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QRD #39 - April 2009
about this issue
interviews with:
Nicholas Slaton of slicnaton
Sarah June
Northern Valentine
Hotel Hotel
Brian John Mitchell of Silber
Melissa Spence Gardner of XO
Lisa Uber of WRSU
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photos by Gavin Guthrie
Interview with Hotel Hotel
March 2009
Hotel Hotel are post rockers from Texas.  They keep themselves a bit mysterious at times using pseudonyms like Chaos/Trade Union (guitars), Misco/Allstate (violins), & Caverninha/LaGuardia (drums).
QRD – How would you describe your music to someone only familiar with pop music?
C/TU – This happens to us a lot, actually.  Instinctually, I start out naming bands that I feel we may be similar enough to that I listen to; but as it often turns out, most of the bands I listen to, my friends haven’t even heard of, let alone people I’ve just met.  So it goes through several tiers, but usually ends with Pink Floyd.  & if you haven’t heard of Pink Floyd, there’s no hope in answering the question.
M/A – All roads lead to Floyd.  I start by saying it would sound like the movie soundtrack for 28 Days Later.  We do get a lot of people that say our live show reminds them of Live in Pompeii by Floyd, that’s when I know we are doing things okay.
C/LAG – When people ask me what kind of music we play, I usually try to steer away from that subject & get them to just listen to the recordings or see us live.  Then once they’ve heard it, they usually say “What kind of music is this?” as if I owe them some sort of explanation for it’s existence. So, I usually tell them it’s like this or that emotion or force of nature, & usually they’ll kind of nod their head & go, “Ahh” or just look at me like I’m crazy, which is a good indicator of whether they can relate to it, or if it’s just gone in one ear & out the other.
QRD – Where does the name “Hotel Hotel” come from & how does it relate to your music?
M/A – From one of my good friends Bonnie Rue.  We were at her house making buttons discussing our love for words repeating & it came out.  At the time C/TU & I where in a band where the name was so complex no one could remember it.  The idea was to come up with a new name that would be easy to remember.  I threw out Hotel Hotel in our band name discussion.

C/LAG – Yeah... when I joined the band, the name we had was a math equation.  You think it’s hard to describe what the music is like?  Back then, it was hard enough to explain what the band name was.  See, I feel like people don’t have much patience or attention span these days.  If they ask you a question, & you don’t hit them right back with something that’s in line with the way they’re used to receiving information, be that advertising, pop music, films, or whatever, you stand to lose their attention real quick.  They get bored.  Now try making music where the average “song” is like, thirty minutes long.  That tends to limit your potential audience.  But, people do have a strong tolerance for repetition these days.  Look at pop music, very repetitive, rhythmically & melodically. So we definitely try to use repetition to our advantage, but, from a minimalist, slow turning perspective.  Repetition can create a trance or even kind of an abstract ‘hook’ in the music, or catchiness to the band name.  Really, as far as the name goes, this one works better because it’s much easier to pronounce, yet still very abstract, & of course, almost impossible to Google. 

C/TU – Yeah, the old name was CAN(d/t)A, where d/t = r, distance/time = rate.  I’m amazed they even let me name songs now, but these days I want to make things as easy as possible & Hotel Hotel is impossible to Google, so I often bring up changing the band’s name to something that will Google easier, usually “the sad sea” since that’s the new album’s title, but repetition is good, & band name changes are just as complicated, Catch 22.

QRD – You generally tour as a three piece, but have a lot more members on local shows.  How many members would you ideally have live & with what instrumentation?

C/TU – When we first started, we had two violinists, two guitarists, & a drummer; which is the line up I always wanted to have.  After one of the original violinists & guitarists left, Misco & I had to both do double duty with our instruments.  Then after Caverninha (original drummer) disappeared, it was really frustrating for a good while.  We tried out several new drummers, other instruments like bass & keyboards, but nothing really came together until we met Index/Vortex on drums.  That said, a lot of our old buddies are always welcome in the fold.  There’s t-dub/slim, he usually records with us on bass, but plays few shows.  & the same goes for Team/Odessa.  Lately, our buddy, Devin James Fry, has been sitting in on slide guitar & that’s sounding real nice.  & with the recently returned Caverninha trading in the drums for bass, I feel like we got a solid line-up.

QRD – What do you see as the minimum amount of performers for a Hotel Hotel show?

C/TU – Hotel Hotel at its bare minimum is the violin, guitar, & drums.  That’s been our core for so long.  & we still play loads of shows just the three of us, although, we just played a couple of shows with Caverninha on bass & I feel it went really well.  I think our maximum would be ten, not counting imperative dancers of course, mostly because we can’t fit more than that in the van.

QRD – There was essentially a year hiatus for Hotel Hotel from 2007-2008.  What happened & how did it affect your music?

C/TU – Caverninha disappeared at LaGuardia, back in April 2007, & that almost ended the band.  By the fall, we had tried out several new drummers, but still didn’t have one with that connection we had with Caverninha.  I used to think it was funny living in Austin, the live music capital of the world, & not being able to find a drummer; but making music is such a personal & emotion thing &  it is really hard to connect with people on that level, it’s right up there with having a girlfriend. Sometimes I don’t know which is harder.  By the spring 2008, I had decided to move to Atlanta when Misco rang me up & said he found a drummer that would work & we should go out on the road.  I came down to Austin the next week (I was staying up in Denton at the time getting ready for the move) & we jammed with Index/Vortex for about two weeks & the first show we all played together was the first show of that summer 2008 tour.

C/LAG – You know, it was hard to up & disappear on my boys.  We’ve had a lot of great times together & made tons of great music.  This is music I’ve always had inside of me, & it’s rare when you can find other people that you can get along with as friends, who are musically coming from a similar place, & who aren’t afraid to do something looked at as kind of strange by most of the people around you.  One big thing about this music is, you can’t just kind of play it, or pick it up & put it down, you have to live it & live with it.  For example, most drummers or bass players can take a gig in a rock band or a blues band or a country band & pick it up pretty quickly, but with what we do, there is less of a blueprint & it takes a lot of time & trial & error to see what will work & what won’t.  That can be really frustrating, even if you listen to a lot of music that is similar, once you get into it, it can wrap you up & spin you around & make you dizzy & wondering “What do I do next?”  At the end of my last tour playing drums in Hotel Hotel, I was going through a lot of internal struggle with the direction my life was going as an artist & had spent the previous several years working hard to establish myself on the west coast learning to play the music of Brazil, which is very different, much more structured, less free, less individualistic, but very beautiful & rewarding to play.  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 to get my ass kicked by playing more conventional forms of music.  Now that I’ve done that, I feel like I have a lot more discipline, focus, & sensitivity, & that is something I can apply directly to our music in Hotel Hotel.  Of course, this was hard on Chaos & Misco, & hard on me as well; they are two people who are very dear to me & 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... or should have been making, & I just couldn’t believe that, as talented & unique as they are, they couldn’t find someone who could compliment & stimulate them.  Especially living in the live music capital of the world.  Sure enough, in time, Misco met Mr. Index/Vortex, who is the kind of guy who’s geared to play drums in this band.  He’s definitely got the mind, the focus, & the creativity for it.  He tries stuff I would never have thought of doing, & does it very tastefully.

QRD – The Sad Sea is a bit of a concept album about an ocean salvage journey gone badly.  Did any of the band members actually go on this trip?

C/TU – Misco & I have been kinda reluctant to talk about the trip, but I figured I’d write about it one day.  When we first met the captain, he was so drunk, & we figured it’d just be another one of our adventures, no big deal.  I felt we had to go with him when he asked us, it was so out of the ordinary, maybe we were really drunk at the moment, but I remember thinking, “We are really big on wild goose chases.”  When we showed up to set sail, we knew we were in for it.  It was clear that he wasn’t running the tightest of ships, but what was I gonna do, go back home & get a real job?

M/A – It was not one of my better choices, however, looking back I would not trade it for anything.  If I were to embark on such an adventure again, the ship would at least need to have buckets to bail water.  I can only scoop so much with my hands.

QRD – Your original drummer Caverninha recently popped back up & did a show with you.  Was it pretty awkward to work with him again & what’s the future hold for him being a member of the band?

C/TU – Yeah, this was for a show in Phoenix opening up for Lycia.  Their first show in ten years!  I’ve been a huge fan for a long time & since we are on the same label, Silber, I was hoping we could get on that show.  Index/Vortex had already scheduled some time off for the holidays to go visit family up in New York & wouldn’t be back in time, so we were left with just Misco & I.  Jokingly, I told Misco he should ring up Caverninha & ask him if he wanted to play the show because last we heard, Caverninha was in Phoenix.  Misco called, Caverninha answered.  It was weird for all of five minutes.  Once we started practicing, the music worked everything else out.

C/LAG – For me, it was pretty easy.  I was well burnt out on the way I was living & the music I was playing & needed a change & a different set of challenges as an artist.  There was definitely a hole in my life that only could be filled by that sound them Texas boys make.  It’s funny, when they came to my house & I answered my door, the two of them were wearing exactly the same clothes they had on the very day I’d met them like, 4 years earlier!  I figured they were just seeing if they could mess with my mind, but then again, really it’s just one of those things that happens when you’re in this band.  I had to stand there for a minute & go, “Is this a dream or is it real?”  It reminded me of that scene in The Blues Brothers when they get out of jail & go get the band back together.  They’re harping on the band for selling out & playing at the Holiday Inn, & the drummer looks at them & says, “At least we got a change of clothes... you’re wearing the same suit you had on three years ago!”  I looked at them, & they looked at me & we kinda had that conversation telepathically, you know?  I’m really fortunate because the boys are great guys, real friends who are very understanding, & they like the way I play, regardless of what I play.  So, I invited them into the house, made them some soup, we got amped up on caffeine, & got down to the business of making some really slow, burningly intense music.  Much to my surprise, even though they looked exactly the way they did way back when, they were playing a whole lot differently.  It was obvious that they had been working on their craft & had both really stepped it up with the dynamics, textures, theme, variation, trading back & forth, all that cool stuff.  I just kicked back & slid right into place & we ended up playing our best show ever as a trio.  Best show I’ve ever played in my life.  I could barely even speak after we got done playing.  After that, I knew I couldn’t stay gone anymore.  Lucky for me, they still didn’t have a full time bass player.  I’d recently gone through an intense period of re-bonding with the bass guitar, an instrument I’ve been in love with all my life, & playing since I was a teenager.  I was able to sell them on the idea of me being the bass player, & the bass has in turn allowed me to go into a period of re-bonding with some people & music I love deeply.  It’s good to be back.  I feel like we sound much fuller as a quartet.  And, as our eccentric, English musical cousins, Revenge Of Shinobi would say, “A four clutch is better than a three clutch!”

C/TU – Very true, & speaking of changing band names, you know the Shinobis recently changed their band name to Hind Ear.

QRD – Pretty much all of the members of Hotel Hotel seem to have a number of side or solo projects.  How do you know when a song idea belongs in Hotel Hotel rather than elsewhere?

M/A – Hotel Hotel always comes first, everything else is on the back burner.  My solo stuff now is so different from Hotel Hotel, I have no worries of mixing ideas.

C/TU – Yes, usually, all the projects sound different, so there’s really no over lapping; but for me, if I do something I’m liking & everyone just stares at me in an odd way, I know it’s best for my solo project.

QRD – Is it hard to get people to commit to Hotel Hotel things when they have so many other projects?

M/A – Yes it is, some people strive for a little more structure & actual song writing rather then letting go a little.  You don’t always need to plan things out, some of our players have a hard time wrapping their head around that.  The less commitment we get the harder I work to fill the sound, so at the end of the day, it is a good thing.  We have our core & that’s what counts.

QRD – I hear you guys make some great salsa.  What’s your secret & will you sell it as merch on tour?

C/TU – That secret is in my head!  Handed down from my pops, but the only thing he ever wrote down is the most generic of recipes: tomatoes, peppers, onion, & garlic.  I’ve been working on my salsa skills for a couple of years, & do plan to eventually try & sell it.  I’ve got to research commercial kitchens & such; but I’m a broke musician, so that’s probably gonna wait till I win first place in the National Texas Salsa Competition.  Last year I got honorable mention, out of over 500 entries, & while I reckon that’s decent enough, I’ve got to do better this year!

M/A – I am afraid the salsa would be gone before we left Tejas, maybe bring some cup cakes/cookies & other baked vegan friendly goods.  C/TU is even better at baking.

C/LAG – Salsa is great, but the bread... that’s something on a whole other level, we gotta figure out how to bake bread using the heat of the van engine.

C/TU – Oh yes, for sure!  That van engine produces some heat, & Caverninha & I eat loads of loafs of bread!  One time, before I started baking, we were at the store with probably three loafs, I turned to Caverninha & asked if we should get more, he immediately answered yes!  Misco was wondering why we had so much bread, but by dinner the next night we were out.  That’s when I figured I better learn now to bake some nice kinds of bread.  Right now, I’d have to say my signature is a green tea jalapeño.

QRD – How many shows would you ideally play a year?

C/TU – The problem with Hotel Hotel is that most of the band has “jobs”, so that’s why I do some solo touring, cause the rest of the guys can’t stay on the road as long as I’d like.  I’d probably stay out for at least nine months out of the year if I could, I’ve spent a month here & there, & at the end, I always feel like I’m just getting started, I know the road isn’t for everyone, but I feel like I’m built for it.

M/A – I would of course love to be on the road most of the year, rock doesn’t pay that hard.

QRD – What’s some of the music you are all able to actually listen to in the van while on tour?

C/TU – That’s easy, Journey!  & for real, they got the late night road jams.  Although, we did a few shows out of town recently & I slept during the drive from Denton to Houston, but would wake up occasionally to some really crazy jams going on, I can’t even tell you what it was, but I wasn’t into it, probably the Grateful Dead or something. I’m sure I listen to loads of stuff the others don’t like, but I usually drive the late shift after the shows so I get to listen to my crazy jams while everyone else is asleep.  Often the next day, someone will mention how intense their dreams were or that they woke up & thought I was driving naked wearing only a scarf & goggles playing some scary glitch music.

M/A – He fell asleep to The Dead Live at the Fillmore East. He woke up to some heavy free jazz, to be honest I think it put me in a vortex for a bit.  I listen to tons of hip-hop.  We always jam the bands we have & are going to play with, I love trading music on the road, most of my stuff I have listened to countless times, so when I get a chance to swap albums with a band I jump at the chance.

C/LAG – I am preparing to conduct an extended psychological experiment in the van involving Conway Twitty, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, George Jones, & some things like that.  Seriously though, we all listen to a whole lot of different stuff, but we do try to keep a certain percentage of it similar to the kind of stuff we play, or bands we’ve played with.  That way it keeps us kind of in a certain frame of mind.  Good hip-hop is very good for focusing on a long drive, as is the drone-y stuff like The Azusa Plane or AMP or stuff like that.

QRD – I know you cite Pink Floyd as the start of post rock/drone rock genre.  How do you feel about so many young people exclusively knowing them for The Wall?

M/A – In the recent months I have run into a few people that have no idea who Pink Floyd is. I ask them first if they have electricity & second the name & address of their parents so we can exchange words.  The Wall is not even for everyone, so I don’t hate, at least you have taste!  My favorite album is Animals.

C/LAG – Well, my parents never liked Pink Floyd, but I got around to them.  And, yes, The Wall was the first I heard, although it wasn’t long before I found the other stuff.  But, I was the kind of kid who liked doing musical homework.  & that stuff is great when you’re a teenager, it’s tasteful & you can relate to it.  Even though Pink Floyd were the first band to play like that, I feel like most of the bands that have come out of them have done more to shape this kind of music into styles & genres.  The impression I get from watching films of them playing & reading lots of interviews is, just like most of us, they were figuring it out as they went along, & I do think they’re a bit slicker & sneakier than most people think they are.  You know, in terms of crafting something to sell to their audience, be that A Saucerful Of Secrets or Wish You Were Here, they’re obviously very smart guys, but most people just tend to think they were really high.

C/TU – Are y’all telling me, they put out another album?  But really, Misco & I are big fans & I feel like between the two of us, we got everything they’ve released, so I guess you can say, Pink Floyd might get some airplay while on tour as well.

QRD – A lot of your recordings are basically live without overdubs.  Is this integral to how you work as a band or just due to time & financial constraints?

M/A – We are more about the emotion then trying to pin point every note.  We have tried that approach & the album always sounds stale.  Financial constraints do play a role, but at the end of the day we will never release anything we are not proud of.

QRD – Do you think your guitar/violin/bass, pedals, or amplifier is more integral to your guitar/violin/bass sound?

M/A – Some pedals are just purely crafted better & have subtle nuances I just enjoy better.  I have this harmonizer pedal that sounds like complete crap if you use it for the guitar, but it sounds amazing with the violin.  As far as amps, I use a ‘72 Fender Twin.  This amp definitely crafts my sound, it has a clean & dark deep tone.  My violin is a German Sander, there is no other violin I could ever play on.

C/LAG – For me it’s the amps.  I’m quite picky about what kind of bass I use, but ultimately my sound is coming from the solid-state bass amps of the seventies.  They’re loud & clean, with a full range of frequency for the bass that you can fine-tune to get the voice you want.  Plus, they sound grittier, meatier, & less brittle than all these newer bass amps I’ve tried.  I think it’s because the components & design are simpler & of better quality.  The stuff you get these days kind of makes the bass sound like a piano, whereas I want my bass to sound like raw electricity shaped into a melody.  I’ve been trying to not use pedals with Hotel Hotel... sort of just to balance us out on some level; but in this kind of environment, the temptation is very strong, & I just may fall victim by the time the next tour rolls around... we’ll see.

C/TU – Yeah, I think everyone in the band should have some kind of delay pedal….  Once you get used to a particular sound, it’s hard to work outside of it, but I have been slowing switching around pedals as well as moving a few out of the mix.  I recently changed up my distortion with good results, but I feel like finding a different guitar would be harder, I’ve kinda broken both of mine.  & amps for sure are hard to deal with!  I’ve got two Blues Juniors that I really like, but I tend to just destroy amps for some reason, I burn through speakers & tubes, maybe I play really hard.  The other day, I practiced on Misco’s 72’ twin & it just didn’t agree with my distortion, it swallowed it, chewed on it a bit, & then spit it out, I thought I was gonna get sucked in like a spiral into the sound half way through.  Our old violinist, F25/Key, was in town that night jamming with us & I think it hypnotized her.

QRD – What are your plans for your next album?

C/TU – We’re gonna tell the story of how conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado got cactus hands as a punishment for killing “The Turk” on Texas soil.

M/A – This is true, Coronado is the new 2012.

C/LAG – I’ve had cactus hands before...not fun!

QRD – How do you think you would sound different if Hotel Hotel was based out of some place other than Texas?

C/TU – Are you trying to incite some smack on the rest of the world?  I reckon, it depends on where we were at.  I mean, if it’s Toronto, Brighton, or Berlin, we’d be okay.

M/A – I don’t know man, the heat does things to you I can’t explain.  I imagine it would be quite different, I would be okay anywhere & there are plenty of places I would not mind calling home base; but the fact is, Texas is the reason.

C/LAG – Although I’d wanted to play music like this way before I’d ever been to Texas, it is a fact that it has a massive influence on all of us.  Just the hours of driving alone will do a number on you & effect the music you play.  Plus, the fact that people in Texas tend to “get” our music more than in a lot of places.

QRD – Anything else?

C/TU – Please email us all your squid drawings & photos of cactus hands!  Also, check out our websites.

Official Silber Hotel Hotel Page
Hotel Hotel on MySpace