Happy Hollows + Gangi @ Viper Room

I walked up the dark stairs to the always obnoxiously loud Viper Room to find Happy Hollows opener, Gangi.  In hindsight, I can understand why this was the band to get the ball rolling for Happy Hollows—they were quirky, spontaneous, and sort of offered unpredictable music.  Realistically, they sounded like a band made of your friends back in college that wanted to have some fun making noises that sounded good together.  Gangi resembled the dark music from the ’90s that attempted to imitate Kurt Cobain, with some redeeming beats and melodic guitar riffs towards the end of their set.

Finally, after waiting almost an hour for Happy Hollows to set up, they hit the stage with a bang.  Beautiful Sarah Negahdari was all smiles and giggles as she stood at the mic and began playing their first song.  She emoted so much energy on the small Viper Room stage that it poured out onto the crowd and made the happy music even more of a jovial experience.  Throughout the entire show, Sarah never showed a sign of tiring, throwing her head up and down, bouncing and jumping around the stage.  Charlie and Chris possessed their own endless amounts of energy—not once did any of the three ever stop playing music to drink water, stall to relax or maybe even breathe.  To be honest, it is hard to focus on all the logistics and technicalities of the music because watching the band play is so enamoring.  The three bandmates stand in their individual space but flow together like a school of fish.  Each of the band members possess an acute understanding of their own instruments and each other that gives them the ability to pick up on each player’s energy and use that to strengthen the music.   I suppose that is what being a good musician and playing over a hundred shows does for a band.

Standing tall, Sarah emitted the Happy Hollows’ natural Silverlake / Echo Park vibe onto the Hollywood crowd in her striped cardigan and short black shorts.  “It means so much to us to come out to the Westside and see so many of you guys!” Sarah giggled.  She continued to verbally realize how close Hollywood actually is but how far away it feels.  Happy Hollows continued their set with yet another song for Sarah to exhibit her guitar skills and shred unlike anyone would expect.  Their second song was fast paced and energizing, getting the crowd just as worked up as the sweat flying off of Charlie’s forehead.  Sarah’s voice dipped to low lows and shreaky highs to match the melodic guitar and bass riffs and—Sorry, I completely just lost all focus on Happy Hollows because this enormous inebriated man has decided to play his drunken, erotic air guitar right in front of me.  And he is staring at me dead in the eyes. Still going, apparently this endless Happy Hollows energy is contagious.  Ah, finally he has exhausted himself and Happy Hollows moves on to their next song, which further exemplifies how Sarah’s energy commands how the song comes off to her crowd.  Their third song was darker than the first two and Sarah’s energy was there to match—the whimsical bouncing was replaced by more fixated stares as the music became more straight-lined.

Live, Happy Hollows resembles listening to their record—very acute and strong.  Nothing ever lingers, not even the ring of the cymbals.  They ensure keeping every note tight and finishing every song abruptly.  Their ability to essentially marathon-play leaves a stronger, unexpected impression.  They also manage to incorporate an instrumental breakdown in almost every song, and an awesome one at that, making all three of them much more reputable musicians.  By their sixth song, Sarah was on the floor spinning with her guitar and their seventh song switched the set up by having Charlie sing while Sarah clapped and made hand jives inspired by the lyrics.  Their back-to-back playing made the friendly relationship between Sarah and Charlie even more believable and the strobe lights increased the exciting effect of all their movement and the anything-but-monotonous music.  The ninth song had so many varying riffs that ADD and boredom couldn’t stand a chance and Sarah continually gave the music the personality it is meant to have through her spontaneous screams, impromptu dancing and the occasional putting her guitar on her head and wandering the stage.  Watching Sarah makes the music even more redeeming than simply listening to the record—she is funny to watch and reminds me of a happy child.

Their twelfth song further proved the true talent of the group through the fast paced playing and real test of how quick their fingers could move.  They easily aced the test and looked good doing it—There is rarely a stoic, thinking look. Instead, their faces are painted with big smiles and it seems impossible for the band to boringly stand still.

Britt Witt

Originally posted on LARecord.com: Happy Hollows+Gangi / LA Record

The Happy Hollows

The Happy Hollows self-released their first album Spells in October—satisfying months of local anticipation—and today they begin their month-long residency at Spaceland. Bassist Charles Mahoney speaks now about the new album, his new book on Latin America insurgencies and making friends with French people at CMJ. This interview by Britt Witt.

What is the luckiest thing that ever happened to Happy Hollows?
Charles Mahoney (bass): I think we’re lucky that we have Sarah—she’s the unique person in our band. She’s kooky, quirky, really artistic—the songs come from her and she can write so many different types of songs. She writes folk songs, artsy songs, pop songs—so I think coming from her we just have a lot of music. We can go from the simplest pop music to very artistic and sort of outlawed stuff, and we do both of those at the same time. Its not the style but the structure of ours that’s at polar ends.
Is Sarah the one who’s making the Happy Hollows video skits?
Charles Mahoney: Yeah, Sarah likes comedy a lot—our friend was just going to videotape us on our tour so it just started out as a typical tour documentary but while we were doing it, Sarah turned it into this fake documentary where she was just going crazy. She acted out the part with people while the video is going on—she’s sort of twisted in a way. The other one was just another comedy video where she is a woman from Long Island and one day she was just like ‘Check out this video that I did!’ And I was like ‘Alright—you spent your day doing that?’ So yeah—she has the comedy bones in the band.
So while Sarah is at home making videos, you’re at home studying politics?
Charles Mahoney: I’m basically writing a book about guerrilla organizations in Latin America over the past 50 years—looking at those organizations and comparing how basically different groups came to different ends. So like, how Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas took over the countries they were in whereas the other groups crashed and burned. Also comparing it to the stuff on terrorism that’s really hot now. Not that the groups use terrorism, but they’re all sort of terrorists in that they try to take over countries.
Your focus is Latin America?
Charles Mahoney: It’s more like insurgency, terrorism, guerrilla war—all the theory on that. And then I take that and because I know something about Latin America, I just apply to all the cases there. I wouldn’t say that I’m some Latin America guru or anything! But I speak Spanish and Portuguese so that’s where I try to apply it. I’m working on my Ph.D dissertation. I should be done in the spring. I’m writing chapters now. It’s like a 300 page book, so I go through highs and lows. I’m about a third and a half done. Hopefully I can finish!
What are you most concerned about in the world now?
Charles Mahoney: Latin America doesn’t have much going on right now. Obviously Afghanistan and Pakistan is the major security thing I’m worried about. The question is, ‘Should the U.S send more troops?’ It’s an interesting problem. Really, I think the U.S either has to send 200,000 troops or take everybody out of there. If the U.S took the army out, what are the odds that something would happen? If you just left the aid there and took the troops out, the odds of something happening is like 1 or 2%. You’re think, ‘We’re spending so much money and troops there just to change the probability of an attack on us by like 1%. We should probably just take the troops out and boost the aid where you can.’ Its hard for us politically because that’s where Al Qaeda and the Taliban are, so for a president to try and do that would not be popular domestically. It’s troubling because we could use this money to fund a health care program in the U.S. The money we spend on wars in the Middle East could give us total health care coverage in the U.S.—it’s tricky.
How do your personalities fit together in the music? Your songs seem to have a sort of whimsical pop aspect and then a heavier kind of art thrash aspect.
Charles Mahoney: The whimsical side is sort of our escapist tendencies. We’re just sort of trying to escape the every day sort of hustle-and-bustle grind. Rather than write about our problems, like sappy emo-type stuff or relationships—instead of wallowing in whatever is going on in our lives, we just create these other imaginary places or characters or settings or ideas. That’s sort of our way of escaping reality. Creating an alternate reality is a big theme or purpose of our music. The heavy or thrash part is just like sometimes we like to get loud and move around a little bit, you know? If you see us live, it’s sort of natural. If you’re feelin’ it, move around—if you wanna dance, dance!
How is Spells doing?
Charles Mahoney: I think it’s doing well. We initially had to self-release it. We got signed in the spring and this big label was going to release it but they backed out because of financial issues, so we either had to go around and look for another label—which takes a while—or self-release. It’s gotten a lot of good reviews and college radio play so we’re pretty happy with that. This medium-sized L.A. label called Autumn Tone is going to re-release it again in January. They’re going to give it proper distribution and get it into stores—do a more proper campaign in terms of media. We do the iTunes and all that stuff—Amazon, Emusic. We do a little media campaign like email listeners and then we sell at shows, but its not at any independent record stores or properly distributed.
Are you going to be releasing it as mostly a digital release? But maybe with vinyl? 
Charles Mahoney: No, no. We still have CDs—I know a lot of people come to our shows and want physical CDs. We have a 7-inch vinyl of two songs on the album and the digital, of course. But people definitely still request physical compact discs—people do still exist in the physical world so we made CDs and we’re selling those at shows. We did all the artwork ourselves. It was our singer and guitarist Sarah. She got some watercolors together and started splattering them around her room. She came up with 100 or 150 different sheets of watercolor and then she started painting different animals and lines and clouds. She did this theme of clouds that looked like palm trees—you cant tell if it’s a palm tree or a cloud or a mushroom cloud. She took the best three or four drawings or patterns of colors and put them all together into just four different slides and that became the artwork. It took her a while—hard work! But I think we’re really happy with it. It’s our artwork and we didn’t pay someone to do something that didn’t really represent us. It’s like colorful and bright but also the dark—nuclear bombs. So I think we’re all really happy with it.
What’s changed most since the Imaginary EP last year?
Its hard to say—a lot of the songs we put on the album, we had written at the time of the EP. I think the EP and the album together are sort of the same musical theme. But the recordings are better and the mastering is a lot better, so it’s just sort of louder and bigger. In terms of writing and style of the music there’s not that much difference, although we left a lot of the stronger songs for the album and not the EP. The EP—we just stuck in a couple good songs that would not have made the album. When we’re through with this album and touring, we’ll have to regroup and see where we’re at artistically and figure out if we want to record in a different way or write in a different way.
How was CMJ this year?
Charles Mahoney: It’s really fun to go to. South By Southwest has become really corporate—there’s a lot of money in it now and everything is sponsored by Pepsi. It seems like CMJ wants to be that way but its not. Big bands don’t really go to it and it’s still a little bit under the radar. But it’s fun going around New York seeing other bands play and playing in these bizarre venues or venues you would never really go to. The networking is more for the music business people, you know—like managers and publicists, labels, all those good people. I think it’s really good for bands that are getting really huge right at that moment. For us, we just look at it as having a good time and we do interviews and whatever. New people see us for sure. It’s not so much about meeting other bands I guess. It’s kind of like hit and miss. This time we played with a cool French band from Paris called Jordan and they were straight from France. That was pretty neat—we hung out with them a little bit so we met a band and maybe made connections that we otherwise may not have made. I don’t think bands should look at it as like ‘we’re gonna go here and we’re gonna make connections that will further our career.’ I think that they should go there and have a good time and that’s it. It’s just an excuse to party. Some bands are forced to go by their labels or managers. Usually the little ones think they’re going to go and become huge—the rest just go to have a good time.
What’s the next big goal for Happy Hollows?
Charles Mahoney: Our only goal is to make better music than we did before. That’s it. The album is a representation of what the band has done for the past 2 or 3 years. We’re always just excited to write songs and experiment and make new and interesting music. If that goal is achieved than we’re happy!

Originally published on LARecord.com: Happy Hollows / LA Record