In just two short years, the Happy Hollows have racked up some impressive milestones since their formation in L.A. – they’ve released two EPs (with a full-length album on the way), filmed about a half-dozen videos, played opening slots for sold out West coast appearances by the Silversun Pickups and Deerhoof, and have just played their first East coast date at New York’s annual CMJ festival on October 25.
In the midst of preparing for the release of the band’s new EP, and in the run-up to the CMJ appearance, Popdose seized the opportunity to catch up with the zany leader of this feisty Pixies-inspired band of indie rockers with the Fugazi-esque rhythm section, Sarah Negahdari. The original plan was to pass the phone between Sarah, bassist Charlie Mahoney and drummer Chris Hernandez, but as life took over, the plan didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, Sarah talked our ear off all by herself, getting us caught up with the history of the Happy Hollows, their new EP Imaginary (it’s free!), growing up with hippie parents, making a video with tiger cubs, and all sorts of other fun stuff.
Sarah Negahdari: Hello?
Popdose: Hi, is this Sarah?
SN: Yes! Hi, is this Michael?
PD: This is! How are you doing?
SN: Hey! How are you doing?
PD: I’m doing alright! You got the whole band together?
SN: No. (sounding disappointed) It’s been such a crazy day for Chris and Charlie, and they live so far away from me, and they can’t get here and they’re so sorry.
PD: Ohhhh, well definitely send them my regards.
SN: Oh, they are so sorry, they tried really hard.
PD: Well, maybe you can speak for them at certain points.
PD: …and if not, I’m sure maybe we can hook up again another time.
SN: Good, cool. (laughs) Thanks you again so much for the Popdose interview! We’re gonna put a link to it really soon when we’re gonna start pushing for our EP.
PD: Oh, great! So I wanna start, if you don’t mind, just get a little basic profile info.
SN: For the band?
PD: Yeah, for all of you.
SN: Well, we’ve been together three years. Charlie and Chris actually knew each other from high school. And they went to high school together in D.C. Washington, D.C. And they were in a ska band at different times, it was like the same ska band. ‘Cause Chris is like three years older than Charlie. So he was in this band, and then Charlie was in the same band when Chris had left the band, so…
PD: Do you know they name of the ska band?
SN: Werc, W-E-R-C. It was just like a high school band for fun, you know? They just played at high school parties. I mean, it’s really funny, it’s a good joke.
PD: When was that approximately?
SN: Gosh, I don’t know, maybe in the late ‘90s, early 2000’s. So they were in this band in high school, then they lost touch. And Charlie ended up coming out here for grad school three years ago.
PD: And he’s studying history, is that right? Poli-sci?
SN: Yeah, poli-sci, basically.
PD: That’s right, I remember him telling me that.
SN: And so he came out here for grad school. Chris, that very same year, got moved from his job in D.C. to L.A. And they didn’t know that either one had moved out here. And they ended up running into each other at a bar, and it was crazy! And they’re like, “let’s start a band together! Let’s play music again together!” So, they did that. And at the same time, I had moved from New York to L.A. and I was looking for a band. I had played guitar, and I was playing for a year under the name The Happy Hollows just by myself, looking for band members. And it was just such a scary process because everybody I met was just so wrong. I was just on the verge of giving up, and then I read an ad on Craigslist that they had put out for a guitarist. I answered the ad, and I went in and it was like, we couldn’t stop talking, and we talked for like an hour before we even played a song. And it just felt so wonderful to just be with them. And it was like, oh my gosh, this is amazing just hanging out with these guys, and I hope the music is just as good. So we plugged in and I played the song “Tambourine,” I think, which is my oldest song, and it’s going to be on the EP. We played through it once, and it was like magic! And I was like, OK, let’s be a band! (laughs) That’s it! So I just walked out of the room, like, “OK, you guys are it!” It was funny because I was acting like it was like an audition for my band, but they were the ones who had put out the audition notice!
PD: Kinda turned the tables on them, huh?
SN: Yeah! I was like, OK, you guys are it! And they’re like, what? (laughs) I was like, “see you at rehearsal next week!” ‘Cause I already had a space and everything. And I also already had a lot of shows by that time, ‘cause I had been playing for a year under the name the Happy Hollows by myself. Like totally rocking out with nobody behind me, just pretending, you know? So I had like a show lined up like two weeks after that, and I was like, “OK you guys, rehearsal starts tomorrow, and we have a show in two weeks.” And they’re like, what?? We only played through one song! (laughs)
PD: Boy, they must have been thrilled over that!
SN: They were, like, shocked, and they were definitely thrilled. It’s been really good ever since. There’s definitely been like a magic quality, just being together. It’s like we really have fun. We’re really friends, and I think that’s what makes a band gel, you know?
SN: Yeah, when you enjoy just being together. And when you all three have different personalities that balance each other, you know? I feel really lucky!
PD: So I wanna back-track a little bit, ‘cause I did read before you mentioned this that you spent some time in New York for a year. What was that like, how were you doing out in New York before you came out here?
SN: I was just playing acoustic music, and I was really just trying to find myself, I think, at that point. And I think I just really wanted an adventure. I grew up in the Bay Area, like all around – Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Jose – and the last place I wanted to live was L.A., seriously. And I really thought, OK, I’m either going to stay in San Francisco or New York. Those are the two places I just really wanted to be. So I moved to New York, and I tried it, and it was just really hard for me ‘cause I just didn’t have any money and I didn’t know anyone. I just sort of took off and went there. It was just really hard. It was definitely a challenge for me to just get through a winter. After my first winter there I moved back to California ‘cause I could not deal with the snow. It was just miserable for me. And I was playing acoustic music, and I was just trying to find myself, that’s the only way I can put it. I just didn’t really know who I was and the type of music I wanted to play. I was just really kind of a lost person, and I was trying and trying in New York to find a community that felt right, and I just sort of felt this urge inside like, I really need to go electric, and I really need a band, and I really need to just change up everything I’m about. I was just sitting in a restaurant one night with my friend, and I was like sitting in front of a sign that said “L.A.” Behind me on the sign was a picture of the Hollywood sign, and it was like a painting of L.A. ‘cause the theme of the restaurant was like L.A. for some reason, and we were just eating at it, and, I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but it was weird. And I was telling my friend about how I just wasn’t seeming to gel in New York, and I loved it but it wasn’t seeming to work. And he looked at me and he said, “I think this is a sign, look behind you – I think you should just move to L.A. I have a feeling that you’ll find your people there.” And I kind of like had this feeling too, and I’m like, you know what, I think you’re right. Even though it was the last place I wanted to go, my gut told me that my band was in L.A. So I moved out here, and I started playing music, and it’s just been magic. You know, when you just feel like you’re in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people, and everything just supports you, and it’s weird. And it’s like the last place I ever, ever wanted to go in a million years, and yet it just feels so, like, everything has been totally just in sync.
PD: Like it’s home.
SN: Yeah, yeah. And I found these guys, and it’s just weird. Like I had moved from the East coast to L.A., and then a year later they both had moved out from the East coast to L.A., and then we all met, and it was just, like, meant to be, I think. So that’s the story, I guess! (laughs)
PD: Alright! And it seems to have worked out just fine. Everywhere I’ve read it seems that you’re big favorites in Silver Lake, in your scene, so I guess it all worked out.
SN: Yeah, it’s been really good! I don’t know, we’ve been really lucky. There’s a really great community here of just really kind people. It’s just been really neat. I feel like we’re really lucky, you know? Everybody sort of knows each other. It feels like we live in a small town, which is bizarre.
PD: It is. I had never had that impression of L.A. myself. I come from the East coast originally too, so I always had that impression of L.A. as just this big concrete jungle, and it’s very cutthroat, and everyone’s kind of looking out for themselves, and they’ll put on a happy face for you and act like they’re you’re friend but then they turn around and stab you in the back, and that’s totally not the impression from the bands I’ve been talking to that are playing music down there.
SN: Yeah, I don’t know what it is. It’s like this little bubble of time. I’m just trying to appreciate it as much as I can, ‘cause I feel like, it truly is weird to me. The city is like that, it really is mean and cutthroat, but there’s this tiny little bubble that’s like downtown Echo Park, just that little area. And it’s like, there are a lot of true artists right now, a lot of great art and a lot of kind people that are just somehow all in this little space in time, all playing together and appreciating each other. It feels really good. And there’s definitely a few bad seeds, where it’s like, OK, it’s not that everybody’s like these angels, you know (laughs) same way people are like competitive or mean. But for the most part, it’s like this really supportive community feeling. It’s really great!
PD: You told the story about how you met on Craigslist, and that was like the magical moment. I was curious to know what some of the “blooper” moments that happened on the way to becoming the Happy Hollows and meeting Chris and Charlie, like some of the funnier stories that you might have.
SN: Well, let me see, um… we’ve had so many funny stories, I don’t want to offend anybody.
PD: Oh no, need to give away any names!
SN: (laughs) Well, when I first was playing with the Happy Hollows, I didn’t have a band, you know, but I would play out live. My best friend would play with me, but she couldn’t really play any instruments (laughs) It’s really funny, because she set up her keyboards, and put it on the drum sound, which was like… BOMP BOMP BOMP… and she’d play this one note the whole time! She’d use one finger and press the same note that went BOMP BOMP BOMP BOMP BOMP. And like throughout every song she’s just keeping the beat like BOMP BOMP BOMP. And for some reason I wanted her to wear an eye patch, so like, she wore an eye patch and BOMP BOMP BOMP, and it was just really bad! So that just didn’t work. (laughs) Yeah, that’s the only one I can think of now, but oh my God, I know I have so many.
PD: You’ll have to send ‘em to me when they come to mind! What about Chris and Charlie, did they happen to tell you any stories like, “oh my God, we played with this one person, and it just was totally crazy?”
SN: Well, I know they played… oh, you wanna know this? They were playing with some guy. This guy was the leader of the band, he’s like the “me,” you know, he wrote most of the songs and sang. This guy was playing with them, and they were playing for like, I think a good six months before they met me, with this guy. And then suddenly this guy got a whole new band and told them… I think he made them feel like they weren’t good enough. It’s really crazy because a month later I found Charlie and Chris. They are like the most amazing musicians, ever. Chris is ridiculous on the drums, and Charlie is just insane on the bass. They are so good. And it’s, like, really hilarious because this one guy, I won’t name names, totally dumped Chris and Charlie on the side of the road, and I picked them up. And this guy’s new band went nowhere. And the Happy Hollows are playing Sunset Junction, you know? And I think this guy’s kicking himself in the ass for ever getting rid of Charlie and Chris! It was definitely fate. Hopefully this guy was following his heart, because he knew that I needed to meet Charlie and Chris. It was all meant to be. But, it’s just funny to think to myself, like, “I can’t believe somebody ever let Chris and Charlie go!” because everybody wants them, you know? I meet so many people who are like, “I just want to find a drummer like Chris!” or “I just want to find a bassist like Charlie!” and it’s just funny. It’s like, wow, I can’t believe that like… They’re such treasures to have for any guitarist. That was kind of funny.
PD: I’m often curious, when a young band starts up and they start playing shows and they get all this recognition, I’m always thinking, gee, I wonder what they’re folks think of their music and if they’re coming to their shows?
SN: Ooh, yeah. Well, Chris’ family is really funny. They’re Filipino and they’re huge, and they’re totally, just, like island people, you know? They’re just laid back and fun. And so, I think that they think it’s really wild, but I think they appreciate it. And Charlie’s family is much more conservative, and I think (laughs) they think it’s really wild. I don’t know if they’ll ever come to a show, but they definitely appreciate that we’re having fun and they definitely think it’s cool. My mom was a drummer, so my parents think it’s just amazing. My parents are shocked. They didn’t know that I would ever be like this. I was very, very shy growing up. I didn’t speak at all until like second grade. In school, they wanted to hold me back years because I just couldn’t talk to people.
PD: God, one never would guess!
SN: I know! I was really quiet. Like seriously, I didn’t really talk to other kids or anything till maybe fifth grade. I was just a very, very, very quiet person and a shy girl. And so for me, like my dad, every time he sees us play, he’s like, “I cannot believe this is how you ended up! (laughs) Like this is so far from what we ever thought you would do!” It’s weird, I don’t know. So I think they’re really shocked. My mom, maybe not so much. I think it was obvious to her that I had a lot of rhythmic musical gifts from a very young age. But she really helped to cultivate in me… so, they’re very proud of it.
PD: Now, was your mother a professional drummer?
SN: Yeah. She used to work for hire and stuff, and she’d play a lot of different styles, like a lot of Latin-type bongos and congas, and then like rock drums and stuff. But then when she became a mom, she got more mommy-like. I think by the time she was well into her 30s, she didn’t play as much. But we always had like three drum sets in our house, it’s so weird! (laughs) Like, there’s always a drum set in the living room, a drum set in the garage, I had a drum set in my room. It was just like drums all the time, you know, whether or not she was playing out.
PD: And noise was never an issue?
SN: No! Our house was very noisy. My parents are very wild, very, very wild people. And so, growing up, I was always like, “can we go to bed now, please? I had to make a curfew! (laughs) It was like 11 o’clock, and I’m like, “Mom! Dad! Stop making noise! Stop playing music! Stop!” you know? It was just really opposite, you know, from what most kids have.
PD: Definitely opposite from my experience (laughs)
SN: I know, I know! My parents are, like, wild, wild people. So there was always music. I was surrounded a lot. I think that that’s probably why I’m pretty good at guitar, I think. (laughs)
PD: Do Chris and Charlie also have musical families?
SN: No, opposite, totally opposite. Chris and Charlie grew up on the East coast, in like much more nuclear families. Like, everybody’s more… just like a typical family, a quiet, nice family, you know? But I grew up in the San Francisco area with like ex-hippie parents that were crazy, and a lot of partying and a lot of music, and a lot of new age philosophy! (laughs) It’s just really different, you know? We are different. I grew up in a trailer park for a really long time. I mean, we are just… our families are just as opposite as you can get. So, mine’s very, very artsy and liberal, and theirs is much more conservative, and straight and narrow. Yeah, that’s our background in a nutshell.
PD: What was your musical training like?
SN: None really. I just taught myself. I tried to take lessons in high school, and I just felt like it was constricting my songwriting ability. ‘Cause I think once you get your head in it too much, and too much of the mechanics of how things work, you can no longer… it’s almost like innocence is bliss, you know? ‘Cause once you kinda learn exactly what you’re doing, I feel like… I feel like it was restricting me, I could tell, ‘cause I started playing guitar when I was fourteen and I just took off, like writing so many songs. Songwriting came so naturally to me. People were amazed that I could write so many songs in high school, and I just felt like the minute I tried to take classes and learn how other people play, it just sort of, for some reason, constricted my songwriting. So I thought, OK, I gotta make a decision to kinda make sure I’m out of the box, you know? ‘Cause I didn’t want to be in some box. But I still wanted to be technically good. So I just thought, well, why don’t I just figure out how to play myself and then invent my own ways of playing, because it’s just like a six-string instrument. Your fingers go on it, it makes sounds, so it’s like, why not find the sounds you like, you know? I just put my fingers on it and would make sounds and I’m like, wow, I don’t know what this chord is! And other people would look at me and go, “that’s not a chord!” But to me it’s a chord, because it’s making a sound that sounds really cool. I don’t know what it is, but, whatever! You know? (laughs)
PD: Yeah, now we have web sites where we can click in what our finger positions are and it’ll tell you what the chord is anyway, so…
SN: Really? No way, I didn’t know that!
PD: I’ll send you a link. I found one of those some time last year. I haven’t been to it in a while, but when I find it I’ll send it to you.
SN: Oh my God, that would be awesome! I’m like dead serious, I am curious what some of the chords I’m playing are, because I’m like, this sounds cool but nobody knows what I’m playing, and I’m like, it’s gotta be somewhere.
PD: Yeah, it’s not that it’s not a chord, it’s just that whoever you’re playing it for just doesn’t know what the proper name is.
SN: Yeah, maybe some jazz chord or something. Cool!
PD: Yeah! So, balancing out what you do musically and then keeping yourself afloat, how do you maintain that healthy balance? You know, between holding down a regular job and then moving the band forward?
SN: Well, I am really lucky because I work at a restaurant, and they’re really, really supportive, and flexible, of my band. It’s kind of like, in L.A., I think everybody is an actor or a model or a musician or something. Like, there’s all these young people trying to be something, so it’s like, if you have a job at a restaurant, it’s like, everybody will cover your shift because everybody’s doing the same thing. So it’s really flexible in that sense. I just feel like, if something comes up tomorrow, I can easily call people and get my shift covered. So it hasn’t held me back at all, and I think that’s been really good. And then Charlie’s really lucky ‘cause he gets grants to go to school. Like he applies for a lot of financial aid and grants, so he’s basically just studying and getting paid to study and write.
SN: So it’s really open for him. And Chris is the only one that’s kind of scary, but his job has really been flexible. So I’m like waiting tables, which sucks, but at least it’s flexible.
PD: And I’m sure you probably have some good nights once in a while where you come home with a nice big fat sack of tips.
SN: Yeah! (laughs) That’s good!
PD: Like, there’s some van money for the next tour!
SN: Yeah! So it’s been good. I’m really sick of it, but at the same time, it could be so much worse, you know? And at least it’s social.
PD: That’s also key, too. Do your coworkers come out to your shows too?
SN: Um, yeah, they do. I work with a lot of… they’re not really indie-type people, but they definitely appreciate what I’m doing, and they appreciate the band. They like the videos! A lot. (laughs)
PD: Yeah, the videos are cool. I just saw the promo video – that was hysterical!
PD: Who came up with that concept?
SN: Oh my God! We were shocked at the reception to this video. We didn’t know it was this funny, believe me. We basically went to… when you saw us, when we played the Knockout, this guy, a friend of ours, he was like, “oh, can I come with you and film your little tour?” and we were like, yeah sure!
PD: Was that Brad [Basmajian]?
SN: Yeah. And so, he had filmed the footage of us at the Knockout that night. So he came with us, and were just going to do a regular documentary, you know? And everything was going pretty regular for like the first two days, like totally just filming the shows, and filming the crowds, getting interviews, just regular. And then basically the second day, we were passing through Gilroy and I was like, “guys, wouldn’t it be fun to like get some funny footage in Gilroy?” and they’re like, yeah, OK! So, we looked at a map of things to do in Gilroy, like a brochure, and I’m like, “we gotta go to the Gilroy Garden Family Center!” ‘cause there’s like a man dressed in a garlic suit (laughs), so I’m like, we gotta go and play with the garlic man. We went there, and when we pulled up, it was closed for construction. So Charlie was like, “oh well,” and we were turning around, and I just had this idea like, why don’t I just like freak the fuck out and just get like funny footage of me freaking out? So I’m like, “Brad, turn on the camera!” and I ran up to the security guard and I’m like (pretends to be crying) “why is it closed? I’ve come all the way from L.A. to see the garlic man!” And I was like freaking out. “FUCK!” And I was like screaming and ripping up the brochure, and all the workers were cracking up. And the security guard was so scared of me, and I was like “FUCK!” screaming at the top of my lungs. I was causing such a scene, it was really funny. A lot of the footage got cut out, but it was hilarious. We were just dying. And finally the guy’s gonna call the police, so we had to get in the car and go. We were driving off laughing hysterically. And then Brad is like, “I’ve got an idea – why don’t we turn this into a mockumentary where it’s like you’re losing your mind, and we’ll do interviews and just play it up?” I’m like, totally, that sounds fun! So, what started out as a normal documentary became this huge joke. And it’s all improv. He videotaped us talking, and like everything Charlie said about rap, it was all improv. So we just took all those interviews and made footage to match what we were saying, you know? It just was awesome, it turned out really good! (laughs)
PD: Oh yeah, that’s a hit right there! (laughs)
SN: (laughs) It’s just like, Oh my God, I was watching it, and I’m like, OK, this is either really funny or we’re really embarrassing ourselves. Because Chris is naked, and I’m like this total fucking freak. (laughs) I was like, this is either gonna be really good or we’re really gonna regret ever filming any of this. But I think hopefully it’s just funny and people get that it’s a joke.
PD: I had another question about videos. Where did those tiger cubs come from in the “My Wet Tongue” video? How did you get a hold of tiger cubs?
SN: Oh my God, tiger cubs! Oh my gosh, this is so awesome! We were… the video was not this summer, it was two years ago. It was the first year we were together. We had a friend who was filming something, working on some project. And this woman said, they were filming at this animal training center in Hesperia. It’s like an hour outside of L.A. in the desert. And she’s like, “you know, if you want to use the animal center another day, feel free and I’ll let you use it for free if you want to film a music video” or whatever, because they had become really good friends during the filming of this project. And so, this guy who was filming “My Wet Tongue,” the director [Gilchrist M. Macquarrie], he called us and he’s like, “you know that song you have about cats and you’re like panting and talking about dogs and cats,” I’m like “yeah.” He’s like, “any chance next weekend you wanna make a video for it at this animal center that I’m at?” I’m like, “hell yeah!” He’s like, “there’s like twenty cats here and like twenty dogs and pigs and camels and tigers and everything.” I’m like, “awesome!” So we got to just like go and do that. And the most amazing part of the story is that, literally that week that he had called me, I was staying up watching Jay Leno, and this woman came on Jay Leno and she had two baby tigers. She was putting them on Jay Leno’s desk and Jay was playing with the tigers. And I thought to myself, “oh my gosh! Someday in my life before I die, I really want to play with baby tigers!” It was just this thought I had. And then I went to bed or whatever. Literally the next day, he called me to do this video, and the crazy thing is, the very same tigers in the video are the same tigers on Jay Leno’s show.
PD: Oh my God!
SN: It was that same woman!
SN: Isn’t that amazing? Yeah, and I was playing with the tigers, and she’s like, “these tigers made their film debut last week.” I’m like, what? She’s like, “yeah, we got to take them on Jay Leno.” And I was like screaming! I can’t believe these are the same tigers!
PD: And they’ve got that rough kind of fur, huh?
SN: Oh, they’re amazing. They’re like playing with really strong puppies with huge paws. I mean, they are strong. And they have big teeth. They’re kind of scary, ‘cause they’re really strong and they’re, like wild! I mean, they are playful, you know? But they’ll bite, and they don’t mean to hurt you, they’re just… they have the personality of a wild kitten in a massive puppy body. Have you been around baby tigers before?
PD: Once. It was a white tiger.
SN: Oh wow!
PD: At some county fair in Maine that I went to. I got to hold the tiger and get my picture taken with it. I’ve got the picture somewhere. That was always something I had wanted to do too. I always tell people “someday, when I get like 500 acres of land, I’m gonna have pet lions and pet tigers.” Either that or I’m going to wait until someone is able to genetically engineer house cats so they can grow manes like lions.
SN: (laughs) Totally! Aren’t they amazing?
PD: They are! Cats are the best. Now, do you have any other videos that you’re planning?
SN: Yes… we did a video, our friend Simon [Cardoza] who did the video for our song “Meteors” that we did two years ago as well, he did a video for our song called “Labyrinth” which is gonna be on our EP.
We also did a video for a song called “Big Bad Wolf” that is gonna be on the EP, and it’s all computer animation. It’s like green screen. A friend of ours is doing that, and it’ll probably be out in November. But all of our videos are just our friends basically grabbing their cameras and having fun. I think L.A. is filled with like aspiring directors, you know, so it’s like, we’re really lucky. ‘Cause we have a lot of friends that are like, “hey, let me grab my camera and film you!” and we’re like, “OK!” You know? So we’ve just been really lucky. I think people are always like, “how the hell do you have so many videos?” We just have a lot of friends with cameras! (laughs) that wanna use them, so it’s cool. Yeah, but they should be really good.
PD: You’d also mentioned that there’s a full-length album coming out in February. Is that still on? Do you have a date and a title for that one yet?
SN: No, not yet.
PD: Were all those songs recorded during the same sessions?
SN: Yeah. We recorded twenty two songs, off and on actually, from last summer to this summer. We recorded batches of like five at a time, just on days here and there. ‘Cause the producer, Dave Newton, was really, really busy this year. ‘Cause like he did the Little Ones, this band called the Little Ones’ EP. And he’s just such an amazing producer, and I guess the word just spread really quick how fun he is to work with and how great he is to work with. It was just like, every band in Silver Lake wanted to work with him! (laughs) And so we sort of had to like fit it into his schedule, but we did like five here, five there, and we just did the last batch of three a couple weeks ago. So, yeah, all together we’ve done like twenty two. And we’re gonna release this EP, which has five of them. And then the album, we already know all the songs that will be on it. And then after the album, we’ll have more left over, we’ll have like five left over. It’s really gonna be good, ‘cause we have a lot of music coming out this year.
PD: Is “Lieutenant” gonna be on the EP or the album? The Happy Hollows – “Lieutentant”
SN: Both. “Lieutenant” I think will be on both, because “Lieutenant” has a reprise that I’ve never played. So the reprise is on the album. We gotta put the song on the album so that you can hear the reprise of the song. (laughs) So the album’s gonna be, I mean the album is just really ridiculous. It’s really good. I don’t mean to sound conceited, but I’m just really proud of myself. (laughs) And the EP’s really great too. The EP’s charming, it’s definitely like… we put the fun songs on the EP, and the album has a lot of epic songs.
PD: Well, I’d think there’d be something wrong if you were saying, “oh, this isn’t very good” or “the album’s terrible and you shouldn’t even buy it.”
SN: (laughs) Yeah, that’s true! The album’s garbage! (laughs)
PD: ‘Cause that’s happened! There have been artists who have said that in interviews. “This didn’t come out very good” and “I’m really upset with my label!”
SN: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, Bunnies and Bombs we recorded in one night, overnight. We snuck into our friend’s recording studio and did it really fast. So we weren’t very happy with it. But it was just something. (laughs)
PD: Yeah, I mean, all things considered, it sounds fine.
SN: (laughs) Thank you! I mean, we’re embarrassed by it I guess, but at the same time we can’t believe people like it. We’re like, OK, I guess if you like it…
PD: The only criticism I’ve ever had of it when I tell people about it is that it doesn’t quite capture the energy of the live show. I mean, the songs are there, the performances are there, but you really have to see them live to feel the energy.
SN: For sure, for sure. Yeah, it was definitely… Bunnies and Bombs was funny ‘cause we had only been a band for three months and all those songs we wrote in such a short period of time. It was just meant to be kind of a demo tape, but it ended up carrying us for two years because we had so many videos done! (laughs) And people just ended up really liking it. We were really surprised, because we really thought it was a piece of crap! (laughs) But I guess there was charm in how crappy it was maybe, but this time around we just feel amazing because we feel like we actually got to have a good sound quality and the songs are just much more, you know, they’re what I’ve been working on the last two years of my life, you know? So, it’s a whole other level. I hope that catches more of our live spirit, you know?
PD: Yeah. And I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more of the epic stuff. “Lieutenant” in particular, I know that one gets singled out a lot. That’s the high point of the live set right there.
SN: Thank you.
PD: That Hotel Utah show, it was during that song when I felt, OK, this is a band that I could love, you know, this is it. The guitar tapping, and, you know, it’s just, it’s great. And what I like especially about that part of the song is that Charlie and Chris are part of the build-up, and they’re not just laying out or playing some simple rock groove for you to play against. It all kind of works together and builds up. What inspired the creation of that song?
SN: Um, well I think it was… let’s see, when did I write that one… I guess like a year and a half ago or two years ago maybe. And I was just going through such an enormously creative year, 2007, which was like the peak, an enormously creative year. And I basically got rid of my car and I just locked myself in my apartment. And I just wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, and like truly let my mind expand. I sound like I’m a druggie or something but I didn’t, it’s not through drugs. I didn’t take any drugs. I just let myself go, and I just stayed really private, and I didn’t… ‘cause I didn’t want anybody else’s critique of what I was doing. And I think Silver Lake, even though it’s a really tight-knit community right now, it’s like, for me, I just had to really pull away and stay really private so that I didn’t sort of get swayed one way or the other too soon, you know? Like oh, you should be playing three minute songs, don’t make a five minute song, or whatever, you know? I just didn’t want anybody’s opinions. So I basically like locked myself away for a good year to six months and I wrote all these songs and they were really different, like really really creative. I really just wanted to go to the limits of what I had done in the past. “Lieutenant” came out of that period where I was just writing a lot of just really far out type of stuff, and integrating, just trying to play a lot of different guitar styles, you know? So like on “Lieutenant” I do a lot of finger picking and finger tapping, just all different sorts of stuff. And I just wanted to let my mind go to the limits. And so “Lieutenant” was just like such a special day, ‘cause I woke up that morning and I just like, you know, started playing guitar and I came up with that beginning riff, and I was singing, and I was like OK, I’m really on to something. And I just started writing all these pieces. And by the end of the day the sun had gone down, and I just like went back through and there was like five different pieces, and yet, they all fit together somehow. And then I just sat there and made it all glue together. So it was like, the first part went into the breakdown and the middle part, and then it went into the soaring end part, and then the finish at the very end. And then that got tacked on. And then I actually have a reprise, which I have never played live, which is gonna be on the album. So it’s just crazy, I don’t know. All I can say is I let myself go really crazy. But I think in the end I made something that I’m really proud of. It was so hard for me to play that song. Like, I wrote that song two years ago, and it took me almost a year to play it live, ‘cause it’s so hard to play it, because my fingers weren’t strong enough. I mean, I could do it in my bedroom, but the minute I got in front of an audience I was nervous, my fingers would tense up, it was just such a… it was difficult for me. We played it a lot in the rehearsal space, and the boys, you know, they make up all their own guitar and drum parts. And it took them a while to learn it. They kept saying, “come on, Sarah, you gotta play it live! You gotta play it live!” And I was like, no, I can’t! Because I just know the minute I have to do the hard guitar stuff, I’m just gonna freeze up, and I’m gonna make such a fool of myself. It took me so long to play it live! (laughs) And like, once I did – it was last summer – I was just like, wow, I’m so proud of myself! Now it’s so easy, it’s like, you know how it goes playing guitar, because you play guitar. Something that’s hard for you at first, eventually your muscles get used to it. And then it’s like, you could do it, you know, with your hands behind your back, it’s just so easy. So now it’s so easy, and I forget just how hard it was in the beginning. So yeah, that’s the story of that song.
PD: Do you ever have days when you feel like you’re just completely out of new ideas?
PD: How do you keep it fresh?
SN: Um, well, I’ve written… I had such an intense year in 2006 and 2007, an intense two-year period of writing, really far out stuff, really good stuff for Happy Hollows, electric rockin’, crazy crap, really rockiin’ stuff. And then it kinda went, “oh my gosh, it’s all out!” And then I wanna record these songs, I wanna get them out. But it was like a book had closed, you know? And I’m not feeling inspired to write anything. It’s like, it was kinda scary for a minute. Like, what if I’m done, like totally done being able to write anything? So I went three months without writing a song, which is totally unusual for me. But then, I ended up writing like all this folk music. And so I have like twenty folk songs that I wrote that are just a whole different project. So I think that’s how to do it, to just not limit myself, you know, in any way, shape or form. And now that I’ve written all these folk songs, it’s been like six months of writing folk music. And so now I’m feeling really inspired again to write more Happy Hollows electric music. So, by the time we get to go back in and do a second album, we’ll have more songs by that time. So I’m excited ‘cause like I’m starting to feel inspired again to get far out! (laughs)
SN: Yeah, so that’s how it kind of works, I think. Just like maybe doing a different project for a while or a whole different thing.
PD: Taking a break from one thing and then doing another and coming back to it later.
SN: Yeah, yeah. ‘Cause I feel like, you know, you shouldn’t force yourself to do something unless it’s really from an inspired place, you know?
PD: Yeah. I’ve heard that Tony Bennett likes to paint when he’s burned out on singing. And then when he’s burned out on painting, he’ll go back to singing again.
SN: Yeah! I think that’s what goes through my mind, just like Tony Bennett. I saw him do an interview and he was talking about that. And I’m like, yeah, I need to do something else for like six months. I mean, not like stop playing shows, but, just not force myself, you know?
PD: That must be the secret to going on into your 80s.
SN: I know, right? Totally.Yeah.
PD: Now, you’ve got solo shows that you do every once in a while, but you don’t do those as much as the full band shows?
SN: No, ‘cause the solo shows are the folk music I’ve written in the last like six months, eight months, yeah. The solo shows are all this post-Happy Hollows music, the folkier acoustic stuff that I’ve been writing since last winter. I’ve only played three solo shows with this kind of folk music. We call ourselves the Sad Solids, like opposite of Happy Hollows, you know? The boys play drums and bass to it, so, it’s like a whole different band. It’s like slow and folky. (laughs) It’s like totally different!
PD: Any demos that you’re going to post for those at some point?
SN: Yeah, I would love to record them. I think we’ve just been so excited about Happy Hollows and so busy that I just haven’t even had a second to think about going back into the studio and recording these. But I think after, maybe this spring or something, after we get the album out, and after, you know, whenever there’s time, I would love to. ‘Cause they’re ready to go, they’re ready to be recorded. And they’re really beautiful. I’m really proud of them. They’re very bare-bones. They’re very like back-to-the-basics of songwriting. It’s kind of like, I went all the way out to the edge with Happy Hollows, and then I just went all the way back to the roots with my folk stuff.
PD: Would that kind of be similar to that last song on the Bunnies and Bombs EP? The Happy Hollows – “Tell Me”
SN: Yeah, totally. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. Exactly. I play that song at the solo shows. ‘Cause Happy Hollows, it just doesn’t fit in! (laughs) Like, (singing) something does not belong, I think it’s this quiet song! So yeah, I don’t know. I’ve always been just a person who does a lot of different things, and it’s been frustrating for me ‘cause I wish I could just, like, do one thing. But I think that’s OK. I think I’m learning how to, just, that it’s great to do a lot of types of music and have a lot of projects.
PD: And strike a balance.
SN: Yeah, I think that’s really good. I don’t know, like, maybe you write a lot of different types of styles.
PD: Well, yeah. The balance that I’m really striking for is always, oh, it’s really difficult. It’s more like juggling.
SN: Yeah, juggling. You have different things you do?
PD: Well, I write for three different publications. And then I work full time as an office manager and an executive assistant in a very busy publicity office at UCSF. And sometimes I play guitar and bass, but I haven’t been keeping up with that very much lately ‘cause I’ve been doing a lot more writing. And singing, I try to keep my voice in shape at least once a week by going to a karaoke bar. (laughs) So there’s a lot going on, all the time.
SN: Yeah, you know how I feel. Definitely have different parts of you, yeah. I think everybody feels that way.
PD: Last thing on my mind here is, since you guys have been playing up and down the West coast, have you been looking beyond the West coast, maybe doing some East coast shows, or…
SN: Yeah, we got into a big CMJ show, and so we’re trying to coordinate finding other dates out there, you know, so that we can go out to New York…
SN: Oh my god, we’re so excited! ‘Cause it feels good when we get out of L.A., it feels so good. Like playing San Francisco and Portland is just like, we almost feel like we fit in better there. It’s weird. You know? We have a great community down here, but we definitely feel like we’re sort of like on the fence sometimes. People really love us but it’s not quite the L.A. type of music, you know? So it’s definitely like a certain type of person loves our band. You know? (laughs) So when we go to San Francisco and Portland, it’s like, oh! We, like, fit in here! You know? It’s kinda like musically we just feel like we fit the bill a little bit more. ‘Cause I think L.A. is like a bit, kinda like, things like a bit more tucked in, you know? But maybe not. Maybe it’s changing. It just seems like we’ve felt like we’ve had a really good reception more on the upper West coast. But L.A.’s still really great to us too. Oh my God. We’re not complaining about that at all. But it’s definitely, we were surprised at how we feel like just really good when we go up to Portland or whatever, you know? And hopefully the East coast will feel the same, sort of. Feeling like, oh OK, cool! Or maybe not, maybe they’ll hate us. (laughs) Whatever.
PD: I have a feeling you’d go over well at the Middle East or T.T. The Bear’s in Cambridge.
PD: I think you’d go over well in that scene.
PD: Well, thanks for taking some time to talk today!
SN: Thank you! I’m so sorry Chris and Charlie couldn’t be here to tell you more bloopers. I’m so sorry.
PD: Well, we’ll catch up with them another time.
SN: Thank you so much again. I hope I didn’t ramble on and on too much with nothing. (laughs) Thank you so much for doing this.
PD: You’re welcome!
SN: Enjoy the rest of your Saturday.
PD: Yes, you too! Have a good show tonight!
SN: Thank you!
PD: Alright, bye!