of record made by a certain kind of person—some genius and some lunatic, some lucky and some cursed and so many who only existed for a few minutes with a microphone before them in some hacked-together shack. Those were places that would have more comfortably held a speakeasy or a bloodthirsty game of poker, but which were instead reborn as recording studios. (But you could still gamble—in a new way—and drink just the same.) At that kind of place, if you could do it, you did it, and maybe you made it or maybe you just made something to prove you were there. We’re still sorting through the wreckage even now. There are those kinds of 45s waiting to see daylight again in closets, barns and unpaid storage units across the belly of America, and sometimes you’ll find one with the original owner’s name markered across the label—a good sign, I’ve always felt, because that means they wanted that record to belong to them forever.
So here we are with Nick Waterhouse, who signs his own name across a righteous and exhilarating part of American music with this debut LP, snapped together from sessions traded for rent money and desperate favors and succeeding through strange luck, particular personality and a vision that would not crack. When he made that first 45 by himself, he was hoping less to launch a musical career than to bury the possibility with dignity. In his suburban hometown, there’d never been music like this, and when he moved to the big city for school, no one could be bothered to care about music like this. (Except record-store owner Dick Vivian, whose 45s were sustenance and medicine, and who’d later lend a lyric to this album.) So he recorded his song simply to prove that he could record his song, and if anyone later ever wondered who Nick Waterhouse was and what happened to him? Well—I mean,‘Welllllllllllllllllll …!’—then they could just listen:
“There’s some place that I’d rather be / it’s something been on my mind almost constantly / some place I don’t expect you to understand / people talk to me and I know they don’t comprehend / … / there’s someplace, I swear it’s not in my mind / but it’s somewhere I been trying so hard to find / some place, I know it’s not quite clear / a place I can only say that it’s not right here …”
Usually, the person who made this kind of record disappears—that’s why we get reissues of “lost classics,” coming too late for youth and vigor but just in time for the legacy or maybe the eulogy. But you know that place Waterhouse is talking about and so do I, and turns out there were more of us than anyone thought. That “Some Place” 45 on his own label Pres—put together with something barely more than a pick-up band of 20-something kids, with the exception of sax player Ira Raibon, who’d actually been in some of those soul bands that made lost classics and was cracking up happily at Waterhouse’s precocious session direction—sold half its press in a single night in the winter of 2010, and so made itself known to the people who needed to know, in that quiet nighttime way certain records have done for decades.
By mid-2011, he was signed to a label—after one last tussle with a hustler in New York City, who almost stole a new session of Waterhouse’s songs away from him, as certain hustlers have also done for decades. And after three more swoops through engineer Mike McHugh’s studio the Distillery, where of course powerful spirits are made, he’d found his some place. Now in the first line of the first song on this album, he can ask: “Have you ever / made the best of a bad situation?” Surely plenty of people will remark upon how faithful Waterhouse is to the sound of American music as it was in the days when Elvis Presley was on an indie label, and surely that’s remarkable—but it’s the faith itself more than the sound that makes this album for me. He’s right to call it Time’s All Gone because the times don’t matter. In those shacks and studios and some places, those singers gave everything—because they knew no other way to do it. That’s what makes those certain 45s sound so certain. That’s what Nick Waterhouse’s new album has, too: “The important thing to me was I did everything myself,” he says. “On my own terms—the way I wanted.”
When trying to identify the music made by NYC band Baby Alpaca, it’s perhaps easier to try and figure out what the music is NOT. Judging by the music on the band’s first proper EP, it’s easy to say that this is definitely not your standard indie rock fare: an autoharp is involved, as well as both live and programmed beats and a smattering of guitars. The music eschews any musical tropes typically assigned to wispy bedroom electronica, beardy folk music, or the new wave of alternative R&B, but it could perhaps exist as a distant cousin to all of those things. Buoyed aloft by the winsome vocals of front man Chris Kittrell and shaped by the guitar styling of Zach McMillan, Baby Alpaca make music that is both romantic, vaguely tropical, and sufficiently futuristic—music that seems born of a million dramatic road trips that might provide a suitable soundtrack for a million more.
The four songs on the Baby Alpaca EP make for a striking, remarkably blissed-out statement of intent. The EP’s first single, “Sea of Dreams” (whose Dada-esque video premiered earlier this year via NPR.org) is as fitting an introduction as any band could hope to have: all echo-chamber vocals that seem to be haunted by reverby guitar lines and gently-played piano notes that drift through the song like ghosts. Tracks like “Wild Child” and “On The Roam” evoke a palpable sense of modern restlessness, something that permeates all of Baby Alpaca’s music. It’s a feeling that Kittrell attributes to his own meandering youth—a time spent experimenting, studying, travelling, and trying to locate his own creative voice.
The gentle, humane quality of Baby Alpaca’s music is deeply indebted to Kittrell’s adventurous youth. “I’ve always been torn between tradition and total wildness,” he says, which explains the rather circuitous path he took before settling on music. Having studied a variety of subjects in college—everything from psychology to art to economics—to dipping his toes into the world of fashion working with Marc Jacobs and at The Row with the Olsen twins, Kittrell picked up a support system and a family of creative souls that help support him on the journey. “I’ve lived on rooftops in Bushwick and brownstones in Chelsea. I’ve traveled around the world. At some point I just threw caution to the wind. It was rough at times and it lead me to experience a variety of hardships, but it also brought to the place I was meant to be—which is playing music.”
“A lot of this music is about running way,” explains Kittrell, “I don’t mean that in a escapist kind of way, but more in terms of exploration. So much of my life has been about running away from tradition and traditional ways of thinking, which seeps into the music we make together. It’s about discovery. It’s not so much about running away from something bad, but rather running towards something really beautiful.”
“…Sea of Dreams, which channels The Smiths with it’s dreamy, light dada-rock production – think soft, romantic rock that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. His debut EP ranges from playful to emotional, but always leaves you impressed. “ – Disco Naïveté
“There’s a drum machine oozing repressed emotion, and a spectral chorus to back up lonesome lyrics like “You said I was a loser,” which Kittrell utters with the resigned despondence of someone unsure of his ability to prove otherwise.” -BULLETT Magazine
“My dreams are never like Chris Kitrell’s “Sea of Dreams,” but I wish they were” - NPR’s Bob Boilen