October 29, 2010

Hillstomp Interview

I've been raving about Hillstomp all year, writing about their great new album, Darker The Night, and their fantastic live performances at Mississippi Studios and the Wonder Ballroom, so I feel particularly lucky to have been able to speak with guitarist Henry Krammer on one of the band's brief breaks before heading back out on the road. They're heading down the West Coast next week, including a stop in San Francisco on Friday at Thee Parkside and Santa Cruz on Saturday at the Crepe Place. I highly recommend seeing them for yourself.

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation:

Krammer on Darker The Night:
We’ve been working on this material for a while. A couple of these songs we almost put on the live record we put out in 2007 [After Two But Before Five], but we decided it was time for a studio record. A lot of the record was composed on the road at sound checks and in our heads. It was the first time when we went in to record that we had to hash out a lot of those songs in the studio.

I am proudest of the original songs, but it is not an easy task to put “Jumper On The Line” on a record. That was R.L.’s signature tune. So if you are from that North Mississippi country school that we are from, it’s kind of a ballsy thing to do. I am really happy with how it came out. I am really proud of it. I feel like we did the song justice. I’m happy that we gave it our own flavor and didn’t just try and make it sound like R.L.’s. [Video: Hillstomp / R.L. Burnside]

Krammer on their style of music:
I’ve always thought of us as a blues band. It doesn’t sound like that anymore and I don’t think my answer would be the same as John’s. He definitely has always approached it from more of a rock n’ roll point of view. I think it’s blues, he thinks it’s rock n’ roll, but then there's banjo in it too and that doesn’t really fit into either of those things. I don’t really know what we are.

We are a weird band in that if we do a 15 day tour, then 7 of those shows will be at punk rock places where they think we are a punk rock band, 5 of those are going to be at blues clubs, and the other 3 are going to be at bluegrass jam band places. And they are all good shows. They are all different and very different crowds. And we play the same set at all three kinds of venues.

Krammer on the drummer John Johnson’s kit:
The drum kit at the beginning was way more ghetto. Instead of a kick drum he used a wine box. He still used the buckets and stuff, but didn’t have any pieces of regular drums in there. Something clicked pretty quickly. The weird percussion just went with the beginning ethic of the band, so we just decided to stick with it. He taught himself how to play drums on the buckets, on the cans, and on the barbecue lids and stuff.

We’ve done a couple sessions where he has used a drum kit and it is not Hillstomp. It doesn’t sound anything like Hillstomp at all. Some of the rolls and stuff, some of the technique he has had to invent for himself around and some of it doesn’t translate to the drum kit at all.

Krammer on dancing:
We don’t really set out to write songs to get people to dance. We both kind of hope that it sounds that way. I am not really a dancer, but I know what I want music to make me want to do when I hear it. I know how it makes me want to move my head back and forth. If it makes me want to do that it tends to make people want to dance. I just want to make music that makes me feel like I am listening to R.L. Burnside or J.J. Cale or Bob Wills or something that I love.

Krammer on their live performances:
We are only half responsible for a kick ass live show. It’s kind of like a tennis match. We need to inspire the audience to move, but the audience inspires us to play even better. There some towns where they just help us. They move and they jump and dance. Five years ago there were only 100 people who would come see us in Eugene, but they were the sweatiest sons of bitches on the West Coast and they came to every show.


Nightrain said...

Really good interview.

If I didn't despise you so much, I would read this bloggy blog regularly.

awmercy said...

Ha! Thanks.

I forgot how much I enjoy interviewing the bands I really like. I may start doing that more regularly again.