100 Musicians Answer the Same 10 Questions
Part Seventy: Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills
instigated by dave heaton
The Massachusetts band The Stairs were a rock n' roll dream, with classic hooks and riffs but also a pure sense of mystery throughout their two very different albums. They broke up, and a couple of their members, including Ryan Walsh, have a new band called Hallelujah the Hills, which has been rocking around their home state lately. The four live songs on their MySpace page are as bouyant as the band name suggests, and aggressively catchy too. Check out their website...and The Stairs website while you're at it.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
It's the idea-wrangling aspect that continually sends me back to the guitar again and again. The fact that in an hour I may be the proud author of a brand new song when, at that initial moment, it doesn't yet exist at all sends me to the moon with excitement. I find the sense of "I wonder what will come out of me if I sit quietly and think and wander and strum?" to be the most addictive, alluring feeling available outside of love and states that cost money to achieve. Lately I've been able to approach this feeling in a room, with other people and that's a brand new thing for me. Thrilling.
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
Limitations of my voice, my playing, and my equipment. If it's a good day these limitations, in my brain, turn into a sort of school-yard taunt which I must disprove and destroy. If it's a great day I'm able to figure out a way to do just that.
What are you up to right now, music-wise? (Current or upcoming recordings, tours, extravaganzas, experiments, top-secret projects, etc).
My new band is called Hallelujah The Hills and we have just finished mixing our debut album. It's called Collective Psychosis Begone and I think it will come out this winter or early spring. Myself and Eric Meyer were both in a band called The Stairs before this and that band's final album found itself a small, yet strong, pool of good will and accolades. Luckily that good will has seemed to carry over to the new band. Our first 10 months or so of live shows have been better than the best of the 3 years of live shows with the Stairs. I want to release a lot of albums with Hallelujah The Hills. They say the album, as a format, is dying but I will happily prop that corpse up and dance with it until someone turns all the ballroom lights off.
What's the most unusual place you've ever played a show or made a recording? How did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?
Eric Meyer, drummer for Stairs and Hallelujah The Hills, went to Berklee College Of Music for grad school. He foolishly chose a set by the Stairs to represent his final recital. We set up all of our equipment in one of Berklee's many performance halls, stood in front of a group of Eric's professors, and proceeded to play what had to have been one of the most awkward, uncomfortable displays of rock and roll of all time. Eric, for some reason, was allowed to graduate.
In what ways does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), affect the music you create, or your taste in music?
I've never lived outside of a fifteen mile radius of where I was born here in Dedham, Massachusetts. I grew up a stone's throw from two churches, a protestant graveyard, two courthouses, an old castle-esque library, a police & fire station, a small town cinema, and the jail where Sacco and Vanzetti were wrongly imprisoned for 8 years. At times it's felt like the set of Frank Capra movie and other times it's felt uniquely real and full of community connections. Other times it just felt like a bunch of buildings near my house. I really enjoy turning my surroundings into sort of a mythological-surreal-alternate-universe within the songs. So I'll mention real places or people but it's always in a dislocating way. I think this is a good way to better understand your surroundings.
When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?
With every album I've ever been involved there's been one song that gets written, recorded, and stuck on there during the final stages of production. With this album it's the title song that snuck it's way in at the 11th hour. I was on a bike ride thinking about the phenomenon of synesthesia and I saw a hawk circling the high school near where I live and the song sort of just popped into my brain. I biked home and wrote it pretty quickly. My girlfriend would like me to point out that while that's the serious artistic answer the 100% truthful answer is that the last song I wrote was titled "The Turtle & Monkey Song" written for my niece's 2nd birthday. The chorus made her dance like crazy!
As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people...and why do you think that is?
I'd say my interest in finding music I've never heard before sometimes wanes and sometimes strengthens but it hovers around the same mid point at all times. I can pull out certain songs and albums and recall how when I heard them for the first time I distinctly recall feeling inspired or pushed towards writing new music. I long for music and experiences like that. The best music not only pleases listeners but acts as rallying calls for writers. I think they serve as reminders that the well of new ideas will never, ever run dry if you know how to harness and respect them [the ideas].
That said, I've been disappointed lately how, seemingly, there can never be an inbcredible new band that's blanketed in enigma, sorta unreachable and/or discovered by means other than the internet. With MySpace you have a website the minute you decide on a band name so there's no time for complete obscurity and creation without any lifeline to the rest of the world. Just today I found out what some friends of mine who live in New York had decided to call their band and I immediately googled the name but was disappointed when I didn't find any information on them yet. I was disgusted with my lack of patience.
I harbor fantasies about a perfect album made anonymously, on cassette, spread solely by people through the mail. Or walking into a suburban bar and stumbling upon the next Guided By Voices or XTC. How terrific would that be? I think that should be a challenge to new bands everywhere: try and exist for awhile without the internet! Or at least Myspace! I wish we had the guts to do it. I guess the other side of the coin is just too alluring.
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? (Old or new music? Music like yours or different from yours?)
I've been collecting a lot of the Lomax family recordings lately and digging my way through the seemingly endless Dylan catalogue. I guess it boils down to this: I love music with a lot of mystery in it. As David Lynch would say, "room to dream." I love melodies that hook into my brain and I love lyrics that ignite my imagination.
Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What's one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?
This year, in Boston, three bands from around here released albums that knocked me out to the point where I feel the need to clue people into their existence. They are:
Ho-Ag The Word From Pluto
But to answer your question more directly: Randy Newman's Sail Away is one of my all time favorite recordings.
What's the saddest song you've ever heard?
Blind Willie Johnson "Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground"
I listen to a lot of old music but I'll be completely honest as to the semi-embarassing way I was alerted to this recording. It was an episode of The West Wing in which the Josh character was cooking up reasons for another voyage to space and his argument was that they could send this song up into space. Blind Willie Johnson died poor and broken but now his music soars through the heavens, that sort of thing. Sure, that's more than a bit sappy and I wasn't having any of it until they played the song over the episode's final montage and credit sequence. It was as if the song was a can opener and my guts were the contents of the can. I immediately illegally downloaded it and couldn't believe how good it was. He's not going for overly sad in the song. He's just telling you like it is. And Christ Almighty the way it is is so sad it could turn all the red states blue.
To check out the rest of the Q&As, click here.