Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chicago band Gold Motel releases sophomore album


Chicago band Gold Motel's self-titled sophomore album is a band effort in every sense of the word.

While the band's first album, "Summer House," was heavily influenced by the time that frontwoman Greta Morgan spent living in California, the members wanted the new album to come together naturally based on their interaction with each other.

Gold Motel will perform July 26 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, as part of a CD release party. 

Jon Walker and Girls on Bicycles also are part of the bill. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are $12, available at

I had the pleasure of talking to Morgan and Gold Motel guitarist Eric Hehr about the new album.

Q - Great to talk to you again. You guys recently performed at Summerfest, and last year were at Lollapalooza, two high-profile festivals. What experience was the most enjoyable? Do you prefer playing at festivals and outside gigs versus clubs?

GRETA: I love the energy of festivals. An obvious perk is being able to see artists for free who we might normally need to pay quite a bit of money to watch.

At Summerfest, Eric and Dan saw Tuneyards and Robyn, and I heard The Beach Boys, which was incredible. At Lollapalooza, we watched The Cars, Coldplay, the Foo Fighters, etc.

Always fun to learn from other artists by seeing their show, even if it's not an artist we'd normally buy a ticket to see.

ERIC: Both experiences were incredible. As a born and raised Midwesterner, having the opportunity to play both Lollapalooza and Summerfest is a colossal honor. They are both festivals I grew up going to, so being able to be apart of them as a performer is surreal. 

When I was younger, I snuck into Lollapalooza and quickly got kicked out. If you were to tell me then – as I was being escorted out by security – that in a few years I would be invited to play the festival, I wouldn’t have believed you. 

In terms of outside festivals gigs vs. venue gigs, I prefer playing in venues, hands down. There’s a very specific atmosphere and vibe in a club that lends itself to the ritual of “the live show,” and I find that habitat much more endearing. 

Clubs gigs are also a bit more personalized and intimate in contrast to the outdoor fest. They also (usually) have air conditioning, which is a huge plus!

Q - You new album is already getting rave reviews. Are you surprised? In sitting down to make the album, what goals did you have? Did you think you achieved them?

GRETA: Our goal with this album was to approach it as a 5 piece band and see what sound arose. We didn't have a specific vision, but wanted to allow the songs to start coming, then shape the vision.

"Summer House" was very clear: I wanted to do a modern take on 60's pop and make a pure summer record. Very influenced by my time living in California.

With this album, we sort of allowed it to happen in the same way a group plays with a Ouija board - we all moved the songs together, without really being able to tell who was shaping which part. We wanted the album to be a result of our interaction, rather than making the album as a result of a specific vision.

ERIC: I’m glad that people are digging on the album. We weren’t expecting the album to do poorly, nor did we think it would be a smash hit. 

We honestly didn’t know what to expect, and to a certain extent we still don’t know what to expect. When we made the album, our main concern was making it a collaborative experience. "Summer House" was put together in a somewhat fragmented way because the band was coming together as the songs were being written and recorded. 

This time around, we wanted to hit the ground running as a functional unit. Although there are songs on the album that Greta wrote or that I wrote, we all pitched in on arranging and producing. 

Every song on the album would not be the song it is had it not been for everyone’s contributions to every minor detail. With that said, I think the album is a great representation of what happens when Dan, Greta, and myself write and record songs together, and that’s what we set out to do.

Q - Your new album is being described as being more introspective. Do you agree?

GRETA: I think they are equally introspective. The songs "Fireworks After Midnight" and "Who Will I Be Tonight" on "Summer House" are just as introspective and personal to me as "Brand New Kind of Blue" and "Counter Clockwise" are on the new album.

ERIC: I think it’s introspective in the sense that it spends more time examining feelings from a retrospective point of view. Summer House was very optimistic – very care free and fleeting and sunny and youthful.

The new album doesn’t have as much of that sanguine bliss flavor. It’s a bit more bittersweet and reflective. I think that stems from all the life experiences we’ve had since Summer House came out, and being able to reflect back on those experiences from a more mature point of view. 

It’s not a dark or pensive album by any means, but it preoccupies itself with a broader spectrum of emotions instead of just the happy-go-lucky, fun-in-the-sun content that we exemplified on Summer House.

Q - How long did it take to write the songs?

GRETA: Every song is different. Some sketches were done in a few minutes, some took months.

ERIC: Each song was a bit different. Some songs, like “Leave You In Love,” have been around for years in various bits and pieces. Other songs, like “Your Own Ghost” or “These Sore Eyes,” were written very quickly.

 “In Broad Daylight” was a song that I had written as an instrumental, and Greta and I worked on the melody and wrote the lyrics together. “Always One Step Ahead” was an old idea of Greta’s that we worked on arranging over the span of a few months. 

Once the song was written, we’d spend a day or two recording it at our rehearsal space (which doubles as Dan’s studio, DandySound Studios), and then move on to the next song. The whole process was very minimal and autonomous.

Q - Describe the writing process. Is it a collaborative effort between the band members?

GRETA: Usually, one of us brings a skeletal sketch and then we arrange and record together. For example, Eric brought "These Sore Eyes" with lyrics, melody, chords. I brought "Brand New Kind of Blue" in the same way - with lyrics, melody, chords, and we just arranged together.

For a handful of the songs, Eric and I sat down and wrote lyrics together. "Leave You In Love", for example, is an amalgam of a handful of free-write lyrics he had laying around that I then organized and added to.

And sometimes, like with "Your Own Ghost" the song will begin with just a piece of a verse, then warp into a completely new direction with 5 people in the room arranging. That song was interesting because my original chorus lyric was "Are you in on your own joke?" and Eric misheard it to say "Are You sleeping with your own ghost?" so we ran with that lyric. I love the happy accidents.

ERIC: Usually Greta, Dan, or myself will bring in a demo or a rough sketch of a song. From there, depending on how fully formed the idea is, we start working on structuring, arranging, and fixing any problem areas. 

Some songs come in being pretty closed to finish; others come in as a fifteen second long chord progression and melody. Regardless, the overall formation of the music is much more collaborative than any other band I’ve been apart of: Greta and I wrote a lot of the lyrics together, Dan and myself worked out all the guitar parts together, Greta and Dan worked out a lot of the harmonies together, and all three of us produced the album as a self contained unit.

Q - There's so many ways to get one's music out there these days. Do you think that it's easier for a band to get exposure these days?

GRETA: The fact that any band can record, release, and promote their music for an extremely small cost is really liberating and empowering. I'm grateful for the amount of music available at my fingertips and am constantly inspired by music I find online that I might not have access to otherwise. 

The curse is that it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. I think Gold Motel is finding our own little niche though.

ERIC: I think it’s easier to release music now more than ever, but it’s harder to get noticed now more than ever. Because musicians have so many outlets available to them, they have to deal with a lot more competition. 

Everything is over saturated, which is a shame, but it’s also more reason to work harder to rise above the hundreds of thousands of bands with Facebook pages and Twitter profiles just like yours. I actually wrote an article about this subject for Hypebot a few months back.

Q - How do you see the band fitting into the Chicago music scene? Do you guys try to stay tuned into what other Chicago bands are doing and do you have any favorite Chicago bands?

GRETA: My favorite Chicago bands are Any Kind, Fortune Tellers, Deserters, Wilco, Andrew Bird, and JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound.

ERIC: We’ve always kind of have been a Los Angeles band by way of Chicago. We all currently live in Chicago, our albums are all recorded in Chicago, but the music has a decidedly West Coast outlook that separates us from a lot of other Chicago bands, and we’ve also spent a lot of time in Southern California – specifically Los Angeles. 

We also started touring right away, so we never got comfortable within the local scene in Chicago. I keep up with a few of my favorite Chicago bands. 

I really dig Secret Colours, Deserters, Hollows, Summer Girlfriends, and Magic Milk. All bands worth checking out! Dan also plays in another band called Any Kind that is incredible as well.

Q - Do you think there's a chance of The Hush Sound reuniting, or do you think the band ran its course?

GRETA: Well, The Hush Sound called our status "an indefinite hiatus" because it is purely that. None of us want to close the door forever, but we aren't walking back into the studio this second.

The Hush Sound plays shows a few times a year during our hiatus, and we always have a blast doing it, but there aren't concrete plans beyond that right now. Only the future will tell.

Q - What's the next goal for the band?

GRETA: To tour in promotion of the album and reach as many people as we can!

ERIC: To stay a band, and to keep moving forward.

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