After I heard the opening of “Phoenix” off 2012’s The Bird is Coming Down to Earth, I was hooked on Seattle’s The Soft Hills. They have a nice blend of fuzzy indie Americana, Neil Young, Radiohead, and atmospheric, ambient, yet psychedelic rock. That quick description doesn’t even begin to do them justice though. There’s so much texture to their music, that you’ll pick up something new each time you listen to them. All in all, they’re an auditory delight.
With their new album, Chromatisms, out today on Tapete Records, I thought it was an appropriate time to feature such a great band. Thankfully, lead singer/songwriter and guitarist Garrett Hobba was up for it. Below, find his answers to this week’s Friday 5. The Soft Hills embody the spirit of independent music, so do what you can to support them.
1) Your new album comes out today. What can fans expect from it?
If I had to describe the album in a few words I would say something like: Birdmen time-travelers, a tale of an unhappy girl named Louise, the story of a schizophrenic banned from Paradise, celestial radio, oceanic dream therapy, reflections on death, a letter to the moon, madness, and euphoria.
One factor that influenced many of the songs on this record was the death of my best friend Kevan. We were closer than brothers growing up and he had a deep influence on my songwriting. After he died (he developed Schizophrenia and died from an alcohol-related seizure), I passed through a dark period filled with tears and strange dreams. Looking back, it seems as though a whole part of my past fell away away into the abyss. This album represents for me the end of an era, both artistically and psychologically. Chromatisms is a signing off to an old way or life; it is a farewell to the past and looks forward to an unknown future.
There is a magical, almost fairy-tale, quality to some of the songs, like “Marigolds”, “Horse & Carriage”, and “Un”. These songs were inspired by reflections on early childhood, dreams, and psychedelic visions. Other influences come from writers like Hermann Hesse, DH Lawrence, Dostoyevsky, and C.G. Jung.
2) With your music blending so many styles, where does your inspiration come from?
In the studio we have fun trying out different kinds of guitars, keyboards, and amps which gives us a large palette of colors to choose from. I think this accounts for why you’re hearing such a variety of sounds.
Perhaps the array of styles on this record comes from the fact that we love so many different kinds of music. Although we share many similar interests, we all have our own leanings. For example my drummer Randall is really into psych-rock bands like Black Moth Super Rainbow and Black Mountain. Our bass player Brett is an outdoors man and is at home with classic artists like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Matt’s favorites are bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros. I’m inspired by everything from The Beach Boys to Joy Division to Godspeed You Black Emperor! As a songwriter I would feel confined to be locked into just one particular style of music. There are so many bands like that: you are either a shoegaze band or an Americana band or an indie-pop band. We’re striving to develop our own unique sound, bringing together various influences and throwing them into a melting pot. It’s like an alchemical process, trying to turn silver into gold.
3) For folks who might not know your music, if they listen to _______ , they’ll like The Soft Hills.
Radiohead/Neil Young/Sigur Ros/The Beatles/Sparklehorse
4) What’s the life of an independent band in 2013 like? How has the digitization of the medium changed how you approach music?
Basically if you’re in a band today it means living the life of a trout, swimming up stream, fighting against the worst odds. To survive is a miracle. We’re striving towards a seemingly impossible goal, which is the only kind of goal worth striving for. We’re getting some amazing support from our label now, which has put much fresh wind in our sails. Just knowing that you have a team of people standing behind you makes all the difference. Digitization is a blessing and a curse. Thank God for the re-emergence of vinyl!
5) If you could only recommend one book to a friend, what would it be and why?
Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse because it’s a powerful book full of magic and a sense of wonder. It deals with the creative process and has a lot to say to the artist about following his/her true path. I’ve given this book to a few of my good friends and it has also become one of their favorites.