Hallelujah (The Hills): My Interview with Ryan H. Walsh
Hallelujah The Hills - Some Hallelujah Music
Ryan H. Walsh is the singer and organizing force behind the songwriting for one of my favorite bands Hallelujah The Hills.
Hallelujah The Hills are the only band I have ever used twice in one of my weekly playlists and the album "Have You Ever Done Something Evil?" is one of my favorite albums of the last decade.
In a recent review of their 2016 album "A Band Is Something to Figure Out," the magazine "Dig Boston" rated Hallelujah The Hills sound somewhere between Titus Andronicus and The Hold Steady which sounds like a dream three-band concert bill to me.
Ryan is friends with one of my oldest friends, so it was nice to finally meet him (through email conversations). I started out with a very different idea of the interview we were going to have.
Ryan was nice enough to answer all of my questions, even a second wave after I realized my first wave of questions weren't really particularly good ones (this is only my sixth interview mea culpa).
Whatever you do, make sure and check out the many great albums by Hallelujah the Hills, including their most recent improvisational EP Movement Scorekeepers. Also when I referred to Hallelujah music it was my way of sending an RIP to the late great Leonard Cohen.
My Interview with Ryan H. Walsh
JBH: I spent most of the last week communing with particular communities and subcultures of devastated and terrified people. The beauty within all of the sadness was that everyone shared stories and tried to regroup. I know very little about your politics, but is there anything you want to say about the end of Election 2016?
RHW: In every sense, it's a disaster. Even his supporters, outside of the few members of the 1%, will soon find that they're not going to get anything they wanted from this dark transaction. He's a small-souled thug whose popularity is dependent on tapping into people's fear and anger--one of the most shameful tactics in the wide world of human interaction.
JBH: I liked what you said about the "I'm with the band" shirts. But, at the end of that article and in a few other interviews, I have seen you saying things like "Guitar Bands are becoming less and less relevant" and that rock music is "racing toward total irrelevance."
IMHO there are a TON of great guitar bands now but you seem to have a very different conception of what is going on. So what do you think is happening? Or are we just explaining the same situation in different ways? What is your take on the decline of Rock and Roll (whatever that is)?
RHW: I didn't say there weren't great guitar bands. There's always great bands, always great music in any era and any place. Their relevancy is what I'm speaking to here. Right now the cultural currency held by kids bashing on guitars is at an all-time low, from my perspective. The rock dollar has crashed. The reasons for this are pretty complex, many of them guesses on my part, but fetishization of past rock tropes (the t-shirt being a perfect example) is one factor that makes the genre seem, often, dead on arrival right now.
JBH: You mentioned that rock has become less relevant yet you continue, thankfully, to write guitar-driven songs. I struggle to find ways to get or persuade ears to try new good rock music (like your last three albums), what is your approach to fighting obsolescence and does it change your approach when you are writing?
RHW: You really can't change your approach to creativity, in my opinion, based on what you hope people will or won't like. You can kinda fight back in other ways, like bitching about a shitty t-shirt in the Hard Rock Cafe though. Inside the songs, though, literally, the only thing that matters if that you try to be open to ideas and then stay true to those ideas.
JBH: Given that I am a drummer, and you famously had five drummers in two years, should drummers take out "Spinal Tap" insurance when they sign on with Hallelujah the Hills (they can't all be 100% serious questions)? I guess a better way of asking this is, what is your problem with the union of rhythm monkeys?
RHW: The first seven years of the band we had many different drummers. Now it's pretty stable! Two albums, two EPs and 4 or 5 years of the exact same lineup. We could buy a timeshare together. The future is limitless. But we've had all kinds of players of various instruments leave or be asked to leave over the years. We don't have any special trouble with drummers, per say.
JBH: As I understand it, on the Movement Scorekeepers EP, you didn't have a plan, or sheet music, or rehearsals. Everyone just showed up and added parts as they felt them? Later I figured out you were trying to recreate the recording methods that Van Morrison used on the Astral Weeks album. First, am I correct in that assumption? Second, did it work out like you hoped it would?
RHW: No, sorry to spoil your theory but that wasn't remotely the idea. Just to explain the difference: in A.W. Van had songs written, he played them, and jazz performers basically improvised on top of them. What we did with Movement Scorekeepers was improvise together in a room to create the base of some short, weird songs, then I built little worlds on top of them at home.
JBH: Okay, I was also clearly wrong about your approach to Movement Scorekeepers, what was the motivation for an EP created out of full-scale musical improvisation?
RHW: Fun! We also needed to do something quick to have it ready for our summer tour. This was my workaround that I figured also might yield stuff that was very unlike the rest of our catalog.
JBH: I noticed that in several interviews you talked about the difference between what you intended and what listeners heard. At one point you said, "Let's make the subconscious conscious." I wondered if this might have been influenced by either Cthulhu (joking) or David Lynch?
This also made me wonder what you take on authorship is. Do you think meanings are supposed to be derived from authorial intention or is it always a co-productive process? To put it more clearly, is your music finished by you when the recording process ends or is it finished in the process of each listener's unique encounter with it?
RHW: Yeah Lynch was an early huge inspiration and still is-- his interviews just as much as his output, I'd say. Anyone interested in creativity should read Lynch of Lynch. Trusting the unknown or the subconscious is definitely a flag he waves that I got on board with. On one level, you could say the song is finished for me when I finish making it with the band. For instance, I can, and have, enjoyed hearing recorded songs I wrote and then never released. But I do love when listeners add extra layers of interpretation, absolutely. Sometimes I'll listen to a song we made a few years later and the lyrics that seemed so abstract or surreal will suddenly appear very literal to me. Like, 'oh that's what I was getting at'
FYI: I saw that In the band's press packet information, Ryan made the following comment which fits right in with this discussion: "Please Be Advised: Upon Listening to A Band Is Something To Figure Out for the second time, all of the lyrics are true. This is not true upon first listen."
JBH: So, Your lyrics have a very literary quality and a book is being written by M. Jonathan Lee about you and your band. How was being grist for M. Jonathan Lee's mill?
RHW: It was fun! I really, really enjoyed making an album in front of Jonathan. He's a great writer, a funny guy, and I think he really understood what we were going for.
I should mention here that I asked several questions about Ryan's forthcoming book, which he really didn't want to talk about. My Dad is a writer and he used to think it was really bad luck to talk about your own writing before you were done writing. So, all I will share is that Ryan's book has a publisher and is about Boston in the late 60's.
Well, that does it for the interview, thanks to Ryan for participating!
Obviously, Ryan does not work alone, the rest of the band Hallelujah The Hills includes:
Ryan Connelly – Drums, Joseph Marrett – Guitar, Brian Rutledge - Synthesizer, Ryan H. Walsh - Guitar, vocals, and Nicholas Giadone Ward - Bass, Piano.
I just put out a playlist highlighting the grandfathers and mothers of Gothic Rock called "The Goth Kid's Grandparents playlist" Yes, it is a reference to the Goth Kids on South Park.
My weekly playlist will be coming out tomorrow, until then, you can still check out last week's playlist the "Dreaming 80's Baby" playlist.
Starting next week, my best of 2016 music picks should start appearing (like magic) here.
Hope you enjoyed the interview! Earlier interviews have included:
And several others.
As always Explore, Enjoy, and Share Music!
What is your favorite Hallelujah The Hills Song?
What is your favorite Boston band?
What is the best way to break through and get people to listen to rock music?
Let me know what you think, leave a comment!