It’s interesting getting to the age where your friends are buying homes and having babies while you’re still slinging drinks at a bar and going to shows on a Tuesday. This year alone, I’ve had four different friends have babies and I can’t tell if that’s a pandemic-produced reaction or just what people do at 33. Either way, it’s an odd feeling that can sometimes make me feel like I’m falling behind.
After hours of playing games like “Find the Binky” and “Vote Who Will Be the Better Parent In the Couple” (without any booze on the premises, I would like to mention) at a close friend of mine from middle school’s baby shower, I started to notice something. Every time she’d come up to me she’d mention some memory of a supposed fun or outrageous moment from our youth. Things that really weren’t that crazy and, most importantly, are still things that I often do now. “Sometimes I worry that all those fun times are behind me,” she admitted to me, in a moment of likely pregnancy-induced vulnerability.
While, I don’t know for certain that Charlie Martin and Will Taylor feel the same as my friend, I think it’s no coincidence that their most vulnerable and nostalgic record as Hovvdy comes after they both got married to their respective partners and the latter had his first child. New beginnings have a way of making you look in the rearview mirror with a new perspective, reflecting on how you even got there at all.
On True Love, childhood memories of hot summers in Dallas, fighting with brothers, and parents splitting apart sit amongst romantic imagery of their partner spinning in a pink dress, the girl who keeps coming around again because you just can’t quit her, and looking at your child wondering how the hell you’re gonna love them if you can’t love yourself for a full picture of love in all its many forms.
One of the record’s highlights, “Blindsided,” is incredibly vivid in its nostalgic reflection. It’s tough to tell who the song is about, which is probably intentional and leaves a lot of opportunities for a listener to grab onto a line a be transported to their own memory. “Crank it up to ‘Everlong,’ /Always was your favorite song,” Martin sings on one of my personal favorite lines. “Air drums in the living room /Early memories of you.”
Today, KEXP is sharing an intimate live video of the band playing “Blindsided.” Set on a large, open porch on a sunny Texas afternoon, the duo is joined by the honorary third member of Hovvdy, Ben Littlejohn, with Martin taking the lead on guitar and Taylor mouthing along the lyrics while tepidly tapping the drums. We also spoke to Hovvdy about their vulnerable songwriting on True Love, how producer Andrew Sarlo helped the duo flesh out their sound while remaining true to themselves, and the “forehead sweat energy” that only the oppressive heat of Texas could produce.
Watch the video and read the interview below.
KEXP: You guys are literally on the road right now, right?
Charlie Martin: Yes, I am driving from Nashville to St. Louis, where I live now. And yeah, we were just in Nashville and we're in the middle of this long, long tour.
Supporting Dayglow, that's pretty big, right?
Charlie Martin: Yeah, yeah. Dayglow's huge.
Will Taylor: The kids love Dayglow!
Has the audience been different from past tours?
Charlie Martin: For sure, yeah. I mean, a lot of these shows were sold out before we hopped on the tour, actually. So it's really fun. It's like a fresh start, in terms of fan base, almost every show. It's very fun.
And then you have another tour that you're headlining starting in March. That must be nice to have a whole year's worth of activities on the calendar!
Will Taylor: Pretty wild to plan so far ahead.
Charlie Martin: Yeah, pretty wild!
I'll bet! So, you just released your fourth full-length True Love last week, and it is absolutely stunning. I am truly in love. [laughs]
Will Taylor: Ayo!
Bet you never got that one before! No, but for real, when I got the advanced copy last month, I was like, "Oh yes, this is my shit." I'm a sucker for the sentimental nostalgia. How are you guys feeling about the record now that it's spent a week in the world?
Will Taylor: It's been really nice to have it out, for sure. We are probably most proud of this record of any of them. It was really fun with the singles and all the music videos to work with all our buds and we're really happy that the record is out now and that people are listening and chatting about it. Always nice to share.
I love that while these seem like really personal and specific stories, they also seem relatable in a way that I feel like a lot of people can hear your story and see their similar memory, if that makes sense, right?
Will Taylor: Yeah.
In the past, your lyrics were more opaque, so it feels like this is your moment that you're really telling full stories. And I'm curious if that was a conscious decision or if it just kind of happened that way that you ended up more straightforward in your storytelling this time?
Charlie Martin: Yeah, for me, I think it's interesting that it does resonate because I feel like they're probably the most detail-oriented songs that we've written. And I do love that they can apply to people. And I think that's why they resonate with each of us as songs is because we feel that resonance even though there are higher levels of detail in the songwriting than I think anything else we've done.
Will Taylor: Yeah, and as far as it being a conscious decision, I think that is true in a lot of ways. I think in some ways it also just kind of happened naturally, as we become more confident songwriters. And we worked with a producer that encouraged us to bring the most emotionally felt or the heaviest songs — I don't know if that's the right word — but you know, the most dense songs lyrically. So that was really fun. And actually, in the past, we've always enjoyed doing songs with all sorts of varying amount of emotional weight, but these all kind of had a singular idea with it. I feel like it is rewarding to put it all out there for sure.
Absolutely. Are there any songs or specific lines on True Love that you felt a little vulnerable or nervous about people hearing?
Charlie Martin: I mean, not people in general. Definitely, there are certain songs on the record where I kind of had to warn my parents. [laughs] Like I got my brother's permission to talk about his kids, you know, things like that, just really digging into some really, really personal stuff. But no, I think at this point, I feel I'm pretty ready to be vulnerable in front of our audience.
Yeah, there are so many interesting stories and relationships on the album that I kind of wish I could chat about each and every one of them and break it all down. But the one that kind of snuck up on me once I'd read the story behind it is "GSM." That story of sibling love and banding together after divorce is one that I really relate to, but doesn't really get talked about enough. Was it important to you to tell love stories that go beyond romantic love?
Charlie Martin: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, I think we both dug into that a lot kind of by coincidence with this batch of songs. Yeah, I mean, I agree. That was such a defining element of my childhood was just me and my brother banding together, and just essentially like filling the gap after our dad left. And that's really real stuff for a lot of people so it felt good to put it in a song that, like, is fun.
Absolutely. There was actually a Modern Love piece that's always stuck with me that's kind of similar and about like this sibling love after divorce. Clearly, it's a thing that people resonate with. I mean, it makes sense! Your parents divorce, you've got to get together, right?
Charlie Martin: Yeah!
Will Taylor: Team up!
Exactly. Us against the world, baby! But I think it's interesting, with two songwriters, that you ended up with such a cohesive theme. As you were writing the songs, were you talking about what you each were writing about or did it just kind of end up that way once you got to the studio?
Will I think that, honestly — and I'm not sure that I'm 100 percent right saying this — but we kind of write about the same stuff. And it's found new forms over the years and it's certainly more direct than it's ever been. But I think we're...you know, any song on this record that once that we share with each other there are no surprises, really. I think that the directness and the confidence within it was really exciting and a new step for us. But I think ultimately that we trust ourselves and each other to write songs in this... I don't know, it just kind of is a natural zone for us to write within and our songs kind of link up. But, yeah, no permission granted or any type thing like that, but definitely similar wavelength.
Are you asking each other like, "Well, what is this about?" Or are you just kind of letting each other write the song and be like, "Okay, I'm sure I'll find out at some point what this means"?
Charlie Martin: I mean, I was going to say, I think there is an element of kind of snowballing with it. [distortion]...patterns in our records. And I think potentially like, you know, I'll share a song with Will or like, Will will share a song with me that kind of pushes things...[garbled]
Will Taylor: We're losing you, Charles. We're losing you, Bubba.
Charlie Martin: Oh, sorry guys. I might be in a bad zone. Will, you can take that one if you want to keep the show running.
Will Taylor: Yeah. I'm not sure what Charles is getting at but yeah, I mean, I think there are moments where that's true and it's like, "What does this line mean?" But, at this point, after writing songs together for five years, there is a kind of understanding of what they mean. For me personally, I think I know most of the time what Charlie's songs are about when I hear it, but that might be me being overzealous. But yeah, I think you just kind of naturally fall into a rhythm that has us on a similar wavelength, and there's no real need for us to justify the subject matter of a song or to double-check it. Unless it's something that you know is out of the blue or really intense or something like that.
Yeah, like, "Hey bud, are you OK?"
Will Taylor: [laughs] Yeah, right.
"Let's talk about this." [laughs] How would you describe your relationship with each other? Is it like a brotherly type thing or more all about work?
Will Taylor: Yeah, I mean, it requires a lot of both. You know, when you tour... the way we've always toured, it's kind of a little bit scrappy, like, in one vehicle, often one hotel room spending time together. So, communication is really important just like any other relationship. But we also probably connect the deepest over Hovvdy. So I think that they go hand in hand, but there's a lot of both going on. You know, it requires effort to keep lines of communication open and stuff.
Yeah, Hovvdy is kind of the connecting factor that keeps you guys bonded, but you get along otherwise.
Will Taylor: Correct.
Charlie Martin: Yeah, I think that is very true, like we essentially met each other and formed Hovvdy immediately. And it's interesting to think of that being the primary space for our friendship too.
I'm so sorry if you're not into this, but what are your astrological signs?
Charlie Martin: I am a Virgo.
Will Taylor: I'm a Gemini.
Oh cool, interesting.
Charlie Martin: What does it mean?!
I think that's a good combination! So Virgos are very... are you the more organized one in the partnership? A little bit more particular?
Charlie Martin: I don't know. I don't know if I'm more organized. But I do like the things when they are organized.
Yeah. Well, both Geminis and Virgos are really into aesthetics, which I think is probably was helpful for you guys in a creative partnership. Like you understand, like what looks or sounds pleasing. I think that's a good combination. A great collaborative combo.
Charlie Martin: There you go!
Will Taylor: Fire duo.
Yeah, you got it. So you were talking earlier about how you brought in a producer, Andrew Sarlo — who's worked with some big names like Big Thief and Bon Iver — to produce True Love, and you credit him quite a bit with how the album turned out. In what ways do you feel like he changed or progressed the Hovvdy sound?
Charlie Martin: Yeah, I think, more than anything, I think the reason why we're all so proud of this record is because he really encouraged us to lean into our ourselves and our sound that we've developed over the years. So he very much met us more than halfway. But he also, obviously, sonically brought things to a whole new level, I think, for us.
Will Taylor: Yeah, yeah. I say this a lot but he's really good encourager. And his familiarity with our music up to this point was a really important element, I feel like, of our working relationship. Just him enjoying what we've done up to that point and not really wanting to be too far from it. And we all agree with that but it was nice to hear that from him. I think that he informed the sound a lot and that he's really talented and has just a very high producer IQ with how to record things, how to leave space in the songs for vocals and how to, like, expand everything and really just grow what we've been working on to a level that I'm not sure we could have achieved on our own.
Do you think you'll want to continue that relationship going forward on future releases? Or maybe try different producers to see what comes out?
Charlie Martin: Yeah, I don't know.
Will Taylor: We have soft plans to work with him again. I mean, we'd love to work with Sarlo again as much as possible. Part of us has — we've had discussions about — for the next thing, kind of going back to where we began. Just very insular and just us two doing it, which sounds fun in some ways and scary in other ways. But yeah, I think it's certainly an open book and we've been lucky to be able to meet and work with really talented people, not just on our own music, but for other things. And I know we're both hopeful that we'll continue to grow and expand over time.
I mean, based on the "I'm Sorry" and "Runner" singles you put out last year, it seems like you're willing and perhaps eager to experiment a bit. Do you think we'll get a full album of that kind of glitchy electronic stuff at some point?
Charlie Martin: Yeah, who knows, I think we were both pretty surprised that we didn't lean more into that on the record, especially having done those songs with Sarlo as well. But yeah, I can see us taking like a hard pivot in that direction whenever it feels right, you know?
Yeah, absolutely. So I want to take a moment to talk about Texas. Semi-short personal anecdote here. I was supposed to be a Texan. I was supposed to be born in Austin.
Charlie Martin: Whoa!
Yeah, I know! My mom was pregnant with me and they were living in San Antonio, had just bought a house in Austin, and my grandma convinced my mom to move up to Seattle. So I've always kind of wondered, like, "What would Texas Jasmine be like?" You know?
Will Taylor: That's hilarious.
And my dad just bought a ranch last year in Burnet, Texas.
Will Taylor: That's close to Austin.
Yeah! So I've come down a couple of times to visit him and hang out in Austin. And so I guess this is my moment to like, I guess, kind of see what Texas Jasmine might be like? It turns out, I guess, I'd be more acclimatized to heat because it's way too fucking hot there! How do you guys do it?!
Will Taylor: It's terrible. I know, it's interesting because my wife and I are always talking about where we want to live next, like almost to a ridiculous degree, and we do kind of like fantasize about escaping the heat, but are not sure if we're willing to trade off for the rain. I mean, I don't know if I could do the Seattle life, you know?
Yeah, it's a lot. It's a lot. I wouldn't go straight shot to Seattle. That's a whole other type of depression. [laughs]
Will Taylor: [laughs] Right, right. But the heat depression is real, too.
Charlie Martin: Yeah, it's oppressive.
Yeah, I was just there last week and it was fucking hot in September!
Will Taylor: Very hot.
Charlie Martin: Yeah, I think you have to just acclimate. You know, we both grew up in Dallas and lived 10 or so years in Austin. And you just sort of, I don't know, somehow get used to the pain. [laughs] But yeah, it's funny because I actually just moved to St. Louis. My wife just started law school there. So, yeah, a whole new zone! Not hot in September.
That's good. Yeah, I don't know much about the climate there.
Charlie Martin: It's very Midwestern, so you get it all. A fun range.
Oh nice! I guess I'm curious about how...because, obviously, in Seattle, the gloom and the grey heavily affects the music that comes out of here. Do you feel like that oppressive heat affected the music you've made at all?
Will Taylor: Hmm. That's interesting.
Charlie Martin: Yeah. I think it's the more romantic qualities of Texas that I think we're charmed by, you know, like the bright, sunny elements.
Will Taylor: I'll just speak for myself — and it is Charlie's song so it's kind of a stretch for me — but I kind of get some like hot, hot vibes from "GSM." I know you brought that song up earlier but there's kind of some like forehead sweat energy in the song.
Charlie Martin: Oh, for sure!
Will Taylor: Like it's a little bit troublesome yet fun. And I think that that gives me some hot summer vibes. And just the descriptions of like, you know, playing with your brother and stuff reminds me of being hot.
Charlie Martin: Yeah. Maybe it's a sort of nostalgia for that like mild suffering.
Could be. Okay, I'll have to listen to it again and see if I can feel the forehead sweat
Will Taylor: [laughs] That was a stretch by me.
But yeah, I don't know. I guess, is there like a "Texas sound" that's not like spaghetti western, you know?
Will Taylor: Right. Or rockabilly, yeah. I mean, people have pinned our music to a Texas sound which is hard to really pinpoint what that is. I think a really basic answer would be, you know, the country music instrumentation we use like pedal steel or dobro. But, you know, it's kind of the same thing when people tell us our music is really nostalgic. I mean, besides our lyrics, which I think now more than ever are that way. The music I feel like...you know, I have spoken to people in a similar way, and that's kind of hard to pinpoint as well. So I think if we overthink it might just spoil the whole thing, probably.
Charlie Martin: Yeah. There's also post-rock that I associate with Texas like Explosions [In the Sky]. Me and Will were big, big fans of those like This Will Destroy You O.G. Texas post-rock projects. I think that there is a kind of unique vulnerability in that music and a kind of open, beautiful guitar sound that definitely isn't explicitly in our stuff but, I don't know, maybe it's somewhere under there.
Yeah, I could see that for sure. I forgot that Explosions was from Texas.
Charlie Martin: Yeah, Austin.
Okay, that makes sense. So, since we've kind of pushed time a little bit, I'm going to wrap things up with a question we frequently ask here at KEXP. It's kind of corny but puts a nice ribbon on the conversation. Since KEXP is a station where the music matters. Why does music matter to you?
Charlie Martin: It's kind of just the common thread of my whole life. I feel like there's nothing else that I've consistently loved as long as I can remember.
Will Taylor: Yeah, I think in a similar way that someone might cheer for a sports team it's also a community, you know, it's a good way to find friends. Like if you play music, you can find people who do that. If you just love music, you'll find people who love it as well. And I think more specifically, it's a great way to process and express emotions and experiences. And it's also just fun to create and listen to all different types of music and pull from everything. I mean, we get asked about interesting and kind of out of left field music that we like and it's always fun to talk about that because there is a kind of through-line. And that's so cool about music is that there is a through-line. Like at the end of the day, it is like a three and a half minute recording and it's a unique experience and a cool privilege to be able to create something and share it.
True Love is out now via Grand Jury. Hovvdy will be in Seattle on June 11, 2022 to play the Crocodile Second Stage.