[sic] Magazine

Interview – Hotels

Inspired by reviewing the album; Where Hearts Go Broke, [sic] Mag’s Jon Leonard caught up with Blake Madden of Seattle-based, electro nu-wave stars Hotels.

Jon Leonard: For me, ‘Where Hearts Go Broke’ is a lot more song-based and emotionally involving than the debut. Is this what you wanted to achieve?

Blake Madden: Well, to be blunt, we just wanted it to be better than the first. I don’t say that to take away from the first album, but isn’t that the goal- to get better with each outing? Or at least different? With “Thank You For Choosing…” I think we were still a new band trying to do everything at once, trying to fit every idea onto one album. We calmed down a lot for the second one, got more comfortable in our skin, took a lot more time with it (perhaps too much), and I personally made an effort with my song-writing to let the songs go where they wanted and needed to go, and not try to do everything at once. In the end, I think we did get closer to what we wanted and made a better album. Always closer, never quite there.

Jon Leonard: Was the Valentine’s Day release in the USA something you were always working towards? It would certainly suit the romantic nature of some of the material.

Blake Madden: First no, then yes. As I said, the album took a bit longer to finish than we expected, so we kept pushing back a release date. When we finally finished it and looked at a potential date range of February to April for release, I think our anxiousness to get it out combined with some of the content of the album made Valentine’s Day the preferred choice.


Jon Leonard: There seems to be a few references to casinos. Are you gamblers or just attracted to the image of casinos, the thrill, the romance, the smart clothes, the fact that so many lives are ruined at the spin of a roulette wheel etc?

Blake Madden: All of the above. I think I’m the only real gambler in the band. It’s in my DNA. The first time I gambled I was 14 and living in South Africa. My dad came to visit and we took a trip to Sun City to go gamble. The resort mistakenly thought he was THE (popular American football announcer) John Madden, gave us this ridiculous palatial suite, and my brother and I went on an epic blackjack run that could only be described as “beginner’s luck” that helped pay some of his college tuition and helped me buy some of my first musical instruments. How could I not be hooked??? The house has gotten even with us over the years, but we keep going regardless.
I think what we in the band really like about casinos, though, is the duality- one hand there is glitz and glamour and everything you mentioned, but on the other, there is desperation, sadness, heartbreak; similar to a hotel. Both ends of the spectrum are usually playing out simultaneously within a few feet of each other.


Jon Leonard: ‘Near The Desert, Near The City’ sounds like a lost track from A.R. Kane’s first album? Were this seminal dreampop band an influence on the song?

Blake Madden: Unfortunately I’m not familiar. The blame goes more to the Cocteau Twins.

Jon Leonard: Clearly, you’ve acknowledged your influences in your MySpace site and in your music. Amongst modern day musicians, which bands do you most admire and identify with?

Blake Madden: I think M83 is doing some great stuff. The album “Dead Cities, Red Seas, and Lost Ghosts” has worked its way into my personal all time top 10 albums, when I didn’t even know they existed a few years ago. They go for it in terms of synth usage in a live band setting, which is something we identify with in terms of bringing synths to the forefront. It seems like synths for the most part- even for the bands that use them- are seen as a novelty. They use a dash here, a synth bass, a bit of Moog there, but hey, don’t use too much man, or you’ll be like Yanni or Rick Wakeman. We want to use synths like The Cars or Trans Am did; as prevalent and important as any other instrument but not cheesy or overbearing.


Jon Leonard: Although there’s no mention of The Monochrome Set in your CV, some of the frenetic guitar work reminds me of their style. Were you aware of their work before you started performing as Hotels?

Blake Madden: It’s funny because I was not. Over the years, people kept telling me we sounded like we were influenced by Monochrome Set. The last guy who said that to me was from Germany, the Monochrome Set was one of his favorites, and he was so shocked that I hadn’t heard of them, that he sent me most of their recorded stuff over email. I started listening to “Strange Boutique” and got really into it. And you know what? Now I WOULD call them an influence. The same thing happened with someone comparing us to The Wipers long ago (not sure it’s very accurate, but thanks). I hadn’t heard them, but then was intrigued to after the comment and eventually got really into them, to the point where they are now another legitimate influence. Which begs the question: were these people really wrong when they first suggested the influences, even though I hadn’t heard of them yet? I can only guess that A.R. Kane is now going to become my next big influence.

Jon Leonard: I first heard about your music via Rich Bennett. He seems quite an eclectic talent, having played in the equally ace Monocle, his own solo instrumental album and also composed for TV and film. You, Blake, have also recorded under the name of Blammer Soundtracks. I noticed that ‘Woody’, for example, is essentially a chilled-out instrumental version of ‘Port Of Saints’. Which do you find more satisfying – band or solo work?


Blake Madden: Haha, you forgot one other hat that Rich wears… he’s also the original guitarist for Hotels and is on a few songs on the recent album! But seriously folks… Both soundtrack work and band stuff have their ups and downs. Soundtrack work is enjoyable because I get to combine my love of movies with my love of music, and I like the challenge of trying to make something utilitarian; it has to fit the scene and mood correctly. At the same time, that can be a BIG challenge, when you also have a deadline and a director’s vision and you have to meet both, or it’s all for naught. No one is demanding a new Hotels song, or that it fit a certain kind of mood. I like a band because I like the camaraderie, I like the idea of us being a team, and I just like to hang out with my friends and play music with them. Plus you can’t beat the energy of a good live band. I don’t think I could ever be a live solo performer for that reason; if I just had a guitar, or worse yet, a guitar and a bunch of pre-recorded loops, there would just be too much missing. But bands have their own physical everyday limitations, because they don’t exist in a vacuum. If you come up with a part that someone else in the band despises, you’re stuck. If a member has birthday dinner to go to on a rehearsal night, rehearsal’s off. If their job is unforgiving, touring is difficult. And if someone decides to move away or drastically change his or her life trajectory all of a sudden, that could mean back to the drawing board for the whole thing. Being in a band is like being married, except to three different people at once.

Jon Leonard: Are any other members of Hotels involved in other projects?

Blake Madden: They almost all are. You mentioned Rich Bennett with his effervescent band Monocle and his solo work. Our original NY keyboard player Rich Spitzer has a great dance electro- pop outfit called Nite Club, and he has just released a new album. Our drummer Max is also an accomplished jazz drummer with regular gigs. Brendan, our Seattle guitarist, has a side project called From Gods To Monsters. I think our newest member, young Kyle on keyboards, is the only one without his finger in another pie. Then again, I think this is his first real band he’s been in. It’s only a matter of time!

Guitar Hero

Jon Leonard: Describe to me the Hotels live experience. On record, I visualise a Kraftwerk sense of studied cool and insouciance. Is this translated to the stage or do you run around like madmen?

Blake Madden: The Hotels live experience is always a work in progress. When we first started out we were mostly boring, immovable objects on stage. We have worked our way up to the running around like madmen thing, because it’s fun, people respond well to it, and we feed well off each other’s energy. The audience will not have fun if the band isn’t having fun first. Over time, we hope to become even more frenetic and frenzied, and also incorporate some more visual and even (gasp!) theatrical elements into the show. For now, we have only scratched the surface…

Jon Leonard: Have you any plans to tour Britain and Europe? Your idiosyncratic style would certainly go down well in some areas.

Blake Madden: As soon as finances allow, friend.

Jon Leonard: With band members based in different states, is it difficult to maintain band cohesion or does the space between you make it easier to work together?

Star Guitar

Blake Madden: It certainly was difficult for a time. “Hearts” took about 3 years to complete from start to finish. That seems like an inordinate amount of time to me, until I remember that in that time I moved from NY to Seattle, wrote new songs, recruited some new musicians, had to work with them and gel with them long enough to feel comfortable performing and recording the new songs, flew back to NY a few times to record music with our old outfit, and had our drummer move to North Carolina, so that we practiced to keyboard drum beats for about a year, only to have him eventually move out to Seattle and rejoin the fold. What a long strange trip it has been indeed. We are mostly based out west now. Plane fare is harder to come by these days.

Jon Leonard: Do you use the Internet to share music between band members or do you prefer to meet up when recording your tracks?

Blake Madden: I send demos over e-mail, yes. “Near The Desert, Near The City” was written in Seattle, but recorded in New York with the New York musicians. The first time we rehearsed it was the night before a show in NY that I had flown back to play, and we played it at that show. We maybe played it a handful of other times before we recorded it.

Jon Leonard: Have you started work on your next release yet? Which direction are you headed for album number three?

Hotels live

Blake Madden: It’s funny that you mentioned casino references earlier because the next album will be ONLY casino references! It will be called “On The Casino Floor” and will be a concept album; a spy epic set in a casino in outer space. Sort of our take on an intergalactic James Bond epic. As for sound direction, we are just looking to branch out more, make our sound bigger and less restricted to one person playing their own instrument one way and that’s it. I like bands that are able to do a lot with a little, and I like it even more when a band’s sound becomes intangible but organic; hard to pick out and define even if you know exactly what they’re playing. We’re trying to work more towards both of those ideals. Always closer, never quite there.

[sic] Magazine wishes to thank Blake Madden, Hotels, Tily Rodina and Hidden Shoal records. Band photography with kind permission: Hotels Myspace, Hidden Shoal official website. (Copyrighted Christina Cadenhead and gigglysprout.)



Where Hearts Go Broke

For more from Jon, please read his ‘zine Leonards Lair