When I was offered the opportunity to interview someone from the band Hotels I was a little hesitant as I had never interviewed anyone before and was afraid it would end up sucking. I had no way of traveling to Seattle to do this nor did I want to tackle a phone op so I went with the old faithful list of questions and hoped I would be able to elicit more than one word responses. Well thankfully Blake Madden, lead singer for the band came through and provided us with some great insight into the band. I reviewed the first album by Hotels called When Hearts Go Broke and I was immediately taken back to some of the great 80’s synth pop bands I grew up with. Later on I was given the new album On The Casino Floor to review and what I found on this release was a band that is maturing and delivering not just great pop tunes but an album complete with a great sci-fi storyline.
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Without further ado, SPB interviews Blake Madden from Hotels.
Scene Point Blank: First off, why the Bi-coastal band, is there an advantage in doing it like that? Was it preconceived or is it something that just came about?
Blake Madden: It wasn’t initially by design. I lived out East and started the band there, then moved West and was faced with a decision: continue in the same direction I was going musically, but with a new name and all new members—which seemed a bit disingenuous to me—or to set up a “West Coast Division” to be a different side of the same coin. We shared some songs but also created new music that reflected the differences in our respective environments. It was neither the best nor the worst idea I’ve ever had.
Scene Point Blank: Is it hard to maintain the continuity of the band over two coasts, or does it just come naturally as a result of migrating west?
Blake Madden: Long distance relationships never end well. Things were going great at first (when I could afford regular plane fare back to NYC). We recorded and played shows on both coasts, with New York activities being far more infrequent, and the result was the music on Where Hearts Go Broke. But we couldn’t keep it up, and the guys back east had their own projects to focus on. Our base of operations is solely in Seattle now, but the door is always open for future east/west collaborations.
Scene Point Blank: While I was listening to Where Hearts Go Broke (2009), I thought I heard some direct influences from a lot of bands I listened to in the 80s. I’ll list them as I thought I heard them and you can give me your impressions of what they meant to you (if anything).
Scene Point Blank: O.M.D.
Blake Madden: Great band, although I’ve never owned much of their stuff. I prefer “Messages” to “Enola Gay.”
Scene Point Blank: DEVO
Blake Madden: DEVO was a big influence starting out. It’s not often that a rock band counts multiple synths as part of their bread and butter, but DEVO did it in a big way. We wanted to match them on quantity (we had six synths in our setup at one point) but also in the idea that the keyboard player should not be the forgotten member of the band, just there for “texture.”
Our original synth player, Rich Spitzer (aka “Rich 2” – another homage to DEVO) coined the term “synth blood.” DEVO’s music was covered in it. Ours, too. Alan Myers (the drummer) made that band, though. The music demands his metronomic playing. It’s funny that he’s the only one who hasn’t rejoined the band for any of the touring or recording in the last few years.
Scene Point Blank: Joy Division
Blake Madden: The other of the big two. It’s the intangible things in Joy Division’s music that still really get me. If you pick it apart, no one is doing anything terribly complex or even very technically good (except Stephen Morris, another excellent machine-like drummer – see a pattern here?) but, together, the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.
My favorite music is stuff I listen to and say: “what’s going on in here? I don’t know, but it works and I like it…” Joy Division are the quintessential band that does that for me and it’s a lesson we try to take into our own music. If you’re listening to any random Hotels song, you stop it, and ask “what’s going on in here?” and the answer is: “oh that’s easy, everyone’s just jamming on A minor,” then we haven’t done our job.
Scene Point Blank: I also love the fusion of the space rock sound with surf music. Are there any major influences or even someone we haven’t discovered that you would care to list in that realm?
Blake Madden: Cocteau Twins taught me that when it comes to reverb and delay, there can never be such a thing as too much: turn the damn knob up until it breaks. Besides that, surf music is the hidden influence for us. We feature a lot of surf guitar melodies and flourishes, but it’s also a conceptual influence. You have to remind people that surf music was once also popular music: i.e. there was a time when people actually listened to, and presumably liked, pop music that was all instrumental. Now an instrumental song probably wouldn’t crack any popular top 100. Popular music is now centered around vocals and lyrics, with good structure and strong melodies, and the economy of songwriting taking a backseat. And, really, do we all have such important, breath-taking shit to say? Can we say it without words, though? That’s the trick…
Scene Point Blank: The new album seems to be a departure from what you put into Where Hearts Go Broke (i.e. most of the dance grooves are gone along with the catchy pop tunes). For On The Casino Floor they are replaced with a seven song storyline dealing with evil princes and a super badass secret agent. How did the story come about? Any plans to ditch the rock scene and become a sci-fi writer in the near future?
Blake Madden: Writing is always on the other side of my plate. The concept came about from these short stories I used to write about a character named “Smith” – a stellar secret agent who was also too human for his own good (he got lonely and was a hopeless romantic). The stories morphed into a concept, the concept morphed into an album with a theme that fits what we do musically anyway. Hotels is not going to write a concept album about big-game hunting in Africa, but secret agents, casinos, and outer space, on the other hand…
Scene Point Blank: Do you have any video plans in the works to support the new album? It seems to me the story is perfect for a video series but to make it you would need a big budget and some awesome CGI.
Blake Madden: Asked and answered right there. We’d love to make a video, but resources are always hard to come by. Anybody reading this want to make us a video?
Scene Point Blank: I mentioned earlier that there weren’t many dance songs on this new album, but one of my favorites is certainly of that realm: “The Bat Watusi.” Did that come during the writing sessions or was that a song you wanted to fit into the concept of the album?
Blake Madden: That was actually one of the first songs written for the album. Super secret agent Smith needs his super secret mission directives delivered to him in a super secret way. So the agency he works for puts them in song form. “The Bat Watusi” is the codename for his mission.
Scene Point Blank: How did you arrive at the band name Hotels? Is there a secret meaning to it or was it just something that caught your eye/ear?
Blake Madden: Not secret, but there is a meaning. I used to work as a night auditor in a chain of dubious hotels in the New York area. When you work at night and sleep most of the day the world looks different: a bit more stark, sad, and weird. When you work in hotels at night, these differences are accentuated even more. I started to see what I thought were the four themes of hotels: Travel, Romance, Solitude, and Rest. Every Hotels song is about these concepts in one way or another. The majority of the songs on our first album were written in the lobbies of the hotels I worked in, between the hours of 2 and 6am, when I had little else to do but play bass, think, and wait for the next sad story to emerge.
Scene Point Blank: What are your future plans as far as touring?
Blake Madden: Right now, we’re focusing solely on writing new music, with hopes of getting another album done before the end of the year. Once that’s completed, we plan to tour on a level we haven’t attempted yet, but nothing has been set in stone yet.
Photography: top photo by Jason Tang, group photo by Shane Williams