Gentlemen Hall is in Austin for their second appearance at SXSW, the huge music conference and festival held here each year. With four shows to play, the band has a busy schedule but I was able to talk with them about playing music festivals, their SXSW experience and favorite Texas food before their official showcase Tuesday night. SXSW is unique in the world of music festivals as thousands of bands play in hundreds of venues across the city. According to Brad Alderman (synthesizers) the number one rule when playing SXSW is “be prepared for anything.” Rory Given (bass guitar) added that you “must be ready and you must be flexible” because there is no way to anticipate everything that can happen. Seth Hachen, (flute, piccolo) agreed. He said that with so many bands playing at each show, a band has to be prepared for anything, including last minute schedule changes and taking the stage without a sound check.
This is my first time at SXSW and the size of it is astounding. I can’t help but wonder if it’s possible for the artists’ experience at the festival to live up to the hype. Rory thinks it can, as long the artist’s expectations are realistic. SXSW is an event where you can find the resources and people to help you in whatever area you need it. It is reasonable to expect that “your music will be seen and heard here. And if a band has some buzz coming into SXSW, then they can expect playing SXSW will amplify that buzz.” But Rory added, “Don’t expect to be discovered here.”
It was obvious that the guys were having a blast and that it was worth the long drive from their base in Boston to be here this week. So I asked: What is the coolest thing to happen, or best SXSW memory from, either of your SXSW appearances? Brad says it was playing with RAC this year. Seth’s favorite memory is being at Miike Snow’s show during their first trip to SXSW and Rory’s favorite memory is the Big Data show this year.
Gentlemen Hall has toured in Texas as well as playing SXSW. While they unanimously agreed that Austin is their favorite city, there was disagreement about the best Texas food. Seth, a self-described foodie, raved about his favorite: a brisket quesadilla. Brad, a vegetarian, picked The Cosmic Café in Dallas as having the best food he’s eaten. Rory’s favorite is “food truck after food truck;” each one he tries becomes his ‘new’ favorite. And while talking about travelling to Texas, they agreed that the band’s best driver on road trips is Phil Boucher (drums) and the most easily distracted is Gavin Merlot (vocals). When they tried to name Phil the most likely to get a ticket, he objected: “I never speed. I go 5 miles over the speed limit and that’s it. I didn’t get any tickets on the way here.”
Gentlemen Hall is working on a new album, due out later this year. This is a fun and very personable group of guys and it is obvious when they take the stage that they love what they are doing. They played a high-energy set that had the crowd dancing, clapping and singing along. The seven-song set included four new songs the band is trying out at live shows. One new song, “Holding on Tight” opened the set with a great bass line and a melody that pairs the flute and synthesizer together beautifully. Another new song, “It Doesn’t Matter,” closed the set with a big full sound and a sing-along chorus that had the crowd clapping and dancing.
Gentlemen Hall put on a dynamic show full of their signature sound: big, anthemic choruses and retro-synth melodies mixed with polyrhythmic percussion, soulful vocals, and some dynamite flute solos. Signed to Island Records last year, the band is poised to take a national stage with this next album. And from the new songs they played at SXSW, it appears the band is more than ready for that bigger stage.
Look for Gentlemen Hall in the next issue of Fourculture.