Interview: Hotel of the Laughing Tree Talk New Album
New York indie rock band Hotel of the Laughing Tree is a long-standing project that has gone through various line-up changes, been on and off labels, and even been through a period of hiatus. Although the changes in line-up bring new stylistic changes, they are grounded by band leader and songwriter AJ Estrada and original band member Brandon Peterson, who keep the band true to their high-energy arrangements. The band is back now with the addition of in-the-pocket rhythm section bros consisting of bassist Dan Ardis and drummer Fred Ardis, who made their new album New World Sundown come to fruition.
Who is “Hotel of the Laughing Tree”? Tell us each some things about yourselves, how you met, and how this project came about. I know you guys have gone through various line-up changes, so give us some info about how your current line up met, and how it’s different than the first line-up. We had been playing with a 4 man set up (AJ, Brandon, Dan, and Fred) for a while, until our keyboardist Jon moved to Long Island. After he settled, we invited him to join, and have been with that line-up for a couple years now. Our current group has a very strong synergy, especially between the brothers of the rhythm section (Fred on drums, Dan on Bass) that helps to keep us very tight in performances.Can you give us some background on the songwriting behind "New World Sundown"? What inspired it lyrically and musically?Usually our lead singer AJ will bring us a bunch of almost complete songs, and we tweak them in our own little ways and then record and release. This album had more than a few songs that we all collaborated on together, as well as songs brought to us by Brandon and Jon that we used, which made it slightly different from our previous records. Musically it was inspired by anything from our random warm-up jam sessions to ideas that we have had for a while but just never solidified. Lyrically, it was all AJ and his mysterious and esoteric-natured writing.After listening to “New World Sundown”, in some respects you guys kept some of the heaviness that was seen in Old Dominion (for example Arts N’ Economics), but you tamed the sound down with a bit more of indie-centric qualities and even some more progressive qualities (for example Temple Arms, which is also a personal favorite).Do you agree in saying that “New World Sundown” is your biggest achievement from a musical perspective? It is definitely a step in a different direction, and we believe thats from the aforementioned collaborated nature of the album. We were able to bring a lot of different and new aspects that we hadn't tried prior to NWS, and we are very happy with the result. Things like Temple came as a result of us not being afraid to try some new, more radical sounding things, even if we had never written anything like it before.I feel with “Terror and Everything After” you guys set out to achieve more of an ‘album’ as a whole, I also feel like this effort was better achieved with “New World Sundown” — was there a conscious effort to achieve this intangible ‘flow’ that the art form of an ‘album’ has with “New World Sundown”, and if so, what specific things did you all do to achieve this ‘flow’.That is something that a lot of people ask us about, and to be honest, we believe it's all in AJs writing. He loves to use allusions to past lyrics or titles, and it all creates this kind of cyclical, thematic feeling to each album (and if you pay close attention, between albums even). We don't ever shoot for that intentionally, but it all kind of comes naturally as a part of his enigmatic authorship.Can you talk a bit about the hiatus the band experienced? What made you guys decide to break off from the label, and how did the hiatus change your perspective towards your project and sound as a whole? We just weren't as happy on the label as we hoped we would be, so we decided to step away and do everything ourselves as far as production and promotion go. That time away was important for our current line-up in getting the synergy and flow that we have, so we don't view it as a break so much as working to build up to our current approach.After your hiatus, it seems that you all have tried moving back towards a more DIY perspective towards making music, how is this reflected in "New World Sundown"? Where was this record produced and by who?We recorded our drums and bass at Vudu studios in Port Jeff, with the wonderful help of the gracious Dan Bouza. Everything else was recoded, produced, and mixed by AJ and Brandon at AJ's home studio, Applejuicemagic Studios in Wantaugh.You all are already building up an extensive discography starting in 2008 and culminating this year in your 3rd full-length effort “New World Sundown”. Can you talk a bit about the trajectory of your sound? How it has changed over the years and between albums, and what inspired or influenced some of these changes?Our sound is always guided by the two remaining original members, AJ and Brandon, who give it the signature “Hotel” vibe. As we add members like Dan and Fred (extremely experienced drums and bass duo with a number of albums under their belt), and then eventually Jon (who is an operatic tenor, hello high notes), they all bring their own strengths and influences to change little things here and there. We all really enjoy the fact that each member can add so much to every practice and recording session to give us the sound we have now.Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Tell us a bit about the future of “Hotel of the Laughing Tree”, what are your dreams/aspirations with the project? We all love making music with Hotel, there is no doubt about that. There is a very unique cohesion to our current 5-man line-up, and you can see it if you ever watch us live, we truly enjoy every second up there. As far as in 5 years, its difficult to say since we all have different goals in our personal lives. Our only hope is that we can continue to enjoy the creative freedom and live passion that we all pour into Hotel for as long as we possibly can.Can you talk a little about where the idea for the video session came from? and Where you recorded this specific one?The idea for the video session came about when one of us mentioned in practice “What if we just live recorded the whole thing?” At first it seemed kind of like a joke. Anyone who has made an album knows that recording each song and being able to stop/start each individual part, or jump around to different sections is far different from trying to perform every song live as a whole group. It took a lot of time and practice from everyone, both privately and as a band, but we all came together on that one faithful weekend at Vudu Studios (Port Jeff again) and we made it happen.
Hotel of the Laughing Tree's Music Recommendations:AJ – Because I feel like nobody listens to them and they are awesome.Brandon - An infectious groove overlayed with endless amounts of strings and horns accompanied by smooth vocals. Mmm.Dan - Because of the way Isabella Manfredi uses her voice more as another layer to the music instead of just singing a melody on top of the instrumentation.Fred - No reason except it's a pretty kick ass song. End quote.Jon – Chris Thile is a mastermind. Every song off of this album is flawlessly done, take your pick.