Artist Spotlight: Hovvdy

    Hailing from Austin, Texas, Hovvdy is the indie rock duo of Charlie Martin and Will Taylor, who were both touring drummers when they first met at a baseball game a decade ago. Combining their solo songwriting efforts, they put out their debut LP, Taster, in 2016, gradually sharpening and layering their warm, low-key sound with a series of heartfelt releases, including 2018’s Cranberry and their 2019 breakthrough Heavy Lifter. Their new self-titled album, out Friday on Arts & Crafts, sees them continuing their collaboration with producer Andrew Sarlo and multi-instrumentalist Ben Littlejohn, who worked with the duo on 2021’s True Love and 2022’s billboard for my feelings EP. This time, all four were present for each session, giving Martin and Taylor the space to hone their collaborative craft while finding ways to honour their lo-fi origins. The result is a 19-track double LP of sprawling intimacy, one that allows big choruses to jump out and quiet moments to linger longer than you might expect. It’s a gorgeous record about the passage of time that keeps you hooked, ensuring no amount you spend with it feels wasted.

    We caught up with Hovvdy for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about self-titling their new album, the process behind the album, their songwriting tendencies, and more.

    I wanted to start with self-titling the album, which is often seen as making a kind of statement on the band’s identity. I’m curious if that was something you considered with any previous album or if it was the first time it came up.

    Charlie Martin: We’ve always had it in our back pocket as an option. This time around, me and Will were working with producer Andrew Sarlow and our buddy Ben Littlejohn. We four have been working pretty closely for a few years and on the last handful of projects, and it felt like this record was by far going to be the most intentional and ambitious for all of us. Once it started to come together, we mentioned potentially self-titling, and that idea went to the top of the list. After a few months of considering other things, it felt like the right call.

    Will Taylor: Sometimes it reveals itself over time. Like Charlie mentioned, there were some other titles we discussed and some other angles that we were considering taking with the titling of it, and I think as time went on, the only thing that really stuck was calling it our band name. I think it makes a lot of sense at this point in our career, being our fifth record, it being a double record. I think it’s our most robust statement to date, and so I feel like it makes a lot of sense to come back to the band name.

    Do you recall how it rose up to the top of that list?

    CM: Honestly, with every record we make, we’re like, “This is the best one, this is gonna be our boldest statement as a band yet.” But with this one, we also made it when we were in between record labels, so we felt like we were kind of on our own in a fun, inspiring way. Then once we finished the record and started shopping it around to different labels, we ended up landing with Arts and Crafts, obviously. But it just felt like a really good way to communicate what this record was about. It’s an essential Hovvdy record that’s doing something bigger than we’ve done in the past.

    WT: We also found it kind of challenging to find a phrase or a word that could embody all 17 songs, whereas in the past that’s felt a little less daunting. We discussed a lot of things, like maybe a longer title, maybe a title with five or six words in it. But whenever it came time to truly discuss it, the only really legitimate option felt like just calling it Hovvdy.

    Did you feel compelled to take a step back and consider what makes Hovvdy Hovvdy, or was it more just about continuing to expand that definition, as I think both True Love and the billboard for my feelings EP did?

    CM: I think with this one, it was the first time in a while that we’ve looked back at our previous records and what felt great about those – specifically Cranberry we referenced when we were talking about maybe what this record could sound like. Whereas with True Love and billboard we were always pushing to stretch things and move forward, maybe with this one we were a little more big-picture-minded about the band and the arc of how we’ve sounded over the years.

    WT: What Charlie said, looking back at Cranberry and really liking some of those elements and trying to reconnect with that time in our band, and then also looking at an album that we did with Andrew Sarlo as well, True Love. That process was different because secondary was the relationship between the songs, almost, and it was like, “How can we make this song the best, the most impressive, the most attention-grabbing?” But for this one, we were like, “How can we make these songs have relationships to each other and flow together like a unit?” I think it’s really necessary when you make an album that’s a bit longer for them to all speak to each other a little bit more, and in our previous albums, that was less so the goal. I think we naturally found ourselves doing that with Cranberry, but with Heavy Lifter, with True Love, it’s almost like each song has its own little thing. We had the intention going in with Andrew and with Ben to redefine that a little bit, to do something different, and to envelop ourselves in the process of it.

    With True Love, you talked about how working with Andrew Sarlo allowed you to focus on the songcraft and filter out moments that might be more about the vibe. Was that challenging with an album as sprawling as Hovvdy, to hone in on the songs and also zoom out and conceptualize them as a whole?

    CM: With True Love, I remember specifically Sarlo saying, like, “I encourage you guys to dig as deep as you possibly can and be as vulnerable and real in the songs as you can, and worry less about making some vibey cool shit.” Whereas with this record, I think maybe we felt more comfortable and confident from the start, so that vulnerability was a fundamental quality of how we were going to go about it.

    WT: The tapestry of the album kind of allows itself for there to be moments where it can be about a vibe and it can be about abstract emotion. I think that a lot of artists probably deal with this where when you’re an artist for long enough, or even if you’re a new artist, and you’re looking out and you’re seeing the things that are working, you see the trends or whatever, and it’s hard not to take those things in and to be in dialogue with yourself about those. There’s been a handful of times in our career where we have found ourselves trying to manage a desire to stay true to ourselves while we also want to grow and have a big song or have a big moment that people are responding to. I think what Sarlo discussed during the True Love process was more of a response to that. People want Hovvdy for what Hovvdy is, and the emotional vulnerability is part of that. For this new record, we were unclouded from that. It had its own set of challenges along the way, but we went in just knowing who we are as a band, more so than ever, knowing our strong suits and wanting to try new things within that. Whether it be doing a single vocal take, whereas we usually stack them, or just trying new things and having the dialogue be with ourselves rather than with what’s going on or what music is working at the moment. From my perspective, you can hear that comfortability and commitment on the album to just do what comes naturally rather than trying to respond to anything. I’m very proud of how this album lives and breathes and talks to itself, removed from the anxieties of looking outward. It’s more about looking in.

    Compared to your last EP, what was exciting to you about making a double album but keeping some of the same variables, like working with the same people and exploring similar themes?

    CM: It’s interesting to think about the EP because that one we did entirely remotely, so me and Will weren’t even together. I was in St. Louis, Will was in Texas at the time, Ben was in Asheville, North Carolina, and Sarlo was in LA. We just did it all completely remotely, whereas with this record, the four of us were together in the room for every session, and that was a first. We had never actually physically been altogether to do an entire record. That was really special and really essential to how the record sounds, really emphasizing live takes and collaborating a lot. It was a pretty brand new workflow for us. Someone was always in the background; Will would be inside doing an acoustic guitar or a vocal take, Ben would be outside with a field recorder or cassette recorder, capturing some sort of sound out there, and then I would be sitting in the corner while Will’s doing his vocal, with my headphones on, plugged into a synth, trying to create some sort of arpeggio. We were always building off of each other in a pretty organic, fun way.

    WT: How it really began to be different was, I feel like Sarlo was at a place in his career and in his creative journey where he really wanted to be involved with our stuff, but almost said to us, like, “I love you all so much, but I just don’t want to do the same thing again with y’all. So if you want to do True Love again, I might not be the right person for the job.” When he said he thinks we could do something new and that would be the most exciting approach for him, it excited us as well. From the beginning, we did have that unique perspective, knowing we wanted to mess it up a little bit.

    I think of a song like Angel, where the environment filters into the sound of the song, but there’s a clarity in the vocals that makes them feel even more exposed. They don’t blur into the atmosphere of the recording, which might have been the impulse in the past.

    CM: Yeah, that song was fun. The song opens with a line about going for a walk with your partner during a hard time, so we had the idea to record the main vocal while I was literally walking down a path near this creek. In the second verse, you can hear a car alarm go off, and it’s perfectly in tune with the song, which was probably the craziest moment on the record for me. That was pretty early, the first session for the record, so a lot of little things happened where it felt like we were on the right path.

    WT: I remember Charlie and I looking at each other when that happened, like, “What the fuck is that? [laughs]Why is that happening?”

    All four of you were in the same space for every session, but the sessions were spread out over time and across the US. How did that factor into the different stages of the process?

    CM: It was fun for us to all be in new and somewhat neutral environments. The first one we did in North Carolina, where Ben lives. We rented a small cabin outside of Asheville, about 15 minutes away. It was a place called Carrie’s Escape, and we set up a whole studio there. It was very woodsy.

    WT: We need to go back. I think it’d be fun to go back to Carrie’s Escape and play some live songs or something. I feel like the energy for the whole album was laid out really nicely there, being a unit and eating together and doing everything together. As time went on, we went to Texas and our family homes, we stopped by Charlie’s folks’ house and then my mom’s house as well. In the last session, being in Los Angeles at Sarlo’s, we just wrapped everything up, and that had its own vibe too. I think we really needed that first trip to be dialed-in a little bit, insular, and then we got the mojo and were able to expand from there and follow that beat. The different spaces served different purposes throughout the trip, but we’re really grateful to have started with that North Carolina trip first.

    Charlie, you’ve said billboard for my feelings allowed you to be guided more by feelings rather than the complexity of the storytelling. Gong into this record, I’m curious if that’s an approach you both still try to lean into, even when you’re working in the framework of a double album where you want the songs to be connected. Do you feel like that’s still your primary mode when you sit down to write a song? 

    CM: Yeah, I think so. With the EP, where I was at personally, I didn’t feel super compelled to write songs similar to ‘Blindsided’ on True Love, these songs that are more serious and clear in terms of what they’re about and what story that song tells about my life. Whereas with the EP, I was in a place where I was feeling some really strong and challenging emotions, but I wanted the music to do the talking more so than the lyrics. But with this record, it was sort of back to feeling like I had something to say. With the length of the record, it was fun to still be able to experiment and to really lean into different textures and a whole range of emotions.

    WT: At times, I think I write with a tad less specificity than Charlie, where maybe a verse is a collection of thoughts rather than a concise statement. I feel like Charlie does a good job at making every word count. I still find myself doing that on this record, and there’s also just very straightforward songwriting. I went back and forth on that stuff, whereas on a lot more of my songs on these albums in the past, there are lyrical things that make sense to me or small memories that have all combined together, but when you just look at it as a listener, there’s not a very clear narrative; there might be moments you can kind of cling onto. As far as songwriting goes, a lot of my tendencies kind of happen to be the same throughout the catalog, and I would probably say that for Charlie, too. There’s probably more direct storytelling in the album, and we also tried to include some bigger moments that you can kind of get lost in. I’d say we approach songwriting in a pretty similar way, just slight differences being now in our thirties and being a band for almost 10 years. But at its core, I think we approach it similarly.

    Were you surprised in any way by how the songs revealed themselves to be in dialogue with each other?

    WT: When looking back at this album in the process of trying to write about it or prepare people to write about it, it really became evident after it was done and even mixed, where I was like, “Oh my gosh, all my songs are kind of about the same thing.” That thing being how challenging it is to be in a relationship and maintain that, and to be a dad and maintain that, and to be a person for myself, and to be a bandmate – every song is kind of about how challenging it is to take care of yourself and to take care of your loved ones. Even the songs that sound happy have insecurity and uncertainty all over them. I didn’t realize that until afterward.

    CM: That tends to happen a lot with our records. Will and I will be in our separate worlds writing songs, and we’ll come together and realize there’s this common thread running throughout the whole record. To build on what Will was saying, I think organically, we were dealing with more adult issues, I guess dealing more with the present than looking back at the past. A lot of people associate us with this deep nostalgia, suburban teenhood, and in many cases, we find that a bit frustrating. Maybe that was true of the first few records, but as we’ve evolved as a band, we’re dealing with more serious subject matter in our songwriting. I don’t think it’s necessarily a conscious effort to break out of that, but with this record, we dove even deeper into the things we’re grappling with right now.

    WT: That’s really well said. Our band is often referred to as nostalgic, as Charlie said, but the lyrical content, more than ever, reflects what’s going on right now in our lives. Whether it be a death in the family, which Charlie went through – there’s a handful of songs on the record about losing a grandparent and how one person can hold one side of the family together. There’s a lot going on, and it might be the first time that’s really true. Everybody, regardless of age, has a slew of things that make life challenging or interesting, but now we’re at a point in our lives where ignoring those things is not an option anymore. We have more clarity on the things in life that really do matter and try to put that down on paper.

    I’m fascinated by the relationship between your music and time, which I feel comes as a result of that – you write about it as something we need and hand over, something that turns its back on you, the one thing we can’t outrun.

    WT: Time is something I have a lot of anxiety about. I feel like I always write about it, just knowing that time is going away as we speak. Having a kid kind of saved me from losing track of all and savoring all these small moments.

    I love the pairing of ‘Every Exchange’ and ‘Give It Up’ because it feels like those songs, with their extended outros, take the time to express and savour the feelings they’re about.

    WT: I think those two songs are really special together too. The process of those songs was really fun. ‘Give It Up’ being a really new thing for us in our first session in North Carolina, doing it live with Charlie, doing the piano and vocal in one take and then the drums and bass in another take. I feel like the spirit of that song is kind of a poster child for the spirit of the album. It’s hard to say that the pairing wasn’t somewhat of a coincidence, but I really appreciate that you drew a line there, and sometimes we make those decisions without really knowing it.

    Could you share something you learned from each other’s songs through the process of making Hovvdy?

    WT: I really do love and continue to learn from how Charlie writes, that there really are no words that don’t matter. I often have a different approach where sometimes just the way the word feels coming out of my mouth is enough for it to stick, even if the word isn’t holding a lot of weight. Even outside of the really big lyrical moments like the chorus, moments that you obviously want to be noticeable and memorable – for instance, Charlie’s song ‘Forever,’ that’s a very memorable lyric – but the stuff surrounding it, that’s often where I fall off a little bit, and it’s where Charlie maybe takes extra time to find a detail. It’s always a good thing for me to hear Charlie’s songs in that way. Also, just the emotional depth – I feel like we both lean towards that naturally. It’s funny because I don’t listen to a lot of very emotional, serious music, and I often tease about it – Ben laughs at me because I’m often the more serious of the two songwriters, but I’m hardest on serious music. There’s obviously exceptions, there are songs that can be sad-feeling or emotional-feeling, but Charlie does a really good job of bundling these lyrics into joyful arrangements. I’ve certainly learned from Charlie on that one.

    CM: That’s sweet. One thing I really admire about Will’s approach is this fundamental vulnerability. Coming into a recording session, I tend to be very much like a Virgo, with a set plan to execute this thing. It has proven to be a good method in the past, but I’ve always known I’m losing something if I’m not entirely open to collaboration and experimentation. What was cool about this process was it was inherently different from how we usually approach making records; it felt like we were having to meet in the middle more than ever. It was fun trying to work more like Will and to have some of that spirit shine through, the spirit of, “We could do it this way, but what if we try something else?” I was constantly pushing against my instinct to be like, “Yeah, but I know that if we do it this way it’ll work.” We had time to experiment, and it was fun to feel like it’s a more collaborative effort.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Hovvdy’s Hovvdy is out April 26 via Arts & Crafts. 

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