All The Answers

Oakland's Waterstrider gets the formula right in its debut album.

In April 2015, Nate Salman uploaded Nowhere Now, the debut album from his band Waterstrider, online. A long-overdue follow-up to the Oakland quartet’s 2011 EP, Constellation, the self-released record quietly joined the ranks of other independent albums on iTunes and BandCamp, garnering only a handful of local write-ups. But then, about a month later, an email arrived that changed everything.

“I was very confused,” Salman says. “I was like, ‘Is this legit? Because this seems kind of far-fetched.'”

Sent by the assistant to producer, multi-instrumentalist, and former Gnarles Barkley member Danger Mouse, the email praised the album, which combines Salman’s androgynous Thom Yorke-esque falsetto with African-influenced highlife guitars. A phone call between Salman and Danger Mouse ensued, followed by a three-day studio session in Los Angeles, a record contract with Danger Mouse’s label, 30th Century Records, and, earlier this month, a spruced up, bonus-track padded re-release of Nowhere Now.

Since its formation in 2009, Waterstrider has gone through many iterations. Originally a jam band consisting of Salman and other UC Berkeley students living in the North Berkeley co-op Cloyne Court Hotel, it evolved into a short-lived Afrobeat octet before morphing into a punk four piece. Then, in 2011, the band became an indie-rock quintet.

“I was trying a lot of different things out,” Salman says. “I was exploring what I wanted to do.”

In the spring of that year, Waterstrider released its first EP, an achievement that was short-lived because graduation was right around the corner. Though Salman wanted to remain in the Bay Area and keep the band together, the other musicians had different plans. Realizing he’d “lost [his] band,” Salman moved back home to Santa Barbara to live with his parents, and decided to pursue Waterstrider on his own.

“I didn’t really want to be there, but it was one of those things where I had no money saved up, so I had to,” he says of returning home.”

Over the next few years, Salman toiled away on Nowhere Now, penning predominantly introspective, soul-searching songs based on his reality as an early 20-something with no clue as to what he wanted to do with his life.

“I was trying to figure out my life and who I was and what I was doing,” says Salman, who’s now 26. “A lot of the music I write is pretty self-reflective.”

Sonically, Salman continued in the vein that Waterstrider had championed in its 2011 EP, combining the moodier ethos of bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros with intricate Afrobeat rhythms, a la Fela Kuti or Ebo Taylor.

The result is a shimmering, albeit capricious, album filled with cinematic orchestration, dreamy melodies, galloping guitars, and exotic percussion. “Calliope,” a track about writer’s block, is propelled by sweeping guitars and what sounds like the tapping of drum sticks, while “Just A Taste” is a more somber cut filled with licks of deep bass, hand claps, and Salman’s impressive, high-pitched wailing.

For an album that grew from feelings of unrest and uncertainty, Nowhere Now is deceptively self-assured and assiduous. And even though Salman may still not have “all the answers,” as he sings in the chorus on “White Sparks,” he’s definitely on the right path.

Waterstrider plays with Diane Coffee and Doncat at 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 25, at The Chapel. $15; thechapelsf.com. 

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