An Oddly Existential Interview with the Hails
By: Jeffrey Carmichael
When I saw that the Hails had announced the fall tour dates for their upcoming album, I was ecstatic that they were coming to Gainesville to perform. I had been listening to the band since my freshman year of college, right as I had begun teaching myself to play bass. When I first listened to their EP, He Seems Upset, I remember thinking to myself, “This is the kind of music I want to make one day.” I quickly purchased my tickets, browsed through the band’s Spotify page, and I was amazed to discover that they were only founded seven years ago: while they were all still students at UF. After I found this out, I knew that my first article for Rowdy had to be a review of their debut album, What’s Your Motive. However, you could color me surprised when their press manager and UF alum, Madi Florence, confirmed that I would be interviewing one of my biggest modern music inspirations moments before their show at the High Dive.
The incredibly talented five-piece is composed of Robbie Kingsley on vocals, Dylan McCue on guitar, Franco Solari on guitar and vocals, Andre Escobar on bass, and Zach Levy on drums. Having dominated Florida’s indie rock scene for years, the band finally experienced its own coming of age with the release of What’s Your Motive, and their associated headlining tour around the nation. Within the album’s ten tracks, the band continues to prove their worth as musicians and demonstrate that their success up until this point only marks the beginning of their journey to stardom. Their new album was recorded in their Miami studio – a place that was built just for it. The tracks take the listener on a sonic journey that perfectly captures the essence of indie rock while continuously mixing in elements of RnB, electronic, and alternative rock. Every song is a breath of fresh air – a combination of flavors that is unexpected to the palette in the best way possible. The seven years that it took the band to release their debut album paid off with this dynamic curation of tracks. This new music never leaves the listener bored, while somehow managing to weave this intricate, existential narrative into the album’s ever-shifting soundscape.
The album’s name is the driving force behind this masterfully crafted narrative. What’s Your Motive is an expression of all the things that held the band back during their seven-year journey. According to Robbie, it’s “this recognition that you know what you’re supposed to do but you can’t figure out how or why you’re supposed to do it, but you have that innate feeling of ‘I know my motive and I know what makes me happy, but I’m trying to dissect these things in my life that are causing me to lose interest, not care, or get complacent… Why is this drive that I used to have not the same?’” Throughout the first track, Caligula, the album explores this theme through the lens of the band’s relationship with control. Despite knowing what they wanted to do, the band found it difficult to completely dedicate themselves to following their calling to music due to the lack of control they had over the future. Caligula serves as this romanticization of having complete control. Dylan comments that the track is this play on the thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to not worry about all the powers that are outside of our control, especially in our ever-changing world?”
While they might just seem like love songs, Breathless, Fiona, and When You Were Bored continue to explore the connection between control and complacency. Dylan comments that relationships are often the earliest antidotes to complacency; they can be a low-hanging fruit that we push past their natural life span just to keep some sense of control over our lives. However, these tracks also serve to further develop the album’s narrative. The relationships and circumstances described in these songs were unfortunate, but they weren’t meant to be interpreted as sad lyrics over a series of happy tracks. Robbie elaborates on this development further, “I’m just recognizing this is what happened, this is where I’m at, and it is what it is. I think there is also some humor to be found in that… Oh what is it this time, this is the conundrum I’ve found myself in?” Within these tracks is this radical acceptance of self and the circumstances we often find ourselves in – even when they suck.
This theme of acceptance continues with the track, Heaven, but the album moves to this theme of releasing control and finding freedom in the chaos. This is seen both within the lyrics and the sound. The first half of the album has a much more conventional pop rock sound, but the latter half diverges from this greatly. With tracks like Heaven, LCD, and Time Never Sat So Still, the listener is treated to this grand release of control in which elements of RnB and electronic music are freely thrown into the mix. LCD perfectly encapsulates this sense of freedom. Robbie explains that the song represents this coming-of-age story; that for him, the LCD television is very reminiscent of something out of the late 2000s, and the track embodies this youthful desire to break out and escape. One can see this at the very core of the song’s creation. Dylan details how after graduating college, he became quite immersed in Miami nightlife where house music and LCD Soundsystem were very popular. The song strives, and succeeds, in embodying this sensibility that one would find in other dance-rock tracks. That only happened through the immersion in something new, something unfamiliar like Miami nightlife in the turbulent years following college graduation.
While the album has a very deep relationship with time, especially with the numerous unintentional nods to Pink Floyd throughout, this relationship is most evidently seen within the last two tracks. Dylan confesses that Time Never Sat So Still was about how he was never good at living in the moment, especially in the context of graduating college and worrying about the future. After years of remaining non-committal, the band was able to move on from the things that were holding them back from their calling. This is so evident in the album’s final track, In Moments. No longer was the band burdened by the romanticization of the past nor fear of the future.
As much as we might romanticize having absolute control, letting go of that notion is a necessary part of life, of art. Many of us don’t know what we’re going to do once we graduate college, but sometimes you’ve got to do what feels right in the moment; throw stuff at the wall until something sticks, just like the Hails do when writing music. Use the freedom found within radical self-acceptance as a means of authentically expressing yourself despite the looming threat of the unknown, to have more fun with the life you’ve been gifted. To quote the wise words of Andre Escobar, “Fun blends into passion. Everything just bottle-necked right here at this album and now it’s just one stream pushing forward… We finally all got traction, all of us made big life decisions and sacrifices to get to this point, to do what we’re doing right now… It finally feels good to just be officially doing this.” Give yourself the same opportunity to pursue your passions, and to all the bands just starting out, Franco had one piece of advice to give, “Suck until you don’t.”
Jeff [@jeffrey__carmichael] is an online and print writer for Rowdy. He is an avid concertgoer, music aficionado, and enjoyer of all things strange.