The Ash Gray Proclamation Presents:
An Interview with Howard W. Hamilton of Red Pens
I remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard some of my favorite albums. For example, I was going through new releases at my college radio station when I first heard GBV's Bee Thousand, I remember walking into Stinkweeds in Tempe, AZ when I was treated to Bedhead's parting shot, Transaction de Novo, and more recently last fall I recall updating our concert listings while listening to some just received digital albums from various sources when I happily stumbled onto Reasons, the smashing debut album from Red Pens.
Reasons is a captivating record of noisy and fractured pop delivered by the Minneapolis duo of Howard W. Hamilton III and Laura F. Bennett. With comparisons to Yo La Tengo, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, and My Bloody Valentine it's safe to say Red Pens are in my wheel house. However it was the strength of the songs and the execution of those influences that keep things exciting and had me reaching for this record all winter.
So, when I was given the opportunity to interview Howard W. Hamilton III via email I was thrilled to do it. As per the norm, I sent over the questions and Howard fired them back to me. Thanks to Lea Miller at The Muse Box for setting this up and to Howard and Laura from Red Pens for entertaining our questions and constant begging for Red Pens show in Boston sometime soon.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can you tell us how the collaboration between the two of you came about and how Red Pens were born?
Howard W. Hamilton III:An old friend of mine was looking at the abstract bird houses I was making at the time and asked me "have you ever seen Laura Bennett paintings"? I went home and got right on it online and I could see these similarities right away. I contacted her and told her how much I loved her art and asked her if we could collaborate and she said yes. We started getting together and trying to make art and our mediums weren't working well together her paint was resisting my backgrounds. We talked about music a ton and she went on and on about how she just wanted to be in a cool velvet underground-ish two piece. We started just hanging out and working on our separate art but at the same time. One day it wasn't working for either one of us so we went into my tiny studio and jammed, me on an electric sitar, and her on an electronic hand drum pad device and it just clicked, we dragged her drums over to my house and Red Pens were born.
The AGP:What was the recording process for Reasons?
Howard: I had a sound I wanted in my head and I knew I was going to lose the apartment I lived in and we practiced in so a few days after I knew I was moving in a few months we decided to record the songs in this tiny room the band formed in. It was like we recorded live almost like a glorified rehearsal tape, but with better mics and pre-amps. I got great drum tracks and a nice guitar foundation which I added tons of guitar tracks to and then over the next couple days just did vocals until it all ended up sounding exactly like I envisioned it.
The AGP:I noticed that you have some home town shows coming up, are there any plans for a full fledged tour in support of Reasons?
Howard:We are for sure planning to tour our brains out as soon as we can get our hands on a better vehicle for the road. We did do a string of out of town dates recently and played in NYC and a bunch of other places in mid February.
The AGP: Was it a conscience decision to move away from the music you recorded as Busy Signals to the bombastic guitar pop of Red Pens?
Howard: I was pretty much done making music until Laura came along, I never thought I could get back into it the way I have. I had been making music with loops and programmed drums and after getting that feeling of playing with a drummer who I was truly in sync with I was so inspired that things just started to flow out of me.
The AGP: How did you the signing to Grain Belt Records come about?
Howard: Mike (Boeser) came to one of our better shows and was blown away. He approached us and said all the right things and gave off an instantly trustworthy vibe so we jumped at the chance to be the first band on his new label.
The AGP: A belated congratulations on winning the Pick to Click award in the Minneapolis' City Pages last year, how has that helped the two of you?
Howard: It has made a few more show offers come about and people take us a little more seriously I guess. I was worried that it would be a fake instant response where all of the sudden our shows would be packed and then it would fall off a cliff a few months later but thankfully that didn't happen. We have earned our local fans one or two at a time from show to show, we play really often and a few new faces pop up each time its been nice.
The AGP: I hear you've been playing some new material at some recent shows, have any of those been recorded for your next album?
Howard: We are still working the bugs out of the new songs and nothing serious has been recorded yet. I think we are going to do an ep this summer and get used to a new way of working half in a studio and half at home. Instead of all home recording we are going to do basics at a studio and then do vocals and overdubs at home but we want to try some studio situations out before we take the leap towards the next LP.
The AGP: How do you feel with comparisons to such indie rock giants, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, and Sonic Youth?
Howard: Well we are heavily influenced by all of those bands and we are definitely flattered. Laura and I are huge fans of all of those bands especially guided by voices the stuff is ingrained into us and we take a little from each influence but make sure we never come across as a "sound-a-like" or rip off band. It's like without those bands and others like My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain we might not exist or sound anything like we do, we love and worship all of it.
The AGP: What's happening in the Minneapolis scene? Are there any upcoming acts that you would recommend?
Howard: We are in love with a couple of mpls bands for sure this band Gospel Gossip is amazing with so much raw intense new energy and this other band of teenagers, Total Babe who will end up doing big things. We like this band Teenage Strangler a bunch too and another one is Zoo Animal who are just totally ready to become a national act at any moment. The scene is pretty crazy with piles of new bands and a million older bands that keep on trucking, there are a few clubs that have local music/bands for free most nights of the week(Hexagon Bar, 331 and 501 clubs) which is pretty intense. I think we are influencing a bunch of duo's to start up here.
The AGP:How was your relationship influenced your music?
Howard: We are trying to make a living off of artwork and music so being in a relationship makes us obviously really stick together and work as a team more than your average band. All of the songs on "reasons" are about us and things that happened to us. For the first year of the band we weren't a couple yet so after we got together things got a little easier to deal with less picking up and dropping off and way deeper all around. We really feed off of each other musically especially live I feel like we are connected in so many ways and it makes for an insane feeling that I have never experienced in the zillion bands and musical projects I have tried to be in.
Buy the album at Grain Belt Records