Have you looked out the window lately? We’re still in the thick of winter…all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, indeed! Need a little pick me up? Would you like to hear some sounds that evoke that, “top down, warm breeze blowing in my hair”-kind of feeling? Fear not – if you show up at the Venue on 2/23, you will get just what you need. Chicago five-piece Gold Motel will be appearing that night, bringing some of that West Coast vibe with them. A Chicago band sounding all SoCal-ish? Sounds crazy, but Gold Motel manage to pull it off with particular aplomb, much like New York band Blondie did it back in the late 70’s/early 80’s. As a matter of fact, there’s more than a hint of that Blondie vibe in Gold Motel’s sound. Much of that is due to the presence of frontwoman Greta Morgan, who also handles keyboard duties for the band. Morgan is a veteran of the Chicago indie music scene, having previously been with Windy City mainstays the Hush Sound. She decided to take a break from the Hush Sound and hightail it to Southern California, where she remained for a year, collaborating with friend Dan Duzsynzski (from fellow Chicago band This Is Me Smiling) on what would become the debut EP from their new group, Gold Motel. Morgan initially went West to work on a solo project, but after completing the Gold Motel EP, Morgan and Duzsynzski wound up recruiting fellow Chicagoans Eric Hehr (The Yearbooks), Adam Kaltenhauser, and Matt “Minx” Schuessler(also from This Is Me Smiling), and the band Gold Motel became a going concern. Work began on what would become Summer House, Gold Motel’s summer (natch) 2010 release. Subsequently, they released the two-song ‘Talking Fiction’ 7-inch in October 2010 with two brand new tunes. Needless to say, this quintet has been busy – writing, recording, and expanding their fan base with several tours. Their current jaunt began in mid-January, and fittingly ends in Southern California, in March. So we’ll be catching them in Boise, on 2/23, in mid-tour form.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking Eric Hehr (gtr), and shortly thereafter, Greta Morgan, from Gold Motel. I caught up with them in the aftermath of the first mishap of the current tour. They were scheduled to do a show on 2/21 in Lawrence Kansas, but they were hit with a double whammy. The first whammy – laryngitis for Forrest Kline, lead vocalist of tourmates Hellogoodbye. The second whammy – Adam Coldhouse (Kaltenhauser), drummer for Gold Motel, suffered a scratched cornea in an equipment trailer mishap. Despite these setbacks, Hehr, and shortly thereafter, Morgan, took the time to talk about film school, scratched corneas, and Italian lipstick commercials.
KP: So, how are things today?
EH: The Lawrence, Kansas show got cancelled. We’re on tour with Hellogoodbye, and their lead singer, Forrest, lost his voice yesterday, and hasn’t been able to regain it, and we also had a member (drummer Adam Kaltenhauser) encounter an eye injury two days ago. He was in the hospital last night, is recovering today, and we will not be playing in Lawrence, but we’re heading to the next show, which is tomorrow in Denver.
KP: Wow, that’s quite a setback – I’m sorry to hear that.
EH: Yeah, we’ve been out for close to six weeks now, and this is the first show we’ve had to cancel. This is the first time any members of the band have gotten seriously ill or injured. It’s unfortunate – it’s the first time, and hopefully the last.
KP: So, is Adam’s eye going to be OK in the long run?
EH: What happened was we had a cord that was hanging in our trailer, where we pack all our gear. The other night, Adam, our drummer, went into the trailer to get something, didn’t see the cord, and it scratched his cornea. We went to the hospital last night. He did get medication for it, and it should clear itself up in the next few days. He’s been wearing sunglasses, and when he takes them off, you can definitely see that he’s having difficulty opening and closing the eye.
KP: I was reading some backstory stuff on you guys, and, Eric, you were a film student, right?
EH: Yeah, I was. I studied film at the Columbia College in Chicago for about 2 1/2 years.
(At this point, Greta Morgan joins the interview.)
KP: You guys are a Chicago supergroup of sorts, coming from other established bands on the Chicago scene. Are you simply on hiatus from those bands, or is Gold Motel a permanent thing?
GM: Gold Motel is definitely our permanent project right now. The only reason we said that my old band (The Hush Sound) was on hiatus was that we didn’t want to seem like a-holes if we come out and play a few reunion shows. We didn’t want to pull the “Kiss” thing and say, “We’re broken up…no, one last tour, then we’re broken up…wait, one more last tour, etc.” But, we really don’t have any plans for anything. We haven’t written together or toured together in almost a year and a half. So, Gold Motel is definitely the full-time project, and we can feel the momentum picking up.
KP: The Hush Sound was on Fueled By Ramen, but Gold Motel is an indenependently-released band right now. Have you had any feelers from labels about signing the band?
GM: Well, we’ve gotten some feelers, but, most importantly, we want interest from international labels. We haven’t had any trouble getting our records out or getting promotion in the U.S., it’s the overseas promotion and tour support we’re looking for right now. We had interest from a Japanese label, and that sort of thing is our next goal. As far as needing a label, we don’t really need one in the U.S., but we might need one overseas.
KP: Right now you’re touring with Hellogoodbye. After this tour wraps up, are you looking toward touring overseas?
GM: That is definitely a possibility. We don’t have anything confirmed yet – that is definitely in the discussion. After this tour, we’re going to be in L.A. for about 10 days. We’re going to do an L.A. show – we’re going to set up to do some writing, playing and relaxing between tours, and then we’re going to do South by Southwest.
KP: Are you working toward the next album yet?
GM: We haven’t started yet. We just released the ‘Talking Fiction’ 7-inch, kind of ‘hinting at’ the new album, but we haven’t started working on the new album yet.
KP: Speaking of the international market, I just saw an Italian lipstick ad with your music in it. How did that come about?
GM: I don’t know how that came about, except someone from that company liked our music, and personally asked for it. We also had music in ads for U.S. Bank, and Crayola, but those were ones that our team actually pushed for, and we had committed to be a part of those projects. Those ads are online, and we’ve tweeted about them in the past.
EH: Yeah, the Crayola one is up on YouTube, for sure. It’s for a glow-in-the-dark line up crayons, or something like that. Pretty neat.
KP: Blondie is an obvious influence for the band. Who is an artist that you’re a big fan of, that might surprise your fans?
EH: Well, I don’t know if you can hear it in our music, but I’m a big fan of the Smiths. When I was in high school, that was a band that expanded my horizons, and introduced me to a lot of other great music. I don’t think you can hear it too much in Gold Motel, but I’m a huge fan of the Smiths, and also Johnny Marr’s guitar playing. He’s a big reason I wanted to start playing guitar.
KP: Eric, we mentioned earlier that you had previously been in film school. I see that your first three videos were all directed by a guy named Eddie O’Keefe, who apparently also attended film school at Columbia College. I was wondering if you were acquainted with O’Keefe through school…? I’ve enjoyed your videos, and I checked out his website, and like his style.
EH: Eddie is actually my cousin, so I grew up with Eddie. When we were younger, we used to make short films together. We fed off each other’s energy, because we were both into film and music. We still, to this day, introduce each other to new films, and bands. He’s in Los Angeles right now, currently at the AFI, still in film. In the next few months, he’s introducing an indpendent short film called The Ghosts, that Greta and I worked on, doing the music and score for the film. We also acted a bit in it. He’s very talented, and I think this new film is the best thing he’s done so far – I’m excited for it to be released.
KP: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about the music business, by someone in the business? Who gave it to you?
GM: I think the best advice I’ve received; it’s something that’s been floating around for a long time. I actually got to it through the Bob Lefsetz letter. One of the things he says is you should always speak to your core audience first, and expand outward from there. We’re from Chicago, so the most important thing for us is to draw an audience in Chicago, and then start branching further out from there. By the same token, it’s important to us to build a following in the U.S. before we go overseas. I think a lot of people make music trying to placate fans that they will never get. We’re not aiming to go on tour with Radiohead, because I don’t think we’re going to placate Radiohead fans. I don’t think Radiohead fans necessarily want Gold Motel…although some of them might. I think the most important thing is to speak to your audience on a geniune level, and then your audience will do the talking for you. If something is good, they’ll spread it.
KP: The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who felt that Arcade Fire was ‘selling out’ by playing the Grammys. Is there such a thing as ‘selling out’, and, if so how would you define it?
GM: I don’t think Arcade Fire are selling out by playing the Grammys in any way. In a way, the Grammys are validating an album by a band that has built their following the way I just described – over the last 10 years, releasing great album after great album and touring their asses off, building interest in their career. I think an old, out-of-touch organization like the Grammys recognizing a band like Arcade Fire means that there might be hope for finding some good music in mainstream American pop.
EH: I also think the term ‘selling out’ is kind of a grey area, because the music industry has changed so much in recent years, and everyone is trying to evolve with it. Back in the day, if someone got a music video on MTV, it could mean that they had ‘sold out’, nowdays, music videos aren’t even on MTV anymore. The more the music industry evolves, the less the phrase ‘selling out’ will mean. I personally don’t even know when you can say a band has ‘sold out’ anymore, and I think the presence of Arcade Fire just strengthens the Grammys.
GM: If our audience is willing to download our album for free, they have to understand that we have to recoup our costs in different ways, which is why we took the Crayola ad, and the Italian lipstick ad. We would always rather be working as professional musicians. If it means that we have to make licensing deals, then so be it. I would think that if we were doing an ad for a company that was morally corrupt, and said, ‘even though we know you’re terrible people, we’ll take the money anyway’, that would be the definition of ‘selling out’ in 2011.
KP: Are there any new tunes that you might be trotting out on this tour?
EH: Probably not. Before we left for this tour, we did have a few rehearsals, we sat down and worked on a few new ideas, but we didn’t get to the point where any of it was completed. We don’t want to prematurely start playing a new song on tour before it’s fully written. Possibly, by the time we hit SXSW, depending on what happens when we do pre-production in L.A., we may debut one or two new songs.
If you’ve got the winter blahs, Gold Motel may just have the cure for you. Head out to the Venue on 2/23, and check ’em out.
Gold Motel will be appearing at the Venue in Boise on 2/23, with Hellogoodbye, Jukebox the Ghost, and Now, Now. Get tickets here.
Gold Motel albums and other goodies available here.
Gold Motel’s official website.
Gold Motel on MySpace.
Gold Motel on Facebook.
Gold Motel on YouTube.