Hermit Thrushes played 2020 Cycles on Sunday. Got a chance to chat with Yianni (guitarist and principle song writer) and Charlie (bassist) at Piecora’s before the show. Kinda wished I left the mic running the whole time, ‘cause there was some funny off-the-record shit – their upcoming tour stop in Tijuana, Cubs vs. Phillies, flipping cars, setting them on fire . As it is, the stuff that did make the tape is great, as we get into what Hermit Thrushes are doing musically, which is a pretty damn interesting endeavor. Their show later that night was completing captivating, as they played amidst the bicycles to a lucky crowd of maybe 30 people. This is a band on its game, pushing the limits, at once intellectual and passionate.
In the interview, Yianni did most of the talking; Charlie chimed in here and there.
So you guys are on tour. How’s the tour going?
Really well. It’s easy to think that the world hates you on certain tours. That was our last tour. And this tour, it feels like there is a benevolent higher power that’s orchestrated all of the aspects of the tour, somebody that we are going to have to make lots of sacrifices to.
Any good tour anecdotes?
So it’s just been a blur of benevolence?
Yeah, it’s been a bliss blur.
Charlie: There was that time we played a cool show with our friends. And that other time we played a cool show with our friends. And another time…
Yeah, the tour has tended to be various DIY spaces, warehouses, sometimes college shows where someone sneaky has managed to secure a large sum of money for us. We do play clubs and bars too.
I was reading TapeOp this morning and there’s an interview with Brian Eno. And he goes on this rant about music that’s anti-intellectual, those “who distrust intellect and think that it necessarily dilutes and ruins serious, passionate art.” And I’ve been listening to your records and your music definitely strikes me as demanding the intellect. What do you think of Eno’s comment?
I don’t think there’s a problem in either direction. There doesn’t need to be a disconnect between passionate music and intellectual music. It’s a weird fallacy though when some people seem to think knowledge of music theory interrupts the flow of passion into the music. And there’s the opposite: people who think that in order to express yourself you have to learn how sounds correlate to one another. It’s such a bogus thing to want to have a strict binary. There’s clearly so much diversity of inspiration and output in the world of music. There’s clearly people making equally valid music in either direction or the hybrid of the two.
Well, I guess the reason Eno’s quote jumped out at me in relation to your music is that it doesn’t conform to a genre. So often, the ear is tuned to hear a genre. And its easy to be passionate inside the form of a genre. “Now I’m singing the blues.” Whereas your stuff, it goes all kinds of places.
It’s easy to understand why genres exist, but it is really frustrating to have people try to force that on you. What I find disappointing about the world of music is that people generally have a tough time approaching something without a clear context for it and a set of expectations for what they are listening to. So if you don’t easily fall into a genre, there seems to be some kind of alienation that occurs. People turn off their ability to take in new music. There are tons of people doing really interesting, bizarre things that are both passionate and intellectual but they are written off because people can’t place it.
Are you guys consciously trying to not be in a genre? Or is just what comes out?
Yeah, its more that – just want comes out. There’s no conscious act of rebellion. There’s no protest or rebellious purpose. It’s not supposed to be different for the sake of being different. It’s a crime against individuality to approach song writing and think I am part of the blues, I am part of rock music, I am part of electronic music. There are so many different ways to make sounds, why the fuck would you ever just want to be a rock band.
Well, because its easy.
Charlie: That’s a telling thing this day. It does take work, contemplation of what you are doing and where you want to go with something. How do you feel?
I just feel its negligent creativity.
Charlie: I feel like it is hard to be honest with yourself and go with what happens instead of following pre-formatted structures. “This is going to be the verse. This is the chorus.”
It’s not an extreme notion really. Other art forms have it easier, where you can go in a different direction and not be part of a movement that provides context for your output. Whereas in music there are a really stifling set of boundaries that people want to have to apply to new music that they hear.
Often times, it seems to me like Hermit Thrushes’ songs tease with the idea that this is the verse, this is the chrorus, but then the verse goes away. You think you are going to get the A part again? No, you’re not. Your songs seem to go on a journey instead of a fit sense of structure. But there is structure there…
I think I just have a short attention span. (Laughes.) It is nothing more herioc than that. There are tons of ways to make a song. Countless people have mocked the pop formula. And I don’t think we are mocking it. We just desire not to be a part of it. There’s an awesome Residents album called The Commercial Album that is pop distilled to its basic virtues and that’s one of the coolest takes on pop music. All you need is 1 verse and 1 chorus and your are done.
Charlie: When you are writing stuff, does that even come to mind.
Like I said, I feel bored a lot if something happens too much.
Well, your records take you on a journey, the way the songs are ordered and what not. Do you think of your records as compositions?
Yeah, generally. The music is all composed around the same time, or if they aren’t, songs are put away until they are appropriate. The song order is very important to us. The way things piece together are important.
Again, in this Brian Eno interview, he gets into different art forms impacting music and how, in the sixties, musicians didn’t get how albums could be like paintings, where you add layers, remove stuff, put together a composition as opposed to just recording a live performance. How much do you guys experiment in the studio and do post production?
That keeps me up at night, the idea that a recording doesn’t necessarily have to be what you do in the real world. It can be frustrating, because you don’t want the recording to be in no way what you do live, but if you neglect to recognize the creative potential in the studio or in your bedroom or where ever you are recording, it is a shame., because it is another way of expressing yourself and giving songs texture.
Live and recorded are very different.
Charlie: It is exciting for us to do both. Sometimes our recordings and our live stuff don’t sound at all alike. Pretty much the notes are the same, but we don’t a piccolo or a bass clarinet. And things are louder. A lot of people react positively, but it alienates people who are looking for what they heard on the album.
Well, I don’t expect for a band to sound the same live and recorded.
It would be painfully boring if a band sounded the same live and recorded.
Charlie: But we don't want to disappoint anyone.
I’m happy to disappoint people.
Well, how do you record?
On Mystery Ocean, about half of it was home recorded, in my bedroom, in the bathroom, in the basement.
A healthy mixture of the two. We used a lot of home made microphones and home made effects, crude rudimentary effects like wrapping a microphone in paper or putting a cone around it. We recorded the other half with Daniel Smith from Danielson Family in a studio. Even then, we took the basic tracks we did with him and took them home and added overdubs. So its not lo-fi or hi-fi but some middle ground. Like mid-fi. Then it was mastered by Josh Benatti from New York. He plays in a band called Big A Little A that’s a noisy drum and electronics group. He has a good ear for noise music and normal music, a good diverse palette and learned mastering from awesome engineers.
A lot of the art is by Emily Royer.
Yes, she’s a great friend of ours and an amazing Philidelphia area painter. She’s brilliant. I basically will ramble at her about what the album means to me and never ever can I say what I want visually but I’ll give her the feeling of the album and she just magically transforms it into something we all uninanimoulsly agree to be appropriate, almost chillingly so.
Charlie: And it fits album to album. There’s clearly a progression. It’s scary how well she gets it and what we are going for. We are lucky to know her.