If you like the idea of roots music that won't make you think of pick-up trucks or hiking, a couple of great bands to check out--despite the terrain implication in their names--are Hallelujah the Hills and Mount Peru. Both bands released new albums this Spring. For Hallelujah the Hills, it is their sprawling and lyrical No One Knows What Happens Next LP; For Mount Peru, look for a lovely EP titled Your Kingdom's Come Undone. While these records sound pretty different stylistically, they both use of personal, descriptive lyrics and lots and lots of horns. I asked Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills and Thom Valicenti of Mount Peru to discuss each others records....
I notice that on both albums, there is a certain amount of restraint that adds to the conversational feel of the lyrics. How do you feel like Thom's singing style and lyrics work together to communicate to the listener?
Ryan Walsh: I think people deliver the most cutting remarks not when they're yelling and hysterical but in the more quiet, reserved moments. So when Thomas here sings "When you get tired of yourself/ stick your teeth into somebody else" in a tone that could originate from a hammock, for me, it's cause for alarm. It's an intense moment that's whisked away by a lush instrumental wave as if to distract from the implications of the words. It was the first moment that very much dragged me into these songs. Love it.
Americana music is not a great descriptor of either of your bands, but I do think it's worth noting that you both do a little traveloguing (like any good country lyricist would do). In "Juliana," you sing "Now I hear you’re down in LA. You’ve been frightening those people to death." In "Care to Collapse" Ryan sings “If you ever care to collapse, you should know what I did in L.A.”----what do you guys imagine that the characters in Ryan's song are up to?
Thom Valicenti: "Care to Collapse" begins with a beautiful little intro featuring cello and trumpet, dispersed by Ryan's deadpan vocal (there's that terrific contrast again). As far as what the characters could be up to, I imagine the adventures of a road-weary troubadour, or maybe someone who's on the lam. You know something went down, you just don't know what. And the whole hook of this song is the conspiratorial tone and all those unanswered questions: just what was it that happened in LA, and Dallas, and New York, and Boise? We can only imagine. And just like with any good mystery story, the narrative is helped along by all the different layers, textures, and little twists and turns in the arrangement.
Also, in the same songs, compare the phrases "If you ever care to collapse" and "when you're bored of your escapades"---do you get the sense that these songs actually address other characters, or are the more like letters never sent? Why?
Ryan Walsh: That's a tough question because anytime a song becomes public the letter can't be unsent, so to speak. Whether it was written to someone real or imagined once it's out in the ether the feelings are available to all, real or imagined.
Thom Valicenti: What's similar to me about "Care to Collapse" and "Juliana" is the sense that there's something a bit sketchy about the characters in both songs. You have a feeling that they may have gotten into some kind of trouble, without it ever being spelled out. And now they're each in exile, living a kind of shadowy existence.
Talk to me about horns in rock. Obviously you guys both love them. What do you like about how the horn arrangements on the other's records.
Thom Valicenti: You gotta be careful with horns in rock, or you can end up sounding like Chicago.
Ryan Walsh: When we first started Hallelujah The Hills I nicked the lineup of instruments from one of my favorite songs. What song features cello, trumpet, samples, drums, guitars, vocals, and bass? It's everything you need to play "Strawberry Fields Forever." Meanwhile, the horns on (Mount Peru's) "Got Nothin'" remind me of "Savoy Truffle" from the White Album. You know, it gets boring or ridiculous to continually attribute rock-technique origins to those four Brits but it keeps on giving, doesn't it?
Thom Valicenti: Along with calling and responding to the guitar and vocals, Hallelujah the Hills and Mount Peru both use trumpet (and in their case, also trombone) to interject rousing fanfares in songs and to build crescendos - often instead of loud guitars. "Call Off Your Horses", the last song on No One Knows What Happens Next, is a great example of this. The brass instruments give a distinctly anthemic quality to the music of both bands, but because the guitars aren't playing in their usual role, I think that's what helps keep it from being over the top. And Ryan, I'd love to hear you guys cover "Strawberry Fields!"
If you two had to describe each the album in five to ten words, what would you say?
Ryan Walsh: Well traveled balladeer leads band of melodically-lush cohorts to center of a social uprising.
Thom Valicenti: Master wordsmith marshals genius group, singing sly and subtle anthems. No One Knows What Happens Next, but here's what just happened: Hallelujah the Hills have made one heck of a record.
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About the authorJonathan Donaldson is a Boston-based musician, writer, and second-generation music junkie. An Ohio native who moved to Boston in 1998, Jonathan's musical loves include R&B, psych, punk, bubblegum, country, electronic, More »
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