Two months ago, The Hotelier released their third album, Goodness. It touches on themes of Taoism and acceptance and it’s been something I’ve connected with a good deal during the end of my senior year of high school. Last week, on the tour to celebrate the release of the album, I had the opportunity to speak with the group’s lead singer/bassist/lyricist, Christian Holden. We discussed the writing process of Goodness, the band’s first music video(s), and anarchist theory.
So I guess first I’ll ask, how’s the tour been?
Tour’s been great. I’m really excited that Loone’s back on the tour with us because I love everybody in Loone. It’s almost over, which is sick.
Would you say you’re all happy with the way Goodness has been received so far?
Yeah. I think that people who have heard it generally say very, very kind things about it, which is all I want. So yeah.
That’s good. Do you think that – you were seventeen, eighteen when you wrote It Never Goes Out, right?
Would you say seventeen-, eighteen-year-old Hotel Year would’ve liked Home, Like Noplace Is There and Goodness?
I think It Never Goes Out me would think Home is sick [laughs]. I think I’d say Goodness is…I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d think of Goodness at that age. Hopefully I’d think it’s cool. I think that a lot of what I like now about Goodness is complexities of songwriting and stuff, which I learned writing songs for those albums prior, and sort of now I have a way different framework of how I think about songwriting. No, writing in general. I’m unsure if I would have liked it then the same way I like it now.
Going off that, would you say, given the way you’ve spoken about the record, wanting it to feel natural, you were less strict about less other people’s influences get into your head? To try and make this a purely Hotelier-sounding record compared to past writing?
Home was very strict in terms of, like, I didn’t listen to anything because I was…mostly it comes from being invalidated, sort of, as a songwriter. So like, you look at other people’s work as a songwriter, and you compare your work to it, and you never feel happy about it, because this work is successful and yours doesn’t feel quite as appreciated. But when your work is validated, it doesn’t matter how well other artists are doing, because I feel good about our work, I feel good about where we are. So I didn’t go through the same stresses as writing Home, about how it was going to be received. It was more challenges as opposed to stresses, I think.
Continuing on with writing, because I know for a lot of people, like me, the lyrics are a really big part of what makes The Hotelier, The Hotelier. So for you, was it a conscious effort to write in a vaguer, more poetic style for Goodness or was that just what happened?
I think I messed around with it a little bit on Home, like, I don’t want to just say what’s going on. Maybe with Home it’s just that there was more concrete things happening in my life, like I was writing about this specific situation or this specific situation, whereas with Goodness, I’m talking more about, like, vague ideas, complex thoughts, maybe. In order to capture and present those thoughts as accurately as I can, I have to do so through allegory, more, you know, creative writing things that’s not just saying it how it is. In that way, it’s just sort of, it is what it is, in regards to it being more playful and vague.
So then something like the spoken word intro, did you write that to be a spoken word piece, or was that ever going to be a song? Or why’d you decide to do a spoken word track?
It was always going to be a spoken word piece. When I was a kid, my mom would always want to say grace before dinner, which is a meal that represents coming together as a group of people – a family, in that regard – like a meal together is a very symbolic thing, sharing a meal with people. And then the camp I work at, the vibes of it are such a huge influence on the record, before meeting together, we usually lead into it with some sort of sort writing of some sort, either a quote or a poem. Whoever is leading the meeting has to present. So in that sort of way, it’s this sort of familiar thing that grounds everybody in the moment and they’re forced to listen to their words, and I was wondering how that would work with music, because a lot of people try to incorporate spoken word into music, but I don’t think in the same way I was trying to do it. So I didn’t really have much to work off of besides just that and when I was a kid, and there was grace said every night, which wasn’t even really grace, it was more of a reading from this book, actually the same book that someone from the camp did her readings from. It just felt like something I wanted to incorporate into the record.
It seems to me that a lot of the themes and feeling of Goodness are similar to Home, just a different take on them. It almost seems like Home is more, maybe, frustrated about things that can’t be changed, while Goodness is more about coping with those things. Does that sound like a fair interpretation of the two albums?
Well, to answer the first part, I do feel like the two albums come from a structural, base-level understanding of people and a base-level value set that I think carries through all three records. But my personal interpretation of the records would disagree. My vibes from Home are songs about ways in which we all desire to take care of each other and us realizing that there are blocks in the ways that we can care for each other and trying to find those blocks and address them and Goodness is a follow-up. Well, the original concept was how to follow them up, mostly while Home was a more collective feeling record – like multiple people, or maybe just dual, as most of the songs are written from me to one person, but different people through the different songs – then Goodness is a more individual record that doesn’t often interact with other people.
I get definitely get that from Goodness. It comes off a lot more as a person-to-self kind of album.
Would you say the three records flow like a narrative then?
Oh yeah, for sure. I think they do.
So what was behind that decision to record and add that bridge to “Settle the Scar?”
We wanted to do that from the very first time we recorded “Settle the Scar.” We only had originally put it out because our friend Mike wanted us to put it out on a split and we had a big idea of what the arrangements on the record were going to be and we sort of made it more raw for the first version, so the other ideas were sort of developments past it later. Stuff we’d always thought to do, but enhanced later, like maybe the bridge was a bit different. That was more a thing we created in the studio. I was like, “This is what I want to do.” And Seth was like, “I can do it like this.” And we sort of worked back and forth until we got what I was thinking with the sounds he could make.
Do you guys have any plans for the live Periscope stream of Goodness, or was that just a one-time thing?
[Laughs] It was a funny project. The original idea was to play and record us – so many people ripped us off. Kanye, Radiohead, to name a few. Basically we wanted to record us playing the whole record live as a seven-piece band and premiere that before the premiered the actual stream of the record, but then we thought it both didn’t look good visually and didn’t sound good. When you listen to something for the first time, it ingrains in your brain. If you hear a song for the first time live, every time you hear the song recorded you think of the live version. So because we thought both were bad, we decided let’s just not put this on people as a first impression. They’d just hate our record. We’ll maybe re-edit it or something way, way in the future. We just hated it. It was a grand idea. And the idea was to do it like Kanye did, stream it in a bunch of different cities. We even had picked out spots – like small different spots in each city – where you could go and watch the stream, and it didn’t work out, because it was bad [laughs].
[Laughs] was it fun at least?
Oh yeah, yeah, it was fun. And expensive [laughs].
So I read – I think it was on your Reddit AMA – that a bunch of people had guessed, but no one had been able to figure out what “Soft Animal” was about. Do you mind if I ask you what you wrote that about?
Yes. But you can put that “yes” in there as the answer to the question [laughs].
I also know you said, back when Home came out, you didn’t really like music videos. So why’d you end up doing one for “Piano Player?” What was behind making that your single?
Well, that – oh, “Piano Player.” I was thinking of “Goodness, Pt. I.”
Oh yeah, I guess that had a video too.
Well, it was a music video. It was just a music video we called a trailer, which I thought was funny.
Yeah, it just threw me off now [laughs].
Yeah, well we just got awful treatments. Treatments are what music video makers send out and you’re either like, “I like this,” or “I don’t like this,” and we just got awful ones. I mean, the record is really dramatic, so it was just people trying to make things as dramatic. I feel like people who make funny music videos, they can be great, because they’re funny. But I feel like it’s really hard to make dramatic videos, and most of the people making videos in the scene of bands we’re in can’t do dramatic. If they were good at making dramatic music videos, they wouldn’t be making music videos. So we just got terrible treatments.
Then my friend, who’s a good enough artist that she doesn’t have to be working with bands, was talking to me and she said she wanted to make a video for us and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it,” so that was why we did the original one, and I had been planning to do a collection-of-shots music video for “Piano Player.”
I just thought that “Piano Player” works as a good intro track to the record. It’s got a little bit of weirdness, a little bit of understanding that the songs are going to be longer, I don’t know. I just thought it was a good song to use as a single. I know other people disagree, but also, like, using the songs that are so clearly singles – people talk about “Two Deliverances” as a song that’s so clearly a single – I just feel like it puts focus on tracks, like the act of making a certain song the priority song. I’ve always thought, “Why would you pick the song that is the catchiest and poppiest except for market value?” Like if you’re trying to market the record, and you’re trying to market this particular song, that’s one way to do it. But if you pick a song that you feel like is not the most dramatic or the most catchy, but fits in some way to introduce people to the record and what they’re going to get in a way that sets it up for listening to the full record as opposed to listening to it as separate tracks on a record, I just think of how I can set the listener up so that when they hear this song, they want to listen to the whole album. Then the video was just, like, I wanted to make a video that was feel-good, and was simple, and would just feel weird and good at the same time, because that’s most of what I try to do on Goodness, make people feel weird and good. I think that was the purpose behind the video. Even “Piano Player” as a song is a song that feels good but has these weird moments like at the beginning and how long the track is that’s just supposed to make you feel weird.
I know I always feel weird when I listen to The Hotelier, so I think it worked [laughs].
What’s the significance of “I See the Moon” to the narrative of the record? Like you talked about how you want it to feel like a full album, so if I can ask, how does that fit in?
I think that most of the moments in my life in which I feel grounded and connected to the world and feel goodness is in the middle of night, usually, when I’m alone with myself outside at night. It’s these little breaks in the record where it just takes a break and rests and it’s not so dramatic. It’s not so up and down and it’s not so dynamic. It’s just a calm moment in the record, which is the most accurate way, musically, I can represent that feeling, which is very minimal, very constant. You know, both of the songs are just these constant repeating guitar things with repeating vocals and it’s all very cyclical and it’s just this calm, repetitive, nice thing that isn’t going to give you too much or too little, it’s just going to stay on the surface. Musically that’s the only way I can represent that feeling.
Just a couple more, then I’ll let you go. I know you talk about anarchism a lot, and you’re very open about that. If you don’t mind my asking, how did get into that?
Probably in high school reading CrimethInc., like most people from my socio-economic class and set of social identities do. CrimethInc. is just this anarchist publishing company, group, collective – not company, they’d probably hate to be called a company – collective that distributes literature about – well, originally, what I had read it for was they had books about shoplifting and hitchhiking [laughs]. I thought that was really cool. Over the years they got criticized and reformed and criticized and reformed and now they’re actually pretty cool. I think they put out some really good stuff. They must do podcasts now. They also had some books on anarchist theory that really, like, resonated with me at the time, mostly anti-capitalism and anti-work, which, I mean, still resonate with me today, both of those ideas. That’s why I put so much work into The Hotelier, because I get to be my own boss, and why I currently love poker, because no one can tell me what to do [laughs]. So that was really how I got into it, and just throwing myself into social circles where that was the norm was just how it developed.
I’ll have to pick those up then.
Yeah, good stuff. I was just talking with a friend about if I went back and read their book about shoplifting, how much would it resonate with me now? But yeah, I don’t really read too much anarchist stuff, just use it as a baseline for how I interact with the world.
I’ve been trying to learn more about it because I know there’s so much just, “Oh, anarchy is bad,” and I know that’s not actually the belief system and I’ve been trying to educate myself. I know it’s really very Tao.
Yeah, Tao is the most anarchist spirituality, I think. It’s just people should be self-determined, there shouldn’t be political structures that herd people into working in certain ways, the rest of the world works in a very chaotic fashion that re-organizes itself in very violent ways, like, forests are maintained by brushfires, planes are constantly interacting with tornadoes, and these very violent natural occurrences that kind of set the balance. You know, even in predator and prey relationships. Even now, the entire system that we live in now is built off of violence – that’s very concentrated in different ways, like in prisons and in race relations and class relations – it’s just violence is very concentrated and it doesn’t allow it to have a natural flow, basically, and that’s just one of the general, underlying ideas. It’s just to allow for chaotic systems to let people self-organize and self-manage.
That was eloquent. Thanks for running through that for me.
Yeah, no problem.