Interview with Hotel Hotel

Photo Credit: Gavin Guthrie - Hotel Hotel at RGRS, 2/28/09

Photo Credit: Gavin Guthrie - Hotel Hotel at RGRS, 2/28/09

Delusions of Adequacy:  Your band Hotel Hotel is relatively new to the music scene, starting out in 2005, but you’ve released three albums, have had plenty of line-up changes, and have toured extensively during this time.  Who is currently in the band, what instruments do you play, and how would you describe your sound or style?

Chaos/Trade Union:  at the moment, if you count only the live band, it’s:  chaos/trade union – guitar, misco/allstate – violin, index/vortex – drums.  but as of the first of this year,  caverninha resurfaced.  we invited him back in the fold, although we now call him caverninha/laguardia since this was the last place we saw him until now.  instead of drums, he’ll be going out on tour with us playing bass.  also, we now have a projectionist, lucas millard.

at first, i was really upset caverninha/laguardia had disappeared without a trace for so long, but now i think it made us better, having gone through all these setbacks, like even the other original members leaving, dropping from two violins and two guitars to just one of each, made us really have to step it up live, and that changed our sound from a quiet drone epic kind of sound, which still comes across on our albums so far, to a more aggressive post texas blues rock sound when we play live.

Caverninha/Laguardia:  I have to say that my disappearing act was a difficult move to make.  Of course I should have handled it differently, but at the time it was all I could do.  I was going through a lot of internal struggle with the direction my life was going as an artist, and had spent the previous several years working hard to establish myself on the west coast.  As time went on during my original time in Hotel Hotel, I felt like there was a growing need for me to be in Texas full-time, but at the time, I had commitments in Arizona and was not able to relocate.  Of course, this was hard on Chaos and Misco, and hard on me as well, they are two people who are very dear to me and I felt terrible for letting them down, which is why I ended up estranging myself.  They would tell me that there was no one who was able to play drums with them the way I did, but at the time, I felt like I was overplaying for the type of music we were making, and I just couldn’t believe that, as talented and unique as they are, they couldn’t find someone who could compliment and stimulate them.  Just when they were about to give up hope, they met Mr. Index/Vortex, who in my opinion, is a very sensitive, dynamic, and focused drummer.  Lucky for me, the boys still didn’t have a full time bass player, and they were keen on having me come back into the fold.  I’ve recently gone through an intense period of re-bonding with the bass guitar, an instrument I’ve been in love with all my life, and playing since I was a teenager.  And the bass has in turn allowed me to go into a period of re-bonding with some people and music I love deeply.  It’s good to be back.

DOA:  Your most recent instrumental album, The Sad Sea, was released late last year, a concept album that is truly evocative of a voyage on the sea that ends under dire circumstances, with the themes of loss and being lost permeating your sound.  How did you come up with the idea to focus on a particular concept, and is the song titles symbolism and song compositions all of an aquatic nature, or are you tackling other ideas, like the “physics” aspect of “The Dirac Sea”?

C/TU:  misco, who also came up with the band’s name, came up with the title of the album and i named the songs.  i studied astrophysics in college for my sciences and probably should have majored in it, but that’s a different story.  physics themes are a big part of my art, mostly in my writings, but physics is life, so it comes up in the music as well.  but yeah, if you’re out to sea long enough, you spend a lot of time staring up into the sky and it’s already hard not to wonder about creation and destruction on such a grand scale.

the feelings of sadness and loss come from the setbacks that life gives you:  girlfriends leaving, friends dying, all the old ghosts of a haunted texas, not having money to finish school yet being so in debt from it, drummers disappearing, you know, just life in general.

the real idea behind the sad sea is we were out drinking one night at some dive bar wondering what to do about the band since caverninha was gone, like whether to change the band name, how to replace him, i was wondering if i should just stop playing music altogether at some point, when this drunk sea captain guy sitting at the bar starts talking to us about this expedition he’s been trying to get together for the past few years trying to find the ghost ship the “marie celeste“.  against our better judgment, we went out to sea with him, from galveston out to haiti to find the wreckage…needless to say, that was a big mistake.

DOA:   Could you elaborate on this voyage and why you feel it was a mistake?

C/TU:  i kinda grew up on boats, but on various texas lakes, the sea is a different beast.  when we first met the captain, he was drunk and we figured it’d be an adventure if anything.  i felt, “wow, i really need something new right now”, and this was quite a change, so i went with it, i’m big on adventures and wild goose chases, but when we showed up to set sail, we knew we were in for it.  it was clear that he wasn’t running a tight ship, but what was i gonna do, go back home and get a real job?  i was thinking, well, either we die or this will help us play some music again.  i guess we thought since he was a captain, he needed to be a bit out there, but once we were out for a few days, i figured that he probably had no idea about the whereabouts of the “marie celeste” and that the one they claimed to have found back in 2001, was probably the right one.  all of his maps were covered in nonsensical notes and little ramblings.

hotelhotelthesadseabig

DOA:  I love how your album cover art also fits in with the sea theme, with the sepia ink drawing of a squid against a lighter background.  Where did this image come from and what do you hope it conjures up in the mind of the listener?

C/TU:  we wanted a sea theme and originally we were thinking about a big shipwrecked boat on the shore, but no one in the band can really draw or was in a position to get a photograph of that, we’d put the word out to several of our artist/graphic designer friends, but no one came through, so we finally saw a squid somewhere one day and we instantly knew that would work.  i had no idea there were so many cephalopod fans out there till the album came out.

DOA:  I recently reviewed The Sad Sea for this music site, but I seem to have gotten the rundown of the musicians wrong for this project.  Please set me straight about who worked on this album.

C/TU:  for the the sad sea the list of musicians is as follows:  chaos/trade union – guitars.  misco/allstate – violin.  t-dub/slim – bass & space echo.  team/odessa – violin.  asvghat/swim – drums on “from harbour”.  index/vortex – drums on the rest.  phantom/b. master blaster – keys on “the shoreline disappeared”.  james alexander (viola) and kirk laktas (piano) of my education guest on the album as well, kirk on “equator in the meantime” and james on “the captain goes down with the ship”.

DOA:  Strangely enough, I’ve been reading a book titled Coasting by British author Jonathan Raban, a personal travelogue of sorts from the late 1980s where he ends up sailing around the coastline of Britain for the first time, contemplating his life, the past, and how the sea is different from the land, how, by being part of the sea, you are tied intimately to the weather and vagaries of the water.  What are your ties to the sea?  Are you all able seafarers or lowly landlubbers?

Misco/Allstate:  It is everything in life all at once.  Love, longing, loneliness, sadness, joy, relief and freedom.  It is always in motion drifting, pulling, driving you.  It can be relentless and unforgiving, it is majestic, vast, and pure, it is all I am and all I want to be, the sea is lost…

DOA:  Your band has been in flux over these past few years, with a few line-up changes and the aforementioned disappearance of your original drummer, Evan Caverninha, in 2007.  Can you go into your history a bit, about how the band was formed, your past projects, and why there has been so much turmoil?

C/TU:  hotel hotel grew out of a noise/experimental collective band, CAN(d/t)A.  i never knew who was gonna show up to play, i was the only one that played every show.  i hadn’t originally envisioned it to be that way, with such a flexible line-up, but all of the musicians were really great, we’d get into a solid line-up for a few months and then members here and there would eventually leave to front their own projects, but when misco & i met caverninha, the three of us decided we should try something with a more permanent line-up, thus hotel hotel was formed.

one of the things about the line-up is that we’ve kinda kept that open door policy to some extent, for instance team/odessa & t-dub/slim both of whom played on the sad sea hardly ever play live with us, but are always welcome to.  and there’s quite a few others, at times, its just a big family.

the only real turmoil i would say in the band, was the disappearance of caverninha.  especially since that almost ended the band.  caverninha, misco, & i had done so much touring and playing together, it was a big disappointment.  misco & i waited around for him to show back up to record the sad sea but after some time, our buddies, my education introduced us to a new drummer, and we finally started recording the sad sea at their studio, but after the first few sessions of recording he left as well.  after that, we did kinda stop playing for awhile.  it seemed as if finding a dedicated drummer was not gonna happen.

last summer, i had actually decided to move to atlanta.  and already had some solo shows set up in out there, when misco called me and said he found a drummer and we should go out on the road.  we went and jammed with index/vortex for about two weeks and the first show we all played together was the first show of the tour.

M/A:  The disappearance of Caverninha really hurt, I lost a friend more than anything, he just needed time away to soak it all in and we just wanted to tour harder and longer.  I think I was the most optimistic about him returning and then touring the world and there was just no word.  Had that not happened we would have never meet Index/Vortex.  With the addition of Index/Vortex the band took a new more aggressive form, a more dirty Tejas blues, he had made us all step up our game and is the real drive and glue behind the band.

Photo Credit: Gavin Guthrie - p. d. wilder at RGRS, 2/28/09

Photo Credit: Gavin Guthrie - C/TU aka p. d. wilder at RGRS, 2/28/09

DOA:  There aren’t a boatload of modern instrumental bands out there, plying their craft.  What made you decide to form this type of band?  Was it based on your rich, post-rock, Texas milieu?  Do you think that lyrics and vocals would detract or not add anything noteworthy to your music?  Would you ever consider adding a vocalist to the band?

C/TU:  yeah, being from texas and getting to know most of the other post-rock bands here is a plus.  a lot of great texas bands came along right when i first started playing music and that had a big impact on me.

our old band for the most part was instrumental, with the exception of  sabra laval (who has been doing a lot of really amazing solo stuff lately) who would sing and i would sporadically sing with her.  she & i have talked about getting her on the next hotel hotel album to sing.  the band has also talked about trying to get a choir together for a song or two.  it’s just that none of us in the band sing, but for an album, i think it would be good and would add to the music as long as the words had some real meaning behind them, i mean even with some of my favorite bands that have vocals, i often find myself thinking i wish i had the instrumental track of this song instead.

another problem with vocals is that we are really an improv band, we have ideas and themes, but there aren’t any songs, our first album was one jam recorded straight through live with no overdubs in one take and i just broke up the songs into various movements and named them the different stages of grief.  so, when we play live, we play by emotion, and in turn every show is gonna be different so i don’t know if the same lyrics would necessarily fit every time.

M/A:  Well, I sure can’t sing.  I think lyrics can sometimes really hurt a band and as C/TU mentioned, we are improv and it makes it pretty difficult for vocals, not counting it out, I am always down for something new.

C/L:  Of course, I agree with what Chaos and Misco are saying, but I would like to say that I’ve always thought that it’s kind of a shame that the pop culture we are surrounded by tends to ignore and to seemingly deny the very existence of instrumental music.  Many other cultures around the world have great traditions of instrumental music that don’t treat it as if it’s secondary to, or lesser than, vocal music, and people grow up with an ear for both.  Of course, I grew up loving music with words and still do, but, I was always aware of instrumental music through jazz and various classical music.  As I got older, I began to realize that instrumental music was something I could relate to more and more, and was something I wanted to be a part of.  A lot of times, I feel like words are far too concrete, and sometimes I do feel like bands and songwriters use lyrics just because everybody else does.  As far as our music is concerned, the titles of the pieces allude to feelings, situations, and scenarios, but we do like to keep it pretty open-ended, so you can listen and have your own experience with it and accompany whatever comes into your mind or happens in your life.

DOA:  Continuing with the all-instrumental nature of your band, the way you play the instruments on The Sad Sea makes them sound, especially the violins, like voices in the sense that a range of emotions is conveyed by the varying tones, diffusion, and elongation of sound.  Was this your intent, and how do you create that type of aural atmosphere?

C/TU:  well, we just start playing and see where it goes.  i mean it’s complex and it isn’t, sometimes we just start playing and it works, we have this 3 inch out from our first label that put out allhearoesareforeverbold called the ghost of room 55 that we recorded with the original line- up in a living room in denton, texas one evening that is 20 minutes long, all improv and it’s one of the most beautiful things i think we’ve done.  i get completely lost in that song, by the end of the song, i feel like i’m outside of everything, if you know what i mean, i feel like i lost a chunk of time, it’s a eerie haunting feeling.

DOA:  You mentioned your debut album, allheroesareforeverbold, from 2006, and you also have an EP out titled Under Sea, Over Storm.  Can you give some details into the recording process of these two albums and if there is a relation between or progression from these two albums and The Sad Sea?

C/TU:  in the beginning, hotel hotel had five members:  two guitars, two violins, & one drummer, and that’s the line-up you hear on the e.p., under sea, over storm which is just a live show we did early on, before recording the first album, allheroesareforeverbold.  silber wanted something to have to help promote the sad sea and since we were dealing with an exchange of drummers, all we really had was a handful of live shows, the album and songs titles are reflective of our time spent in brighton, uk and the theme is a sort of pretext to the sad se“.

by the time we recorded allheroesareforeverbold, f25/key had left due to family circumstances, and the other guitarist, justin “notes” lemons, who was already in another band that was his main project, left to concentrate on that, so allheroesareforeverbold ended up only being caverninha, misco, and i.

DOA:  How did you end up on Silber Media?  What’s it like to be on that record company’s roster?

C/TU:  how anything happens it seems, through a friend of ours that that previously worked with silber.

it is nice to be on the same label as northern valentine.  i had already known those kids and toured with them and we have a split album out, albeit on another label.  silber is like a big family to the extent in that we’ve met a lot of other bands through them.  we got to meet lycia and open up for them at their first show in ten years, back in january, which was pretty awesome.  and i’ve made contact the new band on the label, carta about getting together to do some shows out in their hometown, san francisco.

M/A:  It is really great to have a support team and group of individuals that spend their day helping you work your dream and believe in what you do.  We are really one big family, we got really lucky.  They tolerate my drunk emails demanding temporary tattoos and how we need a hotel hotel “widget”.  It is a good group of guys and gals and it is an honor.

DOA:  What label is the split on, what songs of yours are on it, and was there any collaboration between you and members of Northern Valentine?

C/TU:  gears of sand put the split out, they’re based out of delaware.  the first show of the tour northern valentine and i did together was in delaware and the guy that runs the label was there and we talked to him for a while.  northern valentine is a couple’s band and at some point, amy had to work a few days, so it ended up being only robert & i, so we decided that we would each do a solo set, but in between we would do a set together.  we ended up recording the nyc shows and using those for the center piece of the split.  on the album, the first two tracks are nv, next two are robert & i, and the last two are mine.

Photo Credit: Gavin Guthrie - Hotel Hotel at RGRS, 2/28/09

Photo Credit: Gavin Guthrie - Hotel Hotel at RGRS, 2/28/09

DOA:  It looks like you’ve pretty much toured part of every year since you started as a band.  What are your gigs like?  Do you try to capture the sound on record or are your live shows a whole different animal (I was going to say ‘a whole different platter of crustaceans’, but I’d probably be taking the sea theme a little too far…LOL)?

C/TU:  yeah, i personally love being on the road.  if i could, i’d stay out for maybe nine or ten months out of the year, that way i could hang out in a city for an extra day and just do all the touristy things i don’t always get to do.  although, every time we go to philly, we make sure to run up the rocky steps!

we do try to record every show we can.  this usually falls to index/vortex to do.  and we usually give a copy of a show to anyone who was at the show if they want it.  but since we play improv, the problem with recording live shows is that upon listening back,  sometimes, it’s not as good as we remember it at the time.

DOA:  Well, I’m sure you had to have been there too, in the live environment, in the thick of it, to get the full effect of the music, something that is usually (maybe always) difficult to capture in a recording.  Do you record just audio of your shows, or video as well?  Do you think you’ll ever put out a CD or DVD one day of the “best of” the live Hotel Hotel experience?

C/TU:  yeah, that’s true, and i normally don’t like live albums from bands, unless it’s a jazz album, otherwise it is very hard to capture that live sound.  right now, we try to record the audio  as much as we can, every once in a while, we get video.  lucas millard has made some short films and is hopefully going out on tour with us.  if he does, we’ll start shooting a tour documentary.  i watch a lot of documentaries and i’ve always envisioned one about us somewhere about us between friends forever and the devil and daniel johnson.

M/A:  I am not so sure about a “best of”. Every album we do is so different from the last it would be hard to blend together.  One of the things I like most about this band is we like to make “albums” not just a collection of tracks. It runs the same for the live show, one seamless piece of music, so it makes it hard to chop it up into tracks.  I enjoy live albums if it is done right and the artist expands on the album.  We record every show we do because no two shows are even close to the same. We often get addresses from fans at the show and when we get home mail them a copy of the show they were at.  I like that better rather than I pick what I think was the best show. I would love to do a DVD and more work with film.  Friends Forever is definitely our favorite documentary.

DOA:  If you were on a boat out in the middle of the sea, alone, what would you want to be doing?  What songs or albums would you want to blast to the high reaches of the sky?

C/TU:  that depends on what kind of mood i’m in, but lately i’ve been listening to loads of blues and what i call the new alt folk like:  the angels of light, josé gonzález, headdress, songs: ohia, sun kil moon, etc.  of course, i’d have to have all the old school favourites that made me want to make music in the first place like leonard cohen, the cure, labradford, lovesliescrushing, roy montgomery, morrissey, sonic youth, soul whirling somewhere…i could go on and on.

M/A: for Crashing Seas: Lift to Experience, Caspian, and I really like the Isis/Aereogramme In The Fishtank album.  For Calm Seas: Songs: Ohia and some Phosphorescent mixed in with a lil’ Towns Van Zandt.  For the I Am Never Going To Live Through This Seas: Bill Evans, as sad as he is it always makes me smile and I feel I could accept just about anything, I get weightless when I put it on, stuck at sea with no hope, Bill Evans will be in the headphones.

C/L: If I were out in the middle of the sea alone, I would be pretty seasick, but if I had music…in that situation, I would have to say I’d like to have the classics of the music that inspired me to make music like this originally. Bands like Flying Saucer Attack, Jessamine, Labradford, Bardo Pond…as well as anything that’s on the German label, ECM, whose sound was very heavily influenced by the music of Bill Evans.  His trio is probably my favorite band of all time.  The way they take and leave space has always been a sort of template for me in how to approach playing in Hotel Hotel.

DOA:  What’s coming up for you in the near future?  I think you’ve got some tour dates lined up.  Will you be working on new material any time soon?

C/TU: yes, lately we’ve been working on a soundtrack for a movie by a friend of ours, stephen belyeu, a dark drama that takes place in south texas called dig.  and we are always trying to record, but it’s usually a slow process.

as far as touring, we’re always looking to play texas and anywhere that’s only a day’s drive away, right now i’m currently booking a tour for late may/early june, of which you can check out our myspace page for details.

DOA:  Have you ever worked on a soundtrack before?  Does this mean that you’re creating a score for the whole film, or are you creating songs that will be specifically played in certain scenes of the film?

C/TU:  we’ve given a song for a short a few years ago, that was off of allheroesareforeverbold and we have a song in a documentary our friends, keith maitland and patrick floyd, made here in austin, where they followed around four kids from the texas school for the blind for a year, called: The eyes of me.  we just found out the other day that the film got into the sxsw film festival, so we’re pretty excited about that.

the stuff we’re doing for dig is more scoring, there’s older songs we’ve already had, as well as new pieces specific for certain parts of the film based on the emotion of the main character at a given moment.

DOA:  Please let your official site online where we can find out more about you and your music.  Thanks so much!

C/TU:  those are these:  myspace.com/hotelhotel, silbermedia.com/hotelhotel