Q&A with Hockey's Benjamin Grubin


Hockey, again
Tonight, the dance pop fashion plates of Hockey plays the Vera Project (it's easily the best thing Seattle's got going on tonight) and


Q&A with Hockey's Benjamin Grubin

  • Q&A with Hockey's Benjamin Grubin

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    Hockey, again
    Tonight, the dance pop fashion plates of Hockey plays the Vera Project (it's easily the best thing Seattle's got going on tonight) and I got to exchange a few words with him on the band's somewhat tumultuous recent history.

    After being dropped from Columbia Records, the band -- at that time, frontman Benjamin Grubin and former bassist Jeremy Reynolds moved to Spokane, added two more members and relocated one last time to Portland.

    After self-releasing Mind Chaos in Portland, Capitol Records approached the band about re-releasing the record, which came out last summer. Benjamin Grubin spoke to me on the phone before the band stops by Seattle en route to Europe.

    The interview has been edited in the interest of clarity and brevity, and is located after the jump.

    A lot of bands are making New Wave-style dance pop right now, but in your lyrics, you acknowledge those influences in a very self-aware sort of way. It's almost like you're poking fun at yourselves to kind of pre-empt people who might accuse you of being derivative.

    The songs that are like that are maybe, like, "Too Fake" or "Song Away." "Song Away" was like...it's more like a spontaneous, free-flowing stream of consciousness honesty thing.

    Anything that I think of that seems relevant I just kind of put in. We were listening to some '80s kind of music [at the moment]...[the song is] just like a pure readout of the thoughts that I'm having at that time. Even if some things are the kind of things you're not necessarily supposed to put in [a] song, because it makes the topic too broad or too, like, stream of consciousness.

    That song came on on New Year's Eve and it came on because, I don't know why, but I was like...maybe I was kind of high. I don't get high very much anyway but it sounded so weird to me on the radio, like, so cheesy to me. It almost killed me. It was just funny because it was fitting in next to all this other hit music. It just shocked me.

    I don't think it's cheesy. It's, like, an anthem.

    Oh, no. I like to play it live and stuff. It was just how it struck me at that moment.

    You've also got a country song on the record that sort of popped out at me the first time I listened to it.

    That's like an old, old song. Jerm and I had literally been playing music together since 2002, so we had so many songs. It helps me write songs when I can just have totally different approaches to the song. I've never understood quite how to figure it out -- how to write songs that are all good versions of the same song over and over. Like Bob Marley or the Strokes or something. It's not redundant but it's the exact same style. I just have no idea how to do that. When I write a new song I need something new to give me enough energy to finish it.

    No country records in your future, then?

    Maybe. At some point it might be fun.

    Jonathan Richman did it.

    So did Beck. The only thing is that Beck does it with his whole albums.

    So I was listening to "Learn to Lose," and I have to ask -- is that song about your tumultuous experiences with record labels?

    That one was written a little bit before even like...it was supposed to be recorded for Columbia or whatever it was...It's one of the simplest songs on the album, that universal traveling song. We have lived in a lot of different places and remained a band. It's really just pretty simple.

    Are most of the songs then, not old but older, because you did self-release this thing first...

    We released it ourselves, like a tiny release and basically just printed it to sell at our shows, and then we ended up signing to Capitol and had to take it off iTunes. We barely considered it a release. It was, but it was so little, you know what I mean?

    What's changed over the past year? How do you feel about this new label and how is your relationship with Capitol different from your relationship with Columbia?

    The only difference really is that we had a record that they wanted to sign and put out, whereas with Columbia it was all hypothetical. It was like, okay, they saw our show, they liked it, so [they wanted us to] record an album. And then [with Capitol] we just basically were one step further along. You know it's gonna get put out. I guess that's the main difference.

    So what happened with Columbia? Why didn't that work out?

    We were recording with these producers, and we recorded with Jerry Harrison from the Talking Heads and a bunch of other producers, and the atmosphere in the room was way too tense because we HAD to produce a hit, you know? So it was even less from the label as much from, like, the producers as well. They know what a hit is and we're some new band, some young kids and we don't know anything. The atmosphere was really commercial and uptight and that sucked. There wasn't, like, a label guy in the room writing the songs for us, but the atmosphere wasn't fun.

    Are you working on anything new?

    We literally had five days at home altogether before going out [on tour]. We have two new songs that we can play. We just wanted to have some new songs for, like, England, where we played a headlining tour already.

    You guys used to have a biodiesel van. What is your current method of travel?

    We just have a normal van. That van broke like...we were touring on vegetable oil but we absolutely killed it doing that. It broke in Denver and we had to cancel the rest of our tour.

    And that was around the time when Capitol called you, right?

    We were staying in Denver at a friend's house trying to fix our van and a booking agent called us. He kind of started the whole thing.

    You guys are pretty fashionable. I seem to recall some green '80s running shorts. Is that something you put a lot of thought into?

    I guess a little bit. It's like..you do it over and over so sometimes you feel like you need something extra. When you're onstage performing, you have to get into the performance mindset and [clothes] help you get there, because I'm not very extroverted.

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