- August 2013 -
hAVE A BEER HUMMING HOUSE
Woven together from diverse backgrounds (Americana, classical composition, bluegrass, soul and traditional Irish music), Humming House's playground of musical exploration has something for every generation. Unmistakable pop sensibilities mixed with a depth of lyrical narrative give their whimsical songs an irresistible quality that can only be described by the imagery of the name – Humming House.
Fresh from recording their second album with Grammy Award-winning producers Vance Powell (The White Stripes, Chris Thile, Buddy Guy) and Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay), Humming House is building a tour schedule to match their growing reputation. Their debut record brought a whirlwind of press including features on NPR’s Live in Studio C and All Things Considered, Nashville’s Lightning 100 local spotlight, reviews in American Songwriter Magazine and a Daytrotter session. The band's video for their second single, "Cold Chicago" was sponsored by Stetson and their newest video, “Fly On” is currently in rotation on CMT Pure and Zuus Country. Humming House has had placements on FX's "Justified" and The CW's "Hart of Dixie".
Having played over 150 dates, they are currently touring nationwide with notable performances at Bristol Rhythm and Roots, the Americana Music Festival, the Cayamo Cruise and SXSW. They have shared the festival stage with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dr. Dog, Justin Townes Earl, The Steep Canyon Rangers, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Lyle Lovett, Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby.
We caught up with the band at Evanston SPACE to discuss life on the road and their recent release “Humming House Party!” – inspired by the classic “Beach Boys’ Party!” album. Check out the record on iTunes.
The Show: Humming House with Ballroom Thieves at SPACE // August 13, 2014
Drinks of Choice: Cold brew iced coffee (Bobby); Pour-over coffee with espresso beans or Bourbon Barrel Ale (Ben); Bourbon and ginger ale (Leslie); Gin and Kombucha (Josh); Whiskey straight (Justin)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: The band resides in Nashville when you’re not on the road. What’s your favorite thing about living there?
Justin from Humming House: I came from California and was planning on moving back after college, but I’ve found it really hard to leave. There's a good “porch culture” in Nashville. People will go to their friend’s houses for fun, it’s very social and we run into people that we know all over the city: at the grocery store or at a venue or just out to dinner. Coming from San Diego that never happened. I never saw anybody out who I knew. Moving to a town where that's commonplace was really refreshing.
Josh from Humming House: It has a neighborhood feel.
Leslie from Humming House: In terms of just the city itself, I love how green it is. My husband and I have a huge garden out back and in the spring and summer, it's just beautiful. If you drive around you’ll see a lot of greenery and people growing beautiful stuff.
Kristen: I visited a month or two ago for the second time and I really just wanted to move there.
Kristen: Yes, I absolutely love it. Everyone is so friendly and it feels kind of like a small town, but it still has that city vibe to it.
Bobby from HummingHouse: That's a pretty on-point description.
Josh: I'm glad that you liked it because we’ve definitely had some people come from bigger cities who said, "I don't get this." It's very residential. You don't have this huge city with a lot of history ... It's not like living in downtown New York, obviously.
Kristen: Right, but that’s what makes it great and unique. Tell me about your Chicago experience since you've been a band. Where have you played?
Leslie: The first time we were in Chicago was last September. We played at the Tonic Room and it was a fun night. We had a great crowd, especially for our first time in town. We definitely had some sound issues.
Justin: But the promoters were fantastic.
Josh: They worked a lot of venues in town, so they were really cool to bring us in. And they bought us a couple of rounds of shots, one of which was Malört.
Kristen: Oh, god, you experienced Malört?
Bobby: I loved it!
Leslie: It looked like whiskey.
Bobby: She thought it was whiskey and just …
Leslie: It was terrible! I can't believe both of you enjoyed it!
Kristen: There’s a stigma surrounding Malört here and I think it builds it up so that when you go to take it, it's that much worse.
Leslie: Well, Josh insisted that it was a Chicago drink and that we must try it.
Kristen: I'm glad you did!
Bobby: I think that's where I got my chest hair from.
Kristen: Oh, that's awesome. I love it!
Josh: You take a pull and you get extra body hair.
Leslie: I actually thought that was a really fun night. We had a blast and we went out afterwards.
Ben from Humming House: The next time we were here was in December and, unfortunately, Josh was not with us, which was a big bummer. We did a short run with Reckless Kelly –who are awesome – and we played at Fitzgerald's. The highlight of that night was that there was a gentleman who was in a very bad place, in that his girlfriend of five years had just broken up with him. He lived in Austin and his best friend, who was in Chicago, convinced him to come up and spend the weekend with him. So, they came to the show both nights. The first night he got very drunk and around two-o-clock in the morning…
Leslie: Yeah, it was after everyone was gone.
Ben: There were about ten people left, including the bartenders, and he decided to order twenty-five shots of Fireball. And nobody wanted them.
Leslie: Nobody wanted them, but he had already paid for them. So we took about five each between us. Bobby eventually took one and tossed it over his shoulder.
Ben: He threw it all over the floor. That’s what he did.
Bobby: I'm not proud of it.
Ben: My next morning was great and theirs was not.
Leslie: That has to be a band first. It was dire circumstances. We were taking one for the team, you know?
Bobby: That's why I took about ten shots with him. So, basically, we're not alcoholics.
Leslie: No, but we have had a lot of fun in Chicago.
Bobby: On a lighter note, it's also really nice to get see family. A few of us have at least some family here. We've had a lot of time to go out in Chicago.
Leslie: My niece Gia was born last August, so when we were here last September, I got to see her when she was a few weeks old and I did photo shoots with them. I’m a photographer on the side.
Josh: Photo shoot with Baby G.
Kristen: And you guys have more dates following this gig. Are you still working on songs while touring?
Josh: I feel like nuggets of song ideas come out quite frequently when we're touring. It's probably because we spend so much time sound checking and mingling on our instruments, and suddenly, a song just pops out.
Kristen: How long are you out on the road for?
Justin: Between now and the end of September we’ll play about twenty-five shows, but they're not all strung together. So, we're not out for consecutive weeks, but it's definitely a very lengthy tour. We all have family back home, so it’s nice not to be out for too long. We’re covering a lot of ground though. We're going all over the Midwest, the Northeast and a little Southeast, but, mostly Northeast and Midwest.
Leslie: And we’re stretching the span of Atlanta to Maine.
Kristen: That's a lot of ground! What's the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you've done last year?
Leslie: The least? Everything!
Kristen: I ask that question and almost all band members say, "Man, I am such a loser."
Josh: See, I think this interview is deceptive because we started out talking about how cool alcohol is. Can you start by defining "rock-‘n’-roll?"
Kristen: Rock-‘n’-roll is basically the first half of our conversation.
Leslie: My life is one gigantic routine and the guys make fun of me for it. My husband and I have a total regimen. We eat probably the same five meals every week, and almost every night by nine we're chilling with the dogs on the couch. We get to bed pretty early.
Kristen: That’s my life, too.
Leslie: I'm a homebody when I'm not on the road. I try to take advantage of that time. That's not very rock-‘n’-roll. I was also getting my PhD in sociology, but I can’t claim that anymore. These guys stole me from the program!
Kristen: You guys have some powerful influence.
Ben: Yeah, we do. There are also tons of un-rock-‘n’-roll things that we listen to while we're traveling. We'll get started on classical music, especially in the van. I was pretty nerdy in the classical realm before I joined this band.
Leslie: We're big nerds and we like to talk about it.
Josh: Yeah, and we play games in the van. There's a game published in 1993 by Milton Bradley called Crack-the-Case. It's similar to a game of twenty questions, but the reader accepts a card and there's this brilliant mystery on it with some kind of hilariously clever title. And it's a mystery like, “Peter Chase was found dead in his apartment!”
Bobby: Peter Chase? That’s my dad!
Josh: Then everybody gets to ask "yes" or "no" questions and the reader, on the back of the card, has all of the important details of the case. So, people are like, "Was he alone when he died?" "Yes." "Was there a woman involved?" "No." The game takes forever but I loved it when I was a kid. We found it on eBay and we've been playing it in the car for hours! Then we ran out of cards, so Bobby and I started writing our own cases.
Leslie: And they're WAY better!
Bobby: They're WAY better! So, now we have our own cases to solve and we’re violating intellectual property laws. Also, we are trying to find out what my dad has been up to. “Is he being a great father figure?”
Kristen: You guys are coming out with a new album soon. Tell me about that process.
Leslie: We had a Kickstarter going to fund it, and we’re excited to announce that it will come out in January 2015. While we were in Chicago last year, we were promoting the heck out of it at Fitzgerald’s. We asked for twenty thousand and we got close to twenty-four. We exceeded our goal and we were pretty happy with that.
[Knock on the door]
Ben’s Mom: These are the guys I'm looking for. Hi, dear!
Ben: Hi, Mom. We're being interviewed!
Ben’s Mom: I brought you some chapstick.
Leslie: That is so un-rock-‘n’-roll!
[Ben’s mom leaves. Ben applies chapstick]
Kristen: That's actually the best thing that has ever happened in an interview. Hysterical. Tell me more about the record.
Justin: We actually have two records coming down the pipeline. On August 26 we’re putting out a live record, Humming House Party!, and the studio record following in January.
Kristen: And I'm guessing you're playing a lot of those live?
Bobby: We were actually playing those songs live probably a year-and-a-half before we recorded them.
Leslie: It was a good way to road test them.
Justin: Every night you play them they change a little bit and eventually, you figure out exactly how you want it to go on-stage and you roll with it.
Ben: Yeah, I actually learned a lot from the way we were playing a year and a half ago – on the road – as to how recording songs is different for every band and how songs can change through time. We played these songs a lot before we got to put them on tape.
Josh: And we rejected some.
Leslie: Yes, we did.
Kristen: What was the inspiration behind making Humming House Party!?
Justin: Ben showed us this Beach Boys album recorded in 1965 called, Beach Boys’ Party! They went into the studio with a live audience to record the album, and as a band we loved that concept so much. We had people at our shows saying, "You're having so much fun on-stage. We’d love to have some live recordings reflecting that." So, we invited fifty of our closest friends to a studio in East Nashville called The East Side Manor. It's got these huge cathedral ceilings in its living room. We recorded some of our favorite songs from the first album, some songs from the new record and four covers as well. I'm really proud of it. I'm really, really happy with it.
Kristen: It's also a pretty incredible lead-up to when the album drops in January.
Justin: Yeah and it's also the first album that Leslie officially takes the lead on. And Bobby, too! He's also important.
Leslie: Bobby's kind of important, too. Now that he has grown some chest hair.
Kristen: What is the best advice you've ever received?
Josh: This has come up so many times in so many different paths of my life. The first think the first time I heard it, it was in the context of art. But whether it be music or visual art or graphic design, there are three really important words: show, don't tell. The most important question you can ask is how do you let your art speak for itself? To me, that's been critical to every creative aspect of my life. Especially with this band. Especially with songwriting. And it's only three words, so it's easy to remember. Show, don’t tell.