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Interview: The Hanks

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The Hanks are an indie rock group based out of L.A. who recently released their second album, Distance, without the help of a label. These guys are incredibly motivated and almost addicted to being on the road. This year they played their third SXSW and are currently on a countrywide tour. The Hanks, made up of Josh Grondin (lead vocals, guitar), Bryan Harris (bass guitar, backup vocals), Philip Katz (keyboard, horns, backup vocals), and Shane Mayo (drums), write beautiful songs, but still know how to rock.  I recently had an opportunity to sit with Josh Grondin, while he was waiting for some famous Chicago deep-dish pizza, to talk about their current tour and recent album release.

CoS: How has your tour been going so far?

JG: It’s been really good!  We have been out for coming up on two months.

CoS: What have been your favorite cities?

JG: Pretty much, all along the south we played Tucson, AZ, a ton of shows in Texas, a couple shows in Louisiana, a bunch of shows in Florida, Atlanta, all up the east coast and now we’re on our Midwest stretch.

CoS: Great! Did your tour kick off at SXSW?

JG: Kind of, we had our album release show in Los Angeles on March 6th and then scooted over to Austin pretty quick.  We did a few shows out there and they were fantastic, really fun.

CoS: Did you pick up a wider fan base out there?

JG: Yeah, there’s just such an energy out at SXSW and this is actually our third year playing, but our first year playing multiple shows and I was a little unsure if that was going to be a good thing or if we would be stretching ourselves too thin on the promotion.  All of the shows ended up being really good.  We played three shows and they were all fantastic.

CoS: Excellent, and you mentioned that you had your album kick off party in L.A. and I read that you released your album without a label this time, a do it yourself kind of thing, raising money on your website and offering a pre-sale.  What are some pros and cons of releasing an album this way?

JG: The pros are that there is an incredible amount of control in making the record that you don’t necessarily have with a label.  Actually this is our second full length and the first one we originally recorded and released the same way, totally independently.  Then, we got picked up by a label and re-released the album.  Our contract with our last label was very short term, so which just decided to go into this second record again with out any ties and just put it out ourselves and record it ourselves.  We hooked up with a really great producer who we really trusted and recorded the whole thing with.

CoS: The album definitely sounds like a solid album and I like the sort of mellower indie rock stuff paired up with the tracks where you rock it out.

JG: This album is definitely mellower than our last record, so I wasn’t totally sure how people were going to react to it and there has been a really positive response.  Hitting the road, I was really pleasantly surprised at how soon along the tour people were singing along.  We released the CD on the 5th of March and mailed it out to everyone who pre-ordered it that day and at the very first shows of the tour people were already singing along.

CoS: That’s got to be a great feeling.  I think it sounds like a really mature album, so well done.

JG: Why thank you. Some of the cons of making and releasing the album ourselves would be that it’s a lot of cost and we were really scrambling for a while to figure out how we would do it.  We had toured behind our last record for the better part of two years and it wasn’t like we got to a point where we felt like there was nothing more we could do, especially as a smaller band you can really tour infinitely in a support of an album.  Musically and creatively we were getting to a point where we really needed to go in a make another record. We had the material, and you know two years is a really long time to play one album. So it was definitely a creative thing, and we had to figure out all the other financial and logistical aspects of that.  We took a lot of time off, and touring is our big income source and we had to write, rehearse and just get the album ready. The pre-order did help a lot financially.

CoS: I though that was a really unique idea, I don’t think that I’ve really seen that before on a myspace page, with the pre-order and the donate spot.

JG: I was a really encouraging response to that, especially the donate. I figured maybe we get a few bucks here or there, from people who maybe couldn’t afford to buy the album, but there were a lot of people who would order the CD and still donate 20 or 30 bucks.

CoS: People like being a part of things, and do want to support their favorite bands.

JG: Definitely, some people really get what it’s like to be an independent musician and that they have a big part of supporting that band.  Dealing with all of the recording costs along with the cost of living while you make the album.  But it was really cool and a neat experience.

CoS: I saw on some of your blog posting that your music can be heard on MTV shows, how did that come about?

JG: That was through a friend of our managers, who has a management company and works at MTV.  She passed our music along to different music supervisors of different shows.  They need an incredible amount of music for all those shows; I mean those whole shows feature background music.  That’s been really great and as a musician you always have to find creative ways to get your music out there and it’s been a really big help bring money in.

CoS: So what shows will you be on?

JG: We actually don’t even know at this point.  We just got info from MTV the other day that we will have 11 placements.  I know Laguna Beach and Next, now MTV has more of a blanket licensing policy where for a year, they can use whatever album you want or whatever songs you want and they get to put them wherever they want.

CoS: So you never know when you are going to be sitting back watching TV and all of a sudden The Hanks are playing.

JG: The only time we ever heard in advance was the first time our music was used. It was surreal; we were actually on tour when it happened. It was used on Laguna Beach and we just had to tune in and it was a weird, I mean, a lot of those MTV reality shows are kind of stupid, so obviously we care a lot about our music and our songs and it’s such a funny dichotomy to see where they use it. It’s just one of those things that none of us take too seriously. It’s our music being out there, being heard.  The first time one of our songs was used it was a song called “The Only Thing Real”, off our first record and it got placed on this episode of Laguna Beach, and that’s the only episode that I’ve ever seen of Laguna Beach, and I guess that they have this band on the show and the band was taking part in this performance at The Roxy. There was a manager guy that was coaching them and it’s so funny because we live in L.A. and we’ve been around for about 7 years now and feel like with doing all this independent stuff we know a good amount about the music business and it was just such a sham (laughs) what’s going on with this band on Laguna Beach. It’s this twisted exaggerated view of the music business. It’s like they play one show and they happen to get signed. So they manager guy, asks the band “Do you have anything else that you want to add?” and the band say “I just want to rock” and it cuts to people on a speed boat while our song is playing. So that was our first moment on MTV with “I just want to rock” and a Miami Vice style montage with our song.

CoS: That sounds amazing (laughs) that’s the only word I can think of, amazing.

JG: It was amazing.  It’s just one of those things that is just so funny.  It was really exciting, you know.

CoS: Now, you’re here in Chicago and you’re playing a show May 6th at the Double Door, so just sum up for me why people should come on out and check you out on your tour.

JG: We a good band, and you can check out our stuff online and if you like it, I think we represent ourselves really well live.  That’s kind of been our bread and butter over the years.  As much, as I love writing and recording, playing live is a really big part of who we are. It should be a really fun time and we really like Chicago, our drummer is from Chicago, so it’ s one of our favorite places to play.

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