Artopia: Upright and Grateful

Down to trio size, H is for Hellgate creates a thank-you club for its fans.

Somewhere in between the music-for-free ethos of Radiohead and the pay-what-you-want model of artists like Nine Inch Nails and Saul Williams is Seattle’s own H is for Hellgate, who have recently come up with their own music-distribution strategy. The talented indie-pop three-piece, known for its lo-fi yet catchy arrangements and comedic songwriting, is trying a new method of getting its music to fans as cheaply as possible: a “Hellgate Club for Musically Advanced Ladies and Gentlemen.”

“It’s kinda something for folks on our mailing lists,” says the band’s lead singer, Jamie Henkensiefken. “When people come out to shows, we do these limited-edition CDs as a thank you/appreciation thing. We try to do CDs of three new songs every three months.” Based on the current economy, and how flooded Seattle’s indie-rock scene is now, it’s a fairly smart move. Aside from doubling as a thank-you—by essentially taking basement-recorded demos of their latest music inventions, pressing them in quantities of 100, and passing them out—it helps the band stay on people’s radar. Plus, as Henkensiefken says, “they’re homemade and all hand-silkscreened.” The personal touch can go a long way—far enough to help the band book a variety of key gigs lately, including a show at the Crocodile last month, the Fremont Fair last week, and Artopia this weekend.

H is for Hellgate actually played Georgetown Music Fest two years ago, but in band time that was eons ago. They’ve not only progressed a great deal sonically, but have changed their lineup, decreasing from a four-piece to a trio.

“To me, it’s a completely different band,” Henkensiefken says of the move that saw two guitarists (Marie Calderon and David Thomas) split and drummer Jon Jacobson join the band. “I had even considered changing the band name. When it was a four-piece, I wrote everything. Now things are a lot more collaborative…and I think it’s definitely a more technical, more sophisticated sound than it was a couple of years ago.”

Much of H is for Hellgate’s growth is evident on their sophomore album, Come for the Peaks, Stay for the Valleys, which came out this past December. On it, they playfully jump from a lighthearted song about having a crush on Tina Fey to surging power-pop jams about lost love. There’s a fullness to their sound despite their bass-guitar-drums setup, and they’re even more intriguing during their instrumental breakdowns.