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The current runs deep: an interview with Middle Waters

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Carlos Metta and Tal Engel make a wonderful duet, he is from Mexico, she is from Israel, and their music is a bond that stretches throughout the distance.

Tal whispers, so close, yet so distant, some of it it’s hard to take in at first, the words are so intimate that you could feel like an intruder, but it’s easy to surrender to their tenderness, these words are brutally honest and it’s a delight to hear how they flow gently with the melodies, how they invite us to get carried away by the breeze of a familiar shore into the ocean and all it’s wilderness. How to let you go, their first single, hovers lightly along with the wind, captivating you, elevating you. Takes one to know one goes deeper into the night, it reminds me of sleepless nights, to the way that thoughts unravel, like waves that assault you, always taking you by surprise. Crumbling Worlds, a soothing ebb and flow that drifts on beautifly. As this album glides along the tide into the night, weary memories dissolve between the strings. She has a gorgeous voice that blends softly with his, it’s curious how their voices are both so serene and low-pitched. Simplicity is also a key element in this album. When Everything Returns begins, it’s like listening to a lucid dream of fluorescent ripples, you suddenly realize you never really managed to sleep through the night, and you think to yourself: “What an unusual time to be awake!”. The album slowly fades away, and as the sun spreads its arms into the sky, it slowly erases the drawings that the undertow left on the sand.

 

 

What’s your story? You’ve said you had wanted to do a project together for some time, how did it finally came to be?

Tal: we are very fortunate people. Carlos and I met about 7 years ago in Israel. I did my final film in high school about his journey to Israel. We kept in touch, a fact that retrospectively is funny to us because it was, indeed, a connection based only on music. After the spontaneous collaboration we had with “Adam Mori”, a song on Carlos’s album Burning Feet (2014). It was our first transatlantic tryout, I wrote the song and recorded vocals in Israel, and Carlos’s arrangement and production took place in Mexico. After this, we thought we should do more. Carlos offered me to come to Mexico, but I couldn’t throw myself into the experience, especially financially. So we tried our luck and searched for grants that could assist us. Carlos is part of a worldwide jewish artist community called Asylum Arts, which supports their members with retreats, tools and grants, and they had faith in the idea we pitched- once again, fortune, because we ourselves didn’t had a clear vision of what it is that we wanted to do. One of the things that characterize our creative relationship is trust. Carlos is a person that proves anything is possible, and when he handed me all this trust, I felt able to deliver myself fully. That’s how the whole thing grew, and I think this is why we were able to bring out something that feels so genuine to us.

 

Mexico City seems to be an important character to this album, what inspires you about it?

Tal: to me it was mainly the privilege of being there and working on the album. I was thankful. I had the perfect apartment to work in, I had the mornings to write and wander around the area I was living in, sometimes I went to Coyoacán, and in the evenings we rehearsed and recorded. The building where I stayed was always shaking: the underground vibration of Roma Norte. I saw it also as an allegory to the city itself. There is something so alive in it, both over and under the surface, it’s in a constant move, like any Metropolis, but I felt there was something specific in her magic. The merge between contemporary and historic elements is like diffusion itself, it’s very subtle, but it intensely transforms reality.

How about Israel’s music scene?

Tal: I don’t think we had a scene in mind while working. Our first musical bond was José Gonzáles, we feel his influence is in the album as well. We needed to figure out things much more fundamental in the process before actually thinking of the audience. The music we truly love is the music we can feel the artist loved and chose. We wanted to feel the same about ours. First, we needed to build an intimacy between the both of us. Even though we are very fond of each other, we didn’t meet for years. We had to discover each other. We are happy the outcome is something that people who are looking for simplicity, from the heart, can relate to, and I think this approach crosses genres.

How was the composition process?

Tal: As I mentioned, the first thing was to get to know each other. Before we met in CDMX, there were basic questions we just couldn’t answer. What’s the album about? What is it going to actually sound like? Who will sing what, who will play, what will be the part each one contributes? At first we brought songs we wrote before I came to Mexico. They didn’t fit. I felt something was urging us to do everything anew. It took us few days but once it opened we were on it. A new song got us to talk about something that led to a new song, they evolved from each other.

 

The album has an intimate narrative, it goes from a darker place to a brighter one, from grieve to acknowledgement, is it on purpose?

Tal: I actually saw it the other way around. I thought of “CDMX” as the brightest in the album, it and “Ashtrays”, and that “Everyone Returns” is a kind of suicide. Acknowledgment and intimacy are very accurate words, they were on my mind constantly while writing.

 “How to let you go” was your first single, can you tell us more about it?

Tal: “How to let you go” was the first song that made us fall in love with what we’re doing. We had the whole song in a few hours, it was very fluent. After we were done working on it, we knew that one would be the first song we would release because it was the song that opened the album to us, revealed it to us. We had many discussions about it, so in summary, it’s a song about the power we can give another person over us, and that we can never be certain if this power is something that brings us closer to ourselves or something that tears us apart.

Could you name some of your influences? From music itself, to art, landscapes or literature.

Tal: I’m an amateur theologist, so mainly my influences are of faith and spiritual aspects. Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sufi ideas are my main portals. Also when it comes to music, I feel a strong connection to repetitive, meditative music. I love Russian and French literature a lot, but my favorite is Milan Kundera, which gave up his Czech citizenship so he could be added to French literature. I do think poetry in Hebrew is the best, I admit circumstances made me biased. I’m a freak of Italian baroque painters, above all Caravaggio, and I’m fascinated by Johannes Vermeer works as well. Landscapes… very hard to tell. Wouldn’t mind spending a 6 month period in Palenque or Tulum, close to the pyramids.

Could you tell us more about “Takes one to know one”?

Tal: I had Elliott Smith in mind when I wrote this one. One of my mentors. “Takes one to know one” is an idiom I use a lot. You need to be something in order to spot it in another person. It may sound like criticism but I spot empathy. That’s also the conclusion of the song. The speaker- whether it’s me or things that people told me- is critical, but in the end all we really want is to relate to one another, so we can be forgiving towards ourselves.

 

How does it feel to release such a personal album?

Tal: to me it feels natural because this is also the kind of art that I myself love. If one can experience intensely, and has an ability to bring it outside of itself- I think it’s a must. It makes me very happy the album can be considered as personal. The Ari, a Jewish mystic from the 16th century said that “The world is a big person, and the person is a small world”. What I experience through myself, by myself, has to do with greater phenomena, of the whole world, maybe even the whole universe. There is an equivalence. So, in some perspective, there’s a thin line between personal and public.

What’s behind the beautiful artwork of your cover?

Tal: as we were looking for a cover, Carlos found this artist and his artwork. To me it has to do with the general atmosphere of the album, which is like drifting in a sea inside a cup. Expansion and narrowness switch quickly, borders are flexible, things sound very clear and simple, but no one is definitely sure what we are talking about, sometimes not even us.

Could you tell us more about “Verify”?

Tal: Verify is a good example of Carlos’s sensitivity. I felt he understood this song completely in the lyrics, that he was able to bring such a beautiful interpretation to it musically. As to the story, I jumped between the image of my father to a man I was in love with once. My father passed away when I was 16, and I was told not only once, especially by my mother, that something in the process between him and me: my teenage rebel and him showing me that despite all the shit I do he will always love me, this realization was interfered by his pass and I had to go a longer path to get it. My relations with him and his absence shaped many of the thoughts I have about gender, femininity, my relations with men, the way I see myself as a woman, as a person. As to the dance in the chorus, I see two people dance as one of the most intimate things. I imagined once that when dancing and leaning on each other, it is as if the heads are like planets crossing into each other’s axis. In astrophysics it is probably a disaster if a thing like this would happen, but it’s a beautiful disaster.

After working so passionately on this project, how did it feel to present it live?

Tal: to me the craziest thing was we were actually able to do it. Our first show was about 2 weeks after I arrived. Some of the songs we played were written a day or two before. Again, it’s the trust we have in each other. I also think we felt like we knew the songs already after we were done working on them. We were very focused and very egoless in our work with each other.

What has been the response to “Kids Play With Monuments”?

Tal: so far so good.  smile

 

Balance seems to be restored by the end of the record, could you tell us more about “Everyone Returns”?

Tal: I like the fact this song sounds optimistic in some sense. To me it’s the angriest song in the album. It’s about how depressing it is to submit to certain rules that have to do with the relation between lovers. If it was up to me, I would not had loved moderately, I would had exploded with love. I would have given it. But that’s not how it works. Rumi said “Lovers don’t meet, they are in each other all along”. I never stopped loving the men I fell in love with, not even the kid I was in love with in primary school. It’s never over and we always return to those stories to track a pattern: were we hurt, were we hurting, were we true… this return is a way of closing to a story that initially has no end, but like in meditation, you can’t beat the mind, can’t end suffering, you can sublimate it’s effect.

And finally, what lies ahead for Middle Waters?

Tal: Crossing the ocean again and continue making music.

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