5 writers, 5 questions, 1 band, hand-picked by the MWA writers. Welcome to FIVE x FIVE. This week: Chicago indie-rock trio, Hemmingbirds.
After more than five years in the Chicago music scene and with two incredible full-length albums under their belts, indie-rock trio Hemmingbirds are asking for your help. The group has six days remaining on their Kickstarter campaign aimed at funding the physical production and distribution of their latest effort – a four track EP titled Half A Second. As the campaign winds down, Yoo Soo Kim and Tim Cap were kind enough to answer a few of our questions about the upcoming release for this week’s FIVE x FIVE.
After two full-length albums, what made you decide to release Half A Second as a four track EP?
Yoo Soo Kim: Coming off our last album, one of the problems we realized was that it’s very difficult to create a full-length when all your band members are working day jobs. We felt like at the end of The Vines of Age, there were things that we compromised for the sake of getting it done. Creating an LP can be exhausting, and we just wanted to be done with it by the end of that process.
We didn’t want to have that same feeling for this situation. We decided that if we just narrowed down the number of songs to work on, we can then make sure that we were as extremely happy with those songs as possible.
Another reason was that we thought that it’d be more digestible for people if it was only 4 tracks. It seems like the majority of folks nowadays don’t sift through whole records. So we decided to instead just focus on 4 songs that made the listening experience shorter.
Finally, I feel like there’s more mobility with an EP. As mentioned, creating an LP takes a while for bands like us. Halfway through the process of working on and promoting The Vines of Age, I felt like I outgrew the album. But I had to stick with it because that was the pace we were operating at. With just 4 songs, it’s easier to let go of just 4 songs as opposed to, say 10 songs, and move on to another album.
Tim Cap: There wasn’t too much of a plan regarding how many songs we were going to release when we started writing again. We came up with a collection of songs that we all liked, which sometimes takes a while to happen. There ended up being seven or so jams we liked a lot and then started either trimming out the ones weren’t too crazy about or trying to make the weaker ones better. We toyed around with the idea of trying to write eight or ten songs for a full length album, but nothing we wrote came close to our top two favorites.
Yoo Soo already had two songs partially written, so we combined those and then sort of started rewriting and rearranging them to make them fit together more smoothly. It’s kind of weird thinking about this, because it wasn’t ever planned out. We knew we wanted to release something that would be a collection of our best material, and the process just sort of happened. It felt really natural even though it was a lot of work requiring a lot of thought, attention, and energy. I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time on a small collection of songs before.
Did the writing and recording process of Half A Second change at all from The Vines Of Age as you transitioned from a quartet to a trio?
YSK: The 4 songs we picked were actually written while we were still a quartet. Two I had written on my own and two we had jammed out together. But once we became a trio, we started to look way more in detail at our arrangements, parts, performances, and production. With one less person during that meticulous process, it was easier to be more honest with one another. I think that’s something that took a long time for us to arrive at – to say that we didn’t like a certain part, suggest other parts, and be okay with having your parts even completely cut out from a section or song.
I also think that as a trio, we technically didn’t have enough people to play each instrument. That broke down the barriers of “this person plays this instrument and thus writes those parts for that instrument.” The three of us were able to openly make suggestions or write parts for any of the instruments without regard to who played them.
TC: Yes. We started writing with still four members, and then when it was down to just the three of us, we had to write and record some of the bass parts without a bass player. Yoo Soo, Zach, and I would record a part of a song, talk about what we liked or disliked, and then re-record until we all felt settled. The most organic part of writing these songs was just jamming on them and recording a couple of raw demos. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed too much. We tend to write and record at the same time, and I really like that process. It’s more challenging on a cerebral level.
For example, if we’re arguing about why a drum fill, synth part, or guitar performance should or shouldn’t be in a certain part in a song, the person presenting their perspective needed to say much more than just “It should be in there because I like it.” There would often have to be an explanation for why they felt that way. I could tell that was something that probably annoyed some previous members, which is kind of why we’re the only ones left in the band. It’s kind of because we can all manage to stand each other. Between the three of us, we can play a lot of instruments, so it wasn’t too much of a challenge. It was like learning a new skill.
What can we expect musically from Half A Second? What will be different this time and what will be the same?
YSK: I always think that when we finish something, people are going to think it’s such a departure from what we’ve done. I played it for some friends, though, and, while they think it’s different, they say it still is inherently “us.” It’s equivalent to the intangibles of sports or something. Tangibly speaking, I guess what that means is that the songs are still rooted in some sort of pop and rock. I still sing about ethereal, life related things. We like to have sections be dynamic and keep things lush and full.
In terms of what will be different, this is the first time where we did a lot of arranging in the studio. The past records sounded more like a band playing together. This one has songs that are more production dependent – things that we actually can’t do live at all. Some parts we layered so heavily that we honestly don’t remember what we did. I’ve been listening to way more pop and hip hop, so I think there are aspects of those genres that are melded into these songs.
TC: Our chops all around have gotten a little better, especially regarding recording and writing. There is a lot of trust between the three of us, so when someone presents their case for why something in a song should happen, or when someone frankly criticizes lyrics, a poor performance during recording, or someone’s guitar tone, no one takes it personally. We’re all on the same page and believe the reason someone is critical of something is because we simply want the content to be as solid as it can. We can be pretty critical of each other, but it’s never gotten out of hand, especially with just the three of us. To hear someone say something kind of brutal about your performance while tracking and just say “ok” and try it again requires a nice helping of trust and respect.
Musically, we wanted a nice and polished sound with a very strong pop sensibility. The Vines of Age was a little more experimental at times. These four songs on Half A Second feel really concise, straightforward, and succinct to me. They are pop songs that have a very personal feeling close to the three of us. Yoo Soo’s vocals keep it familiar-sounding to fans of our earlier stuff, and Zach’s aggressive and hard-hitting style gives all of the percussion a very forward and loud sound. Amusingly, Zach got some of his aggression out by playing harder which you can hear on “Stay.” The three of us like having the kick, snare, and vocals loud and forward, which is something we pay a lot of attention to while mixing. That’s probably something that’ll probably always be a part of our writing and recording style.
You’re no stranger to collaboration with other local artists and musicians. Do you think that the size of the Chicago scene makes it easier or harder to collaborate and build relationships?
YSK: I guess it’s tough for me to answer that. I’m a multi-instrumentalist, so I think my gut reaction is to just try everything myself. I’m hesitant to reach out to people unless I really can’t do it myself. My perspective on that is changing though.
I sort of feel like the size of the scene makes it harder to collaborate and build relationships relative to smaller scenes. I think collaboration stems from relationships, which sort of starts from how many times you’ve seen someone. When a scene is large enough, you’re less likely to see certain people repeatedly.
Mike Maimone and I have collaborated a number of times together, and the reason that started was because we both did the same open mic at Abbey Pub for a whole summer. It literally took weeks for us to become friends and be exposed enough to each other’s music to gain that mutual respect. Over time, though, I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with a number of really awesome bands here and have had a lot of fun sitting in with them or having them sit in with us.
I’m also an introvert…so maybe it isn’t that hard to collaborate and build relationships haha.
If funded, Half A Second will be Hemmingbirds first vinyl release. With the price of vinyl so high, what is it about this particular group of songs for you that warrants a vinyl release?
YSK: We actually struggled a lot with this issue. The EP is 4 songs and under 15 minutes. It’s too long for an 7″, too short for a 12″, and 10″ is weird. We went with 12″, but the album doesn’t even need two sides to play through. So at that basic level, it sort of doesn’t make sense to do vinyl.
More than anything, I like the idea of having music be on a physical product. CDs are on the way out and really a pain to deal with now. I’m personally not a fan of cassette tapes as I feel the audio quality is not great compared to other mediums. So vinyl was an option from that end. Also, vinyl is really cool. It’s this giant thing that you can’t skip through, you have giant album art, and the listening process is much more experiential.
Honestly, I expect us to not make much, if at all, from releasing on vinyl. It is really expensive per unit, and we have to price it for the value of 4 songs, which will put us at a pretty thin margin. It’s more self indulgent because we’ve never had an album on vinyl.
Make sure you check out Hemmingbirds’ Kickstarter campaign and continue to support fantastic local music and the talented artists that create it by tossing a few bucks their way.