The Pitt News

Lead singer of The Hotelier talks ambiguity, imagines the worst

By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

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On The Hotelier’s towering second LP, Home, Like Noplace Is There, lead singer and lyricist Christian Holden tackles some heavy topics. Toxic relationships, addiction and steering loved ones away from their destructive paths all take center stage, albeit through indelibly catchy guitar-driven pop songs.

The band stops at the Smiling Moose on Sunday, continuing their tour supporting Modern Baseball with Tiny Moving Parts and Sorority Noise.  

The Pitt News talked on the phone with Holden, en route to the band’s Asbury Park, N.J., show, about leaving songs open for interpretation, letting muscle memory take over on stage and imagining the worst.

The Pitt News: When you announced the new record, you also talked about your struggles with the label surrounding your first record. Did that experience inspire you guys to change up the name (from The Hotel Year) and rebrand?

Christian Holden: They were kind of unrelated. Now it feels like changing the name put us in a different era, but I don’t think we were necessarily conscious that we were going to be feeling that way after we did it. We honestly did it because we didn’t like the name and didn’t think it was a good name and there was a band called My Hotel Year. We didn’t want to have to think about them every time we said our name.

TPN: I’ve noticed that when you answer fan questions on your Tumblr, you are sometimes hesitant to provide specific meanings behind songs. Did you guys agree when you were writing the deeply personal ones that you’d leave them open for interpretation?

CH: Yeah, that’s just how I feel as a writer. For me to prescribe one meaning to a song is selling it kind of short and making it something that can’t live on past my interpretation. Because if I, as the person who wrote it, say, “This is what it’s about,” it’s this super-authoritative way of saying this is how it’s going to be. And people who want that song to mean something different to them — I’ve had songs that I felt meant a lot to me, and I’d just rather not have heard what the artist’s interpretation was because it would either spoil it for me or take a lot of the magic out of it.

TPN: It definitely makes music more of a one-way street.

CH: It makes it something that’s from the artist, revolves around the artist and the artist is the center of attention. That is not what I find awesome about music.

TPN: Without going into specifics, are some of the more intense experiences on the record, like “Your Deep Rest,” “Introduction” and “Housebroken,” directly inspired by your life or based on friends you know?

CH: They’re all situations that I’ve gone through except for “Your Deep Rest.” “Your Deep Rest” is an experience that was not too far off from a situation that was happening in my life, and when I was writing it, I thought, “This is everything that I’d be living through if — one step further from what is actually happening with this person in my life.” It was pretty clear to me. Everything else was actual personal experiences of people in my life that I was really connected with and felt a part of.

TPN: That’s a compelling approach to songwriting, taking this “what if” scenario — being one step removed from something happening.

CH: It was something that played in my head over and over again, so it’s practically like something that I had experienced. It can torture you even worse when it’s that close to happening, can really f*ck with your head.

TPN: The songs on this record and, in some cases, on your first record, are such intense emotional experiences. When you’re performing them night after night, do you get jolted, or do you have to remove yourself from the initial meaning?

CH: I don’t think I get jolted. When I perform, I get thrown into this muscle memory thing where I can’t even sometimes remember what happened during the set after it happened. Just not even thinking about it and letting muscle memory do everything. And kind of not even muscle memory but just your feeling and how you’re experiencing the set. I don’t even know if I am thinking half the time when I’m playing, unless I am currently experiencing those feelings going into a set.

TPN: Is the house on the cover of album your childhood home or someone’s in the band?

CH: That was Zack (Shaw)’s, our old guitarist, who quit the band and was kicked out of his house — it was foreclosed on. And then we did it when it was just owned by the bank. I felt like it was too perfect to not use.

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Lead singer of The Hotelier talks ambiguity, imagines the worst