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 THE SOLARS

The Boston, by way of Washington State, band The Solars have recently released Retitled Remastered, their fantastic debut EP containing four well-crafted, richly layered tunes.  I recently had the chance to speak to Miles Hewitt, one of the masterminds behind the band and here's what he had to say about the EP, his break from his Harvard education and more. 



 
MK - I know that you and Quetzel have been friends since your youth in Washington and then in Boston when you were older, besides that can you give me a little background on The Solars up to now?

MH - Sure. Q and I: knuckleheads since small times. Other dudes (Cody, Jason, John, more in the chute): more recent-type boys. ​We wrapped up the EP last fall, which we'd been working on for a long time, and rather than stripping it all back down again for concerts, we thought it would be nice to play the songs in all their full layered glory when we went on tour, so asked some friends to come along. We toured California and the northwest a few summers ago and all around the northeast and part of Canada this year. It's sort of a collective situation, with many beloved weird little dudes heeding the call over the years then disappearing back to Bellingham or wherever.

MK - Can you tell me how your songwriting process tends to work?

MH - We're pushing some fringe concepts. Lotta theories; lotta considerations. Time was I'd do the tried and true thing of writing a song on the guitar or piano and then spend months with others or alone chasing down the arrangement. Now I'm starting to catch on that arrangement and writing don't have to be distinct - more and more, especially with what we've been working on since Retitled Remastered, songwriting feels like listening to a song that already exists - hearing almost all the instruments at the same time so the result is pure. The sounds on the EP are wild, almost chaotic - the next collection is going to be more economical instead because the sounds and negative space have been envisioned all at once. But it'll feel more all-encompassing that way - you'll get to really spend time inside the song and get lost. It feels like we're learning how to move on from the "instruments in a room" style of recording - now the room is part of the song, too, and the air. We're trying to get the walls to be the right color. We're putting objects in songs - we have a new song called "Roses" that we've got our best minds figuring out how to put a rose in. What it sounds like when a note stops playing can make or break a song. Trying my best to learn from everyone who has mastered these things - Brian Eno, Jesca Hoop, Animal Collective, Radiohead, Kanye. 

MK - I noticed some of the musicians on the EP aren't listed as current members. Do you plan on the current lineup being used both live and in the studio?

MH - A major dude from the EP is another Couv boy since the day, Aaron Barber, who contributed a bunch of things such as the guitar solo on “Old K. B.” and when you get down to it knows pretty much everything there is to know. 

Most of the time in the studio it's just Quetzel and me playing the instruments, but anyone we're playing with at any time tends to make ​appearances especially as we get into new sounds they know more about like pedal steel and synthesizer-whispering. Last week we were at John's house pummeling drums through lots of computers until we got something that could go on, well, maybe not DAMN., but definitely some kind of Euro trash beat tape Quetzel would be on.

MK - What kind of influences do you feel Washington and Boston have had on your music?

MH - Way hard to distill this into anything snappy and pull-quote-able... Where I grew up in Washington was a place where the magical part of reality was not on full display, but hidden just out of sight depending on your decision to be attuned to it. That's our music.

MK - I read you titled the EP Retitled Remastered due to it being re-recorded several times over the past few years. Are the final songs drastically different from where they started?

MH - No, they just sound less bad now.​ 

MK - Do you tend to have a fully formed idea of what you want a finished song to sound like or is there a lot of experimenting throughout the recording process?

MH - See also the above, but maybe I'll add that even now there is a huge difference between having a (nearly) full-fledged idea of what the ​song is trying to be and actually getting those sounds to come out the speakers.

MK - "Potter's Field / Dockery" has some elements that bring to mind Brian Wilson's brilliant production with The Beach Boys. Has his production been an inspiration?

MH - Hard to go into this because so many other have put this much better than I can - Brian Wilson is as far as I can tell an American saint - he is a cornerstone of my reality. Have you ever seen clips of the Beach Boys playing "I Get Around" on like variety TV shows during their tours in 1964? There's this expression in his eyes like, "Today, this week, I am making the best music in the world." His emotional landscape is overwhelming to me.

MK - I love the horns on "Old KB". They give it a bit of an R&B vibe that really sets it apart from the other songs. Has R&B been a big influence to you?

MH - To me those trumpets are aiming at, like, Forever Changes horns instead of straight R&B, but sure, absolutely - mostly the first generation Detroit sound. There's a station here in Boston that plays '60s and '70s Motown if you're lucky enough to catch it while you drive around. 

MK - "Help Me To My Hometown" is much more stripped down than the other three songs. Was it a conscious decision from the get go to do that?

MH - Nah, it was just listening to what the song wanted. I'm not sure how you could put drums and bass over the verses of something like that. The main twist in that song is doing it on an electric guitar instead of the go-to acoustic, but if you think about it as a bardic-type thing just in the wilds of the 21st century instead of kicking it with Geoff Chaucer, it makes sense as a tone. It's supposed to be faded, olde, and Englishe.

MK - You list wineglasses and paperclips as some of the instruments on the EP. Can you elaborate on that?

MH - More Brian Wilson shenanigans that Quetzel put up with, probably. The wineglasses are in the middle part of “Goddess of the Suburbs” - doing that thing where you run your finger around the rim - playing a D, F, G, and A over the bridge with the acoustic guitar solo. So sort of a droning polychord. That section used to have a drum machine in it. We had to try a bunch of different brands of paperclips but if you buy the gold metallic ones and make chains and lay them over the strings of a grand piano, you get this buzzing sound that you can play forwards or backwards. That's in “Old K. B.” and I'm pretty sure “Goddess of the Suburbs” too, same part, doubling the acoustic guitar.

MK - The EP just came out but you started recording some of the tracks in 2014, and there are a lot of song lyrics on your website for other songs. I also heard you do a few songs not on the EP on a clip from a radio show. Can we expect more music in the near future? 

MH - Yes, yes - not sure when - but the EP is just the tip of the iceburg.​ (For you all that understatedly hip web site is www.thesolars.net.)

MK - After three years at Harvard you took off a year to focus on The Solars. What motivated that decision? 

MH - Pretty much just lots of aligned stars and this feeling that I'd be letting myself down by staying on the path too long - the right people hanging around Boston to play with, and knowing that I'd write better poems after a year away from the academy, and yeah, kind of baiting myself into doing something scary. I am grateful beyond words for the support and transformation provided by the Harvard English department, great and powerful teachers and thinkers who have my back, but poetry is something I'll be doing for the rest of my life because it's just me and the room and the piece of paper - when the opportunity comes to spend 3 or 4 days a week in a recording studio for a full year, for free, well, you gotta.


MK - I read that you also write poetry How does that differ from songwriting and have you ever turned any poems into songs? 

MH - Any poet who takes themselves seriously would do well to take a few singing lessons, and every songwriter should have a favorite translator. If you suspect you truly belong to the knee-shakingly ancient line of singers and poets and shaman and speakers in tongues, you don't have time to make the distinction. You'll be forgotten a hundred years after you're gone, if not a week after you make your Facebook post. There are different formal rules, but that's about it, and we're in that dreaded post-postmodernity or whatever, so fuck it.

MK - You released a solo album called Empire several years ago. I managed to find a few of those songs online and really liked what I heard, especially "Where The Clouds Slip Slowly By". Is that still available anywhere?

MH - ​I feel like I'm being Narwuar'd. Really nice of you to say that - I look back on those songs extremely squirmily like a 10th grade photo. However there is an album I made in like 2010 (?) that I'm going to try to re-mix sometime soon so I can get better at Pro Tools and cos I have sentimental feelings. Probably definitely absolutely not going to see wide release.

MK - With only 4 songs released so far do you fill out your live show with unreleased originals or covers or both?

MH - Yeah, we just play the songs that will be on our full-length album.

MK - Your songs have a lot of layers and a diverse array of instrumentation. How easy is it to translate that over in your live show?

​MH - Everyone really knows what they're doing and spends a ton of time tracking down their sounds. ​And when we start rehearsing everything changes again anyway. It's a joy to play in a band where everyone's got such good instincts.

MK - I know you've been doing shows around Boston and New York. Do you have any plans to expand your touring further out? I would love to see you down here in PA.

MH - Dude, yes - that would be wonderful.​ Let's make it happen. 

MK - The new video for "Goddess Of The Suburbs" is great. To me it has a vibe similar to videos by Gorillaz and Radiohead. Can you tell me about it?

​MH - Thank you, we're really thrilled with it. The guy who made the video is named Pat Adley and he works in Los Angeles and Boston. ​He uses miniature sets and every time we weren't sure how something was going to work out, he would say, "Trust me, I can make this look good." And he did. We're really lucky to have worked with him.


MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

MH - Thanks to you for these thoughtful questions, and real sincere gratitude​ to everyone for being willing to try things out with us. Hope to be at this a long time.

Interview By Geoff Melton 

(thesolars.net)


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