Hallelujah the Hills don't want to be called a 'literary rock' band
We spoke with Boston indie rock act Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills on his songwriting process, their recent California tour and how their latest album "Have You Ever Done Something Evil" came together.
Five albums in, a band is usually past its stride and well into the 're-inventing themselves' stage. For Hallelujah the Hills, one of Boston's under appreciated but formidably talented veteran indie rock bands, their fifth consolidates the lineup but stays true to their folk-inspired, lyrically dense style of rock.
Singer/songwriter Ryan Walsh heads the five piece which released "Have You Ever Done Something Evil?" earlier this month ahead of a record release show tomorrow night at Great Scott. Earlier this week, Locally Amped spoke with Walsh on his songwriting process, their recent California tour and how the latest album came together.
Metro: Aside from getting your gear stolen on tour, how has California been? R.W.: Other than that, it's been amazing. We've had a really great week here. Really good shows, fun unique stuff doing podcasts. [On Sunday] we did a comedy show at the Upright Citizens Community Theatre where we played a song and then they would make an improv scene based on the song. Super fun.
Metro: How did you guys end up doing a tour in California? R.W.: We've done it before. We did the whole country in '09, so we've always wanted to come back. What happened was two fans of ours got married and they flew the whole band out here to play their wedding.
Metro: Oh wow! R.W.: It was crazy. Really an honor. She walked down the aisle to one of our songs. So when that happened, I knew that the album was coming out right around then, so we booked a whole week of shows around it, and it all just came together. The wedding was Friday night, and it was beautiful.
Metro: Are the songs on "Have You Ever Done Something Evil" from particular time period? R.W.: There was a moment in 2012 when I had left my job of 12 years and had not moved on to another job yet. For two and a half months, I treated songwriting as my job. I would go to my rehearsal space every morning like it was my office. So, I wrote the whole album there. I was a little unsure about what the future held for me or the band. I think that that's reflected in the songs, for sure.
Metro: Were you going through some sort of breakup at that time? R.W.: I like how you were just like… gently leading me there. That's also true. I was not with my girlfriend at the time. We had broken up. We're actually back together now.
Metro: What does she think of the album? R.W.: To be honest, she's a songwriter herself. She has a counterpart album that's probably some sort of companion. We both went through what we did. Naturally, it seeps into our writing. It's just bound to happen.
Metro: You were talking about how you treated writing the album like a job for a couple of months. How do you think this impacted your songwriting process? R.W.: Well, I sat there and tried to write whether I felt like it or not. There's a lot of different schools [of thought]. Some people think that you should only create when the spirit gets you. Other people say, 'No, you should make a habit of it. Three days in a row, you might churn out crap. It doesn't matter, it's just the fact that you're getting those gears greased and moving.' Like I said, I think that this process really worked for me because I'm so surprised how much people love the album already. So, yeah, I would do it again that way if I was able to.
Metro: I want to get a little bit more into songwriting because you guys use intricate lyrics. It kind has an Okkervil River, high minded sort of vibe to it. R.W.: I definitely care about lyrics. I love good lyrics in the music that I enjoy. You know, this label got attached to us early on, 'literary rock.' I was always kind of annoyed by it just because I almost felt like it was a nod that we weren't… I feel like a rock band first and foremost should just be emotionally moving. It kind of assumed that we had a loftier intention than that, which I think leads to some pretentious and terrible places. So, I try to write conversational. I try to write short stories and make them work. If you want to dive deeper, you can pull apart the words and the stories I try to get in these songs.
Metro: What do you guys have planned beyond the release show? R.W.: There's some shows this summer. Everyone was so happy with how this process went for this album and how it was received that I think we're kind of eager to use the victory as a stepping stone to whatever we do next. I'm excited to find out what that is.
Hallelujah the Hills celebrate "Have You Ever Done Something Evil?" at Great Scott (1222 Commonwealth Ave., Allston) for their record release party tomorrow night. 10 p.m. $10.
This column is part of a Metro Boston and Metro New York music feature called Locally Amped. Follow us on Twitter @Locally Ampedand on Facebook at Locally Amped.