Low Water Seeks High Ground

lowwater_press-photoLow Water wasn’t born yesterday. In the years of their existence, the band has managed to not only accumulate a mass of great press and radio exposure, but in their music you can hear the subtle intricacies and nuances of songcraft perfected with time and settled into its most natural form.

The roots of Low Water grew out of western Pennsylvania, as songwriter, guitarist and vocalist John Leitera was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. “I had a degree in English Lit. Then I got into poetry. Poetry didn’t rhyme, at least at PITT. But that does… Anyway, I joined a rock band.” With bandmates Dave Rubin (bass) and Joe Burch (drums), Leitera found the perfect balance for his melodic, lyrically rich, softly rocking songs.

Low Water began as a collaboration between Leitera and Rubin in San Francisco. The two were friends and “mutual admirers,” and when the bands Rubin was playing with broke up, a partnership with Leitera was inevitable. When the duo decided to move the band to New York City, forces were joined with Burch, and the trio was complete.

Leitera is responsible for laying the foundation of the band’s basic song structure and lyrics. Once an idea has spent enough time in the “song incubator” – which could be anywhere from several days to 12 years, in one case – the band pulls it all apart and reassembles a new animal.

“The words mean a lot to me,” says Leitera. “They’ve always been my primary focus, and it’s a pretty great thing to be able to communicate with people without you being there, so I try to make the most of it.” In writing lyrics, Leitera likes to work from the specific to the general. “Instead of ‘the street’ I prefer ‘5th and Mission.’ That personal element lets people get into the song like a story and allows them to liken it to their own experiences… I like music that sounds real and believable, like the writer has actually lived through what he or she is talking about. You can tell.”

Leitera has a lingering interest in composing contemporary Gospel songs, and on their latest record, Twisting the Neck of the Swan, songs like “Charge” dabble with the style. “More like spirituals, I guess. Personal spirituals,” Leitera says. “‘Voodoo Taxi’ came out of a cab ride I had with a friend of mine. The driver was from Haiti, and we were joking around with him about voodoo and what would happen if we skipped the fare, and it turned into a song about being out, coming home late at night and connecting with someone you’ll never see again, and just the feeling of potential on nights like that, like anything can happen.”

Twisting the Neck of the Swan is Low Water’s third release, the second with Burch playing drums. The album’s basic tracks were recorded in Brooklyn at Little Loud Studio with Ryan Maxwell and the overdubs were done at home, while the string quartet on “Go” was recorded at NYU with John Gurrin. The album was mixed with Drew Fischer at Future Shock Studio in Greenpoint. “It’s the first time we worked with so many other musicians – it was a great experience,” reminisces Leitera. “For Dave it was really cool to write a string part for instruments that we can’t play, and then have people play those parts.”

Leitera, Rubin and Burch aim to be on the road as much as possible, currently focusing on playing regionally in places like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Albany where they get the most airplay and will tour more extensively in the summer and fall. “Success to us is being able to continue and get our stuff out there to as many people who would appreciate it,” Leitera says. “There’s certainly many different ways to get your music heard and more room for exposure since the shakedown in the industry, but the flipside of that is oversaturation. So many bands and just an onslaught of music out there. We try to focus on doing the best stuff we can, and are finding that people are finding us.”

Low Water acts as its own record label, manager, publicist, radio promotions company and lawyer. Leitera believes that “‘indie’ has become a genre, and the original idea, the DIY aspect of the term, is basically gone. It now applies more to a style or haircut than any ethic. When you’re doing all your own radio promo, press releases, booking etcetera, you’re “indie” – no matter what your band sounds like.” The band doesn’t believe in street cred. “It’s just not worth being concerned about if you’re in it for the right reasons.”

Putting their money where their mouth is, Low Water promotes their music in just about every way possible. The band has picked up a slew of positive press from sources including NPR, Amplifier Magazine, AM New York, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, West Coast Performer, Cincinnati CityBeat and The Davis Enterprise. Their song “Voodoo Taxi” is in radio rotation on WFUV (NYC), WCSB (Cleveland), WYEP (Pittsburgh), WEXT (Albany) as well as a few Internet Radio stations in the U.S. and abroad. In 2009, PBS will feature the track “House in the City” on its documentary series Roadtrip Nation, and “Voodoo Taxi” will be appearing on Midfinger Records Busta compilation in Italy. They have also had two videos on FUSE On Demand, the most recent of which – “Go” – was done in collaboration with the modern dance troupe sleepdance and members of The Momenta Quartet.

And let us not forget those hundreds of live shows they’ve played across the U.S. Low Water would probably be among the first to agree that more important than good press, radio play and music videos is the ability to entertain a live crowd. Home in Brooklyn, Low Water will bring their finely tuned wares to the stage at Public Assembly on Thursday, March 12. Catch them while you can.

by Dan D’Ippolito