February 12th, 2009 | Interviews

dan monick

Download: Happy Hollows “Lieutenant”


(from the “Lieutenant” 45)

The Happy Hollows have settled in Negahdariland, a tiny suburb of Los Angeles that includes a bedroom, a practice space and a closet with a lock. Their new 45 is out now and they hope to release their first album this summer. They speak now from the woods in Elysian Park. This interview by Chris Ziegler.

Is it true that at your very first audition you had to make sure no one was Republican?
Charlie Mahoney (bass): We did that subtly.
Sarah Negahdari (guitar/vocals): I just walked in—they were auditioning guitar players, but I was really auditioning them! I already had the Happy Hollows for a year when I played by myself. I needed a bassist and drummer and I loved their ad on Craigslist. All their influences had women in them—all of them were right up my alley. So I was auditioning them. The first questions—‘Are any of your Republican?’ They had to answer all these questions before I ever plugged in.
CM: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What do you like to do?’ She didn’t say, ‘What do you think about universal health care?’ She did say, ‘You aren’t Republican, are you?’ But she said it nicely and subtly.
SN: I can’t play music with people who aren’t on the same vibe—I don’t mean to be mean!
CM: Could you play with Libertarian musicians?
Could you play with a Communist?
SN: Yes.
Should we go back to the gold standard?
CM: We’re too far removed from it. It couldn’t be done. That wasn’t a real question, was it?
How real are any of these?
CM: I’m doing a Ph.D in Political Science, strangely enough. That’s why I moved to L.A—well, I just wanted to live in California. The band is much more interesting than the school.
How much longer will America be in a recession?
CM: Probably three or four years. It might be a situation where it gets better pretty slowly. It takes a long time to get out of a slump. Japan was in one for fifteen or twenty years. Their economy grew so fast in the ’80s and then in the ’90s basically went flat. It’s been that way for 25 years. Capitalism is based on the idea that economies can grow in perpetuity. You just can’t do that.
Only jellyfish can do that.
CM: Totally, or algae.
So you can’t base an economy on the life cycle of a sea creature.
CM: It’s fruit flies. The fruit fly theory of GDP growth. But it can’t grow forever. There are going to be long periods of no growth. And then someone will invent a teleportation device and the economy will grow again.
Is ‘Tambourine’ a sentimental favorite for the band? It’s the first song you ever played and now it’s on the new 45.
SN: No—I wrote that a long time ago. Before the boys. It’s probably my oldest song! I think I wrote it in five minutes. It all came out at once. People have been saying they love it for years and years. And sometimes you can spend a month slaving over a song, and nobody likes it.
What do you do with those songs?
SN: I just learned it’s really none of my business. I just have to be an open channel. I write and write and write—but the thing is to be detached and let all the songs come through. It’s hard as an artist, but it’s not up to me. The universe or life or whatever will take it, and the more I try and push, the more it doesn’t work out. So I’m just gonna put it all out there. If people like it, they like it. My hands are out of it. Songs come to me—that’s great—that’s my work! My work isn’t to make people like it or put it in peoples’ faces. They take on a life of their own. Some travel far and wide and some everyone is like, ‘This is garbage!’
Who says that?
SN: Chris and Charlie, maybe? No! I learned the hard way you can get really neurotic. ‘NO! THIS IS MY WORK OF GENIUS! HOW COULD THIS BLOGGER SAY THAT!’ But whatever. Some people like some things.
Do songs ever wake you up in the middle of the night?
SN: I carry a tape recorder at all times. Most of the time when I’m sleeping, I have a tape recorder next to my pillow. In the middle of the night, I’ll roll over and press record. The next morning, it’s like ‘Ammmmauauuummmmmuummmaaa.’ Half-asleep singing all the parts in my head.
That’s how Keith Richards wrote ‘Satisfaction.’
SN: That’s right! All the best songs come when your mind stops. I’m such a believer—art and songs are already there floating above you. It’s a weird thing to explain. But it just kind of comes. From somewhere behind the mind. I think that’s why people do drugs or whatever—the more you can get your mind to stop tinkering with it, the more you get the inspired melodies, inspired rhythms, inspired music. The whole challenge is—can I do this without drugs? Can I be an open channel? I meditate a lot—I spend hours meditating because I gotta get my mind clear.
How do you do that in urban L.A.?
SN: It’s hard, and my room looks like a weird mystical palace. I gotta go somewhere else—I can’t be in all the noise! I have to get really removed from everything. But at the same time, I get energy and inspiration in the city. I’m not like some hippie country person. I love the city! I love the concrete! Well, right now I’m staring at Elysian Park—I’m adoring the trees, and I’m lying when I say I like concrete. But I don’t know—I’m more of a city person. That’s the challenge of being a city person—you gotta find a way to find quiet.
CM: We just lock her in a closet for a couple days.
Like when you’re waiting for bread to rise?
SN: You figured out my alter-ego!
CM: If it isn’t working, we bring padlocks and lock her in a closet for five days. And then there’s a song ready. There are many ways to write a song.
Like solitary confinement?
SN: Not that I ever wanna go to prison—but I thought it would be interesting. I don’t know if it would be too hard for me to adjust to prison. Not that I’d ever go—I never do anything wrong! I wish I did stuff wrong! My whole life in high school and middle school, nobody ever gossiped about me. I’m a really nice person and I never slept around. So sad. I really wanna be gossiped about. I should just make up lies about myself! I got arrested! I graffiti-ed! I tagged!
CM: Sarah slept with every member of every band in Los Angeles!
SN: All the east side! What is something worse?
CM: Sarah only sleeps with Republicans!
Is your first album still coming out this month?
CM: No—we have so many songs recorded and basically it’s just been working things out with the business aspect.
SN: We have a label—we are probably 99% sure signing with this label we really love. But we haven’t signed it yet so we can’t announce it! If we do sign it will come out this summer and we’ll have an EP coming out in march.
CM: With a couple of synth-based songs. ‘High Wire,’ ‘Flower Children.’ It’s gonna be called Moon Cuts. Not dark—playfully dark.
Why so many EPs? What do your format choices say about your band?
CM: That we’re indecisive. But we also write so many songs! We always wanna have the newest thing out, but by doing that, we’re never gonna get the newest thing out! We’re gonna go record again in February—three or four more songs. The EPs are good because you can release them quickly. When you put an album out, you want it to be the culmination of three or four years of work. The best of what you’ve done! EPs are a little less pressure. When you put an album out, you need the best ten songs. If it’s not good, we’re all gonna have to do some serious meditation and lock ourselves in closets.
SN: I know as a songwriter, I’ve an ever-changing ever-expanding creative person. I write songs and put them out and write and put them out. I don’t have any this-means-this. This is where I am as a songwriter and where we are as instrumentalists. Forever evolving and changing. I try not to think of it so seriously. I can’t take myself so seriously and I don’t think the band can! Knowing ourselves, we’ll put that album out and then have ten more songs—‘This is my best work yet! Aughh! Forget that old one!’ I have eternal dissatisfaction with everything I do. It keeps you driven. We’re proud of what we’ve done, but we’re still dissatisfied—there will always be more and we can always be better! The minute I’m satisfied—‘Oh, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done!’—that’s the minute I’ve died as an artist! There’s no more point—I’m dead!’ So put out an EP and an album and another five EPs and another album—I’ll be going til I’m 80! I don’t care if one person likes it! I’m still gonna do it! That’s what’s most frustrating—we have a hundred songs and the only things out are the EP in October, the EP that was only at the Echo residency for only 300 people, and the Bunnies and Bombs EP years ago. 12 songs and we have a hundred! I’m just like—‘Agh! I wanna throw it up!’ I’m just so excited! I can’t hold back!
Is Sarah more of a wampeter or a cronopio?
SN: What’s a cronopio?
Julio Cortazar says a cronopio is naïve, idealistic, disorganized, unconventional…
CM: I think Sarah’s a cronopio. She’s very idealistic. Somewhat disorganized. Very creative.
SN: And extremely naïve.
CM: We constantly have to remind her not to get in vans with scary old men. We’re more Sarah’s organizers. We take the disorganization and channel it. I’m really bad at creating chords and melodies, but once those are there, I’m really good at developing them into a whole song. Adding sections and reorganizing a song into a structure that isn’t necessarily traditional but still works. I used to make electronic-type music. Electronic music is just taking parts away and building up and taking away. And some drastic changes.
Chris Hernandez (drums): I’m the fine-tune-ist. I kind of come in at the end—I’m the polish!
Wired said Sarah might be one of the strangest women in rock—do you guys have some strangeness that is yet unrecognized?
CM: No, we’re just regular old Joe 2009s.
SN: No, that’s not true! Everybody is strange in their own ways! When Chris was naked in that video, it freaked me out!
CH: What was strange about that?
Would you survive well in the wild?
CM: Chris would basically have to take charge. He’d have to build a fire, build a shelter.
CH: I’m the den father.
CM: And I’d complain about what he cooked—tell him I don’t like Filipino cooking! After a day, Chris would leave and Sarah and I would wake up, if we didn’t kill each other first.
You say that so casually.
CM: Whoever killed the other first would have to survive by eating them.
Is it a good thing you’re so comfortable with the idea of killing and eating each other?
CM: Let’s write a song about that!