by Craig Howieson
Forging Forward – Hovvdy on their plans for LP number four
This interview was originally published in issue 7 of the Secret Meeting zine.
Charlie Martin and Will Taylor – the two friends who make up the Austin, TX – duo, Hovvdy – are more than a little bit special. Returning this year with two one-off singles, I’m Sorry and Runner, the band continue the confident progression found on their 2019 full-length, Heavy Lifter. As Martin explains, ‘with Heavy Lifter, we just freed ourselves up. That was the first record where we weren’t doing all the engineering ourselves. It allowed us to be bolder and our influences were really going in a lot of exciting different directions. I was really proud of the range of that record; you can definitely expect more of that.’
Amazingly, Hovvdy still write the majority of their material in isolation. Martin continues, ‘It’s pretty much how it’s always been, which is me and Will doing probably 90% of the songwriting independently. Then it’s in the recording and the making of the records that we collaborate. It’s really fulfilling and pretty unique that we can do a lot separately, but when we put it together, it always feels really good and it really meshes.’ The fact that they write in this way, and still create stunningly cohesive bodies of work, such as 2018’s hushed masterpiece Cranberry, is a testament to their special relationship.
Hovvdy tracks come soaked in a warming melancholy – delivering the gut-punch of a youth gone too fast, while providing the sweetest of places to revisit. Martin suggests that by looking back, he manages to make sense of the present. ‘Naturally within songwriting, I tend to be looking at the past. I like to unpack elements of childhood and past relationships.’ Taylor notes that ‘there is a lot of self-realisation that happens for me personally during the songwriting process. A lot of times you are writing to fit the context of the song, then down the road, you find the meanings yourself.’
The recording of I’m Sorry and Runner acted as a test run of working with producer, Andrew Sarlo. ‘This was our first time really welcoming someone in as a co-producer,’ reveals Martin. ‘We just hit it off and the songs came together really effortlessly. He’s got amazing taste and a lot of really cool skills – and instincts in the studio that we don’t necessarily have.’ The sessions were such a success that the band plan to fly out to LA this autumn to record their fourth record with him.
Describing I’m Sorry and Runner as being ‘definitely within the same breath in terms of the material we’re working on,’ it seems likely that the new album will continue the band’s gentle kneading of folk song structures and hip hop grooves. Taylor lights up when stating ‘R&B, pop music and rap are more prominently what I listen to now more than ever. So we find it seeping into our approaches in different ways. I’m Sorry is a raw example of that – developing upon ways in which we can incorporate those new elements while staying true to what we’ve been doing the last few years.’
Martin interjects, ‘I’ve been listening to Will’s new demos and there’s definitely a lot of Young Thug in there. I think we’re both really inspired by the free descending rhythms that you hear a lot right now in hip hop and pop.’ Yet, despite this, he admits, ‘The new stuff feels more country-leaning than I was expecting it to, which is really exciting.’ Taylor then summarises, ‘we’re taking a lot from pop-leaning music and are really interested to see that within folk-rock framework. I’m excited to see what happens when we’re able to bridge those two seamlessly and successfully.’
The band’s influences have always peeked through the drapes of their music, but it is the bravery of their influences that they carry with them. Speaking of two of his heroes, Sparklehorse and Daniel Johnston, Taylor gushes – ‘what’s so memorable about those artists is the honesty and the emotion, and that’s something that we certainly strive to do. The clarity in which they delivered those emotions is really special. It’s part of what drew me to those artists and part of what drew me to Elliott Smith as well. So even if we are not necessarily doing the same things sonically, there’s always a little piece of them in us because those are the types of artists that inspired us to start the band.’
The band’s quiet fearlessness to delve down different routes with their sound is what makes their records such a special place to spend time. They unwrap snippets of a past you can’t quite conjure – and soundtrack those long journeys where your fingers trace outlines of open car windows, on drives to destinations you’ll recognise when you get there.
Within their blissful ruminations, optimism remains key to what they do as a band. ‘We both want to make music that makes people feel better, and make songs that are good, sturdy ground to live your life with. We are generally optimistic people, and I like to think that that comes through in the music – even if it has some darkness there too.’
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