Originally published online at BLUNT Magazine.
You’d struggle to find a more open and well-spoken musician than The Hotelier frontman Christian Holden. Their 2014 full-length, Home, Like NoPlace Is There, was highly regarded as being one of the best albums of the year (and rightly so), catapulting the Massachusetts group’s emotive brand of punk rock into the spotlight in all the right circles. We spoke to Holden about how it feels to have all eyes on them as they work on their newest record, the importance of being transparent, and how he’s striving to make his scene a much more inclusive and safer space.
What’ve you been up to lately?
Yesterday was my birthday; I got to hang out with friends and got some pretty funny gifts. This is the first birthday in awhile that I’ve got to spend at home and not on tour. That was really cool. Otherwise, I’m getting ready to go on tour again and spending time with friends while I’m home.
How has the past year been for you? Did you have to adjust to the surge of popularity and attention Home, Like NoPlace Is There created for you?
It’s sort of a funny thing to go from all-year tours and having trouble finding anyone to tour with us and playing for very few people, mostly diehard fans, and then going to play for very many people, very quickly. It was a really weird shift, but over the past year I’ve had time to adjust, so I feel pretty well adjusted to it now.
Are you working on a follow-up album or anything else new? Is there any pressure now that there’s so many eyes on you, each carrying their own level of expectations?
There is pressure, but it didn’t feel any less hard than writing the last album. This new album is actually already done. We finished it a couple weeks ago, and we just got the masters for it yesterday. We’re all done with it, so I’m done being stressed about it. But it was about as stressful as the other one. In the end, it’s an album that’s going to determine how the rest of your career will go.
With this new album, did you follow a similar creative process as your past ones, or have you decided to take a different approach?
The way that we write seems pretty hard-wired into us. It’s not necessarily like we can experiment too much, because we all write in the same sort of way. This album was a little bit different because we were writing with Ben [Gauthier, guitar], who’s only been in the band since Home, Like NoPlace Is There came out. I think the method was pretty similar, but I think we felt a bit more free to play with this record and mess around with ideas that we had. In the end, we don’t have to feel like we’re validating ourselves anymore; we have a lot of validation now so we didn’t feel as much pressure as the last one.
Your lyrics carry a lot of personal and clearly autobiographical weight. Is it weird to see not only a crowd of strangers deeply connecting with these lyrics, but screaming them back at you word for word when you play live?
To a lot of people they know the words and they feel the words, and they have experiences that relate to the words. They feel like they’re connecting with me in that way – in a way I can’t necessarily give back because I don’t know their experiences. But to them, they are very much lovely human beings and it means something very deep to them. It’s definitely pretty weird, but I also understand it.
You’re a very open person, which is a trait not a lot of people carry. When you started did you consciously choose to be this vulnerable, or is that something that evolved through your writing?
In my own life and the people I interact with, the friends and relationships I have, I sort of desire transparency higher than most things. I think it’s important that the world we all interact with is non-secretive and that you need to be as transparent as you can be about those things. Being transparent is a highly valued trait that I have for my own self and for the people in my life. I think that the music is both a reflection and a tool that I use to help myself come out a little bit more.
Do you think it takes courage to be that transparent?
Yeah. I mean, it might take courage for some people to feel that way, but for me it feels like a way in which I don’t have to fake courage. I can be completely upfront with people and comfortable. For me it’s not necessarily a thing of courage, it’s probably the opposite. But for other people, it may be that.
You’re regarded as being an outspoken person, especially when it comes to the punk scene being a boys’ club that’s not too concerned with the voices of its non-hetero and non-male members. Is being a figure of change and making a safer space in your scene something you strive towards?
It’s hard. Part of it is that I am a queer person and part of it is needing to feel like this space – that is overwhelmingly white and straight men – has some diversity, and that people who aren’t that way can feel an ownership over the community and a belonging to this scene that our band is a part of. Part of it is that I also have people who hold me accountable for the actions that I take. I have a lot of meaningful relationships with people who are affected by that sort of thing. I deeply care about them and wouldn’t want my actions to affect them in a way that they either don’t trust me or are harmed by me. It’s that, mostly; it’s the selfishness of those two things. With The Hotelier, we have a fanbase that I don’t know if it’s large in comparison to other things, but it’s large-feeling to me. It’s really hard to even think about how to make those spaces safer and more inclusive or accessible for everybody. This band Speedy Ortiz, who are a little bit bigger than we are, did this really cool thing where they had a phone number you could call during the show if you felt unsafe. There’s that, and other stuff that women and people-of-colour have been doing to help better the community around their music. It feels like more than what I’m doing, which is just being transparent about it. It means a lot to me, but I’m also very confused about how to go about it with the community that we’ve been given. I try to remain conscious of how I, as a person, am read and how people listen to my voice and who I am identity-wise.
How have people reacted to you speaking up about these issues? I find a lot of people tend to treat being outspoken as a negative trait, particularly in music. They don’t want preaching, they just want you to play the song.
In a lot of ways, being a musician and being in the industry puts you out there and makes you a spectacle. So I sort of understand why people are like, “I didn’t think you were going to be a human. I thought you were going to be this thing that played and I was allowed to experience this music in my own way. I didn’t want to hear your opinion”. There’s a lot of different ways people interpret art. We are a band that interacts with capitalism, and people sometimes view you as a commodity as opposed to humans with something to say. I’ve interacted with it, and I try to handle those situations as delicately as I can because it makes sense in a way. But it can be really frustrating and annoying when somebody is like, “I don’t want to hear you talk!” But, like, what do you think the words in the songs are? It’s just me talking rhythmically.
You guys are regularly described as being an “emo” or “emo revival” band. Is being classified as a specific genre something that bothers you? Do you consider yourself an emo act?
The thing is that it bothers me, but I understand it at the same time. It bothers me because I have way different definitions for all these things. When I was hearing emo-revival pre-2014 it usually meant bands that were making this sort-of mathy, aggressive, emotional and droney rock music. And I feel like the people who were making it didn’t get enough credit, and the bands that were lumped into emo-revival by the music media, probably only half of them were really a part of that community. It bothers me also that there’s a negative connotation with it, that’s both semi-understandable and semi-annoying. I know artists don’t want to be associated with something that has negative connotations. It’s happening now with shoegaze; there are bands that are classifiably shoegaze or whatever, but don’t call themselves that and are trying to reinvent the term as they go along, as are we. We call ourselves a sad-pop band, which to a certain extent is true. But at the same time, sure, we’re an emotional rock-pop band. For some people, that’s fine. I can talk about it with you, but often I just don’t care about genre classifications because it’s just another person’s interpretation of the cultural thing we’re surrounded by.
You’re heading to Australia for the first time ever soon. How did this tour come about? Did you just decide, “Well, guess it’s time to go Down Under” or is it something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
I wanted it to be our first trip out of the US and wanted to do it as early as late last year, but it didn’t work out. We went to the UK first, and that was great. I wanted to go to Australia the whole time and thought it would be a really cool trip to do. We’re lucky we’re going to get to see a lot of Australia; we’re there for a little bit and playing a lot of cities. I just wanted to do it, and now we’re doing it. So I’m pretty stoked.