Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MidPoint SpotLight: The Hiders - The Greatest Unsigned Band in the Country

I recently contacted Billy Alletzhauser of The Hiders (formerly of The Ass Ponys and Ruby Vileos) to see if he would participate in my interview series for this week's MidPoint Festival. Billy was ever so kind to take the time out of his busy life, to help me out with my coverage of the festival. Here's what I asked, and what he responded with:

Question #1
Nate Rosing: How long have you been a musician? Did you start playing guitar or singing first, and when did you notice you had a talent for both?

Billy Alletzhauser: I used to make up songs and sing them to myself when I walked to school, so I guess I sang first. My sister got a guitar when I was 11 or so and I started playing around with it. When I was about 15, I formed a band with friends as a bassist and writer. I kept singing by default because I would write lyrics and no one else seemed to sing them right. Guitar and writing always came a bit easier than singing.

Question #2
NR: I've read that you're also talented in the arts. What kind of pieces of art do you create?

BA: I majored in Fine Arts in college and mostly did figurative or illustration type things. Now it's mostly graphic design. I've done all the design work for the band.

Question #3
NR: What kind of bands have you played in throughout your career? How have you evolved as a musician and live performer?

BA: I've played all kinds of music from punk to new age-y jazz. I like to think I'm evolving. There are always nuances to explore. We've been practicing as a four piece a lot lately with Beth on acoustic guitar or keys. My focus has been to improve on being lead singer and lead guitarist at the same time.

Question #4
NR: You often hear the Neil Young comparison a lot. When I see you up there on stage, I feel like I'm watching the perfect combination of Neil Young, Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy. At the same time, The Hiders' music has a sound all its own, remaining original and inspiring. How did the band form? How has the lineup changed over the years? Who is in the current lineup, and how in the hell did you come in contact with such amazing musicians?

BA: Ever since I first started playing, I always tried to play with people I could learn from and people I thought were better than me and I've always tried to play with people who care more about music than they do all the other bullshit. It's real obvious when you see a band or performer who is doing it because they think it's cool or they want attention. By avoiding them I've ended up with the real deal. The original Hiders were myself, Toby Ellis, Victor Strunk, Beth Harris, Dave Gilligan and Todd Drake. Now it's me, Tony Franklin, Michael Horrigan and Beth with some peripheral members like Brad Meinerding, Sylvia Mitchell, Jesse Ebaugh. We've also had Tyler Ramsey here and there before he got busy with Band of Horses. It formed like anything I guess, call and see who shows up.

Question #5
NR: How do you feel about the music? Do you think it's some of the best music you've ever created? Are The Hiders your favorite band that you have played in? What is being a frontman of a band like?

BA: I do feel like its the best music I've created, with exception to some of the things I did with Ruby Vileos. I feel like it's still getting better all the time. When it doesn't feel like that I will probably stop. My newest songs are always my favorite. The Hiders have been my favorite, only because it's been built so much around my own tastes so it'd be strange for it not to be. As a live band it has easily been my favorite. Being front man or whatever is weird. I still feel most at ease just playing guitar. I feel a little pressure sometimes to be entertaining when I'm singing, so I'm more aware of the crowd and how they are reacting, but when the crowd seems to really be into it I think I feel that more because of that hyper awareness and that feels fantastic. Higher risk, higher reward I suppose. Some nights though I just want to stare at my amp and make feedback but then people lecture me and tell me I'm not being a good frontman. Ultimately you can't care too much. It's a tightrope between pleasing yourself but not being self indulgent. I just do what feels right gig to gig and usually it goes over ok.

Question #6
NR: What can you tell us about the Batcave?

BA: To know it is to love it. You can spill red wine and not really notice. Your eyes need to adjust. You leave better than when you came. Night and day lose all meaning. The joker keeps trying to find it but he never will.

Question #7
NR: Describe the writing process for The Hiders.

BA: I usually bring songs in with some vision of how it should go, then they play along and it gets much, much better. Tempos, structures and arrangements are the big things that get worked out as a band. Lyrics and chords I usually have ready. I keep waiting for the day we write as band, it's coming.

Question #8
NR: Tell us about the idea for "Penny Harvest Field."

BA: The song or the album? The title comes from a project called Common Cents. New York school kids harvested a million dollars in pennies. The pennies were placed on display at Rockefeller Center. It's worth googling. A million dollars in pennies is an impressive sight. It tied with the song that I was working on and as a theme for the album which, in my mind, is value basically. Something small and easily overlooked or even discarded as bad luck or simply a waste of pocket space can become something great.

Question #9
NR: What are your thoughts on WXPN, the World Cafe and David Dye? Can you tell us about your connection to those things?

BA: Well, it's a wonderful station and radio show. We were thrilled to be featured so prominently. Look for more from us there in the not too distant future.

Question #10
NR: You've also been called "The Greatest Unsigned Band in the Country". What is the current status, and why?

BA: We are still the greatest unsigned band in the country. And better than most signed bands too. Why? Who said life is fair?

Question #11
NR: What was the experience of recording in Nashville like?

BA: It's good to go away, but the next record I think we'll do at home. Probably a combination of the Batcave and UltraSuede. Brad Jones is pretty great to work with but he always talks me out of backward guitar solos, I personally think every other solo should just be backwards. And lots of songs that are way too long, that's an ambition.

Question #12
NR: I've heard that some Hiders songs, predate the Ass Ponys. Can you tell us anything about that?'

BA: "Take Me Back" on Valentine predates Ass Ponys, and maybe "Let's Forget". I've been writing songs my whole life. There are plenty kicking around.

Question #13
NR: Going back to the unsigned thing. Would you rather be signed on a major label or would you rather be doing things your way? What are the differences between major/indie labels?

BA: You could wax on this forever. The label thing can go a lot of different ways. It costs a lot to tour and do promotion and everything so a label can be great for that, if they back you up. You give up some control though. I'm interested in help because I simply don't have the money to do all the things we should do to promote ourselves but I've had help in other ways. At this point I would settle on a good booking agent. Ultimately, label or no, you just have to satisfy yourself as an artist and musician. It sounds cliche' but it's true. I'm very satisfied with the music we make. There's always more you can do to get it out there, label or not.

Question #14
NR: How do you feel about the music scene in Cincinnati? Who are some of your favorite bands and what are your favorite places to play? Billy, I'm sure you've played MidPoint a number of times, is this The Hiders first MidPoint? What do you think of MidPoint?

BA: I've always liked the Cincinnati scene, I've made some great friends here through music. There's a certain artistic integrity here. Some of my favorite artists are The Great Depression, Kim Taylor, Ali Edwards, The Chocolate Horse, Pearlene....Southgate House and The Northside Tavern are my favorite places to play. This is The Hiders second MidPoint. They seem to have made some positive changes this year, MidPoint seems to still be coming into it's own somewhat. This year seems like it's going to be one of the best yet.

Question #15
NR: How do you feel about Wussy? What is your current relationship like with Chuck Cleaver? Do you both come out to each other's shows, to show your support?

BA: I don't keep up with them really. I engineered and produced some of the first Wussy record. It seems more like Lisa's band, she would do better on her own I think.

Question #16
NR: Name one band, that would be a dream for The Hiders to open for.

BA: Tom Petty or Tom Waits. If I could go back in time, The Dead maybe!

Question #17
NR: Name 5 albums/artists that you would have to have, if you were stranded on a desert island.

BA: Bitches Brew-Miles Davis, some Ravi Shankar, some Fred McDowell, Zeppelin III, maybe Opal "Happy Nightmare Baby".

Question #18
NR: Are there any other instruments you play besides the guitar?

BA: I play anything I can get my hands on. I play some keys, bass, banjo, sitar...been trying to learn drums. I play around with drum machines and looping a lot.

Question #19
NR: What are you hopes for The Hiders over the next five years?

BA: Make at least 3 more albums, tour overseas. Find our elusive fifth member that will stay in the band.

Question #20
NR: What has been the biggest challenge in being a full time musician?

BA: Rent, sanity...in no particular order.

Question #21
NR: I read online that you were reviewed in both Rolling Stone and Spin Magazines. I did some searching, but wasn't successful on finding either one. What did the "big dogs" have to say about you guys?

BA: Those were for Ass Ponys. 4 stars baby!

Question #22
NR: Are you guys fans of South By Southwest? It seems that every year, Cincinnati is represented at SXSW, by a few of our great bands at a "bigger version of MidPoint". This past year we had Bad Veins, Kim Taylor, Wussy, and The Chocolate Horse. Do you guys think that you are next in line for that gig? Is that something The Hiders have though about in the past, or is it something you dream about for the future?

BA: Kind of a waste of gas money unless you wanna see other bands or be a schmoozer. I have an aversion to lanyards. I just assume go play on our own, which we'll do eventually when we get our solar powered van. Austin's a great town and we've done well on radio there..It's a shame it's in Texas.

My thanks to Billy from The Hiders, for taking the time to answer some questions.

Catch The Hiders MidPoint set, this Friday (Sept 26) at 9 pm in the ballroom at the Southgate House. They're opening up for Canada's, The Sadies.

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