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Recording on a Tight Schedule
Although Hallelujah the Hills’ lead singer and wordsmith has been credited with creating “music without limits” out of “absurdist word clusters,” it may actually be Ryan Walsh’s ability to create without adhering to limits, and his ability to use words instead of the other way around. On the Boston band’s new album, No One Knows What Happens Next, Walsh and company set forth to create something that delved deeper, lyrically, while still doing something outside the ordinary, musically. And they’ve managed to do just that in the ten tracks on the record.
Your new album is titled No One Knows What Happens Next, so if no one knows what is happening next, what is the appropriate thing to do right now?
We can all start from a point of not knowing and try to pay more attention to the present moment in front of us. It’s the spirit of this phrase that I wanted to use to invite people into these ten [new] songs.
If you had to describe the differences between this album and your last, what would those be?
I feel that our last album, Colonial Drones, was kind of a double album disguised as a single full-length. I wanted to keep this one compact and easily [digestible] to the listener. I wrote the [music] as we went along because I felt some of the Colonial Drones songs had already lived such a long life (in live shows) that they had lost something when we finally hit record. So, for this we could only afford X number of recording days, and we learned the songs right before going to record them. It kept us all out of our comfort zones! It was a beautiful way to make a record, in my opinion.
“There’s something to be said for a stream of consciousness writing style. I’ve done it and I’ve immensely enjoyed others doing it. But this process was the complete opposite of that.”
Where did you record this record?
We recorded to tape at the Soul Shop in Medford, MA. I’m not musically trained so I use a lot of adjectives and hand motions to describe what we’re going for. So [the band] has learned this weird work-around language I use.
Lyrically, it doesn’t seem like you’re just throwing down whatever comes to mind. What does your songwriting process look like?
There’s something to be said for a stream of consciousness writing style. I’ve done it and I’ve immensely enjoyed others doing it. But this process was the complete opposite of that. Clarity was very important to me as I wrote these songs. I didn’t want the answer to any question about the lyrics to be, ‘Well, whatever it means to you.’ ‘Get Me In A Room’ was the first song that was written and it’s a pretty straightforward assessment of the band, our current position, and what can and cannot be sung about. That triggered everything else that followed.
How about the music? Are you the primary writer or do you show up with lyrics and everyone works together at that point?
I write the songs at home: melody, chord structure, lyrics. Then the band gets a demo recording. Then we proceed to what I call ‘the fun part.’ We arrange the song all together in a room. Everyone invents their own parts. It’s one of my favorite things. What I thought might become a fast song will end up a slow dirge and vice versa. The kind of collaborative process we use for arranging songs is something I longed for the moment I became interested in making music.
In ‘Dead People’s Music’ you sing ‘You stick together or you hang alone.’ In your experience, what has helped keep you together over the years?
That line is a mangling of a quote that Ben Franklin said right before signing the Declaration of Independence. For me, it’s about the power of people coming together to create something, spoken about in such a harsh way that the other option is a solitary death! But to answer your question another way, the band has stayed together for [six years] because it’s always been fun and we make sure to keep it fun even when we’re working very hard, or things don’t go well. I think we’ve carved out a safe space where we can all enjoy each other’s company and create something that wasn’t there the previous day.
You’ve collaborated with other musicians and writers; what have you learned from those experiences?
Every time I do something I’m afraid to do, I feel amazing afterward. Still, it’s hard to make that the default mode of thinking.
Maybe you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but are there any specific hopes?
Of course! Awesome Woody Guthrie quote: ‘About all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine.’ Another great quote – author Terence McKenna had a theory that ‘the world is made of language.’ He suggested that we couldn’t enter a new reality until we could describe it first. I think that everything we do, say, make, and sing is subtly carving out the future right in front of our eyes. The more aware of that we are the more true it becomes. These songs weren’t true before I sang them, but I hope they are now.
“We could only afford X number of recording days, and we learned the songs right before going to record them. It kept us all out of our comfort zones! It was a beautiful way to make a record, in my opinion.”
There was a lot of positive press early in your band’s life. How has that affected you?
Besides igniting a bit of hope that it would lead to more people hearing our music, it didn’t affect us in any significant way. In the few instances where a press piece made some interesting assessment or unseen connection regarding the lyrics or music, I would learn something new about a song. I enjoy that but it’s rare. I wish it wasn’t rare.
It’s an interesting concept, that someone could write about something you created and you’d learn something new about your work.
It’s the same way that we learn about ourselves via people’s reactions to our behavior and words. Everything we do, if we want it to, can teach us more about ourselves. Songs should stir up connections and ideas in people. Every artist, musician or filmmaker I’ve ever taken an interest in has always said something to the effect of ‘this is a collaboration between the artist and audience. It remains unfinished until the audience responds to it in some way.’
Photos by Timothy Renzi