Interview with The Happy Hollows

Photo Credit: Dan Monick

Photo Credit: Dan Monick

Delusions of Adequacy:  Hey there!  How is everything going?  You must be gearing up for the October 6th release of your debut album Spells.  Can you go into the line-up of the band and what the process was like to create your first album?

Charlie:  Hey! Everything is going great, thanks. The line up is Sarah Negahdari on guitar and vocals, Charlie Mahoney on bass, and Chris Hernandez on drums.  The songs on Spells are a collection of over 25 that we recorded off and on over the last two years with producer David Newton. Some of the songs turned up on the Imaginary EP that we released in 2008.  The best of the rest are on Spells.

DOA:  I heard about The Happy Hollows last year when you released the Imaginary EP, and I love your sound and energy on those songs.  What’s cool is that your songs are shaped with solid structures and melodies to back up the visceral and agitated tumult.  Does that vibe carry over into the new album or did you spin out in different directions on Spells?  Have you written any slow-as-molasses ballads?  LOL

Charlie:  It is funny that you ask but, in fact, we have a song on Spells called “Turtle and Hare” that is slower than our usual speed for sure.  But, besides that, the general idea from the Imaginary EP is the same.  Our style might be labeled “catchy chaos” or something like that.  The difference between the EP and the album is that we had a better mastering job done on the songs and, I think, that the songs on the album are stronger. We really wanted to put our best foot forward for this album.

DOA:  You incorporate various musical styles and instrumentation, including 1980s synth notes, and Interpol-like angular, wiry guitar lines (like on “High Wire”), chugging metal guitar riffs (like on “Faces” and “Silver”), guitar strum and jangle (like at start of “We Will Find You”), and dynamic drumming and Siouxsie and The Banshees-like guitars and vocals on “Monsters”, yet your tunes sound fresh and all your own.  What instruments did you use for the album, and when you play live do you use the same set-up?

Charlie:  Sarah plays a Gibson SG guitar and that is the foundation of our sound.  Sarah plays the SG out of an Orange AD30 TC guitar amp.  But on the album we also use a Fender amp when we want a more clean and jangly sound.  In the studio, Sarah also uses an old Fender Telecaster guitar that belongs to our producer when we need a more trebly tone.  I play a Musicman bass out of an Ampeg SVT amp.

DOA:  Speaking of instruments, what type of guitar do you use to create that hard, wiry tone on a song like “High Wire” (at one minute and two minutes into the song)?  Does that sound depend on the type of guitar used, or strings, or guitar f/x?

Charlie:  The sound you hear is Sarah playing harmonics on her guitar.



DOA:  Sarah, the music press has described your vocals as a hybrid of Kim Deal, Polly Jean Harvey, and Emily Haines, and I also detect hints of Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead (especially on “We Will Find You”), Karen O, Siouxsie Sioux, and even Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.  Who are your vocal influences and do you try to emulate them when you sing?

Sarah:  Wow, thank you for all of these great artists that you hear in my voice! Honestly, my favorite vocalist ever is David Byrne of Talking Heads, but I know I don’t sound like him. It’s strange, I have had a lot of guitarists influence me, but I’ve never thought about vocal influences or concerned myself with it much. I think Danielson really inspired me to add lots of my own vocal harmonies within each song. I just have a weird voice that can sing really high and really low, so it can go many places, and I don’t try and rein it in too much or over think it to much. All of the backing vocals are me…even the ones that sound like men! Most of the time I feel like I have this group in my head of a couple guys and gals, they are all different ages and types, and they all come through and want to sing the songs. It’s hard to explain, but I think that is why some songs I sing soft and pretty and others I scream!

DOA:  Who handles song composition and lyric-writing duties?  Is it a shared endeavor or do you each go into your own corner and come up with ideas that you all hammer out together in the studio?

Sarah:  I write the music and lyrics to most of the songs. Charlie was the primary composer of a couple of songs like “High Wire,” “DeLorean,” and “A Man, A Plan, A Canal.”



DOA:  I’m partial to the lyrics from “Faces”, “I’ve been told a thousand times / to turn my frown back into a smile.”  Can you go into the theme(s) behind this song?   Maybe I’m misunderstanding the lyrics, but part of them seem to express the frustration of what is expected of you versus how you really feel, and of resenting to have to put on a mask or “face” to the world, and that it’s not something you even do (“I can’t fake it / I can’t even pretend”).  Am I off-base with that interpretation?

Sarah: Yeah, you totally got it! I have always been a very upbeat, positive person, and a lot of people come to me for advice. I think, at the time I wrote this, I was going through a rough period and I just felt like I was so tired of pretending to have it all together. I needed that to be ok with everyone in my life. But it felt good to write a song out of it, and it feels good to sing it!



DOA:  What are your musical backgrounds?  Did you all have the requisite, parentally-ordained music and singing lessons or did you each find your own way into the musical realm?

Sarah:  Chris had some training, he knows a lot about music. Charlie and I are both pretty much self taught. My mom was a drummer, and really encouraged me to play music, and put me in piano lessons and choirs and all that, and flute, and violin, and the list goes on and on. At the time, I hated it all so much and never stuck with any of it. When I was 13 she brought me home a classical guitar from a garage sale, with a case filled with old 60’s guitar tabs. I took to it right away. I will never forget that day. She and I just looked at each other with huge smiles – it was like, finally, the right fit!


The Happy Hollows - Spells

DOA:  Sarah, you did the artwork for Spells.  What medium did you work in and how to you go from that creation to having it be the album cover?

Sarah:  Well, the story goes like this, we couldn’t afford to pay an artist, so I told the boys I would do the art. They were both very nervous about this, as I don’t paint much and the art of mine they had seen wasn’t my best work. I knew I could pull it off though. I went down to the crafts store and bought some water colors for $ 3.99 and had some computer paper, and I just went crazy with the paints and horse sketches! For two weeks I would wake up early every morning and paint and paint. Charlie would come pick me up for practice and there would be these crazy water color paintings spread out all over my floor. He was scared because the first week of work was terrible! I just kept going, painting and painting, until I hit something that really was right. Then I put it all together and brought the final CD layout art to practice, and the boys were so shocked I had done it! They were really impressed. I am really so happy with it.

DOA:  The Happy Hollows started in 2006, so you’re a relatively young band, coming up from the L.A. music scene in a pretty cutthroat climate of dwindling record company sales and the controversy of file-sharing online.  How did and do these issues affect you and what is the L.A. music scene like?

Charlie:  The L.A. music scene is really great for young bands because you can play so many shows in a small geographical area. There are also so many bands in L.A., which is a great thing. I am not joking when I say there may be as many as 2,000 bands in our “genre” in this city.  Being exposed to all these different bands that are making this very creative music has really influenced us and made us a better band.

L.A. does have a small number of bands that are really derivative/corporate and are only concerned with the business. But, for the most part, those bands don’t play the venues that we play at and we don’t spend too much time listening to them. It is unfortunate that L.A. is often associated with this kind of music.

I think this “digital” era is really great for music.  In the past 3 or 4 years, since we started as a band, it has become really easy to distribute and promote your music online. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for bands before all these resources like Tunecore and Bandcamp and even MySpace existed. Bands used to be totally dependent on the radio and major music press for attention. Now there is a very decentralized press and internet radio apparatus which makes it better for smaller bands to get their music out. That being said, I still think labels are the major gatekeepers in music and it is tough to break out from being a regional band to a national band if you don’t have some sort of industry support behind you.

DOA:  From what I’ve read, your first shows were performed in Japanese restaurants and Laundromats, as well as clubs.  What was it like to play at those types of venues?

Sarah:  Yeah, we started playing in LA at a sushi bar downtown. They let all of our friends’ bands have music nights there and they called it “The Cocaine.”  It was a great way to get practice without any pressure to be good!  It was such a wonderful, experimental, relaxed, and free atmosphere.

Photo Credit:  Zoe-Ruth Erwin

Photo Credit: Zoe-Ruth Erwin

DOA:  You were hand-picked by the bands Silversun Pickups and Deerhoof to open for them at various gigs.  What were those shows like and what was it like to get that kind of recognition from those bands?

Sarah:  It was literally a dream come true. It was very exciting and surreal to play with both bands and meet them.  They are both the sweetest, most amazing groups of people! The Silversun Pickups have been especially so supportive of us the last two years, and that has meant a lot to us. Brian Aubert has become like a “big brother,” mentor type to me. His support and advice and friendship has been like the big lighthouse for me in a very crazy sea of music I’ve been on the last few years!

DOA:  I see that you played The Crepe Place in Santa Cruz on August 28th.  I just luv a good crepe and I have to ask what your favorite kinds are, and if you like the sweet or savory ones.  My fave type has to have chocolate and whipped cream in it, and maybe some strawberries to lighten it up…LOL

Sarah:  Oh man, I am very into the sweet crepes! We frequent an amazing crepe place in LA that is hidden in this little pocket of Japanese restaurants. It is the most amazing thing I have ever seen! Basically, it is this little closet of a “crepe restaurant,” and it is in between two very nice sushi restaurants. This “closet” is basically covered on the outside with signs all hand written and printed, saying mean things to customers. For example, it says “Don’t waste my time, know your order!” and “Only take one fork per order” and “Two napkins limit!”  It is just loaded with angry and grouchy instructions for how to go about ordering your crepe. It is really scary and miserable, BUT once you get your crepe, the flavors are just amazing! They are the best crepes ever!! You see how this crazy Japanese man gets away with such horrible customer service, because his products are just so amazing! I just love it, because the truth is, customer service sucks! I love how honest this guy is! It’s just so hilarious!

DOA:  Can you list your official site(s) so we can find out more about the band and tune in to your tunes?  Thanks so much!

Charlie:  We have so many websites these days. Here are the ones we use most: