With a clean audio sound and professionally trained backing band in tow, the folk band behind The Hill in Mind has attracted local attention. Their precision in production, as well as the elaborate, flowery lyrical effort has rightfully gained comparisons to English musician Nick Drake. Now, on the cusp of recently finishing recording their first full-length album, slated for a spring release, lead singer and songwriter Joshua Hill talks to yeahstub.com about his band’s medieval sensibilities, their different backgrounds, the cost-benefits of complex lyrics and the unique approach to publicizing the new release.
Your band is a fusion of medieval, alternative and folk, it seems. How’d that come about?
I have a strong classical background. I was a composition major at ASU and I play violin and it’s always been a important part of my upbringing. With classical music, specifically I love old renaissance and abstract music, like Tom Waits and Radiohead. A lot of that stuff. I don’t know if it’s purposeful but how it comes out is I’ve always written a mixture of that.
Is it fair to say there’s also a strong sense of medieval sense of literature in your writing?
Yeah, I guess another big infleunce on only me, but with my bandmates is with mythology and folklore. How it came about was I took african drumming, specifically Senegalese drumming. They sorta have this way of, it’s called Sabar, where they tell stories and the rhythm has a story built into it. Every time you hear the rhythm you’re reminded of that story. That’s always been powerful to me is that there’s other story that you gotta find. So when I reference other mythology or literature, in the same way, it’s putting it in there. There’s questions that you can ask about the song.
You mentioned that your band shares the same temperament, how’s similar are they?
My piano player was a theory and classics major, so a lot of the mythology stems from that. My drummer and my guitar player studied jazz, and my bass player studied audio engineering. For all of us when we study, you don’t have to be pigeon-holed into that one musical genre, for all of us it’s a good foundation but can do whatever you want with those skills.
How does the songwriting process work with most songs you write for the band?
It’s usually by myself, like with whatever experience that happens to me. For instance, with “Hajj Sami,” I went to his village and learned a bunch about it. It’s kinda my way with processing the things I experience. Sometimes I’ll have structure, the skeleton and most of the chorus, then I’ll take it to the band and work it out. Occasionally, we can have a ready after one rehearsal. Although, it mostly develops over time, as we play them it morphs into the actual arrangement we end up recording and it can take six months to where it can grow where it’s supposed to.
Was songwriting something you’ve always done, even before you started your band?
Actually, not really. I had written songs before I studied composition, but they were sorta primitive, not to say that it’s super advanced now. But, when I was just composing chamber music, it was difficult to connect to the music. When you sing a song, there’s nothing more cathartic than singing your own. I found that out later on when I discovered all these ideas that I needed to address. I really didn’t start writing songs I’m proud of until after college.
On a recent Facebook post, you stated that for your upcoming album release, you recorded and mixed a year’s worth of material. What was the writing process like for that?
Well, the oldest song was probably four years old. So, some of those songs are from coming out of college. Then naturally, the newest song we finished about two weeks before we recorded. It’s funny because sometimes you’ll spend six months on a song and you’ll work on one part, put it away and eventually you’ll be at the right place where you can finish it. Sometimes there’s a song, you play it and it magically exists. It definitely took awhile because I had all these songs that I enjoy and I wanted to put them somewhere.
The band’s lyrics can be intricate, yet sometimes gossamer. Do you ever worry about the lyrics being too complex?
Of course. I’m very aware of it. When you’re so specific, you can become more abstract. Maybe it’s a shortcoming, but I tend to make things longer, sometimes it takes time. If you listen to Beethoven, not that I’m comparing myself to him, but a really great movement takes seven minutes to enter that space. I want my intentions to be clear but I don’t have a dilemma when I write. It’s talking about things that people that dont typically talk about and it may require a little effort, and how’s most of the music I listen to goes.
I imagine it’ll be interesting how the written words will pair with a music video when you dive into publicizing the new album in the spring.
That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, it’ll just be finding the right people. I love visuals and what I’ll love working on visuals that compliment the music but that’s contrary. I won’t literally tell the story in the music videos. It’s definitely something I’m excited about.