Hidden Hospitals (ex-Damiera) releasing ‘Liars’ (stream a track, read our Q&A)
Dave Raymond has consistently been a highly talented and often underrated figure of underground rock for going on 15 years. He fronted the short-lived band League, who released a worthy self-titled album in 2004 before breaking up the next year, and then he went on to form his breakthrough band Damiera. They came out swinging with 2005's self-titled EP, on which they had already established their complex, unique sound. That sound was in-your-face post-hardcore with stop-start rhythms and guitar leads that pulled from math rock but weren't exactly "noodly." The band was impossibly tight, and they knew how to write catchy songs without sacrificing any of their raw power. The strength of the EP got Damiera a deal with Equal Vision, with whom they released two killer LPs before breaking up, 2007's M(US)IC and 2008's Quiet Mouth Loud Hands. The first LP perfected the sound of the EP, while their second and final album took their signature sound in some unexpected directions. It had at least one song that kinda sounded like Michael Jackson.
When Damiera broke up, Dave and the band's other guitar wiz, Steve Downs, formed the band Hidden Hospitals, which also includes drummer Jared Karns from another underrated late '00s rock band, Kiss Kiss, and bassist Aaron Boynton. (It's also worth noting that the several ex-Damiera members include Evan Weiss, who now fronts Into It. Over It., and Josh Sparks, who drummed on the latest IIOI album, Standards.) Since forming in 2011, Hidden Hospitals have released two EPs and one full-length, and they're now set to release their sophomore album, Liars, on May 18 via Spartan Records. Like their 2015 debut LP Surface Tension and their two EPs, it was produced by J. Hall.
Liars is actually Hidden Hospital's first release since Steve Downs left the band, leaving Hidden Hospitals with just one guitarist. And it's their least guitar-centric project yet. Hidden Hospitals took things in a synth-fueled direction this time, and the first taste of their new approach is the album's title track, which we're premiering in this post. There's sort of a dark, modern glitch pop vibe in the verses, and then they shift gears into bright '80s synthpop for the chorus. Not ones to completely abandon rock, there's a bridge towards the end with some pretty heavy guitar that almost brings Hidden Hospitals into industrial metal territory. It's a lot of different sounds to tackle in one four-minute song, but Hidden Hospitals pull it off and sound pretty great doing so. Listen here:
The new Hidden Hospitals album isn't the only project that Dave Raymond is involved with this year. Given Names, his ambient electronic band with Jeremy Perez-Cruz, recently released a video for a new single called "East to West" (watch below) and they're teasing a new EP. He's also active with Still + Storm, his collaboration with his partner Rachel.
I also talked to Dave Raymond over email about the sound and lineup change for the new album, and more. Read on for our chat...
The earlier Hidden Hospitals material was hard-hitting rock, closer to what you were doing in Damiera, and this new album has more of an electronic pop vibe. Can you talk about the decision to go in that direction and how your influences have changed over time?
I love rock n' roll. Not specifically for the sound, but for its angst, and expressiveness. Lately, the genre is a body with no pulse. Everything AROUND rock n roll has evolved and pushed these same feelings into new spaces. Kendrick Lamar is the most rock n roll human on the planet right now. If you don’t agree, name three modern (“modern” being the important part) guitar heroes or drummers out there blazing the way for developing musicians. I don’t mean virtuoso players or tasteful operators of the craft - I mean iconic and inspiring and able to mobilize a generation. Even the term “rock n roll” evokes imagery that’s encapsulated. Heroes of a time passed, men in leather jackets and torn denim, guitars and Marshall half stacks, anchored in nostalgia, haunting CBGB’s. What does it look like now? Sound is language, and our fluency and vocabulary 2018 is vast. Why not use it? I can make a guitar do anything, we can make a drum kit say or control anything, and that’s interesting to me. It’s the feeling of “boy in the garage with his amp turned all the way up.” I’m forever chasing that, and “LIARS” is the most recent expression of what got me there.
What specific music and/or life experiences influenced the writing of the new album?
I demoed all the songs for LIARS in Chicago, then moved to Los Angeles for three winter months to write the lyrics. I didn’t want the punctuations of time and other experiences to break what I had to say, so for three months I just wrote. Every day, mostly outside or at Woodcat Coffee in Echo Park. LA had a steadying effect on me. My partner Rachel Raymond (Still + Storm) and I rented a space from one of my best friends Whit Collar (Villain Lighting). We kept it empty and usually left the door wide open. Being there together, having warm sun in the winter months and seeing Whit (who happens to be my favorite songwriter) definitely shaped the outcome of the songs.
“I lost my fingers when I found my fist.” - the opening line of the record feels pretty exact. It was a year of not scheduling rehearsals or collaborating, but it was also a year of finishing things faster. I’d written nearly a hundred songs for LIARS. I pared that list down to about twenty five or so to audit with producer J. Hall and our drummer Jared Karns. We cut that list to thirteen, and that’s what we took to production.
Steve Downs, who you've played with since Damiera, left Hidden Hospitals before this album. How did approaching this album as a three-piece differ from writing and recording previous albums?
There are positives and negatives, and both expose themselves in stride. I’d always written for two guitars - multi-melodies that ebb and flow, but now I’ve started looking at guitar (and music) differently. Instead of writing with this “other” instrument in mind that will support and move in a certain way, I’ve been homing in on what’s truly necessary, if anything at all. Silence is a perfect song, it’s the sounds we put in there that can screw it up. Keeping things stark and lonely has helped me see what works and what doesn’t.
We're premiering the title track, "Liars." What's the origin story for this song, and what made you choose it as the first single?
People go to great lengths to prevent ourselves from really being happy. We try to keep things that aren’t ours to keep - damaging ourselves and others in the process. “Love is deranged, and fear’s a crutch.” We don’t get to choose what we love, but we’ll kill ourselves to avoid losing what we think belongs to us (independence, stability, admiration, etc).
Sonically, “Liars” is collage of sounds and feelings that I’ve had love for at different times, and for HH, it’s unexpected. It’s in a major key, the sounds are buoyant and hopeful - paired with the lyrics, it’s a lonely sort of happy.
You've been in touring bands for over a decade. How have you seen the the music industry, and your personal experience as a musician, change over time?
When you remove “money” as a prospect, then the reasons for still doing something become a lot clearer. Chasing record and ticket sales is a death trap and hopefully the end of that era will put an end to decades of industry-damaging ideas (i.e. throwback nostalgia tours filling venues instead of new, developing artists supporting current headliners). The current model for success just needs a refresh. What are the aspirations new artists can work toward that aren’t based in social media numbers? How can we create communities where artists can showcase their music and support others doing the same - without having to sell 300 tickets for a promoter first? However it plays out, the answer lies with people. Music has always been about bringing us together. If we’re not doing that, then it’s just white noise.
You can pre-order Liars on LP and digital formats here. All pre-orders will include an instant download of Liars, and a download of the full album plus three unreleased b-sides on release day.