If you don’t think you know The Happy Hollows, chances are you HAVE heard their song “High Wire” (see below for a live video of it). The Negahdariland, CA – based band was featured performing the song in a Samsung phone commercial that aired extensively in late 2009 and into 2010. Personally, I don’t think I’d ever been swayed into checking out a band because they had a song in a commercial, but with “High Wire” I finally felt compelled to do a Google search and find out who they were. Impressed by their “Spells” album, I contacted them and did the following email interview with members Sarah and Charlie.
I was introduced to the band through hearing “High Wire” in that Samsung ad, though I think that I initially resisted admitting to myself that I liked it BECAUSE it was in cellphone commercial that always seemed to be on! I hope this doesn’t come across as being snobbish, but I’m wondering if it’s something you considered; that some potential fans might be turned off to music when it seems to be forced upon them in often-aired commercials?
Yes, of course we were worried that having our song in a commercial would cause some backlash. That being said, when we did that commercial we were unsigned (we still are although we have licensed our album Spells to Autumn Tone Records) and, pragmatically, we really had to do the commercial. The money we earned enables us to tour, pay rent for our practice space, buy and repair gear, and will help us make the next album. The business model of the music industry has changed drastically in the past few years, and even well-known bands like Arcade Fire (NFL commercial), Grizzly Bear (Toyota or some such car manufacturer), and Wavves (Mountain Dew) are making a living by licensing their songs to commercials. I’m not saying that licensing songs to multinational companies is an ideal way for artists to make a living, but record sales certainly aren’t paying the bills for even relatively “famous” bands. So, if an unsigned band like us licenses a song to Samsung, it just doesn’t seem like that big a deal anymore. We aren’t using the money to buy a Lexus. We’re using it to buy amps and then make records because labels can no longer pay to do even those basic things.
How did the commercial come about? Was “High Wire” specifically chosen initially, or were other Happy Hollows songs considered?
The rumor is that a big band like Weezer or The White Stripes dropped out and then Samsung had to find a band in two or three weeks. They picked us out of over a thousand bands because they watched some interview we did on YouTube and liked us. They were trying to decide between “High Wire” and “Faces” and I think they went with “High Wire” because it had a synth.
I read that you got the name “Happy Hollows” from a petting zoo, but it really seems to fit your sound in that the music can have a somewhat dark / mysterious edge but also a happy feel to it. Was that a factor in picking the name?
I think being sort of contradictory and difficult to pin down has always been an aesthetic for the band, so the name fits I suppose.
Did you think about how people searching for the band online are likely to come across the zoo if they accidentally leave the ‘s’ off your name?
What I am most worried about is people calling us “Happy HAllows” with an “A”. It seems like once a week we get called the Happy HAllows. It just happened on Stereogum this past week. Sometimes it feels like that episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns can’t remember Homer’s name?..
The zoo has actually contacted us and wants us to play a show there sometime. I think we are going to do that. In addition, we also played a show at the L.A. Zoo this summer. I think we might just start playing the zoo circuit instead of clubs.
Could you briefly explain how the band came together? Had the members been involved with other groups / musical projects previously?
Chris and I are from Washington, DC and we knew each other there. We both happened to move out to L.A. at the same time and started to form a band. We put an ad up on Craigslist that Sarah answered and the rest is history.
As the band came together, was it obvious that you wanted to be a trio? Or was that just the way things turned out?
In the studio we certainly aren’t a “trio.” Conceptually, our songs have a lot of guitar and vocal layers and I think that the amount of layering we do in the studio is only going to expand on the next album. I think one of the main reasons we are a trio is that it just makes life simpler. We tour in a tiny minivan. It is so cramped in there that if one of our members gained just 5 pounds the doors of the minivan would explode.
Each additional member that a band adds will inexorably add a whole host of complications, both social and musical, to the equation, inevitably making it more complex. So, basically, we like to keep it simple “live” but not in the studio.
“Spells” had originally been self-released before Autumn Tone put it out, correct? What exactly were you looking for a label to be able to do for the band (that you couldn’t do completely on your own)?
Well, ideally we’d like a label to give us a million dollars to do with as we please. But since those days are long gone we were happy that Autumn Tone had distribution that got Spells into indie record stores around the country. They also paid for physical production of the album and helped out with promotion. In addition, Justin Gage (owner) is just a really nice and genuine person, so that made the decision easy.
When you were dealing with Nettwerk, was the album complete and ready to go? If so, were any changes made before it was ultimately released?
I think the album was about 75% done when all the Nettwerk stuff happened.
What happened with the Nettwerk deal anyway?
Well, I don’t know if they were bullshitting us or not but they said that they were no longer working on artist “development” and had decided to focus, on the label side, on larger artists. They also said they were running out of money (on the label side). In addition, judging from their artist roster, I think basically they decided they did not want to be a part of the “indie phenomenon” and that they also decided to focus on artist management more so than on being a label. We were signed with them for about a month. I don’t think they ever really listened to the album. This was around the time when the U.S. economy was in total freefall and the imminent apocalypse was looming. I think they just spazzed and dropped a whole bunch of bands off their roster. Since we were the latest band they signed, we were the first to go.
The growth of the Internet has had a big impact in how bands promote and distribute their music, but I’m wondering if there is anything you actually miss about the pre-internet days?
There was a time when the internet didn’t exist? That has apparently been erased from my memory.
Are there any directions you’d like to take The Happy Hollows in the future (music used in different mediums, styles you’d like to experiment with, etc)?
I think we will be incorporating more synth on the next recording as well as a lot more effects and layering of the vocals. Also, we’ll probably focus a bit more on melody and less on non-linear song structure on the next album.
Have you done much writing/recording since “Spells”? Will you be performing any newer material at the upcoming live shows?
We are writing new songs and have started playing some of them on our recent tour.
What are you currently listening to? Are there any new or lesser-known bands that you think people should be on the lookout for?
Dios, Pity Party, Rare Grooves, Traps ps, Dirt Dress, One Trick Pony, Tera Melos, Signals, and Japandroids.
What is in the future for the band after these summer tour dates?
We are getting ready to record a new album. We are also recording Sarah’s solo “art-folk” album in the near future. Hopefully both will be released in 2011.