"I promised the band that I would stay sober for this interview," declares Houses frontman Andy Hamilton before taking a gentle pull off a glass of ice and whiskey. "Now that you're here, I guess I can start drinking."
For the moment, Hamilton seems relaxed in the comfort of the living room of the Capitol Hill apartment that he shares with his wife and bandmate Kinsey Hamilton. Further inspection of said apartment reveals that the couple has been hard at work pursuing other endeavors.
"Originally, we started recording at our guitarist's studio at his home," Andy recalls. "But we decided we like the tone of this room better, so we moved everything over here."
The room he speaks of contains various instruments strewn about and a large Apple computer dominating the center space. In addition to being the couple's home, this is where Houses has spent the last few weeks recording its debut EP, the first of four to be released over the upcoming months. The EP, though untitled, is known as the Spring EP. This will be followed by Summer, Fall and Winter, with each EP attempting to match the mood of the corresponding seasons. This might seem like an ambitious concept for a group that formed just a little over a year ago. As Andy tells it, coming up with a concept for the band was difficult to begin with.
Initially formed as a four-piece, Houses featured Andy and Kinsey and was rounded out by drummer/organist Stephen Brooks and bassist Mathew Till. The four were simply friends who wanted to play music together but weren't exactly sure what that music would sound like. And not all of their ideas were good ones.
"I don't know if I should mention this," says Andy with a nervous chuckle. "For a split second of blind passion, we decided to try dance rock. Bad idea."
"We listened to a lot of Metric at the time," Kinsey elaborates. "That was the inspiration at the start of the project."
Lacking the full inspiration — or perhaps the proper footwear — to delve into the dance-rock genre, Houses became stagnant and the project was in jeopardy. "We kept hitting wall after wall because we were trying to go in a completely different direction than we had ever gone before, and it just wasn't working for us, "Andy explains. "We took some time off of practicing, and I started listening to some new music, because I was stuck in this rut and kept writing the same crap. Kinsey and I wrote the first few songs together, and the other guys really liked them, so we started going in that direction."
Inspired by acts like Broken Social Scene and I'm From Barcelona, Houses began writing songs that were not genre-specific but came naturally to them. "Rather than trying to fit into any particular genre, I just wanted to write songs that I liked," Andy points out. "I've been in plenty of bands where I've played music I don't really love. I didn't want to do that anymore."
Just as things were starting to gain momentum, though, Houses hit another stud in the drywall. "I actually quit the band," says Kinsey, "because I figured I couldn't stay up late enough to play shows on any regular basis."
Trying to replace the female vocal parts that were so integral to its sound, Houses went through a series of "pretty funny" Craigslist auditions that yielded no results. A fortuitous trip to the hi-dive one night resulted in Andy's talking with Maria Kohler, who immediately fell in love with what the band was doing and signed on to fill the vacancy left by Kinsey. (Mrs. Hamilton eventually rejoined the band, where she now sings alongside Maria.) The outfit then added drummer Johnny Lundlock, organist Eric Peterson and guitarist Mike Marchant of Widowers fame to the mix. Some players were more welcome than others.
"Mike was just a friend who liked the stuff we were playing," notes Kinsey. "We were just gonna play one show with him, but then he kept hanging out and coming to practice, so he became an official member."
"He wouldn't go away," Andy jokes, "so we just decided to keep him in."
Houses, now an eight-piece ensemble, may have a hard time finding a stage to fit on comfortably, but none of the members are strangers to performing. All are currently involved in at least one other project, with pedigrees including Hearts of Palm, Blue Million Miles, Rowboat and Wetlands.
"Originally, I wanted the project to be more of a collective with a lot of rotating members," Andy reveals. "I wanted everyone to play at bigger clubs, and then for smaller shows, we would scale it down a little bit. It ended up working out that we have everyone play all the time. I don't have the heart to tell people not to show up."
Clearly, every member showed up to record the Spring EP. From the broad and expansive instrumental opener, "Beach Song," to the soaring, near-gospel closer, "We'll See the Sun," each track is layered and powerful without being overbearing. It's as if the Allman Brothers and the Arcade Fire got together to pen the soundtrack to the sequel for the movie Almost Famous. The '70s vibe cannot be denied. Andy himself looks like a throwback to that era. With his shoulder-length hair and wispy beard, it wouldn't look completely abnormal to see him jamming with Blue Oyster Cult. Amid the classic-arena-rock vibe, however, there's also an indie-rock sensibility.
"My heart is definitely set in that era," admits Andy, "but I want to try and keep it current without trying to sound like we're the new hip shit."
The Spring EP sticks closely to this approach with its sunny and bright disposition. For Andy, a self-described pessimist, writing upbeat lyrics to match the mood of the sunny season was probably the hardest part.
"Writing lyrics like that is tough for me all of the time," he confesses. "Kinsey kinda keeps me balanced, as far as all that goes; she's more of an optimist than I am. I think a lot of the songs are introspective. I tend to write songs to myself, reminding myself that even when things aren't going so well, they're gonna turn around eventually. I always try to impose some sunny disposition, even if it's forced. The later albums are definitely gonna be a little darker, though."
Saying the forthcoming EPs will be darker is not just premonition. Andy has already written all of the music and lyrics for the future releases and hopes to start recording Summer very soon. This is just one of the advantages of having a studio in your living room. Summoning his inherently pessimistic outlook, however, Andy says there are disadvantages, too.
"Since I have everything here and I'm constantly listening to it, I have a tendency to over-think things," he notes. "Sometimes I listen to things over and over again until two or three in the morning and think, 'This one chord doesn't match up with the snare hit. Should we go back and re-record it? Should we fix it in ProTools, or should we just let it go?' Finally, I just have to step back and realize that it's good and just leave it."
A sobering realization.