20th Jan2010

Fall In Love With: The Happy Hollows

by Todd

Yeah, it’s possible to create a cacophony of sound that still hangs on to a driving melody. Yeah, it’s possible to be known for a frenetic live show, but still maintain the focus on great songs. Yeah, it’s possible to make spellbinding videos that create discussion about their meaning, without losing sight of the great songwriting embedded in the work. Unlike another band that we’re thinking of, The Happy Hollows seem to do all this and keep the primary focus on the music, not the fashion of being a rock star. With the release of their new album, “Spells” on January 26th, the group raises the bar once again. The group took time out to talk to us about their plans to woo their way into your heart.

TDOA: In past interviews, you’ve referenced writing music using GarageBand on a Mac Laptop. Is that still your preferred method of writing? Can you talk about how the band fleshes out those songs in rehearsals and in the studio?

HH: We write many of our songs as rough demos on my Mac laptop. We like writing this way because we can add so many layers to the songs and really develop ideas. Since we are not computer whizzes, we just use Garage Band, but we are starting to use other programs as well. The challenge is then to take these songs with so many layers and turn them into something that a three piece band can perform live. Before we go into the studio, we also work out most of the tracks and overdubs (vocal harmonies, 2nd and 3rd guitar parts, etc.) on the computer.

This isn’t the only way we write songs though. Many of our songs come from just messing around at practice and out of live jams. We think it is a good idea to alter and experiment with songwriting methods.

TDOA: You’ve played with some great bands over the past year or so. Can you talk about those experiences and tell us if you’ve learned anything from watching other bands that’s benefited you?

HH: We learn something from most of the bands we play with, whether they are small or big. This past year, certainly Japandroids and Deerhoof are bands that really give their all at live shows and it is inspiring to watch them perform.

TDOA: The lead singer of The Horrors was quoted as saying MySpace and social media has led to the formation of more bad bands than ever before. You think the opposite is true based on what you’ve said, right?

HH: We’ll, I don’t think there are more “bad” bands than ever before…there have always been a lot of bad bands. There were bad bands before MySpace and there will be bad bands after MySpace and bad bands will probably live on after the extinction of the human race for all I know. I think what the Horrors singer meant to say is that now “bad” bands have a platform and means to promote themselves, just like “good” bands do (let’s not forget that there are many rich and famous “bad” bands). Therefore, he has been made aware of these bad bands whereas before, he was not aware of them because they could only sell cassette tapes of their EPs to their neighbors.

I don’t necessarily think that the shift of the “gatekeeping” of music from terrestrial radio and MTV to the web (Internet radio, blogs, websites) has resulted in “better bands.” And certainly, it may be true that many mediocre musicians may be “promoting” themselves than ever before, as The Horrors front-man says. What I was trying to say in previous statements was that there has been a decentralization of the way in which people are finding out about music, and that has resulted in many more good bands getting a shot at having a fan base and being heard than ever before. In just the past three or four years, so many new places where music can be discovered for free are popping up. It used to be pretty difficult to find obscure new (and old) music unless you worked at a college radio station.

So, I guess my argument is that is is easier than ever to find music and that is a really great thing. What this decentralization has done to the business is reduce the market share of huge megastar bands (U2, Nirvana, etc.) and increased the number and overall market share of medium sized bands. Of course, the problem for these medium sized bands is finding new ways to make money because they can’t survive on record sales alone.

TDOA: The band has been featured in some unusual places like Wired magazine and The Huffington Post. Are you struck with how rarely bands are featured by them and do you see it as part of the growing opportunities to grow through the Internet?

HH: For big publications like Wired and Huffington Post, it just seems like a natural extension for them to write about popular culture. They have large readerships and many of their regular readers are most likely fans of “indie” music, so it is a way for them to attract more eyeballs. It is great for the bands they review!

TDOA: What inspired the video for Vietnam?

HH: Well, the song was about perpetual war and the use of war to influence public opinion. The idea for the video came from the director. He had a sort of “Big Brother” take on the song and we were into that.

TDOA: You have a reputation as an incredible live band. What do you prefer; playing live or writing and recording?

HH: Oddly enough, we much prefer recording to playing live. Writing and recording are where the real “art” of music take place. The live performance, once it reaches a certain level of proficiency and professionalism, is pretty much the same thing over and over again. But every time you write a new song and try and figure out how best to record it, it is a real creative challenge.

TDOA: Can you recount your hilarious moment of meeting Eddie Van Halen?

HH: One day we went to practice and Eddie happened to be in the adjoining practice space. He was really emaciated and probably wasted (This was a couple of years ago now). There are a lot of old 80s burnouts who practice in the rooms around us and they were absolutely going insane, like literally foaming at the mouth. Anyway, we were “taking five” out in the hall and Eddie came out of his room and said hello to us. He said something about how “the type of amp you play doesn’t mean shit and he hates people who talk about that gear as if it matters.” Then he made a comment about me wearing earplugs and how “musicians shouldn’t wear earplugs.” I said something back but Eddie couldn’t hear him….go figure.

TDOA: At one time, having your music used for a Samsung commercial would have ruined your “indie cred”, but now it’s the normal means of bands continuing to survive. Did you ever have any hesitancy to have your music associated with a commercial product and how did the whole project happen?

HH: Of course we had to weigh the pros and cons of having our song used in a commercial. There is always likely to be some backlash when your song is used to promote a product. However, it is usually the opposite scenario that makes people angry i.e. when an already famous musician is cashing in on their fame. In the case of The Happy Hollows, we certainly aren’t famous, so not many people are going to go out and buy something because we tell them to. So, I think it is pretty obvious that we did the commercial for the exposure and to ensure that we could continue to record and release music.

For better or for worse, we live in a mostly-capitalist society and unless you are a revolutionary, which I guarantee you 99.9% of musicians are not no matter how hard they try and pretend like they are or how much Marx and Frantz Fanon they say they read, then we have to make some concessions when it comes to surviving. If musicians, and music critics for that matter, were real revolutionaries, they would be out trying to improve the political system and not writing trifling verse and commenting on cultural production.

In this day and age, there is so little money in actual music sales and record label advances that artists have to consider accepting money from other revenue sources. Frankly, licensing is really a better deal for artists than the old model of handing over your master recordings to a record label, who would then own those for eternity. I mean, at the end of the day, if a band licenses their song in an ad, they make the equivalent of a small indie record deal and they don’t lose any of the intellectual property rights to their own art. I think that is a much fairer system for artists than being forced to hand over their masters (and sometimes publishing rights!) to a record label just because they have $50,000 to invest in promotion and the band doesn’t.

TDOA: You’ve moved on from the dissolution of your deal with Nettwerk and seem to be garnering my press than ever. What’s next for the band in 2010?

HH: Our album Spells is being released by Autumn Tone Records in January 2010. So we are going to be promoting that for the next couple of months! We’ll be at SXSW 2010 as well!

TDOA: Who came up with the idea of the YouTube parody videos and what kind of response did you get?

HH: Sarah created those videos and came up with most of the ideas. They have been pretty well received….I think.

You can see The Happy Hollows at SXSW in Austin and they will be touring throughout the year. To purchase their amazing new record, Spells Click here

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