The Hush Sound recently played a hometown show at the House of Blues while in the middle of their summer Dance Across The Country Tour promoting their new album, Goodbye Blues. Before they hit the stage to a SOLD OUT crowd of adoring Chicago fans, friends and family, I got to talk with lead singers/songwriters Greta Salpeter and Bob Morris. Just a heads up – about 3/4 of the way into the interview, Bob had to leave to go soundcheck, since he was singing with the first opening band. Among the topics we discussed were: bags of weed, iced coffee, Tim and Eric, Guitar Hero, New Kids On The Block, Rock Band, The Young and the Restless, ‘N Sync, Patrick Stump, and even FBR Trash. Read on to hear what Greta and Bob had to say about THAT…
1) With three studio albums to choose from, how do you decide which songs to play each night? Or do you play the same set for every show on the whole tour?
Greta: Well, this tour definitely is focusing on the new record, but in a way we kind of just started at the beginning of the set and after each song we went, “Well, what do we want next?” When you’re building a set you want there to be a lot of dynamics. So we just kinda pick songs according to that. Instead of playing three or four ballads, we play one slow ballad from the new record and maybe one from the old record.
Bob: We don’t do the same thing every night either. Sometimes people will come up to us and specifically want a certain song that wasn’t in our set and we’ll try and accommodate. We try and mix it up just to make sure everybody… If there’s a special song for someone that they want to hear, we try and play it for them.
2) Does anybody get to make an executive decision if the band can’t agree on song selection?
Greta: We haven’t gotten to the point where we haven’t agreed on it.
Bob: Yeah, and when we disagree it’s usually like, “Ah, I think this would be better, but let’s try it your way, and if it doesn’t work…” Usually we all agree if it works or not.
Greta: Yeah, usually playing it at one show and seeing how the audience reacts is enough to test whether or not something’s gonna go over well.
3) What prevents you from playing different sets every night? Can you change songs in midshow, depending on your mood?
Greta: Oh, yeah you definitely can. I mean, to me it gets boring when you know exactly what’s coming next every minute; it’s really not exciting anymore. Like already, two weeks into tour, we’ve been playing a pretty similar set and I’m kinda like ready to change it up now.
Bob: We play a similar set, but even still we change it every night almost. We still have to talk about Where We Went Wrong [addressing Greta].
4) Do you plan shows differently when playing in Chicago?
Greta: Yeah, like there’s one song we play where we all switch instruments. Like I play drums, and our drummer sings. We did it the last time we played a big Chicago show, so it might not be a good idea to do it twice in a row.
5) What have you noticed about crowds at recent The Hush Sound shows?
Bob: They’re getting older.
Greta: They’re growing up.
Bob: There are more men.
Bob: Which is awesome, because I love men [long dramatic pause] at our shows.
Greta: Haha, when that’s typed out, there’s going to be no note of sarcasm. It’ll just be like, “Bob: I love having men at our shows. I love men.”
Bob: I love men…at our shows.
6) How much do you rehearse for a tour?
Bob: We usually try and practice for at least an hour…once.
Greta [laughing at Bob’s sarcasm]: No, you know, we were home for three weeks before this tour. After the last tour, which was two and a half months, we took a good week off from each other and then all kinda went and did our own things. We’ll build a set, which takes a few days. And then we pretty much just spend a week running a set.
Bob: It’s funny doing like a headlining set, because it’s so long and you only get to do it every now and again. So it’s like, you start off, and it just seems extremely overwhelming – you’re just like, “Ugh, how are we going to do this?” And then the next day it’s like, “Ok.” Pretty soon, it’s crazy – if you’ve ever been in a high school musical or something – just the way it all just kinda comes together really fast. And then all of a sudden, you play your first show, and make your little changes and then everything’s good.
7) What’s on The Hush Sounds’ rider?
Bob: It’s hard for me to remember.
Greta: Well, it depends…
Bob: We don’t really get it all that often anymore.
Greta: Yeah, we don’t get it all that often. Definitely water, tea. I usually just ask for fresh fruit and organic vegetables, but…
Bob: I like wine. Love the wine. There’s some veggie tray, etc. Nothing crazy. Sharpies.
Greta: No underwear, condoms, drugs, weed, puppies, small children…none of that stuff.
Bob: Bag of weed. We went on tour with a band that had bag of weed on their rider, and they got it.
Greta: We played at a college! At a college, they gave them a bag of weed and what’s it called – some kind of air freshener – and were like, “If you’re gonna smoke it, use this.” Like as if that’s just gonna totally clue the police to go the opposite way.
8 – When you’re in the studio, do you think about how the songs will sound live? Does that affect the decision as to which songs will make the record?
Greta: I mean, to me, a lot of the time. It’s kinda fun to write a song and then keep in mind how are people – where will people get involved singing this part or that part. So, I guess yeah.
Bob: Yes and no, because sometimes you don’t wanna worry too much about that’ll all come later on. But yeah, there are times when you, of course envision yourselves playing. And that’s how you know if you’re going to feel comfortable continually playing a song.
9) How do you change things with every tour or show to make them different from your past tours and shows?
Greta: I guess it’s not something you really plan. A lot of the change has to do with the crowd and the dynamic in the crowd. Sometimes you’ll get some really exciting, strange or rude talkative people who really make it different than it used to be. I mean, I guess we do different arrangements; try to get the crowd singing in different places and everything.
Bob: We like to make the audience part of our instrumentation. Which is good when the audience is a good musician.
10) What do you do on the road to relax?
Greta: Well, the problem is that there’s too much relaxation on the road, so it’s rather “What do we do to keep active?” I guess is the question? Because literally, on the road, if you wanted to you could lay down for 22 hours a day – if you wanted to and not do anything. So it’s more like what to do to keep active. I don’t know, I do yoga, we [her and Bob] go for bike rides.
Bob: Yeah, I like to go for bike rides with Greta. And I also just love to explore the cities.
Greta: Yeah, we walk around a lot. I go to thrift and vintage shops – book shops, record stores. Read a lot, write a lot.
Bob: I usually try and hit a Starbucks every morning.
Greta: Pretty much, we realized that when there isn’t a place to get iced coffee, we suffer in the day. Like the day’s missing something for sure, which is sad, but true.
11) What challenges, if any, did you face putting the new album together?
Greta: You know, one of the biggest challenges with having two songwriters is trying to make cohesive records, I’d say. Which, some people really like that about our band – that there are the Greta songs and the Bob songs. And then some people say they don’t want all the songs to sound so different. They want all of us to be singing on everything. With two songwriters, there’s always going to be a challenge of us writing stuff that’s coming from totally different places. So it’s probably one of the hardest, but also one of the most exciting things, is just picking the shape of what we want our record to look like. Another challenge is always picking where you want to record it, with who’s going to produce it, and who’s going to engineer it, and how you want it to sound. Getting everyone to agree on stuff like that is definitely a challenge, but again also very exciting.
12) How would you categorize your music?
Greta: Golden, like a sunset. A bubble bath. Sixties dance party at the beach. Bowling. Finger-painting. Sprinkles! Water color. Mexican buffet.
Bob: I don’t know. That’s so hard to categorize yourself, because I don’t know how people see us. I know how I see us. But I guess how I see us is just –
Greta: A Mexican buffet.
Bob: A Mexican buffet, or maybe a Gospel brunch?
Greta: A Gospel brunch. A backyard barbeque on the Fourth of July. And tie-dying t-shirts. Can you put all those images next to each other [addressing me]?
Bob: In her mind?
Greta: No, I mean in the answer. Okay, that’s it.
13) What makes your band stand out from others in your genre of music?
Bob: We just sound completely different. And I don’t know if there are bands in our genre that exist.
Greta: I don’t know, I mean if our genre is pop music, that’s kind of a big scene, haha.
Bob: When you put us next to any other band – there’s a lot of bands that sound the same, but I don’t think we sound like any of them.
Greta: We get a lot of questions like, “How do you differ from your labelmates?” So when people say genre, they are automatically are saying Fall Out Boy, Panic At The Disco, The Hush Sound, The Cab, Paramore, all these bands that are on the same label. And definitely to me, none of those bands sound like each other. I think if you have a musical ear, it’s hard to say that they sound like each other. For us, I don’t know a band out there that sounds like us, which is good because we’re trying to be the first Hush Sound, not the next whoever else already exists. But how would we categorize it? I don’t know. Fun, imaginative music that we’re kinda making for ourselves for fun and hoping that other people enjoy.
Darren [Wilson – drums/vocals]: Four, unique personalities coming together to make a unique sound.
Greta: Yeah, and actually attracting a lot of unique people. We go on other headlining tours and you see that each band has a very particular kind of fanbase. I feel like the people who come to our shows are so unique and interesting. And most of the time they’re like, really creative, either in the arts, or in music, or in kinda whatever. Everybody has something really cool to offer. So it’s nice to know that it’s attracting that kind of people, I guess.
14) Who are some of your favorite bands?
Greta: Of all time?
Bob: The Beatles. The Beatles, easily. Tom Petty, Neil Young.
Greta: Joni Mitchell, and the whole Motown collection. Carole King.
Bob: Leon Russell.
Greta: Yeah, Leon Russell, Elton John.
Bob: Yeah, we have pretty eclectic tastes. But, we’ve become hip to some of the newer stuff lately too, thanks to Phantom Planet pretty much.
Greta: Like, the new Phantom Planet record’s great.
Bob: Yeah, the new Phantom Planet record’s great.
Greta: There’s a band called Simon Dawes from L.A. and their record is really incredible.
15) How has your life changed since your success?
Greta: You know, I don’t think you’ve really made it until your music has lasted 20 or 50 years and people are still singing it. To think – for anyone to think in this field that they’ve made it – particularly at our level and at our age – I think would be really disappointing. Because once you’ve “made it,” where do you go from there? You know what I mean? So to me, it’s like we’re just at the tip of where we start to feel the success that we want. To speak for everybody, and correct me if I’m wrong [addressing Bob], I feel like success for us is making records the way we want to make them, the songs we want to put on them, and releasing them so that a lot of people get a lot of genuine satisfaction out of it. It’s really hard in a modern day situation, with the music industry right now. Sometimes some people in situations – particularly with major labels – are in a boat where they can’t put out the songs that they want because it’s not radio-friendly, or because of this or because of that. We, so far have been able to make the records that we want and have been able to get really good distribution and get stuff out. So that’s a certain level of success right there. Just doing it the way we want to do it. I think continuing to do that would be success for us.
16) What advice would you give to those interested in playing in a band?
Bob: Listen to music. Love music.
Greta [in a creepy, evil voice]: Quit now, while you’re ahead.
Bob: Quit, so that we don’t have as much competition. It’s all competition, it’s not creativity. It’s competition. No, the first part is true – listen to music, love music. Learn about music. Don’t just listen to one kind of music.
Greta: Try to get a vehicle that runs on air, because gas is so expensive.
Bob: It’s hard to be in a band.
Greta: It’s really hard to be in a band right now. It’s hard to do everything right now.
Bob: It’s not hard to be in a band, it’s hard to make any money…
17) How did you start playing your instruments?
Greta: I started when I was two, or younger. I guess I’m just kind of a natural. My mom played piano.
Bob: I wanted to be a drummer. My parents bought me a little drum set. I broke it in a day. They thought it was so annoying when I had it for that day anyways, they probably it broke for me, I don’t even know. And then they just bought me a guitar because it was quieter. I asked for drums all the time, then they’re like, “Here’s this guitar.” I’m like, “Ok,” and then I loved it.
18) What were the first songs you learned to play?
Bob: I learned Korn – “Blind.”
Greta: Oh my God, the first song I learned on guitar was Mest – “Drawing Board.” It was hilarious.
Bob: “Drawing Board,” I taught her that. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are.”
19) Who were some of the bands you first saw live at shows you went to growing up?
Greta: Oh my God, Catch 22 was one of my first shows. Weezer was also one of my first shows, which I’m still very proud of.
Bob: Weezer? Really?
Greta: I saw Weezer when I was 12 and it was amazing. Yeah, I think that was it.
Bob: The first concert I ever went to was New Kids On The Block, but I didn’t want to go. I swear!
Greta: I saw ‘N Sync when I was maybe nine, but no girl can be – actually no, ‘N Sync was good. I’m proud of that choice. I was going to say no girl can be held responsible for her choices when she was nine, but they were good! I liked them. Oh my gosh, my parents went to great lengths – they found some bookie and got tickets for my birthday.
20) How do you improve your skills on your instruments while out on the road and holed up in the recording studio? Do you have a practice regimen?
Greta: To me, when you term it “practicing,” it’s kind of the same reason why I quit playing piano when I was 13. It was like, “Oh, there’s discipline. You have to run scales, you have to learn pieces, everything has to be perfect.” For me, that makes music a real turn-off, because it’s not about perfection. It’s about the originality of the songs you’re writing, and then from there you want to learn to play them well. Instead of calling it “practice time” or “improvement time,” it’s more about listening to a song you love, and you love it so much that you want to learn it. And so you learn it. And then maybe you learn it on every instrument, and then if you wanted to, you could go record it, or whatever. You know what I mean? It’s more fun and exploration than it is specifically wanting to get better at my instrument. I think that when you pursue things with a genuine curiosity, and with a genuine hunger, you automatically get way better. Maybe than you would otherwise if you were super disciplined about it. But if you’re asking physically how we do it, we have acoustic guitars and a practice keyboard, and all sorts of stuff.
21) What are your thoughts on FBR Trash?
Bob: I just discovered this. The Cab has talked about it. I couldn’t imagine anyone giving a shit about that. That’s straight up what that is, right there.
Greta: What is it?
Bob: It’s a Live Journal thing of people talking trash about Fueled By Ramen bands, as if you could classify all Fueled By Ramen bands as something that you should talk shit about. I don’t know… I couldn’t possibly care less.
Greta: Oh. I’m generally opposed to just putting negative energy out there for no reason.
Bob: I also couldn’t imagine being that much of a loser to sit online and talk trash about people that you don’t know. So, those people should really be ashamed of themselves. Apparently, they don’t say anything bad about us – supposedly, I haven’t read it.
Greta: That’s because we’re not mega-successful. As soon as a band gets successful, people start bad-mouthing them.
Bob: Yeah, can’t wait.
Greta: I just feel like, I don’t know. People like that need to get hobbies. No – honestly, seriously, people like that need to figure out what they want to do with their life and then just start pursuing it. I don’t know.
Bob: They’re losers. That just bums me out that the people exist. Exactly.
Greta: Now this interview will be published and everyone will put it up and be like, “They’re so lame! They said we need to get hobbies. They’re losers.”
Bob: “I can’t believe how dumb they are. Let’s talk about how dumb they are.”
Greta: I feel like Gabe [Saporta – from Cobra Starship] will get involved in anything, anytime possible, ever. If there’s something going on, no matter if it’s negative or positive, he’s there. I think that’s just kind of his thing.
22) How do you feel about the whole Guitar Hero and Rock Band game phenomenon?
Greta: I think that’s fantastic.
Bob: I think it’s cool. It’s cool the way that they get kids into older music.
Greta: I think it’s cool, too. If I was a parent and my kid wanted to play drums, I would totally get them Rock Band first, so they weren’t making a huge, crazy ruckus every day.
23) What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned from music professionals with more experience in the biz?
Greta: Well, that once you start making music, either just for money or just for other people, it just becomes really soulless and no fun at all. I feel like sometimes you see people who have done that, and maybe are regretful of it. And then also, on the bright side, you can do this forever and stay really young and have a really great time just kind of be a kid forever. And that’s what most people we’ve gone on tour with have taught me. What about you [addressing Bob]?
Bob: That pretty much hits the nail on the head, I think. I don’t know… You have to business-savvy to be a successful musician. There’s just way too many bands out there – way too many people trying to do this. There’s a lot of creative, awesome intelligent people that will never be successful. We know some of them. It’s interesting seeing it because, you just want to be like, “Hey, if you just would do this, then this amount of people would hear your band, and that would be good for your band.” It’s not a sacrifice as much as it is making smart moves and whatnot. You have to be savvy to a certain degree. But at the same time the most important thing has to be the music, otherwise what’s the point of being savvy?
24) How much did you know about the business side of the music industry before you started signing contracts and making deals?
Greta: Oh, nothing! I was 16 when we signed, or maybe I had just turned 17. We were babies – we had no idea. Fortunately, we ended up in really good hands. We ended up with a great management company and a really honest label. Which is better than probably 95% of people who get signed at the age that we do. First of all, we got really lucky. And then second of all, we learned very quickly. I went out and bought a book on like, “How Not to get Ripped Off in the Music Industry…Here! 200 Vocabulary Terms You Need to Understand Your Record Contract.” I basically got us a lawyer and started negotiating our contract. Which, again you learn a lot quickly by just keeping your eyes open and talking to people. But, the whole business side of everything is – I hate to say falling apart – but really, now it’s becoming almost… To survive, bands need to be totally, or nearly totally, do-it-yourself. Have a great management company, but other than that, try to do your own distribution. You can even make your own videos, design your own merch.
25) Who influenced and/or helped you with understanding publishing, licensing, production points, artist royalties, etc.?
Greta: Management and lawyers. I read a lot on my own, so I guess management and lawyers and myself. But that’s not what I want to be focusing on. I don’t want to be focusing on how to sell music. I want to be focusing on writing better music. If I wanted to be a millionaire right away, I would probably be in med school right now, or whatever. I probably wouldn’t be doing this if I was in it solely for making the dollar. Though I wouldn’t mind…
26) What are some valuable lessons you’ve learned from mistakes you’ve made during your career so far?
Greta: I don’t think we’ve made any serious mistakes. The one mistake we almost made was breaking up. Just because we were so exhausted from touring for a year in a van and were not getting along. But that was the one mistake we could’ve made that we avoided, which I’m really glad…
27) What are you thoughts on having your recorded live performances downloaded online for free by your fans?
Greta: To me, despite the fact that YouTube means that you can have every single second of your awkward puberty phase of your career put on video, I think that when it comes down to taping live performance, the band needs to be able to say when something can or cannot be used. We’re totally comfortable with playing live and with recording live. We did the Daytrotter Session, where we go in and we pick five songs. We recorded them live and they’re available for free on their website – I think it’s daytrotter.com. But there are just days when you’re playing sometimes, like if your monitor goes out, and you can’t hear anything. Obviously you’re not singing in key, you have no clue what’s going on. Sometimes there’s technical stuff that just really doesn’t reflect your level of musicianship and I just think a lot of bands would probably get a worse rep if one of those performances got out. I think definitely that wouldn’t be fair unless bands could promote it.
28) As far as commercial music licensing goes, what television shows would you enjoy having your music placed and featured in?
Greta: You know what’s hilarious – we never anticipated this, nor did we really reach out to them, but The Young and the Restless is putting Hurricane on one of their commercials, which to me is just kinda funny because whatever, it’s soap opera land. And then House used Medicine Man for something. I’m trying to think of what TV shows we like. Most of the TV shows we really like already have all their own music. Like, Tim and Eric – specifically they design funny music. Curb Your Enthusiasm has the Jewish waltzes. I’ve never seen Grey’s Anatomy. It seems like a lot of people have made their break from being on Grey’s Anatomy. Honestly, I don’t even have a TV. Maybe HBO shows that are actually decent. It would be cool to have a song on there. I honestly haven’t seen a TV show in a long time.
29) Who would you love to tour with or open for? Write songs with?
Greta: Last time we played in Chicago was the same night Rilo Kiley was playing. A friend of mine who knows them took us to their show and we met them. They were super nice and put on a great show. It would be really fun to tour with them. Although, I don’t know if they’re going to be touring much anymore, what the deal is… Who do we really like? We want to go on tour with Death Cab and Weezer at some point; a lot of bands that we grew up listening to, it’d always be fun – you always have that dream in the back of your head. Let me think…who would we like to collaborate with? Honestly, if I wanted to collaborate with someone, I would say some of my friends in other bands – like Alex from Phantom Planet. We all had so much fun. We were sharing a bus with them and we’d all just kind of mess around and make up songs and play songs and show each other new songs. I’d just say I would want to collaborate with the people I already know and love. There’s nobody huge that I want to collaborate with.
30) What was it like having Patrick Stump produce and sing on your Like Vines record? Did you learn anything from your experience working with him?
Greta: Yeah! I learned a lot from him. I feel like I was such a baby when we made that record. I feel like I barely even sang – I could barely even sing. Definitely the best thing we got out of making that record with him was just a really awesome friendship. We’re still really close with him and I really value his friendship. He’s talked a lot of sense into me at very important times in my life and in my career when I really needed it. Definitely, it was fun.
31) Is there anything else you would like to share with your fans?
Greta: No. We love ‘em. That’s it.