Interview: Ben Grubin of Hockey
Filtering energetic pop hooks with new wave textures, the indie rock band Hockey have found a remarkably playful sound that finds them flirting with comparisons to the glossiness of We Are Scientists and MGMT to at times the dive-bar grunge of The Strokes and The Walkmen.
Recently the group’s leader Ben Grubin caught up with us to discuss their move from the Los Angeles to the budding indie rock scene of Portland, life on the road, and the major amount of success they have already achieved overseas.
SoCalMusicToday: You were originally an LA based band, then moved to Spokane, Washington and now reside in Portland. What exactly prompted the relocations and what about the Portland scene do you like more than the LA or Washington one?
Ben: Yeah, we lived in LA for a while. Basically we left LA number one because we just wanted to go somewhere cheaper to live which was Spokane, and also because we had a friend who lived in Spokane and was going to join our band. He ended up not even being in our band, we actually met two other guys who ultimately ended up being in the band – Brian [White -guitar] and Anthony [Stassi -drums]. We were literary there for eight months. It felt like forever but it was really eight months and then we moved [to Portland]. When you live in Spokane the logical close destinations are Seattle or Portland. So, we like to bike ride and we knew we liked the city [Portland] a lot. We also wanted to get to a bigger music scene. Spokane was a nice place to hide and write and kind of put yourself back together. But ultimately it’s harder to make any noise in the music scene because you could be in a basement everyday and there’d only be 50 people at your show anyway.
SCMT: Did you also find it easier to get noticed in Portland than maybe in LA because of its oversaturation of bands?
Ben: Portland versus LA, both those places have huge music scene so you could do it in either place. But Portland appealed to the lifestyle we wanted to live more. As far as just it being a smaller city so you can bike and stuff. I really love visiting LA, I just couldn’t imagine living in LA – especially if I had to, you know, if I wasn’t in a band and I had to work a job. Portland seems like a good place to work a job and not have to pay too much rent and be in a band and still have a chance to make it in a music scene where music is important.
SCMT: You are about to embark on a huge tour. How do you prepare yourselves for being away from home for so long and dealing with the grueling and hectic lifestyle that comes with the road?
Ben: Right now we’re getting ready and practicing and trying to write some new songs. This tour is really going to be nuts because we’ve never been to Australia or Japan, so we’re traveling farther. For me, my traveling bag has gotten nice. I use to travel with this ridiculously huge duffel bag and every hotel we’d sleep I’d just throw it. But now I have one of these rolling ones with compartments. One thing I’m excited about is I got a new computer and I have garage band on it so I can just record things into the speakers. I can’t write very well unless I can hear things back. So I literally didn’t write a song for an entire year because I realized I can’t really write on the road. Basically I could come up with ideas but I couldn’t finish anything. Now I can just sing into my computer and write songs like that.
SCMT: Does that mean you are writing songs for a new record, or are you just writing songs here and there?
Ben: Yeah, we just feel like we want to have some new songs for our live shows and ultimately at some point we’d record another record or something. So, just starting work on that too.
SCMT: I noticed most of your upcoming tour is in Europe, and you usually tour a lot in the UK. Do you prefer touring overseas more, and what about playing over there is different compared to the shows in the states?
Ben: At least for us right now at this stage where we’re at – and I can’t even generalize what country, because on our last English headline tour we’d show up in one city and it’ll just be insane, like the crowd has all this insane energy and it’s so loud. Then we’ll go to the next city 100 miles away and it’s different. So, it’s different in England and basically we can show up anywhere and have no idea what to expect -anywhere, anytime.
SCMT: You seem to have a huge following over there. What do you feel is the reason for the major amount of success compared to maybe what you might have here in the states?
Ben: Yeah, that’s just kind of the nature. It’s funny because there’s these different paths that these bands walk, and when you get into the path you see the others walked it and it almost takes away some of the mystique. It’s like you get this write up, get this feature, you’re on the radio, ect. It’s like this is the stream of bands following through this channel which ultimately leads to the public finding out about them. And we just got into that classic U.K stream about a year ago, which is like BBC1 radio. Over there the streams circulate very quickly because it has syndicated radio, BBC1 plays in every city and just like a smaller moving community. So we just go dropped into that somehow and that’s how it got started over there. I think America is busier, crazier, and harder to make big noise in. We have spent no time in America, we haven’t even done a tour of America yet.
SCMT: Is there a specific reason for you not having done a tour of America yet, or is it basically because you like touring overseas more?
Ben: I think it’s just because stuff was happening over in England. So we just wanted to go over there where stuff was happening. We could play shows where loads of people were coming, just like something’s happening there might as well go with it.
SCMT: You did play Bonnaroo last year, so you do have a big summer festival already under your belt. There has been a rumor circulating that you guys are confirmed to play Coachella this year, is there any truth to that?
Ben: Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’re down for playing Coachella this year.
SCMT: For someone who might be seeing you guys play live for the first time what can they expect? Is there any added dynamics that might not be featured in your recorded work?
Ben: Live, it’s just a little more heavy. On the recording it’s kind of light and lo-fi. Live, I think it’s just heavier, more intense versions of the songs.
SCMT: Your album “Mind Chaos” was originally going to be released by Sony. A lot of the songs that we hear now on the album were reworked from their original versions. How much different are the songs compared to their original state?
Ben: “Mind Chaos” was never going to be released with Sony. Jeremy [Reynolds – bass] and I had a development deal with them a long time ago, I think in 2006. We recorded like 15 songs for that and it never came close to being released as an album. Those songs all disappeared except for “Song Away” – which is the only song from back then that’s on this album.
SCMT: Was that project ever going to be called Mind Chaos?
Ben: It never was even perceived as an album. It was only songs. But anyway, we put “Mind Chaos” out on our own in 2008, I think, and put it on iTunes. And then we got signed to Capitol and re-released “Mind Chaos” basically with a few more songs than we had done and the exact 10 versions of the one we had done on our own.
SCMT: Being that it is a new decade/new year what is the bands resolutions/ plans for the future?
Ben: We’re just going to do these tours and then start writing new stuff and just try and figure out where we wanna go with our music.