Exclusive: Interview With LA Band The Happy Hollows

Los Angeles-based indie pop trio The Happy Hollows embrace the quiet/loud aesthetic popularized by The Pixies with live performances that are unconventional, immediately likable, and fun to watch. With little or no warning, charismatic front-woman Sarah Negahdari leaps back and forth from singing sweetly to shredding her guitar and screaming at the top of her lungs from the stage floor, while bassist/back-up singer Charlie Mahoney and drummer Chris Meanie support the fantastic chaos of it all.

Time will tell if the band attracts the same national attention of other hometown acts like The Silversun Pickups and The Airborne Toxic Event. The Happy Hollows have shared stages with both — but the release of their first full-length Spells on October 6th proves they deserve it. (If you’re in LA, catch their album release party at Spaceland this Friday night.)

Flavorpill: Your band is an ideal mix of the experimental and accessible. Is that what you’re going for?

Charlie Mahoney: I think the general theme is to try and make catchy music with a twist or an edge. Some that is listenable and some of that sort of makes you think.

Sarah Negadari: We walk a fine line between a pop band and an art band. I wish I could be one type or the other… I love those pop hooks, but I also love trying things that haven’t been done before. It’s a hard place to be.

FP: I think even if listeners don’t pick up on the subtext or understand the unconventionality, they latch onto the energy. You’re a very enthusiastic band live.

CM: We’re not too… scripted. We usually play songs after we’ve practiced them a few times…

SN: I don’t need everything to be perfect. I think art is about the imperfect a lot of times. I find it so charming when bands play and they make a little mistake and they all laugh… I like it more organic and real and raw.

Promotional video for the Imaginary EP

FP: How do you define your music? Your sound is awfully varied.

CM: People may say that because we have a lot of different songs and different sounds, it’s not coherent, but I don’t think the human experience is necessarily one of coherence. We have a lot of different sides to us and sometimes we act differently around different people and in different situations, so it’s kind of like whatever comes to mind.

SN: We’re somewhere on the edge of it where not everyone’s going to understand what we’re trying to say, not everyone’s going to like it, and that’s fine. Every artist that tries to be on the cusp of something gets that.

FP: How did you originally meet?

CM: Chris and I knew each other from DC. We were playing together and kind of trying out a bunch of different guitarists and people around town. We put an ad on Craig’s List and Sarah answered. So, it was good ole Craig’s List.

Sarah walked in with her guitar and knee socks up and we didn’t really know what to make of her. Like most people, when you first meet them, everyone’s kind of nervous and you just plug in and start playing and see how it goes — but Sarah wanted to talk for like an hour before we even started playing. And we were in one of those hourly rehearsal places, so it was costing money.

She took forever to set up her gear… (Laughs.)

The Happy Hollows, “Labyrinth”

SN: I’d auditioned so many bass players and drummers… At that point, it had been a year… I’d been playing under the name The Happy Hollows by myself and so I had a ton of questions — I wanted to make sure that no one was republican. [Laughs]

So, I set up my guitar and we played through “Tambourine,” which is a song I’d had already, and I just said play along. We played through once and I totally knew they were the right guys for me. I totally knew. So, I was like, “Alright! Wanna be in my band or what?!” After an hour of talking and one song, I knew.

FP: You recorded your first EP Bunnies and Bombs not long after that.

SN: Our friend Rob from Death to Anders worked at a recording studio and he was just, like, “Just come in overnight and I’ll record you.” We’d been together two months, so we quickly wrote a bunch of songs… “Meteors,” “Trick or Treat”… We wrote them all in a couple weeks.

FP: But your upcoming album Spells was in the works for a long time.

CM: Well, it has been almost two years, off and on. We started two summers ago and recorded twelve songs, but we are only using three from those initial recordings. We’ve recorded batches of five or six songs a few times since then.

SN: We’ve recorded like three albums [worth of material] in the past two years…

FP: Why the delay in releasing?

SN: It’s just involved both personal decisions not to release all the songs, coupled with dealing with a bunch of labels. The last of which put us in the studio to record more… and then decided not to put them out in the end. There are lots more songs. But we think Spells is a pretty coherent representation of our music.

FP: Your producer Dave Newton was in The Mighty Lemon Drops and produced albums for bands like The Little Ones, The Blood Arm, The Henry Clay People…

CM: He’s the perfect producer for us. He really gets our music and gets really excited about music when he’s recording it. He played air guitar on a few songs. When you do a take and it’s really good, he jumps around the room.

FP: What’s next for you beyond your release event at Spaceland in LA this Friday?

CM: We’re going to the east coast in October for CMJ and then shows in [Washington DC and Boston] — and we’ll be playing on the west coast in October and November.

[Then] Sarah has an album’s worth of solo material to record.

Joe Fielder is the managing editor of Radio Free Silver Lake.

Photo credit: Sterling Andrews