Hotels have an ambitious plan in the works: to release three CDS this year. CD one, Cinemascope I, comes out tomorrow, and on Friday, April 27th you can enjoy an official CD release party at Columbia City Theater (tix). I’ve now heard the entire EP and it is really, really wonderful. This group, with their luscious sounds, has been a favorite of mine since I saw them at the Crocodile a few years ago. They’ve played major festivals in the area (Bumbershoot, Reverb) and consistently created music you can blend into yourself. I talked with Hotels’ singer/bassist, Blake Madden, who gamely answered questions about basses, night work and puppets.
Hotels always look very well put together and dress well. Is this something you work on?
Blake Madden: Yeah, we work together on it. We’re working on it together more. People go to see you play live, they’re going to see you as well as hear you so you should like nice. Not like a bunch of schlubs who just woke up, rolled out of bed. It’s the least you can do.
I saw the photos from this year’s Dancing on the Valentine benefit – that white blazer was awesome.
Blake Madden: That’s even more serious. We felt we had to get the look right, really represent. It’s Duran Duran. You can’t mess around with that, spit in the face of history.
You’ve written a novel? That’s impressive.
Blake Madden: I wrote a novella, and I’m working on a novel. The first draft is done. I have to edit and revise it – things like that.
Does that take all your spare time?
Blake Madden: It took me like a year for the second one. It started as part of a class about how to write a first draft of a novel in six weeks. You were supposed to write 50,000 words in six weeks and I failed miserably at doing that, but I succeeded in writing a 99,000 word novel in one year. At the end I locked myself in my apartment and didn’t shower or shave for a week and just wrote. I went into cave mode.
That can be fun.
Blake Madden: It was fun. It was like a religious thing. All the lights were low. I was in my little space.
You’ve also done scores?
Blake Madden: Occasionally. Not as much as I would like to. I’ve done a couple of short films and my friends in Portland have a puppet troupe. They do a puppet show and I’ve done some music for their puppet show. They’re actually going on the road now – I think to New Orleans.
What kind of puppets?
Blake Madden: Shadow puppets.
Oh cool. That kind of leads to a question I wanted to ask. I’m actually stealing it from another interview. If you were a puppet, what kind would you be?
Blake Madden: How many different kinds of puppets are there?
There are marionettes,felt puppets,sock puppets. . .
Blake Madden: Not sock puppets, not a marionette. . . a shadow puppet. Shadowy. Mysterious. I’ve gotta go with mysterious.
Also you did an aerobics video score?
Blake Madden: You gotta have your finger in a lot of pies. My sister-in-law is an aerobics instructor. She asked if I could make some original music. I made all this silly dance music for an aerobics video that my sister-in-law used for a few years teaching her urban strip tease classes. I like to diversify my portfolio.
What would be your dream score. Any particular type of movie?
Blake Madden: I wouldn’t say a particular type of movie. The whole thing that appeals to me about scoring is that when you have a really good score you can’t remove it from the movie. It really adds to it. It’s not just background. It’s as important to the film as the rest of the visuals. I’d want to make the music that does that.
You’re one of my favorite bassists. You were playing guitar and switched with the bassist in your band?
Blake Madden: Oh thank you. It was like a joke at first. We were in a band and I played guitar, and the other guy played bass. We [decided to] switch it up, it’ll be funny. I was playing, and I really dug it. I was a shitty guitar player, but I when I play the same guitar line on a bass it sounds interesting. That’s how I developed my style of being really busy and going all over. Shitty guitar playing sounds better on bass.
I read you wanted a bass like Peter Hook’s.
Blake Madden: He had a Rickenbacker rip-off. I bought a Rickenbacker and then I found out later and he had a rip-off. I’m really happy with my bass. It’s the first instrument I’ve really loved. I had to go through a couple to get there. Instruments are like girlfriends, you date one and maybe it works out maybe it doesn’t.
You don’t see Rickenbackers very often.
Blake Madden: I don’t know why. People always notice it when we play too.
You lived in New York – is that when you were working in actual hotels? Was it good people watching?
Blake Madden: That’s the genesis of the band right there. When you’re working the night shift as an auditor in a hotel, you work from 11 pm to 7 am and there’s very few people who come in or out. But the people who do come in or out are a sight a lot of the time. It’s like you’re living in two different worlds. The world from 11 to 7 is not the same as the world from 7 to 11. At the same time I was working there I was reading this book by Céline, Journey to the End of the Night, where he’s saying the same thing in the book. When you work late at night, different people live at that time. Different things happen at that time of night. That’s what I was seeing all the time. You go kind of crazy with nothing to do for all those hours at night, trying to stay awake. So I would bring my bass and play in the lobby. That’s where I wrote most of the songs for the first album, in the lobby.
Hotels‘ Blake Madden – Reverb Fest 2011– photo by Dagmar
Do you write all of Hotels’ songs?
Blake Madden: I write most of the songs. This is one of the first times that Brendan [Malec, guitarist] has contributed one of his own songs. He wrote the main part and I worked on it with him. It was cool. We have another song we collaborated on more. Usually I write everything. The longer we’re together the more comfortable we get with each other, so things happen organically.
You also work as a DJ?
Blake Madden: I play post-punk stuff, some old school hip hop, funk, mutant disco stuff – New York 70s stuff. . . No Wave.
Have your tastes in music changed as you play?
Blake Madden: Yeah. It has to. There are very few things you like the same forever – and those are your favorite, favorites of all time, but tastes change and the music you make changes with those things.
I heard a couple songs of the album, are the other songs in the same vein?
Blake Madden: It’s an EP – there’s going to be 3 EPs throughout the course of the year. This is the first EP, and then one in the summer and one in fall. Then it’s all going to come together. A trilogy – like Star Wars.
That’s a smart idea.
Blake Madden: The first EP is supposed to poppier, more upbeat. The second in is the darker – Luke getting his hand cut off by his dad, that sort of thing. The third one is the triumphant return, merging the light and the dark together. That’s the hope.
What song have you written that you’re most proud of?
Blake Madden: The original song “Cinemascope” on the first album because that was one we all put together as the original lineup. It showcased a little bit of everybody at some point. That’s what I like to do in our songs when each one gives everyone in the song a chance to shine. The new stuff I’m proud of because it’s us becoming us. That’s always the goal that you go through the process of getting closer to what you really are, and doing things more honestly.
You grew up in Florida & lived in New York – what’s been the biggest difference here?
Blake Madden: I’ve lived in other places too. I lived in South Africa for a couple years and I lived in Japan for a year. A lot of places, a lot of differences. Florida is hot. Boring. It’s not all glamorous beaches – don’t them fool you. That’s one part of one area of Florida. People want to start trouble because it is so hot and boring. Everybody’s crazy and angry.
Those little figures on the album are so cute – what are they?
Blake Madden: Those are my original intellectual property. My little stick figures. They have been the logo of the band since day one. Travel, romance, solitude and rest are the four themes of Hotels. Every song is about one of those things in one way or another.
interview by Dagmar