Review Fix chats with We Are The West Frontman Brett Hool, who discusses their new track, Siren, off their new album, The Golden Shore, as well as what it was like to try something different after four successful EPs.
Review Fix: How did the band get together?
Brett Hool: I suppose We Are The West first really began in a shipping container on a sheep farm in Holland. John was living over there for a while and I came out to visit. We rented the container off of their version of Craigslist and turned it into our own little studio. That’s where our duo approach was born, as well as several songs that we’d later come to record as We Are The West. Later that year we started playing around Brooklyn, setting up shows in tow lots, and lofts, and this incredible hundred-year-old convent that had been abandoned for the past twenty years or so. It was falling apart and haunted. It had a beautiful, decaying chapel where we put on concerts. When we moved back to Los Angeles we took the idea and ran with it, starting our underground parking garage concert series, which we’ve been doing once a month, the Saturday before each full moon, for the past six years.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Hool: Pretty organic, we’re always working on something. Songs seem to get born when you’re least expecting it, and then we’ll spend a long time honing and refining them. For this album, we decided after our four EPs that we’d go to a real studio to capture our live trio with Beth Goodfellow on drums. We were planning on another EP, three maybe five songs, but once we got in the studio with Husky we just kept pulling out songs. We ended up tracking eleven songs live over a few days, and suddenly realized we were working on something bigger. So over the course of the next year we took those live recordings and orchestrated and overdubbed with some of our favorite music friends, ending up with our grandest production yet.
Review Fix: What inspires you guys?
Hool: Everything really, life, I guess.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Hool: That’s always been a hard one for us. We usually end up just listing the instrumentation to give an idea: acoustic guitar, upright bass, natural voices, drums, strings, woodwinds, pump organs. A reviewer once called us ‘experimental folk’, which seemed all right. We tend to like natural, warm sounds, without effect… or too many effects. But the sound is always at the service of the song.
Review Fix: What’s the standout track on your debut album, The Golden Shore? How was it written?
Hool: I honestly feel each track stands out on its own and fits into the record in its own way, so it’s hard to single one out. More Machine Than Man, though, is probably the song that gave us the impetus to start the whole recording process. We began writing it on tour up to northern California, playing a little Casio through the stereo, sampling our voices to make an organ sound. Once we got the different sections and lyrics in place we went out to our friend DT’s place in Joshua Tree to track it live. We basically made a really sweet demo of the song, and then started the quest to find the right place to record it for real.
Review Fix: You released an official music video for Siren. What will be the next song/video released from the album?
Hool: Siren is the first song on the album, so we’re releasing the second (and title) track The Golden Shore next. KCRW here in LA already played it on the radio, a first for us.
Review Fix: How would you compare the new material to the songs from your 4 EPs?
Hool: I think it’s just further developed. The scope of the journey is much larger, the vision clearer. All our recordings are based on live performance, but for the album we just stepped up every aspect of the process. We rehearsed pretty intensely for the initial sessions, then once we had versions we could tinker with, we dove deep into orchestrating all the different parts, some parts technicolor, some parts stark… then mixing it altogether into an organic whole. If you sit down and listen from start to finish, it adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work? What can one expect at a We Are The West show?
Hool: Every show is different. We’ve somehow created a scene for ourselves, around our underground parking garage shows and DIY tours, where we have some amazingly talented musicians down to join us. So the band itself expands and contracts. Sometimes it’s the core duo of John and me, sometimes it’s a trio, sometimes we have ten people onstage. The songs can handle all different kinds of approaches, and it keeps it interesting for us. But at the heart of it all, I think, is an honesty. We’re just people making music, playing songs together. And it can be transcendent, just as that. We set up shows in sometimes strange places like parking garages and storm drains, but it’s really about disconnecting our brains, ours and the audience’s, from the normal cliched associations we make. It opens us up to something new happening, to connecting with this new place and moment. It can be really powerful.
Review Fix: Do you think rock is dead?
Hool: I don’t know what to think about the state of the music business. We seem to operate outside the usual game and try to just keep doing what we want to do. I definitely don’t think any aspect of music is dead, even if it’s not on the radio or whatever. There is an unending supply of amazing music all around.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2018?
Hool: Right now we’re focused on releasing The Golden Shore and trying to let people know it exists and is there for them if they hear the call. It comes out March 30, and we’re celebrating with a big parking garage show on Saturday March 31st. We’ve scheduled our underground series around the lunar calendar, and the 31st is not only an actual full moon, but since there are two full moons in March, it’s a Blue Moon. We’re then hitting the road through the Southwest and California, playing in an amazing Masonic Temple and some towns we’ve been dreaming of for while, with more shows planned for the summer in beautiful spots like Yosemite and the Mendocino coast. We’ve been working on this music for three years on our own, and we’re ready to take it out to the world.