Hallelujah the Hills are an American band based in Boston, Massachusetts. They released their fifth full-length album, A Band is Something to Figure Out, a couple of months ago; intellectual yet anthemic, accomplished yet thrillingly raggedy, it's a must-listen for fans of Titus Andronicus, The Hold Steady, and other purveyors of big rock music with brains.
Ryan Walsh, the man at the helm of Hallelujah the Hills, was kind enough to take part in a quick Q&A and shed a little light on his group's latest opus. Here's how that went...
Photo by Courtney Brooke Hall (Ryan Walsh is the one in the middle)
The Album Wall: Hi Ryan, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions about your new album. Let's start with the title - is a band something for the listener to figure out, or something for the people in the band to figure out?
Ryan Walsh: It's both. Mostly it's a title about my personal relationship with music, being a fan of so many bands over the course of my life, and trying to understand what the purpose of music might be.
TAW: This album and its constituent tracks feel a lot more streamlined and straightforward than Have You Ever Done Something Evil?, the previous HtH album. Was this a deliberate move?
RW: It's always deliberate on our part to not sound like the rest of the other albums, most certainly the one that came right before it. There's a joke I made up. It goes like this: "How do you make people like your latest album? Release another album."
TAW: Why did you make up a story about Woody Guthrie predicting punk rock?
RW: We didn't make that up. Or we made up part of it, but some parts of it were true. Or what happened to us because what we made it up is true, I think. I honestly cannot remember at this point.
TAW: "Twister! Ouija! Fault lines! Freebies! Stag films! My maps! Bookmarks! Adoration!" What's the connection between all the things you're yelling about in We Have the Perimeter Surrounded?
RW: The connection between those things is that they are all things I thought of to live inside the song. "Every single thing that I could think of" is part of the chorus lyrics. The song was written, originally, with 80 verses. I stayed up all night writing verses. It was literally "every single thing that I could think of".
TAW: "What do the people want? The people don't know what they want!" Was this line (taken from album opener What Do The People Want) intended as a political statement? I feel like it's a pretty good explanation for recent events in both the UK and the US...
RW: It's political in the sense that it's about the tug of war that goes on between groups of people (a family, a town, a band, a country) when they try to decide what's best for the group. The decisions we end up making in groups suggests, to me, that on some level we really must not know what we want.
TAW: I love the song New Phone Who Dis - it does a great job of adding depth to the album's sound, and it serves as a much-needed breather between the intensity of Hassle Magnet and the two triumphant tracks that close the album. What does the phrase 'new phone who dis' mean in the context of this track?
RW: 'New Phone Who Dis' was/is a popular internet meme. I wanted to take a funny phrase I liked and write a very sad song around it.
TAW: Who is The Girl with Electronics Inside?
RW: My friend David has a website called Out of Stock where he assigns stock photos to various artists, and they have to create something in reaction to that photo. I pulled this photo.
I was trying to imagine sometime in the future where people will actually incorporate electronic elements into their bodies, like microchips or Google contact lenses and such. Maybe not so far off. The first thing I thought of was how much certain sections of the population were going to deem this to be an unholy abomination. Then I imagined pop songs that were, like, in defence of their sweetheart who had opted-in on some inner electronic enhancements. That was the thinking behind this song.
TAW: What were you listening to during this album's gestation?
RW: In the fall of 2015, I was listening to Joanna Newsom's Divers a lot, as well as an instrumental playlist I had made. And the rehearsal room demos of these songs we kept recording.
TAW: What's your favourite track on A Band is Something to Figure Out?
RW: Hassle Magnet.
TAW: I believe you're releasing a 'companion EP' to A Band is Something to Figure Out next month - what will this add to the work as a whole?
RW: The companion EP is called Movement Scorekeepers. It's out July 8th on Jealous Butcher records. It's six 1-minute songs meant to recreate the emotional arc of a 45-minute album in a few brief moments. We wrote a lot of it by band improvisation, which was brand new for us. Fun!
You can buy A Band is Something to Figure Out from Hallelujah the Hills' Bandcamp page.