Dream-pop duo Waterbaby: “I like the idea of life as performance”

The South London sisters are creating an entire universe through their art

“I think you could definitely say that we live in our art,” muses Jessica Kilpatrick, looking at her sister and Waterbaby bandmate Martha as they sit side-by-side in their Peckham flat. We’re speaking on Zoom ahead of the release of their transportative debut album, 22° Halo. “It’s 24/7,” she says. “I like the idea of your life being a performance.”

Their idea of life-as-performance feels somewhat apt after spending time with Waterbaby’s debut, as well as listening to their recent shows on online radio station NTS. In October 2022, the Kilpatrick sisters’ selection for their slot on The Early Bird show included a number of film scores from Angelo Badalamenti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mica Levi and Derek Jarman. It’s not surprising that they gravitate towards soundtracks, given the cinematic quality of their own music. 

Jessica describes the different facets to film scores that have influenced their approach to constructing tremendously emotive and expansive sonic settings: “With a soundtrack, the music can be more freeform,” she says. “There are perhaps less rules; it’s not so structured so you can be more experimental. There’s also the way that the music can interplay with dialogue and script and how the music and the film can change each other.”

In the press material for the album, the Kilpatrick sisters joke about their reclusive formative years resembling the isolated Lisbon sisters of Sofia Coppola’s 1999 film The Virgin Suicides. From an early age, Jessica and Martha spent their spare time indoors writing songs and making films. Their brother, on the other hand, channels his creativity through chess, as Jessica explains. “He’s got a photographic memory, which is so different to us, because I think we have kind of a disordered way of creating, but his is mathematical. Ours is just seeing where we go and end up!”

The sisters often go to magical places with their celestial compositions. Sonically, 22° Halo is densely textured with New Age synths and exhilarating electronic arpeggios, with their Grimes-like vocals soaring above. Across the album’s ten tracks (which they note should be listened to as one continuous and evolving work) there’s a great deal of artistic ambition within the arrangements. What Waterbaby have achieved with this introduction is all the more impressive when hearing about their early development and dedication to their music.

“When we were younger we had a family piano and we’d write songs on that,” says Martha, and as often happens during our conversation, turns to her sister. 

Jessica continues: “We didn’t know anyone who did music so we didn’t have any reference as to how we would record anything. We just knew that we really wanted to do music. So in the early days of writing songs we were always thinking, ‘How can we actually record this?’. We had to just learn how to be really good producers by ourselves. We basically shut ourselves away for a few years – got our studio in Peckham, and finally had a proper space to make music. And it was so worth it because we really wanted to be the sole architects of our music. We wanted to be the ones who created all the sounds and visuals.”

Throughout our conversation we return to the otherworldliness of Waterbaby’s music, which Jessica and Martha consciously tie down to reality with song titles like ‘Underwire Bra’ and ‘Supermarket’. “I think it’s finding the beauty in the everyday or even mundane,” Martha suggests. “Then you can be transported into another world or universe by creating different textures and sounds from something that sounds otherworldly in the music, but then have something that sounds like a rubbish truck passing by within the same song. We really like having that juxtaposition.”

“Especially if your normal life is very mundane or you have a boring job,” says Jessica, “because then you can create this magical universe with your music. There’s also just so much stuff in the world that you can’t control, or people making decisions for you – at least you know you can have complete control of your musical universe. And like Martha was saying, when you incorporate the everyday stuff and make it into something magical, you almost have the power of your dreams.”

Photography by Olivia Brissett & Dante Traynor