Dot Hacker: The LA experimental rock outfit comes Alive

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LA outfit Dot Hacker are perhaps best known for the membership of guitarist Josh Klinghoffer in the Red Hot Chili Peppers—but the quartet’s atmospheric meditations are worlds away from the Peppers’ funk­tastic explosions. The band (named after one member’s grandma) debuts in Tokyo, courtesy of crowd­funding site Alive, which conducted a winning campaign on their behalf. Metropolis spoke with bassist Jonathan Hischke.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: What’s it like having the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist in the band?

That’s an interesting question … we were all close friends and had started Dot Hacker—and had recorded our first album Inhibition—before he became the guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, so we knew him as something other than a member of that band for a long time. We are very proud of him, and it is always interesting to hear stories from that part of his life. His experience being in that band has brought out more confidence in him which is a great benefit for our band, as well.

Tell us why you decided to release two albums back-to-back in 2014.

There were a few reasons for that decision. We had too many songs to fit comfortably on one album, and we didn’t know what to leave off. We didn’t want to put out an exhausting album that was too long, nor did we want to release a double-album set; we felt that it would be overwhelming for a listener. Also, we couldn’t come to an agreement about what order the songs should be in. Since our time is limited as a band due to scheduling, we also felt that staggering the releases would be good for the band in that it would extend the life of the album since we can’t tour much or be a public presence in other ways.

What are the main differences between the two?

Well, the songs were recorded together as part of the same “batch,” and the idea of making two releases came much later, so there was no attempt to make them separate or different when we were writing or recording. We feel the song order makes the most sense the way they ended up, thankfully.

You’ve been together for a while, but the recording and touring came quite late. What were you up to?

We are all busy making music and touring with other people, as well as our band, much of the time, so touring has always been a difficult thing for us to schedule. We wish we could tour all the time! However, we started recording early [in] the band’s life; it just took a long time for the first album to be released. We had to find the right label and circumstances; thank heavens for ORG Music!

Members of Dot Hacker have backed the likes of anyone from Beck to Charlotte Gainsbourg. How have these experiences shaped your sound?

We are able to reference different styles and sounds easily because of our experiences, and we can convincingly play live under most circumstances. It also informs our writing and recording because this band is our chance to not be guided or commanded to do anything differently! It’s very liberating. It’s our own safe little world we’ve created.

Tell us about the personalities of the band members and how that translates into the music.

We are all very different personalities, but there are many overlapping interests and tastes that keep us close. We love each others’ company, and we hang out together all the time. We’re all kind of best friends. I can’t imagine the band being any other way, really. Eric is very practical and organized. Clint is emotional and knowledgeable about many things. Josh is sensitive and quite artistic and literary. I am stubborn and idealistic. The other three love sports, and I don’t care at all. We all share our politics and humor. It works out great!

Tell us about Dot Hacker’s place in the current LA music scene.

We rarely play, so I don’t know! We have many friends in a lot of bands in the city, so we do have peers we see often. I don’t know if we sound like any other bands in town, though.

What does music mean to Dot Hacker in the grand scheme of things?

It’s our lifeblood! We all have been playing music as our main focus for most of our lives, and we hope we will always be able to do so. If anyone else hears it and it makes their lives a bit brighter, then that is an incredible bonus.

How did you come to be part of the Alive project?

We were approached by Alive and it seemed like a very constructive and efficient model! Our fans in Japan apparently had suggested the campaign to them, and they are the whole reason this is happening. We are very much looking forward to getting over there!

Shinjuku Marz. Feb 23, 7pm. ¥5,500. Nearest station: Seibu-Shinjuku or Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3202-8248. Tsutaya O-Nest. Feb 24, 7pm. ¥5,000 (adv)/¥5,500 (door). Nearest station: Shibuya. Tel: 03-3462-4420. http://dothacker.org

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Sharon Van Etten: Torch songs for the indie era

 Escaping an abusive relationship that she chronicles in her songs, Sharon Van Etten was a late bloomer. But the New Jersey native’s emotive rock ballads are finding an increasingly engaged audience. The 33-year-old spoke with Metropolis about her new album Are We There, from her home in New York City.

The New Jersey native, known for her emotive ballads

What are you up to?

Cooking in the middle of a snowstorm. I’m making a stew—it’s the first time I’m doing a stock from scratch. It’s nice to cook because I don’t get much chance. It makes me feel like a normal person.

Because you’re on tour a lot?

Yeah, and when I’m home in the Village, it’s usually only for a week. I like to watch movies and play the piano. Usually, I’m not composing, just playing stuff. It feels good to play without it being for a specific purpose.

Do you often compose on piano?

I’m starting to—but it was hard to keep a piano in New York, until my friend told me about this brand of Melody small-scale pianos. Mine was only 500 dollars.

How does writing on piano differ from guitar?

The rhythmic patterns are different, and much more simple, because I’m not very good on piano. I naturally gravitate to mid-tempo ballads, and, in a way, the piano favors that. I don’t write a lot of upbeat songs, and I don’t think I could write one on piano.

Tell us about a new song.

I have a song called “Sentence,” that’s only four chords. The lyrics aren’t there yet, but I have a melody. The idea is how in one sentence, someone can change the way you feel about them.

Do your songs tend to evolve gradually?

I have some songs that pour out of me, and they tend to be the longer ones—“Your Love Is Killing Me” is one that just poured out. But for the most part, it takes a lot of work, and the lyrics are the hardest part. If the song borders on personal, then I’d rather take more time to think about it.

Tell us about the creation of one song on Are We There.

“Taking Chances” was one of the songs that I  first wrote on the Omnichord. It’s an electronic autoharp. It’s very ’80s. It has beats and chords on it, with one button you can play a chord. So I started writing like crazy on it. When I brought it into the studio, I started tracking the beats and vocals and melodies separately. Eventually we cut the beats out and let the band do their thing.

A fair bit has been written about your time in Tennessee and how that shaped your experience emotionally. But how did it shape you musically?

I worked at a café called the Red Rose that booked all-ages shows. The people that booked the place taught me a lot about the scene. I learned a lot about touring and bands on the road, and all different kinds of music. Cat Power, Sons of Ohio … all sorts of bands came through. But I also learned about country because I had friends who were session players and whose parents were real old-school Nashville country writers.

Which song do your fans request most, and why you think that is?

They ask for “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” a lot, because it’s the one light-hearted moment I have on the record and it’s fun to sing along to, even though it’s not a light-hearted song.

Have any of your fans credited you for rescuing them from suicide?

I think I’m far from rescuing people, but I think people don’t feel alone. They’re like, “Oh you’re sad too. You say the things I don’t know how to say.” A lot of listeners find comfort that other people are feeling pain, and are able to rise above it. People say my songs are sad but uplifting. I’m not sure I’m saving anybody. But I hope my music helps people somehow—otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this.

Before you found music, did you have other ways of getting those feelings out?

I made music for a very long time, without realizing it was therapeutic. I did choir and musicals and played guitar throughout my childhood, and I didn’t really take it seriously until my 20s. I had no idea what I was doing. But people started responding the more personal the songs got.

Did you find yourself more able to put feelings down in song as you kept doing it?

My mom gave me a notebook in high school at a time when I didn’t want to talk about anything. She gave me a notebook and I didn’t realize what I was doing, but I would write down my feelings, and eventually they became songs.

Why does music exist?

I think people have a hard time expressing themselves and it’s one way of communicating when you’re having a hard time verbalizing. It’s something you can feel without having to know why.