Holy Hail’s Cat Hartwell phoned in to talk about the recording process for their most recent EP, their tour with Florence + the Machine, and the meaning behind their music. Holy Hail’s been on our radar for a while now, and this interview only confirmed my suspicions that they’re undoubtedly awesome. Cat and I had a good time talking, check it out below by clicking ‘more’.
Cat: Hey, this is Cat.
Claire: Hey Cat, how’s it going?
Cat: Good, I was just calling in so we can chat.
Cat: So we’re driving in Montana right now…
Claire: You’re in Montana?
Cat: Yeah, we’re driving from Chicago to Vancouver, so it’s insane.
Claire: Oh wow.
Cat: It’s really beautiful though, I don’t know if you’ve ever been, we haven’t.
Claire: I’ve never even really been out there in the middle of the country.
Cat: Yeah same for us. It’s a big country we live in.
Claire: Yeah definitely. So, you guys are playing in Vancouver next?
Cat: Uh-huh, we play a show there tomorrow, and then we go to Seattle.
Claire: Oh that’s great.
Cat: Yeah. You’re in San Francisco right?
Claire: Actually I’m from Montreal, or the blog is based out of Montreal rather.
Cat: Oh ok, that’s awesome. For some reason I thought you were in San Francisco, I have no idea why. Cool, so what’s the blog you write for?
Claire: It’s called The New Montreal, I started it with two of my friends earlier this year, we’re students up in Montreal. We’re all from the States though.
Cat: Oh ok. Did you ever go to that place Zoobizarre?
Claire: I’ve heard of it, I’ve never been.
Cat: We played there, I don’t even remember when, but that place is awesome. That’s like my only memory of Montreal, but I really loved that place. They have this vodka shot (laughs) it’s lemon covered in espresso, and it’s so berserk. They have good bands come through and parties, we had fun there.
Claire: Yeah, it’s definitely a fun city.
Cat: What school are you at?
Claire: We go to McGill.
Cat: Right. That’s cool.
Claire: So I recognized the 917 area code as being from New York City. Where are you all from originally?
Cat: Well I’m from Florida but I moved around the South a lot. Kevin’s from Connecticut, Jesse’s from Long Island, she’s from NY, and Mike kind of moved around a lot too. His dad was an army person.
Claire: Cool. Yeah I’m from Philly, so not that far from some of those places.
Cat: Yeah totally. And I’ve been there for 10 years, and Kevin’s been there for 10 years…it feels like home.
Claire: Yeah so you guys are definitely New Yorkers now.
Cat: Yeah totally.
Claire: So it’s April 13, so The Dying (After) Party came out today. So first of all, congratulations.
Cat: Thank you!
Claire: How was the recording process for that?
Cat: The recording process for that was great. I don’t know if you knew, but we put out a free EP.
Claire: Yeah the one on RCRD LBL?
Cat: Yeah. That was the first time for us to record together, and we worked with this guy Josh Clark who has The Seaside Lounge, and he does Beirut and a bunch of stuff so we were really excited to work with him. We just felt like he really got it. So for the second EP that we just did, it was so easy. He knew what we were trying for and his suggestions were totally on par with what we wanted.
Claire: That’s awesome.
Cat: Yeah it feels like a home now for recording.
Claire: So how did Holy Hail get started?
Cat: It’s funny; it started with Kevin and myself a few years ago, just kind of messing around. I was playing guitar and Kevin was playing this little Casio keyboard and we had no idea what we were doing. At the time, we were talking about a country influence, and we actually started playing with our current drummer. She had other projects going on, so she left the band for a little while. We reformed several times. As we are now, we’ve been together for about a year.
Claire: That’s a pretty good amount of time.
Cat: Yeah, and once the four of us started playing together, it just kind of naturally came together. We didn’t even really have to talk about it, it just kind of happened.
Claire: That’s always the best situation to be in.
Cat: Yeah it wasn’t like, oh…we’re looking for a bassist, it was just we jammed and chilled and we had a band.
Claire: One of your first shows ever was opening for The Gossip, which is a killer act to open for…
Cat: Totally they’re so fun, and it was Halloween.
Claire: Was it really? That’s awesome. How did that come about so early in your career?
Cat: Well I’m friendly with Nathan, I had met him five or six years ago in LA, and that was before they had done the Standing in the Way of Control album. I was a big fan of them, I like their earlier stuff. We had hung out and we were like, oh we should do a show together. Basically somehow we were put in touch with JD Samson’s band, at the time it was called New England Roses, and that was before they toured with Le Tigre as well. It just was this idea of, let’s do a really fun Halloween show. However, whoever put the show together, which was basically us, had no idea what we were doing. It was a fun party but it was also a lesson for us on how to not put together a show.
Claire: Well that’s ok, first time for everything.
Cat: Yeah, and it was really fun, it was great. It was cool to play a show with them before they exploded to the level they’re at now.
Claire: Definitely. So you just kind of alluded a little a little bit to your music as being dancey, but it really does span a lot of genres. How would you describe it?
Cat: I am still having a hard time describing our music because I feel like we all have so many different influences that we pull from. I think that we would rather not come up with names for our music, ‘cause I think that even if we were to say we were one thing, the next time we put something out we’ll end up sounding totally different. That’s always been the way that Kevin and I have written songs.
Claire: True, that makes a lot of sense.
Cat: I know that probably not answering your question, I honestly just have no idea. Like when parents ask, I don’t know what to say…we sound like a couple bands you may know?
Claire: You guys also have some allusions to more serious stuff in your music too. Do you think that makes you guys stand out a little bit from the average group, just cause you have the appeal of good music plus a message?
Cat: I think that it might. I think this whole thing is that a lot of people might be put off by that, but that’s not the first thing you notice, you know?
Claire: Yeah, it’s not.
Cat: I think that it’s the kind of thing where if you listen to it more, or if you pay attention to the lyrics, ‘cause not everyone does…you’ll see that. It’s especially in our earlier stuff, but it’s still true with a lot of songs that we’re writing. There’s a story or something personal or a political message behind it that I think for us makes us feel better about writing songs. It makes the lyrical songwriting process a lot easier.
Claire: Cool. So I saw your show with Florence in Philadelphia, and it was amazing
Claire: How is that tour going?
Cat: It’s great. That was the first show, and we had no idea what to expect. Since then, I feel like the whole reaction has been positive. We really worked hard when we got this tour, and we worked hard to put together the EP that we’re releasing. We’ve been practicing a lot and playing as much as possible, and I think that makes you feel happy on stage. We feel like the hard work has paid off. And the crowd response has been really positive, so it’s great.
Claire: Philly definitely loved that show. I mean Philly loves all their music, but that was an especially big outpouring of love I thought.
Cat: Awesome. That venue is really cool, I’d never been there before.
Claire: Oh yeah, that’s one of my favorites. So, if I’m correct you guys have done a lot of touring in Europe too, right?
Cat: Yeah, and that also is more of the earlier stuff, when we had a different formation of the band. We had a bass player and a different drummer. We definitely got to do some touring in Europe. This version of Holy Hail hasn’t been able to do that yet.
Claire: I see. Sometimes there are certain songs that really take off, like stand out from the albums. Can you usually tell what those songs are going to be while you’re recording them?
Cat: It’s funny, because I think that we’re the worst at that. We’ll pick the weirdest song and be like…oh my god this is our favorite. I think we’re bad judges, so we always try to get some feedback to keep us in check.
Cell phone reception in Montana apparently sucks…
Cat: Sorry about that! We lost service.
Claire: Don’t worry about it. I think we were talking about how you guys typically have trouble picking out what songs are going to be bigger from the recordings.
Cat: Yeah, we have a hard time with that, because when you’re so close to it it’s hard to pick out the one. But this time I think we all agreed. We made a video for ‘Feels Like Forever’, and I think that we all really liked ‘Riverine’. We wanted to do the video first, but I think we were all happy with it.
Claire: Cool. Well we have a couple of questions we usually ask at the end, just some shorter, less serious questions. Where is your favorite place that you’ve played?
Cat: Where’s my favorite place that we’ve played, ever? I think that it would be Monterey, Mexico. We were lucky enough to go there a couple summers ago, and it was amazing. The venue we played at was really cool and it felt like there was a really cool community of kids there. We’d go back there in a heartbeat if we could.
Claire: That’s awesome, that’s really cool.
Cat: I think that the people who did our show were trying to host more American bands, and they just did something at SXSW this year. I feel like their community is kind of blossoming a little bit, which is exciting to see.
Claire: Great. If you could collaborate with anyone alive or dead, who would it be?
Cat: Jim Morrison. I think universally the group will be pleased with that answer.
Claire: Ok cool. Who’s the band you’ve most enjoyed performing with?
Cat: Ariel Pink.
Claire: Oh really? Did you guys tour?
Cat: Ohh, no that’s who we’ve enjoyed seeing.
Claire: Oh ok, I meant who you’ve liked performing with.
Cat: Let me think…I feel like the Rapture. They were fun to play with.
Claire: But your favorite band that you’ve seen is Ariel Pink?
Cat: Yeah, that was definitely the group choice.
Claire: Cool. And lastly, what are your three favorite albums at the moment?
Cat: Hmm, what have we been playing a lot on this trip in the car? Washed Out, definitely. Small Black. And the new Liars album.
Claire: The new Liars album is fantastic.
Cat: Oh my god, and the ‘Scissor’ video is beautiful. But yeah, those three have been on heavy rotation this road trip.
Claire: Awesome. Ok well thanks so much for taking the time out.
Cat: No problem! Thanks dude.
Claire: Have fun with the tour.
Cat: Cool, thanks, bye.