“Every Little Bird,” the first single from Bodies of Water’s new album Is This What It’s Like, had a very auspicious start. “While the band was working on this one, Meredith had morning sickness real bad,” recalls David Metcalf, her husband and bandmate. “She took a break from puking her guts up and came out to the garage to jam with us and came up with that part at the end of the song that the ladies sing.”
The morning sickness was just one of the many life changes within their family that delayed the completion of the album that took nearly three years to complete. Beset by a miscarriage, the aforementioned severe morning sickness, open heart surgery, and a bright spot– the birth of their child (in the midst of the pandemic notwithstanding), the Metcalfs had their share of drama, most of which made it into their new album.
“It took a while to make this record, mainly because we were waylaid time and again by everything; surprise deaths, children with disease, hospital panic, all of it,” explains David.
“Every Little Bird” tackles one of these events in their lives – that morning sickness. While the song is about beginnings (“Every cloud began as mist that rose from ocean waves / Every little bird crawled out from a broken egg”), the story behind it covers the pain that sometimes accompanies birth.
“When I brought this one to the band, it was still very open-ended; I’d written the intro, but only had a rhythm and some chords in mind for the rest of the song,” recalls David. “So we jammed on it for a while and worked out roughly how it ought to go. Meredith had been bedridden with terrible morning sickness, but she dragged herself out to the garage to work on it with us, and came up with the parts that we all sing at the end of the song.”
A rather celebratory mélange of urban samba and bossa nova, “Every Little Bird” is a layered song of lush harmonies, rhythmic percussion, and gorgeous strings. (“Heather Lockie came over later to be our one-woman string quartet, I added the moog stuff, and that was that”). Its intro finds David singing dramatically to a stompy beat, the vibrato in his voice reminiscent of David Bowie’s circa “Blue Jean” before the song opens up to rich Brazilian rhythms.
“We played all these instruments live, mainly because we don’t know how to use midi, sequencing, any of that,” he explains of the very animated performances. “Also, to use these tools, I think you need to play to a click. Of course, this is fine for some music, but our songs would sound stupid if they never sped up or slowed down.”
This absence of a click track adds to the dynamic feel of the music. “My friend told me that when he was in Brazil, he was surprised that nobody he played [drums] with down there expected him to keep a constant tempo. They wanted him to get fast or slow depending on what’s happening in the song. Is pushing to keep a song at a fixed tempo a cultural thing, or a personality thing? Probably a little of both.”
A bit like their lives over the past three years, playing without the expected rhythm of a click track means things might not go as planned. As witnessed by their lives, that’s precisely what happened. “Nobody really knows which happenings are good or bad, and it’s not for us to decide,” concludes David. “All I can say is that we’ve traveled some grey spaces.”