On the release day of indie pop band Hockey’s new album, Wyeth IS, I chatted with founding band member and bassist Jeremy Reynolds. We discussed all of the big changes the band’s been through over the past few years, their relocating from Portland to Brooklyn via upstate New York, musical influences and how the guys created their entirely new sound purely by accident.
Your band has been through quite a bit in the past 3 ½ years. Can you tell me about some of the big changes?
After we finished touring in 2010, Ben and I split with the other two members of the band that we were playing with at the time. Ben and I started the band when we were in college, so we were a two-piece for about five years, and then we added the drummer and the guitar player. So going back to a duo feels more normal than it looks from the outside. After the two guys left to start their own band, we moved from Portland to upstate New York to hide out and make a record, thinking that it would be really quick.
Was it pretty rural and woodsy where you were in upstate New York?
It was very rural. The town is Hillsdale, which is a one-stoplight kind of town. That was really conducive to buckling down and just working on songs and going through ideas. I think it allowed us to figure out something totally new that I’m not sure we would have done if we’d been back out in Portland or in New York City. There was nothing else going on. You could maybe go for a walk in the woods by yourself.
You also made the decision to split with your label and management company, correct?
Yeah, I wish I could say that we made that decision… But we made that decision by sticking to our guns about the new sound. So really, we did make that decision. We didn’t tell them that we didn’t want to work with them, but we told them that we didn’t want to go with the producer and we didn’t want to change what we had recorded upstate. We had to kind of learn that lesson on the first go-around. If you don’t feel good about something, you have to really pay attention to that. You’ll get really mixed up and people will tell you, “this is a hit” and “this is not,” when the fact is that nobody knows what people are going to like. Sometimes people are right, like if you have a really straight-forward sound and if you sound like Top 40 radio and you look like a pop star, chances are you’re going to find some success. But we aren’t on that track, really. We didn’t go after that.
Listening to your new album, Wyeth IS, it has a very different feel to it than your first album, Mind Chaos. Was the departure intentional?
A lot of the first few songs that were on the album were originally double the tempo—songs like “Wild Style” and “Dancer.” And one day, we were working on the songs and Ben was on the computer and he hit the wrong playback key and that key made it halftime and we liked that. There was something about double-speed where it just felt about an inch deep. It was just on the surface and didn’t feel rooted or real or grounded. But it was that accident that put us onto the path of doing things really down-tempo. The sounds are really low and lush and long.
You guys live in Brooklyn now. What brought you here and do you feel the new location has affected your sound at all?
I find living in Brooklyn to be really interesting. Basically, we came down here because we needed to put a new live band together. And we thought that this is a really good place to find people who can play. Also, it was just about coming to a real center of music and culture, which was something that we’d kind of avoided over the years. We lived in L.A. for a while and then Spokane, Washington and Portland, but we’d never come to the spot that most reflects our sound, which is New York. And Ben grew up here, so it’s kind of a homecoming for him. It’s also just a place where everyone is really motivated. They’re creative and they’re doing and making things and that really challenges you as an artist to create something too to keep up.
You also have a large upcoming tour ahead. How are you preparing? How will you be traveling?
We’ve been practicing with our new band. We had a few shows around New York. We had a show at the SoHo House last week and then at an art space in Greenpoint. We’ve just been practicing and getting ready to jump in the van and get out there. Our last tour ended in August of 2010. For the first year after that I never wanted to go on tour again [laughs]. It took me a while. Touring was really crazy. It was really fun, but just hard on you mentally and physically. Not being in the same place for more than 24 hours for a few months—you don’t have anything to really ground yourself. That said, it’s so much fun to go out on the road and tour and meet people and play music. That’s really why we’re in it—to be able to share it with people and play for people, whoever they are.
Is there any one particular memory that sticks in your mind from your last tour?
I had a great time in Barcelona.
What was the audience like?
They were cool. We stepped out on stage and said it was our first time playing in Spain, which was apparently a faux pas to them because Barcelona has this whole Catalonian separatist movement. They don’t consider themselves to be part of Spain. They speak Catalan. They want to be their own country. And since we didn’t do our homework and announced we liked being in Spain, there was kind of a grumbling in the crowd. It was this 200-capacity club show. But we met some people and went out to a bar and had a fun time. It’s beautiful there.
You’ve been playing around New York a lot recently. Do you have a favorite venue?
I really like Glasslands up on Kent. We did our first show back at Glasslands in March. I just like the feeling of the venue and the funkiness of it with that weird cloud pattern on the ceiling.
Do you guys do your own cover art?
Yeah, I actually do that myself with old Life magazine and books and Sharpies. I grew up playing in a punk band and I think a lot of my clip-art esthetic came from the punk world in sort of an anti-art kind of way where you don’t have to draw straight lines or shade something well or make it look realistic, you just cut things up and put it all on the page and scribble on them.
Throughout your career, what other bands or musicians have you looked to for inspiration?
I’ve been a big fan of the Talking Heads for a long time. They made a few records early on that were well-received, but didn’t break through. But then they made Remain in Light, with “Once in a Lifetime.” They have that New York, kind of collage sound with a lot of different elements. There’s an electronic element, and a dance element, sort of a world beat element. That’s definitely something we look to—taking little bits and pieces and throwing them together and seeing what comes out.
Our new album is really inspired by 80’s hip hop, though. That’s kind of Ben’s first music interest—late 80’s and early 90’s hip hop. We found the actual drum machines and keyboards on eBay that they used to use so that we could get those sounds as they were. We tried to take an element of that and make it our own. There was also some influence from island-y vocal melodies, which is kind of what the Police did. That was something that was percolating with us since the first record that ended up coming out in this one. We didn’t set out to do that, but it happened.
What can fans expect to hear at your show next week at Webster Hall?
We do a few old songs from the first record and the rest will be from the new record. We do a little shout-out to the old stuff. It should be fun!
For more information on Hockey and their upcoming shows, visit http://hockeytheband.com/.