AN INTERVIEW WITH DEL WATER GAP
“IN THIS WIDE AND PERILOUS ALL-TOO-BIG WORLD DEL WATER GAP WOULD LIKE TO THANK YOU FOR BEING CLOSE.” Close through their music, close through their emotionally raw lyrics, close through the heartfelt voice mails piling up on the band’s answering machine. If there’s one thing the trio isn’t, it’s far away. Grounded in their own blend of folk rock and the occasional trumpet appearance, they’re always just a phone call away according to their new EP title: 1 (646) 943 2672. I had the opportunity to talk to lead singer Holden Jaffe about the EP, the good ol’ days, and voice mails.
What’s the significance of the place Del Water Gap? You guys are from New York so how did you end up with that name?
Good question, I admittedly have never been to the Del Water Gap. However when I was 16 or so I was in a noise rock band called Great Blue Heron that was based out of New Jersey, Morristown and so I ended up driving around that area a lot and saw a lot of signs for DWG and one day we were driving and I was sitting shot gun and I saw it written on a box truck and it was written in sort of like primitive handwriting, it looked like it was scratched in and I just thought it looked really cool so I added it to my growing list of band names cause I was trying to start my own band and it ended it up at the top of the list and it has remained!
You put a phone number as the title of your newest EP and you can call it and leave a message, what was the purpose of that?
We were turning in the EP and I had a few names and I was really stressing over it trying to come up with the right name. The EP had to come out soon and I started thinkin and I was like i don’t know the names of any EP’s, I know some album names but the bands I like the most as far as EP’s go I don’t know the names so I was like okay maybe we can do something different here and right around that time I lost my phone. I left it on a plane and it was in rural New Hampshire and I felt very off the grid and I didn’t have my phone for the first time in years. I didn’t have a computer and I realized in trying to get in touch with my parents I didn’t know their phone number anymore and I didn’t know anyone’s phone number and I was like wow this is really interesting we’re living in this time where you don’t need to know anyone’s phone number which was probably a really intimate thing to know at one point, you know the 1950’s you probably knew everyone’s phone numbers, all your best friends your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your parents, your grandparents. You had to so I was like yeah you know that’s such a gesture to give someone a phone number right and know it and I think in the era in music right now where’s there’s so many bands and there’s spotify you’re constantly being exposed to bands and it’s sort of a blur and i thought it would be an interesting gesture to sort of offer access to me and the rest of the group and sort of as an experiment too to see if people would reach out. People have reached out so.
Any really unique messages?
Yeah I have. I decided that I wasn’t going to pick up the phone unless I’m in my room because I didn’t want to take the phone outside because I was like if I lose this phone like you know so I’ve gotten a lot of messages, I get about 20 a day. I try to go through them and I’ve been sort of collecting them and listening to them. A lot of them are really interesting, a lot of them are people being very genuine and sweet and calling from all over the world and just sharing messages about finding music at a certain time in their life when it meant a lot and a lot of people very surprised like ”wait what this actually works.” A lot of stoned people on spotify calling. I picked up the phone once, I’ve only been there once for an actual phone call, I picked it up and it was a kid from Nova Scotia and he said “hello” and I was like “hello” and he was like “who is this” and I was like “dude you’re calling me who are you” and he was like “I’m so and so I saw this on spotify and thought i’d call this” and I was like “yeah dude whats going on” and we just talked for a bit. To me it sort of proved my experiment was a success I was able to connect with some stranger and it was a really pleasant and he texted me later and was like “yo I love the record,” it was nice.
Song off the EP that means the most and why?
There is a song, the last song on the record that’s really special to me, it’s called “Love Song For Lady Earth” and I’m really proud of it as a song but also I just wrote it at a really formative time for myself. I was staying in Charleston with my mom, in Isle of Palms, it was like the off season, not the tourist season so there wasn’t really anyone there and it was really cold and I was dating this girl at the time and we weren’t really getting along and we were cooped up in this house and she flew back to New York and I was there with my mom for another week and a half and I just wrote a lot over that 2 weeks for whatever reason. Some of the best songs to this day, something about just being holed up there and not being able to leave and feeling sad but in a really comfortable way, and I ended up writing that song and it’s just one of the few songs I never edited, it just sort of came out well and yeah it feels good, it feels like a good summary of a few years of life into a few minutes.
What was it like to play your new songs at the Sofar session you guys did a while back? What was the emotional change to play it live?
It’s funny because I sort of cut my teeth as an acoustic singer/songwriter boy, you know doing a lot of acoustic guitar and vocals just playing shows by myself playing guitar and singing. Once I started playing in a rock band I sort of realized in a lot of ways bands can be a crutch as far as what you can get away with, how clean you have to be with your playing and your signing and I just find it much easier to talk in front of a room with a band behind me and that’s nice but it’s also nice to be reminded that you know you have to treat it as a craft. At Sofar sounds and those types of shows, it’s a good opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone. I really like playing Sofar, I’ve done a few of them and it’s always been a good experience and it reminds me which songs are actually good cause you know everyone’s sitting there staring at you reacting in real time which isn’t always true at venue shows, people are always talking and texting and it’s whatever but at Sofar the expectation is that you engage.
What is it like to be an artist in the 21 century?
You know it’s obviously changed everything about our society and it’s had the equal effect on the music industry. It’s changed more in the last 2 years then probably the 60 years prior. The main thing I’ve seen in being a band in the era of social media or whatever you want to call it is image. It’s obviously really prevalent in music and affects people’s willingness to click anything in this age of content it’s so based on image so it’s obviously challenging but it’s also a challenge in that we have to create content that’s a little more challenging and innovative even within its own world. Like if you’re going to be another white guy making guitar rock then you need to do it well and I think it’s a healthy thing but there’s definitely times when it can be distracting. There’s been periods of time for myself and I can speak for my friends in bands where the music falls behind to a lot of other work and it needs to maintain a certain level of presence in the social sphere.
So for “Hightops” and “Vanessa” you used a zoomed in part of the picture that you used for the album cover, what’s the significance?
Well actually there’s a really interesting story behind the photo so I’m just going to tell you about that first. I was on reddit and there was a subreddit called ‘old school cool’ and I saw a photo and was like this is a really completing photo, something about that, the red gloves right in the middle, the look on this woman’s face, this is a really cool photo. Naturally I was looking for content so I messaged the user and was like “hey shot in the dark I was wondering if you own this photo I was wondering if I could license it from you for my album cover” and I get this email back within 30 seconds and it’s this guy like “yo this is so crazy i’m 14 years old I live in the mountains in china and yes this is my mom she’d be honored if an american band would use her for your album cover” and I was like what? It was such a funny and immediate response but he was like yeah the one thing is he wanted his dad’s name on the album cover because he took the picture and I was like “ah i don’t know if we can do that I don’t know if I can put your dad’s name on the front but I can credit him.” I had that picture and I was thinking about how to put together the singles and I just thought about the idea of what it would look like to have 2 single album covers and then the full album cover together in a line because the way they’d present visually as a package as if they were 2 sort of 7 inch single sitting on a self and what would that look like and so that’s what I thought would be a good angle.
So “Hightops” was the last song released before the full EP. What was it about that song that made you want it to be the last thing people heard before the release?
The few people I played it for thought it was special so naturally I was like okay maybe this is special. I wrote it with a guy who I really admire named Michael Tighe, who was Jeff Buckley’s guitarist, and he’s just a reallyseasoned musician, he’s played on a lot of great records. I met him and became friends with him and this was the first song we wrote together and it was very indicative to me personally of this friendship and mentorship so that obviously affected it and it seems a little different than the other songs I structure, the writing was more classic and it just felt right
That song as well as “Be My Own” stuck out to me, can you tell me a little bit more about that one too?
“Be My Own” is on the record we put out 2 or 3 years ago and that song I wrote in Hawaii. I was in Hawaii with my best friend and at that time he was living in this very open lofty house and his sister’s bedroom didn’t really have walls, well it had walls but it kind of ended 2 feet before the to of the ceiling, so we were in the kitchen hanging out trying to be quiet in case she was sleeping there. We were just sitting on the floor and I was messing with this song and I was with this girl at the time who I really liked and she was sort of the first girl I brought home to my parents so I was like ‘wow so romantic the idea of domesticity like wow isn’t that romantic like you can have breakfast and make the bed together wow you know.’ I’ll never forget just sitting there with him writing it and he was helping me out and finished it. I wanted to put it on that record and it was my freshman year of college and I was living in this dorm room with the sweetest guy but he was always in the room. I said “hey what’s up dude you’re still here you know I’m trying to record a little bit.” I actually recorded, I made myself get comfortable with recording when he was in the room. I was like “hey just be quiet for like 3 ½ minutes, it’ll be chill” and so I recorded that song and he was walking in and out of the room and I just managed to get through a take without him ruining it and that was the one that ended up on the record so once again very indicative of the time and the living space.
What’s the NYC music scene like?
Well I went to NYU so I’m very much apart of the NYU scene which is very mixed. I went to this school for Clive Davis and it’s a very pop centered program, so there’s a lot of bands that were in my class that are really doing impressive things in the pop world and equally there’s a lot of indie bands and rock bands like Del Water Gap who play shows here and tour constantly and go to college. It’s a good place to be for music.
interview by SAMANTHA SULLIVAN
photo by CAITLIN MESSINGER