If we were to take a look at Will Thomas’s past, we’re sure we’d find many a note on how well he works with others for his latest collaborative effort, Dive Index showcases as much. Working with the vocal talents of Natalie Walker and the English multi-instrumentalist Merz, Dive Index’s ‘Waving at Airplanes’ displays the idea of connection through a myriad of almost dozen tracks. You can check out ‘Waving at Airplanes’ out May 29, 2020, and you can check out our back and forth with Will Thomas right now!
Kendra: How did you come to work alongside Natalie Walker and Merz on ‘Waving at Airplanes?’
Will Thomas: I met Natalie and Merz (Conrad Lambert) many moons ago when I was writing demos for the ‘Mid/Air’ album. I remember being in a record store in New York City and chatting with the owner about some new songs I was working on. He was playing Merz’ ‘Loveheart’ CD and I pointed to the speaker and said I would love to work with this guy. He said – reach out to him, what have you got to lose? – so I did, and the result was “Sole Fisherman” on that album! The collaboration was long-distance since Conrad was living in Plymouth, England at the time so we sent files back and forth. A similar thing happened with Natalie – I heard one of her songs on the radio and loved it, so I sent her an email with some demos. Thankfully she replied and she sang on two songs on ‘Mid/Air.’
When I was working on sketches for these new songs, Natalie just happened to send me an email out of the blue. Right around the same time, I heard from Conrad that he recently moved to Joshua Tree. I loved working with both Natalie and Conrad in the past so it was serendipity.
Kendra: I’ve always felt like I’d be a good producer based merely on the fact that I’m a planner, a plotter, someone who loves to build projects out. With that, how did you approach each track? Did you compose a track with each one of them in mind for each track they’re particularly featured on?
Will Thomas: It’s interesting, there are definitely a few hats to wear when you’re writing, recording and producing songs. I write and record at the same time so I start out in that mode. If I come up with a piano part or create some sounds on my modular synth, those will typically be the sounds that are in the final song. When I switch to producer mode, I’m thinking more about the global plan of the songs – which demos will work with which vocalist, how the songs relate sonically, the track order, the mixing, etc. I’m a planner as well so it’s important for me as a producer to be able to juggle all the songs in my head at the same time. I like to work on all the songs at once rather than complete one and move on to the next. This helps keep continuity throughout the album.
With my demos, I like them to be pretty well fleshed out – just enough to create a mood but still leave room for the vocal. And I don’t get too attached to the arrangements because they will most likely change when the voice is added. I also didn’t necessarily write with Natalie and Conrad in mind. Once I had the batch of demos for this new album ready, it was pretty clear which ones should go to Natalie and which ones would work for Conrad. I’m not sure if I can define exactly what those characteristics were, but I just instinctively divided them up. I sent each of the four or five demos with the intent of them choosing a couple. They ended up working on all of them so that’s how the album ended up being just the two voices. There was only one demo that I sent to Conrad that he didn’t have time to work on. So Natalie and I tried some things and it became the track, “Window to Window.”
Kendra: So the concept around ‘Waving at Airplanes’ kind of seems a little eerie now given we’ve all come to terms with the idea of social distancing. You obviously could not have imagined the importance of connecting with people, strangers, in particular, would have grown so much since you wrapped the record up, but here we are. However, what initially sparked you to write with the thought of connection in mind?
Will Thomas: Yeah, the timing of this is all very strange. I’ve realized that we can re-contextualize quite a few themes on this album into the new global landscape we’re living in right now – “Window to Window,” “Near Enough,” “We Can’t Change the Channel” – It’s really wild considering the songs were completed six months ago.
I’ve been saying I wish we could claim to be that clairvoyant – we could have a side hustle being psychics! Regarding the album title though, I liked the naive and somewhat fruitless reach for connectivity that Waving at Airplanes portrays. I had the phrase swimming in my mind for quite a long time, even before Natalie and Conrad were on board. I told them both the album title and they injected that sentiment into the lyrics which was wonderful. And Natalie was even inspired to write the title track. I never would have considered interpreting the title during a state of social distancing. Especially before that concept even existed. At this point, it’s better to be waving at airplanes than getting on them. Scary times.
Kendra: Many are having to utilize technology to stay in touch and work right now, but you and Merz have been there done that because while you were recording in Laurel Canyon, Merz was out in Joshua Tree. Both spots are widely known as creative hubs. Do you personally feel more creative depending on where you are in the world?
Will Thomas: Locations definitely inspire me for sure, but in a more sub-conscious way. Meaning, I don’t tend to write happy melodies if the sun is out. I’ve never really been that kind of writer. I’m more affected by my immediate surroundings – the room, the instruments, etc. Conrad on the other hand seems more inspired by his surroundings and that comes through in his lyrics, “Pristine Wilderness” is an obvious example, but he’s been very inspired by the desert in less obvious ways.
Kendra: Both places are also beautiful outside which goes hand in hand with the aforementioned “Pristine Wilderness.” When this is all over and you don’t have to distance yourself socially anymore, what’s the first pristine wilderness spot you’re going to?
Will Thomas: We had a summer road trip all planned up through Utah and to Yellowstone which has unfortunately been canceled. I’ve never been to that area so I was really looking forward to it. The trip will have to be postponed so that will probably be the next piece of pristine wilderness I’ll experience for sure. Locally, it’ll be great to just get out and walk in the canyons with the dog again. Simple pleasures!
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Will Thomas: We had planned some live shows around the May 29th album release date. Hopefully we will do something later in the summer. Who knows? It’s pretty much impossible to plan anything at this stage. We do have some really wonderful virtual goodies in the works so people can experience those from the comfort of their couches. Hopefully they can provide some escapism.
As far as a go-to song, oof, that’s a tough one. The first one I thought of was “Crank” by Catherine Wheel. A bit random, I know, but that song hits me every time and when I listen to it, I don’t think about anything else. It’s nice to get away sometimes, even if you’re stuck at home.