Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Hourly Radio - Interview at Sons of Hermann Hall

Video interview by Torr Leonard (I think).

Interviewed by Kate Mackley

One amazing sell-out night at the Gypsy Tea Room isn’t enough to drive a band forward, but for The Hourly Radio it’s not a fluke. Balancing humility about their present and hubris for their potential, three of the guys chronicle their progress. They’re taking it one unexpected step at a time.

Despite the ‘pickers in every room’ at Sons of Hermann Hall on songwriters’ Thursday night, The Hourly Radio and DMG found a spot to share the development of this exciting new band. Aaron Closson, making a name for himself as a singer, and Ryan Short, the guitarist and impetus behind the group, drove the conversation, but drummer Adam Vanderkolk got props from his mates. Missing was bass player Tim Jansen, but we were told, “he doesn’t talk much anyway.” Closson, Short, and Vanderkolk clearly have aspirations for The Hourly Radio that extend beyond the Dallas music scene.

Dallas Music Guide: You guys definitely have everyone talking about you. When and how did you officially form?

Ryan Short: A year from October, so October 2003.

Aaron Closson: I answered an ad that Ryan had put out. He did the whole Observer ‘musician’s wanted’ pages where he listed a bunch of bands I was into, and I had never done anything like that before. I remember telling my mom I was trying for a band and she was really mad. But it ended up working really well. I played two songs and I was disappointed because in my mind, trying for a band would be this rigorous… but they were like, ‘Cool, that’s pretty good’ and I was like, ‘What! That’s it?’ Really disappointed.

RS: I was on the giving up stage because I would get the guys singing the most ridiculous things on the answering machine; heavy metal, Incubus, terrible people calling. So when Aaron came I was just like, ‘OK, cool.’

DMG: (to Adam) You’re the famous drummer from the Observer article!

Adam Vanderkolk: Apparently.

RS: (sarcastically) We’re very upset.

DMG: How did you get involved?

AV: Ryan called me and said that he had these couple of friends that had instruments and they had a place to practice, and I kept blowing him off. Then about a year later I ran into him a concert at the Curtain Club, and he was still looking for members for his band, and I agreed finally because he was back in Dallas. That’s how I joined.

DMG: A whole year later?

RS: Well, nothing ever happened. I just had a guitar and I was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna start a band’ and I just talked about it a lot. For about a year.

AV: and then…

RS: Adam and I went to high school together and I knew he played drums, so I called him and said, ‘I have this singer now.’

AC: When I started I couldn’t play with a drummer. I just couldn’t do it. We had never played at all. We had no idea what we were doing. Another drummer got us off the ground, but it never would have worked with him. Things just came together with Adam.

DMG: ‘The Hourly Radio’; where does the name come from?

RS: It came from a book, Brave New World, and I had always thought that would be a cool band name, long before I even knew how to play guitar. One day before we were going to play a show, we were writing down band names and we needed to pick one. Adam thought that one was cool.

AV: When I first practiced with them, they had a dry-erase board and it had five names and they were wanting to get rid of Hourly Radio and I really liked that one, and they were leaning toward ‘The Scallies’ I believe it was.

RS: Yeah, when we first started out we wrote rock songs. They weren’t bad, but they were rock songs.

AC: As far as the name, I like it and I don’t like it at the same time. But it’s what we did and our music is our music. From the very start, we were like, ‘Well it has radio in it, and that’s pretty generic, with Radiohead and so many bands have Radio.’ So we were aware of it, but we also didn’t care because we didn’t think anything would happen. I’m sure a lot of bands do that. They come up with a stupid name and then they… I like it, but I’m not crazy about it, but I’m not worried about it.

AV: Whatever, I don’t care.

DMG: Describe your sound for me.

AV: That is the worst question.

RS: I have the hardest time with that.

AC: At its very core it’s pop music. For a long time, I was afraid to call it pop because there’s some kind of pejorative, negative connotation and maybe it still is because of MTV’s existance. It’s still something we shy away from. But at the very root, I think the hardest thing to do is to make a three-and-a-half minute catchy song. If you can run up and down the guitar neck, you can drag out a song for six minutes. We do want to be memorable.

RS: And I hope we do it with atmosphere and texture, combining the sounds of our influences.

DMG: Who are your influences? What are the bands that drive you guys?

AV: I’m not allowed to talk about mine. (he laughs, and Ryan scoffs, but agrees.) I like bands that that have good drummers, so I listen to heavier stuff.

RS: (teasing) Rush.

AV: No, no Rush. I listen to bands, like Incubus that was mentioned earlier, that Ryan doesn’t like … (laughs)

RS: (faking anger) This interview is over.

AV: …that’s where I learned beats, so that’s what I listen to. A lot of the drummers in the bands that they listen to are flatline.

AC: That’s true. Nothing against Coldplay, but their drummer creates standard issue drumbeats. He doesn’t take a lot of chances, he lets Chris Martin handle it. Adam’s background is a huge contribution. It really does add. It’s a little more aggressive than other drummers would do. Some would hang back.

RS: Yeah, having a drummer that was into Coldplay and Keane and Travis wouldn’t add. It’s nice to have a singer who looks up to those guys, but a drummer… It actually helps having Adam be into the more aggressive stuff. As far as other influences, British music, obviously. I don’t know why it just seems that bands from there are better.

Ac: I remember looking at my CD collection early in high school and counting mentally the bands that were from England. The great majority were from Manchester. Small mining towns. Shitholes. They made the best music in the last twenty years. It’s not a coincidence; people of our education are pre-disposed.

DMG: Where is your education from?

AC: It’s still occurring actually, studying 19th century Russian literature with a minor in philosophy.

DMG: Whenever I see you, I get this “Holden Caulfield” thing from you.

AC: What does that mean?

DMG: Like you should be from back East, old school prep stuff; Catcher in the Rye.

AC: OK, good. Cheers!

DMG: Which is unusual here in Texas.

AC: I wasn’t born here, but I’m very proud to be here. My family’s from Chicago.

RS: I think if you can’t tell we’re from Texas, then we’re doing something right.

AC: Yeah. Mission accomplished.

DMG: You look different, you sound different. If I was to take anywhere, you guys seem like you should be from Boston. Not ready for New York City

RS: Not quite New York. Maybe Connecticut.

DMG: You guys just put out your debut EP, The Lure of the Underground. Tell me about that.

AV: I wasn’t really involved in a lot of it, I just laid down the tracks and then let these two basically run the show. They seemed to have good ideas, because it came out alright. I liked it.

RS: Adam hasn’t actually heard it yet.

AV: I don’t have a copy of it.

RS: $5. (laughs) Someone heard our music, a demo we had made on our own, and thought it was really cool, liked it and wanted to hear what we sounded like with a proper CD, so paid for Taylor Tasch, who’s a local engineer/guitar player with a studio, to record us. We recorded eight songs quickly. There was no producing, it was just engineering; ‘this is how we play the song live, so this is how we play it on our record.’ Adam played the drums and we layed everything on top of it and it sat there for a couple of months. We’re not signed to a lable, we weren’t paying for it, so we didn’t have the right to say, ‘let’s finish this record’; it was all an experiement to see what we could do. It finally got mixed two weeks before it came out, which was January 8th.

AC: Yeah, it got mixed, we put it out, played a CD release.

DMG: Yeah, and played quite a CD release show! (with Deathray Davies, Pilotdrift, and Black Tie Dynasty at the Gypsy Tea Room on 1/8/05)

RS: We knew that if we did it, we didn’t want it to be a normal show. Up to this point, being a new band, we played a lot of the random club calls because they’ve got a hole in their schedule and you play with bands you’ve never heard of that sound nothing like you. Since we book our own shows, we’re learning as we go. You learn quickly that you have to put the bill together yourself for it to be good. We stick with bands that we really like. Deathray had been around forever. Black Tie (Dynasty) we’ve been playing with a lot. Pilotdrift, we didn’t really know them, but we had just seen them and were blown away by their whole sound, called them all and they were down.

DMG: You just called them?

RS: Yeah, we emailed them and said ‘We’re doing our CD release…’

AV: ‘You want to be on?’

RS: Obviously, we did Deathray first, and once they were in, everybody else was going to be in, and yeah… the Tea Room was packed, sold out.

AV: We were lucky to get such a good bill put together for a show like that, having those bands available, and helping us. We were nervous before the show, ‘what if nobody comes, that would be embarrassing’ and it was the opposite.

RS: It really floored all of us, seeing all those people there.

AC: That Pilotdrift opened for us, I was really flattered. They have no business opening before us.

AV: I really appreciate that.

RS: I think a lot of bands get caught up in the ‘why would we play first?’ and when bands do that… This city has a ton of bands that should play a third or fourth slot. If you want to have a good show, someone’s going to have to open. It was really really cool of them; for Black Tie to play before us, and Pilotdrift to play before us because they don’t need to do that.

AC: No egos were involved at all. In the long run, it helps everyone out.

RS: It was a cool night, though.

DMG: Were you originally at Trees?

AC: Um, kinda. Online it said Trees at one point, and they had talked to us about doing a show, but we weren’t available for that date, and then we started talking about the CD release, so in our heads we were thinking Trees, still. It’s never that it was at Trees and then it got moved because they didn’t think it was going to sell out. We were like, well, Gypsy’ll feel more crowded anyway, because we didn’t know. We probably could have filled up Trees because people were getting turned away.

RS: My mom actually got turned away.

AC: They finally let her in. She was like, “It’s my son! My son’s gonna play.”’

DMG: Aaron, are you really a perfectionist?

AC: Am I a perfectionist, live? Playing a show, yeah. (Adam chuckles) Adam’s laughing out loud. Let him answer that question.

AV: It’s a funny question. I’m waiting for you to give your answer.

AC: But you’re seen me come off shows and be pissed.

AV: Aaron’s never had a good show, according to him. Yes, he’s a bit of a perfectionist all around, I think. Not just with music.

DMG: I have to say, I’ve never see a typed set list before, from anyone.

RS: We usually don’t have them! It’s usually a napkin this big (spreads fingers just a little bit apart), but this was like ‘We can’t fuck this up!’ It was pretty much for this show. I was at work, thinking about what else we could be forgetting, so…

AC: I can’t even remember the show because I was thinking so hard. It’s something we’ll never attain. I don’t know that we’ll ever be that band that plays sod-on perfect, perfect sets. I don’t think musically we’re loose. If anything’s wrong, it’s gonna be me. And the way I want to compensate for that is that I want to be as genuine as possible and convey that I’m sincere about what we’re doing.

DMG: Were you vocally trained?

AC: No, I never really sang until I went to Ryan’s apartment. The opportunity was gonna pass and I didn’t know if I could do it, I just wanted to see.

RS: When we first met, I was working for a company that had a studio and would produce background music for BMW and commercials and they were looking for a male singer and I said I was working with Aaron in a band. He comes in to do it and my boss asked the same question; ‘Are you trained? Do you sing with a choir or a church or something?’ and Aaron said, ‘No, I’ve never sang before in my life.’ He was just like, ‘It’s quite ambitious just to show up at a recording session as a singer getting paid however much an hour and you’ve never sang before!’

AC: I said ‘I hope I’m not wasting your time, but sorry, give it a go.’

RS: (imitating Aaron) ‘I think I can sing.’ (laughing) But he could, so he pulled it off. And he pulled it off here.

DMG: What’s next for you guys?

RS: I don’t know. Seriously, when I put the ads in the paper and started this band, everything was such like, the next step and that’s all we cared about. I was like, ‘I just want to write a song.’ If we could just play through that song without stopping, that’s all I want to do. And then it was, if we could just record a song, and have it on CD so we could hear it years later, that’s all we were going to do. And then what if we play a show? And then what if we can play Trees? And then… we’re never really thinking except past the next step. I never would have, a year ago….

AV: When I met up with Ryan at Curtain Club, after he finished school, we talked about it and the whole time it was ‘I don’t want to do it unless it’s just a hobby.’ Ryan was, ‘oh yeah, it can’t be anything other than that because I’ve got a job…’ We both had jobs and everything just escalates. You get a piece of something good and whatever you set your goal out to be is like a ladder and you keep going up.

RS: I don’t know what the next step is, really.

AV: Our next step now is that we want to play SxSW because that’s next month. That’s literally as far as we go. Do we have any song that we wrote that we think is the greatest song ever? So we want to record that next. And that’s how we continue, I guess.

AC: I’m excited about the notion of our abilities, our talents, catching up to our songwriting capabilities, really our taste. If I was to name one thing that would set us apart from every other band in this state would be our taste. I think that taste matters way more than your ability to play scales, like we were talking about earlier. We’re not trained musicians, we don’t know what we are doing, but more importantly we do know good from bad. Musically, we know what we want to hear, we know what we are not hearing, so I think that’s what matters. If we can keep a clear vision of what we want to hear and what we want to do musically, our talent will catch up with that. We’ll become better guitar players, we’ll become better vocalists, and that’s what I’m excited about.

AV: When you’re allowed to not know what you’re doing, and when you are really and truly allowed to do that, you make a lot better music. Even U2, their first album, they weren’t that good of players and they didn’t have a producer come in and totally change everything. They were allowed to just go in there and work it out like a band works it out. And they made awesome records. Now they are brilliant musicians, they’ve played forever.

RS: But they weren’t at the time. A lot of people look back and see those first records as some of the best stuff. I think that is our benefit. We don’t know what we’re doing.

AV: If you learn other peoples’ music, which learning music, that’s all it is, reading music, then all you’re gonna do is do what they do.

AC: It keeps us being na├»ve and new at our instruments and our art, it keeps us song-centered rather than instrument-centered. There are a lot of bands you go see and it’s like, ‘insert guitar solo’ and it’s like a two minute run up and down the neck. We don’t have the luxury of doing that. Literally. There has to be something there that we find catchy or melodic outside of a contrived guitar solo, so I do look at it as a benefit that we can’t fall back on our instruments. We have to write good songs.

DMG: What are your favorite songs?

AV: The new one you haven’t heard yet.

RS: I think every time we write a song, we get real excited. You know, ‘This is it. This is the song.’ Then we play it for a couple of shows and we’re like (sounding bored) …whatever…

AC: I think the newer songs will be our most recognizable and commercial. They’re our most catchy mainstream pop songs, but they’ll always be songs that mean a lot to me and maybe that has something to do with the fact that I write lyrics. Probably “Lost + Found” and “First Love is Forever” are the two that mean the most to me.

DMG: What do you consider your philosophy as a band, why are you doing all this? You know, the classier version of “Sex, Drugs, or Rock-n-Roll.”

AC: Absolutely not.

AV: One, it’s fun. We enjoy it.

RS: I’d say our philosophy and why we are doing it are pretty different, for each person.

AC: That’s an individual question. I wouldn’t say it’s fun.

RS: Our philosophy and focusing on how we write is serious as far as what we think is good. Philosophy towards the band is very serious. But why we’re doing it and why we started doing it is very not serious. But we’re not going to get up there and screw around; when we write songs we’re dead serious. I would disassociate those two questions.

AV: I think all of us like the challenge too. We get frustrated because we always want to beat what we’ve done already. Just get better as musicians and that type of thing.

DMG: What is the new song?

RS: We played it at the CD release; “Closer.”

AC: On tape it’s going to be good, but live we can’t really nail it yet.

AV: Yeah, we don’t really practice our new songs before we go ahead and play ‘em live. (laughs) Which I don’t know is the smartest thing.

RS: Yeah, once we can play it all the way through, we’re like ‘let’s go ahead and do it.’

DMG: Do you have plans of moving on; New York, LA?

AC: I don’t see an opportunity existing outside of Dallas that makes Dallas unacceptable. There are a lot of positive things happening.

AV: It wouldn’t make any sense to leave now.

AC: The few bands we played with at the show are standing out, are standing apart, and I think for a reason.

RS: If we move on, and by move on I mean move up, we might start touring and be out and about but we’re still from Dallas. I don’t think we’ll do a Secret Machines ‘we gotta go here to be discovered’. I don’t think Austin gives you any better chance. We drive three hours and play there, I don’t think we need to move to Austin. If we played our show in New York, no one would care. I don’t think a lot is going on in Dallas, musically interesting, but I definitely think more is than was a year ago. There’s a very obvious class of older bands fading out, and a class of newer bands coming in and those bands have similar influences, stuff that’s relevant nationally and internationally, so I think that’s a positive, a lot less from bar band type music.

AV: Authentic music for the thinkers.

AC: For us this band is a special thing and it works because of who we are with. I’m not interested in being a professional local musician.

RS: As long as all these clubs can stay open, people are exposed to a lot better music now than they were six years ago. A lot cooler music, and that helps.

DMG: Well, I’m trying. Thanks.

RS: Thanks for taking the time.

The Hourly Radio play regularly on the club scene in the DFW metroplex and will be in Austin during SxSW at Hot Shots on March 19th. RIYL: U2, New Order, Radiohead, The Promise Ring, Jarvis Cocker, The Cure, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Britpop, Incubus (but just the drumming).

© Dallas Music Guide 2005

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