One of Willamette Week’s top four “new” bands of Portland last year, Hosannas is a project of brothers Richard and Brandon Laws, with occasional assists by other talented musicians. Distinctive for its striking interplay of vocal harmonies and stark electronics, the band inspired a successful Kickstarter campaign for the film/music project Into the Woods. Having toted the band, equipment, and generators to Ape Cave near Mt. St. Helens, Into the Woods tells SLP that they have a ton of “stunning” footage to share once they are done with the edits. It might be worth the wait, but in the meanwhile you can download a couple of EPs (for free, unless you have a fleeting sense of guilt at the checkout) available on the Hosannas website. We caught up with them before their launch on a California tour.
SLP: You recently played with Menomena at Doug Fir, and before that I think you were at SXSW. What’s life on the road been like for you guys?
Hosannas: We have toured more than most, and it has mostly been rad. Brandon and I did a three month tour last fall and played 70+ shows in the U.S. and Canada. we have had the opportunity to see more of this country than all but the most extreme seasoned travelers, and though it hasn’t really been easy, in retrospect it seems that it was fun or something close to it. now we want to go abroad.
SLP: As a band with a big sound, I can only imagine that it must be hard to recreate live, particularly with two people on stage. Some bands rely heavily on pre-recorded tracks, to the extent that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what’s live and what’s recorded. Though this doesn’t seem to be the case with your live show, what are your thoughts about using pre-recorded bits?
Hosannas: The computer is the most significant new tool available to the musician since the development of the keyboard. Anyone who doesn’t see that is just super high. No one is comfortable with seeing computers on stage yet though, myself included. This is because we are still learning the right way to play these instruments. In the future the current trend of laptop-karaoke will look like awkward middle-schoolers wearing backwards jeans. We have experimented with playing along a little in the past, and have moved away from the idea because it is too easy to destroy the real humanness of good musical performance. This is why we focus so much on singing. As a band that produces electronic music, maintaining the the involvement of un-questionably human elements is so important, and there is no possible substitute for the experience of hearing another human voice. These days we are looking to add a few extra human participants to our live set, just so brandon and i don’t have to play so many things at once.
SLP: Hosannas is to me one of those rare bands where vocals are successfully used as the lead instrument. The effect is etherial and haunting, for example on your EP The People I Know. Your most recent release, Thug Life Nicole, seems to take those elements to a harder edge (effectively, as in “Cccloud”). How would you describe your current work?
Hosannas: Currently we are branching out. we want to expand on our favorite parts about what we do, it is too soon to know exactly what that means, but we are already super excited about it.
SLP: For music fans, it’s great that there are so many bands here, but I imagine for people who are already established, it must be tough to hear that more and more bands are arriving by the boatload (most recently, the Fleet Foxes guy turned refugee-from-Seattle). Are there benefits to playing in a town that is so well-stocked with musicians?
Hosannas: Portland is a wonderful place to exist and play music, that is why brandon and I live here and why more bands move here all the time. Portland is definitely aware of this though, and she has no reservations about stoking the hype surrounding her insanely fantastic music scene. This is probably a good thing for the city as a whole and definitely good for those select few who are catapulted to new realms of indie stardom and paying their rent and whatnot. As a band however, hosannas doesn’t really feel the need to get in on this hype-stoking, probably because we just kind of suck at it. We just feel really blessed at whatever accolades are mysteriously thrown our way. But i will admit that we would love to see more people come out to our shows, and i urge real music fans to search out some of the bodaciously radical music that does not fit into the spotlight of widespread approval.
SLP: Speaking of Fleet Foxes–perhaps you’ve heard the comparison before, so skip that if it’s annoying–perhaps a better comparison for your work is Brian Wilson, whom you covered in a show I saw recently. Either way, there’s a lot of experimentation with the interplay of vocals and instrumental work. Knowing very little about harmonics, how would you describe your vocal approach to a schlub like me?
Hosannas: Funny you mention Fleet Foxes, our dad just told me that he picked up their album at starbucks and that it reminded him of us. The whole world is trippy. As far as our vocal approach, it really just comes down to singing whatever sounds good as best as you can. We definitely take inspiration from the beach boys as i’m sure Fleet Foxes do as well, and as the Beach Boys did from their predecessors, i.e. the Four Freshmen, the Hi-Los, and George Gershwin.
SLP: I noticed that Hosannas has offered a lot of free shows (in Portland at least), and you give away some of your stuff online. Since selling merch doesn’t seem like much of an attractive option, what do you think is the formula for bands to make money these days?
Hosannas: Well I am pretty sure we haven’t figured that shit out at all, because i gotta go to work tomorrow the same as anybody else. We lose money doing this, all of the money. We do sell merch though … cd’s, lp’s, we have even produced a few rather handsome t-shirts. As for the free shows, we just want people to come hang out. Folks are poor in this town, and so are we, so free shows are a good thing for these broke-ass types of people.
SLP: OK, I have to ask. In your video for Be Careful, I go back and forth between being more creeped out by the guy in the mask and the shiny-face mermaid (not to mention the tri-headed puppet). Is there a story behind the video?
Hosannas: I think there is, but you would have to ask Mr. Emile Rosewater, the talented individual responsible for that particular video. Dude has got his own crazy thoughts…
SLP: What’s next for the band?
Hosannas: Absorbing summer rays, laying down huge janky beats, barbeque, and a fun road trip to california. We hope for the best.
7.10 Portland, OR @ Rontoms
7.11 Santa Rosa, CA @ The Arlene Francis
7.12 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
7.13 Santa Barbara, CA @ SOHO
7.14 Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Bar
7.15 Los Angeles, CA @ Lot 1
7.16 Davis, CA @ Sophia’s Thai Kitchen