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Interview: The Happy Hollows

The Happy Hollows (left to right Chris Hernandez, Sarah Negahdari, Charlie Mahoney)

It is very easy for a band with any modicum of success to lose track of what it’s like to be normal people. How many bands do you know that haven’t had even a sliver of the limelight, yet still act as if their posters are plastered all over your walls? Too many to count, I’m sure. Such are the reality altering powers of rock and roll; you don’t have to be Bono to believe you’re changing the world. All you have to do is venture down to Williamsburg on any given night, and you will meet some character who doesn’t own his own PA but already has a stage name and mock bio dreamt up. These factors are precisely why meeting The Happy Hollows was such a revelation.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the California three piece last week, before their show at the Lower East Side hot-spot Pianos. With the recent release of their ultra DIY full length debut (The Hollows have a slew of EPs that you should try to get your hands on), a handful of cutting edge music videos, and some of the catchiest and freshest tunes you have heard this side of your favorite band, The Hollows are poised to be the next band that you will pretend to have been digging for years so that you can fit in.

CB: How long were you guys in Toronto for NXNE?

Sarah: A day.

Charlie: Our visa was only approved for 24 hours. We had another show booked in Montreal but they wouldn’t approve it for some reason. But the band we were touring with got in, and they said everything was fine. It just all depends on who you get at the border.

Sarah: We had to rush back to the border in 24 hours or else we would be banned. We didn’t want to be banned from Canada!

CB: I had no idea it was like that, how un-Canadian. Had you guys played Canada before?

Sarah: No.

Charlie:  It wasn’t that bad, it was just the border crossing.

Chris: Everything else was great, it was an amazing show.

Sarah: The audience was so nice, and the stage was great.

CB: Chris, I have read in previous interviews that you consider yourself to be the den-father of the band. Is that role still accurate or has it evolved?

Chris: No, it’s pretty much the same, especially on tour, I’m kind of like the organizer.

Waiting for the train can make anyone unhappy.

CB: (to Sarah and Charlie) Are you guys particularly unorganized or flaky?

Sarah: No, no it’s not that.

Chris: I’m just organized.

Charlie: I think Chris is really good at driving in cities, he’s got his GPS, and he’s all over it. I have a nervous breakdown when I drive through cities.

CB: I also read that you (Chris) would be the biggest asset to the band in any sort of camping/survival scenario.

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Chris: (chuckles)

CB: Which I believe is further reinforced by the fact that you are the only one who survives the wrath of the rocket unicorns in the Big Bad Wolf video.

Charlie: We tried to ask the director what that symbolized. I was like “Why did you kill off Sarah and me, and leave Chris?”, and he wouldn’t answer really.

CB: Was the director a friend of yours?

Charlie: Yeah. He’s just a young guy who was fresh out of film school. That was like one of his first videos, and he got picked up by a rather large video agency.

CB: Was that one of those things where you just trusted his vision, or did you guys have any input in the process?

Sarah: Well he took us to a coffee shop to explain the treatment for the video, and literally every detail of that video was in his head. He just explained it really fast, and I just thought, is this guy on drugs? He was all like “and then you’re flying around, and then you come out of this, and then you fall off a cliff.” So I’m like, “what’s the budget for this?” And he’s like “nothing.” So I’m thinking to myself: we’re falling off cliffs, we’re flying on unicorns, we’re in a field of candy corn... it was so crazy.

CB: How long was the actual filming?

Sarah: A day. We went to this skatepark-warehouse-church-sweatshop in downtown LA. We were running on treadmills, and sitting on a post pretending it was a horse.

Charlie: It was very surreal. By the end of the day, the people that were working on the clothes were done and they came and watched us run on a treadmill in front of a green screen. It was bizarre. I mean - the whole thing was bizarre - and the video came out bizarre. But it’s a good bizarre.

Sarah: Yeah, he did great.

CB: Since you guys are touring, this question seems pretty appropriate. What would you say is your favorite city to tour in?

Charlie: I think I like San Francisco and I like New York.

Sarah: Yeah, I like New York.

Chris: I’d have to say New York. San Francisco is a little close to home.

Sarah: Yeah, I grew up there.

CB: What about the crowds? I have often heard the complaint that there is a lot of arm crossing at shows in New York.

Charlie: I think in less traveled cities people tend to get a little more excited, but I don’t think it’s necessarily geography as much as age. Younger people will just dance more than older people. If you’re playing an all ages art space where a lot of kids go, you’re going to have more movement than if you were at a trendy bar.

CB: Would you still consider your gig at the Fillmore with the Silversun Pickups your favorite show of all time?

Charlie: When we did that it was one of our earlier shows as a band, but we have done so many since then and a lot of them have been really fun, so it is tough to choose one. Fillmore is a great venue, though.

Sarah: I like Guerilla Fest.

Charlie: Yeah, we did a bunch of shows in LA where they picked six different venues and we would be in vans with the gear and drive as a band to a location that was released on an itinerary the night before.

Sarah: It was a map, and they were all secret shows in pumpkin patches and oil fields, and we played next to a highway! It was so incredible.

Charlie: Yeah, it didn’t have tons of people, but in terms of enjoyability it was pretty great.

Sarah: It was such a fun and bonding experience.

You should already have this in your iTunes

CB: Let’s talk about songwriting and inspiration for a moment. Was Tambourine really written in five minutes?

Sarah: Oh yeah, for sure.

CB: Were you just sitting with a guitar?

Sarah: No, it’s just as it says in the song. I woke up, I had a dream, Billy Corgan was on the screen and I was reminiscing about how he was my first middle school foray into that kind of rock music. Before that I didn’t know anything about music, I was really young, so I kind of became obsessed with him. The dream itself was recalling the progression of what made me want to play music. I was so shy in high school and I tried to join a band with some guys, but I was so shy that all they wanted me to do was play tambourine. So, I would be writing these songs in my bedroom that I was pretty sure were better than theirs, but I was too shy to ever try and sing them. Tambourine came out of me just like that, literally exactly how I describe it in the song.

CB: Would you say that Tambourine is still the best received song of yours in concert?

Sarah: Yeah, I think so. It seems the most mainstream and catchy.

Charlie: I would say Lieutenant, Tambourine, High Wire, Death To Vivek Kemp.

CB: Speaking of High Wire, I would imagine it is a pretty popular tune at your shows after the exposure it got from the Samsung commercial. Did you find that things changed considerably after appearing in a national ad like that?

Sarah: No.

Charlie: Not that much.

Sarah: Not at all. I don’t think people knew it was us. I know people that became fans afterwards and they would be like, “That was you on that commercial?”

Charlie: While it was airing we got a lot of bumps on plays and sales. Our sales were 5 to 10 times higher for  like 3 or 4 months. It didn’t quite propel us to arena status, but it also didn’t hurt us very much. It did help us in the sense that, because of it, we could go on tour, produce an album, and buy some gear.

Sarah: How else do musicians make money these days? I mean, nobody buys CDs.

Charlie: I don’t think anyone wants to have to exist that way, but we got some money and we basically were able to act like a label.

Sarah: Yeah and, before we did it, we made sure that we could totally be ourselves.

CB: Did your appearance in the commercial net any backlash from your fans?

Charlie: There was probably some tiny amount of backlash, but compare it to how many people found out about us through that commercial, and it was totally worth it. I think these days so many bands are in TV, movies, and commercials. Huge bands like Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear; I feel like it is just an accepted matter of fact. The model of the music business has more or less crumbled, and we are not at the level of notoriety of any of those bands so, for us, this kind of thing is crucial, so we can take that money and put it back into the band so we can make better records.

CB: While we are on the topic of the current state of the industry, I must ask if you guys have considered the reinvention of the product, now that we know that no one buys CDs anymore.

Charlie: Oh yeah, a lot of bands are doing all kinds of creative schemes now. One band we know will write a song just for you if you pay a certain price. Or stuff like “spend the weekend with the band.” People put together lots of those. There is this company called Top Spin, which is one of the new music model companies based in LA, and a lot of people are using them. Everyone from Paul McCartney and The Beastie Boys to a band our size, and they sort of encourage all of that tiered product release, where you can just buy the digital download, or the digital download with a signed copy of the CD.

CB: Or the one with a lock of your hair.

I would totally sign up for a reading!

Charlie: Totally. We were thinking we were going to do something where Sarah might do something like Skype tarot readings, or we might do stuff like give away guitars with certain things.

CB: If you guys were stranded on a desert island and you could only take 5 records with you, what would they be? Keep in mind, these will be the albums you will be hearing for the rest of your life.

Sarah: Oh my God.

Charlie: Oh man... Uh... The White Album.

Chris:  I think Rumors should be on there.

Sarah: Deerhoof, The Runners Four. I love that album.

Charlie: Paul’s Boutique.

(Editor's note: at this point there was some rather intense deliberation as to what the last album would be)

Charlie: Let’s just do... Doolittle.

CB: Sarah, do you still aspire to be gossiped about and go to prison?

Sarah: Yes! I never get into trouble and get gossiped about, so that is definitely my goal.

CB: Well, I assure you, if you moved to New York for a while there would be tons of gossip about you.

Sarah: Really?! That’s exactly what I want. I want it to be like “The Happy Hollows girl... She did this, with this person”.

Charlie: You want that?

Sarah: Yes! I’ve never had that.

Charlie: Yeah, I think after a day of that, you wouldn’t want that anymore.

After our interview session was over the band and I made our way to Pianos, where I saw them slay a tremendous set list in front of a captivated audience. Seeing The Happy Hollows live has to be up there as one of the best things you can do on any night of the week. Their live performance is a thing of pure energy and aural ecstasy, and I suggest you check them out at your very next opportunity. Failure to do so will only prove your inability to enjoy the finer things in life. Of course, they may not be headed to your hamlet anytime soon. In that case, point your internet machine towards Amazon.com and get your hands on Spells, so that when they do make it to your town you can sing along.

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