An Interview with Hospitality
Hospitality – "Betty Wang" (download)
Hospitality (Amber Papini, Nathan Michel, and Brian Betancourt) are one of my favorite discoveries in quite a while. I caught a recent show at Bruar Falls (the new Williamsburg spot opened by the Cake Shop guys) with the always-marvelous Karl Blau, and instantly fell in love with their spare and airy but lyrically/melodically gripping tunes. I bought their 6-song EP and it's been on repeat ever since. After the show, I emailed some questions to Amber...
Yer Sweet Chimneys: How did the three of you meet?
Amber Papini: I met Nathan at school and we both met Brian through a mutual friend.
YSC: When did the band start out?
AP: We started playing in our apartment together about two years ago. We would spend Saturdays practicing, and re-arranging songs. We went through several configurations, Nathan on guitar and Juno, Brian on acoustic guitar, before settling into the line up we have now.
Hospitality live at Bruar Falls (photo by BJK)
YSC: What do you guys do aside from playing music, if you don’t mind me asking?
AP: I teach kindergarten, Nathan is a freelance composer and Brian works at a film company.
YSC: You're in Brooklyn now, right?
YSC: Where are you from originally?
AP: I’m from Kansas City, Missouri, Nathan’s from Charleston, SC and Brian’s from Hackensack, NJ.
YSC: Are you dog or cat people?
AP: I likes dogs. Nathan likes cats. Brian likes cats but is warming up to dogs.
(photo from flickr by gutstrings)
YSC: How did you meet Karl Blau and what was it like having him record your EP?
AP: We opened for Karl Blau at Cake Shop a while ago. After he listened to our sound check, he offered to record us in exchange for backing him for a few shows. He was really awesome to work with. It took about a day to record all the songs and he mixed the next day. We love the sound of the recording!
"I think it’s more interesting when songs evoke pictures or make poetry."
YSC: Is it a conscious decision to keep things pared down to a trio? Do you ever
have visions of a string section and other accoutrements?
AP: I totally have visions of larger arrangements. I would love to hear more guitars, strings and woodwinds on some songs. We are recording this summer and plan to realize some larger arrangements.
YSC: I saw that you opened for Stereolab at Irving Plaza a while back! What was that like?
AP: It was cool. We never played a venue that big before.
YSC: What has been your best show so far?
AP: We played a fun show with Fertile Crescent and the Beets at Death by Audio.
YSC: I think maybe the thing that draws me most to you guys is how each player and each element is sort of tugging the song in a different direction. Not in an inharmonious way, but... For instance, the drums never simply lock into an obvious beat. And when I saw you live, I realized that the bass lines are sort of your secret weapon, almost in a Peter Hook-ish, New Order-y way… What’s my question? Umm, I guess I’d be interested to hear about your individual tastes and influences, and how those come together and coalesce?
AP: We all like a lot different kinds of music. Nathan plays a bunch of instruments and writes his own music. Brian also writes music and plays guitar, so that informs he’s bass playing. I try to make music that sounds like the stuff I was crazy about when I was a kid. I really liked British new wave music from the 70s and the 80s. I also liked 70s rock. When I was a teenager used to try to sing like Richard Butler.
YSC: There is definitely an intimacy and directness to the songs. The lyrics are fairly referential and detail-laden, even to the point of naming names (“Betty Wang,” “Julie,” ...). I’m wondering how personal these songs are for you. They play at times almost like songs you never expected to be heard outside your bedroom. How much during the writing process do you intend for or imagine an audience?
AP: I feel most comfortable writing about things I know, so I guess most of the songs are personal or biographical. But I do like expanding the truth a bit and I’m not always explicit. I think it’s more interesting when songs evoke pictures or make poetry.
YSC: Do you have a B.A. in English Literature [the song "Liberal Arts" includes the line: "So you found the lock but not the key that college brings /And all the trouble of a B.A. in English Literature instead of law or something more practical"]? If so, has it proven useful?
AP: I have a B.A. in American Studies and it wasn’t very useful in getting a job.
YSC: It was cool to see how the songs evolved in the live setting from the recorded versions, and I overheard Karl Blau mention that the move to electric guitar was recent… How has that transition been, translating the tunes live?
AP: It has been very long process. I’ve been struggling with my instrument since we started playing live. I tried to play with a classical guitar, but the practical realities of a live performance didn’t translate, so I went electric… We are still working on it.
"When I was a teenager used I to try to sing like Richard Butler."
YSC: What’s your favorite recipe?
AP: I’ve been really into this Japanese cookbook lately. It's called Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking by Harumi Kurihara. It's really good! I like the eggplant recipe and tofu with ricotta cheese.
YSC: Yum! Have you ever tried mangosteen?
AP: No, is it good?
YSC: Yes, it is great! Have you read anything good lately?
AP: I’ve been reading a lot of Frog and Toad these days.
YSC: What have you been listening to lately? And have you been listening to whatever it is on an iPod, CD, vinyl? Do you prefer one over the others?
AP: I listen to the iPod for practical reasons, but at home we listen to records. The most recent things we’ve been into are the Clash and the new Dirty Projectors record.
YSC: Mountains or plains? Cities or jungles?
AP: Mountains and cities.
Hospitality – "Argonauts"