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Interview Wed Feb 05 2014

A Chat with Hospitality

By Stuart Ross

Indie-rock trio Hospitality brought their live show to Schubas this week in support of Trouble, their second full-length on Merge Records.

On the front end of their 2012 self-titled debut, Hospitality proved themselves to be makers of joyful pop. Songs like "Eighth Avenue" raced through last night's party, and the irresistible "Betty Wang" had nothing to do the next morning but linger at brunch. The record's deeper cuts, though, hinted at a darker side, and the band lets that side flourish on this year's Trouble.

Consider the first track, "Nightingale." You hear a nightingale and you might think flowers at your feet. But the riff is ominous and down in the bass. Even the chaperoned sway of a gem like "It's Not Serious" carries a serious message between the lines.

Hospitality - TroubleNot to say it's all doom and gloom. The band excels at writing about twentyseven-something characters, and many twee keywords are still invited to the party. I remember hearing about parasols, empty letters, even a heartbreaker named Valentino. But these characters are now walking home from said parties to find ghosts in their twin-sized beds.

In anticipation of the Chicago show, I traded some emails with percussionist and songwriter Nathan Michel about the band's tour and the making of the new record.

Who came up with the name Hospitality and when did you realize it was going to stick?

I can't remember exactly. But we liked that the name seemed both warm and inviting and a little bit cold and abstract at the same time.

The cover art to your first record was a kinda-candid photograph of passengers on a speedboat. This record has a much more stylized cover. What's the story behind it?

It started with a photo taken by Will Mebane. We gave that photo to the artist/designer we were working with, Phillip Niemeyer. We told Phillip we wanted to use the stripe theme, which we'd used before on our 7 inch. We also wanted the cover to be darker — thematically and color-wise — than our first LP cover. Phillip took it from there and did a fantastic job. He ran Will's original photo through a bunch of processes, which gave the image a nice texture. Not exactly sure what, but photocopying and analog film may have played a roll.

What were your main objectives with this record? Did you end up in a different place than you thought you would?

We wanted the record to have a warmer, darker, more natural sound than the first record. We wanted to take our time a bit more within each song, with the arrangements less ornamental and more integrated into each song. We didn't exactly plan on using drum machines and synths all that much, but as we were recording we ended up using them more and more. The recording process, at least for us, is pretty intuitive, so we always end somewhere different from what we initially imagine.

Can you tell us a bit about what the songwriting process is like in the band.

Amber writes most of the songs. We then arrange them with the band in a guitar, bass, drums version. Occasionally that trio version of the song becomes the album version. "I Miss Your Bones" is basically the trio playing live in the studio with just a few overdubs. Other songs ended up a lot further away from the trio version. "Inauguration" is an example. And some songs never went through the band much at all. "Last Words" is my song, with Amber's lyrics. I basically played everything on that track.

In the mixtape you made for WQXR, I really liked your comment that Stravinsky was the "king of right wrong notes." There are a number of great "right wrong notes" coming out of the guitar in the outros to "I Miss Your Bones" and "Last Words." What do you think of the longer instrumental sections in the songs on this record? I feel like you really give the band room to stretch out.

Thanks! Well, Amber's playing the guitar solos on "Bones" and I'm playing the solo on "Last Words." So maybe we both have that "right-wrong note" thing in our ears. Amber tends to write short songs. I'll usually take her initial song and add sections to flesh it out a bit. I was particularly pleased with the trumpet performance on the extended middle section of "Sunship." More right-wrong notes in that part...

I really dig the piano on this record, particularly at the end of "Rockets and Jets" and on "Inauguration." Who plays piano?

I play all the piano parts. I think in both cases you mention the piano slightly reharmonizes the chords of the song, which adds a sense of shift or lift to the song. Since the piano has a nice attack and decay it's good, arrangement wise, for fitting into mixes that may be otherwise already full. My personal favorite piano part is the solo I did on "Sullivan." It reminds me of Bill Evans' solo on "Flamenco Sketches" from Kind of Blue. It's got a similar floating vibe.

What's the first experience you remember related to music? Did you grow up in a musical family?

Neither of my parents really played an instrument, though both are musical. My dad is a visual artist, but had tons of records.

You're beginning a tour that will take you through Chicago, to the West Coast and back east. What can we expect from your live show?

Right now we're driving through a cold and snowy Indiana. Live, we perform as a quartet, which we've done in the past. But this time we're all switching around instruments a lot, which is really fun. Amber plays keys and guitar, Brian plays bass and sampler, I play guitar, keyboard and drums, and Dave Christian plays drums and keyboard.

What's it mean for you to live in New York and feed off that energy?

We have a group of friends in different bands, who we see from time to time. But actually we stay home a lot.

When you think of Chicago, you think of....

Thrill Jockey.

You've released records under your own name. Where's a good point to start in your music for people interested in following your solo efforts?

My music is on my website. It's pretty all over the place, but my 2005 record called The Beast is probably the best place to start.

What were you reading/listening to/looking at during the making of the album?

Listening: early King Crimson. Amber was reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. I was reading Concrete by Thomas Bernhard. Brian was reading The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman.

Watching: Amber was obsessed with "True Blood" while we were recording.


Stuart Ross is a writer living in Chicago. You can follow him on twitter.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

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