Hovvdy Are In Love
On the title track to their new album True Love, Charlie Martin acknowledges that the Hovvdy of today is a far cry from the Hovvdy of the past: “Woke up so down/ Tired from sleeping, like my old song,” the vocalist sings, referencing a near-identical lyric on the band’s 2018 record, Cranberry. As “True Love” loops forward into a gradually-crescendoing coda, its sense of urgency and morale — “Do you believe what I said/ That I am the man I say I am?” — is stark in comparison to the languid chug of its predecessors. Over time, the band that could once be described as “pillow core” became more and more wide awake.
When Hovvdy first began cutting their teeth in Austin’s DIY circuit around 2014, the duo — composed of Martin and drummer Will Taylor — made spare, vaporous indie rock that drew countless comparisons to slowcore pioneers like Duster, Codeine, and Bedhead. “I can’t even believe how slow some of those songs are — it’s shocking,” Taylor laughs. “But I guess that’s what happens when you drink beer and smoke weed at 3AM.”
Substances aside, it makes sense that a new sense of responsibility would permeate True Love, Hovvdy’s fourth LP and debut for Grand Jury Records: Recently, both Martin and Taylor married their partners, and the latter also welcomed his first child. When I ask the band what type of setting they’ll associate with the recording of True Love, they replace the nocturnal weed and beer with a chipper “coffee and 11AM vocals.” The sentiment feels less like a gripe about getting older and more like a testament to the fact that Hovvdy are taking themselves more seriously now than they ever have before.
Pandemic restraints meant that Hovvdy couldn’t record as leisurely as they did on Cranberry or their 2016 debut, Taster. Perhaps as a result, True Love is the duo’s peppiest, most intentional-sounding record to date. Where Taster and Cranberry embraced lackadaisical drum patterns, uncomplicated guitar melodies, and hardly-intelligible vocals, True Love feels like rubbing your eyes after waking up from a deep sleep; its aesthetics are still hazy and relaxed in typical Hovvdy fashion, but the music’s undertones feel more hopeful and invigorated.
While telling me about the writing of True Love, Martin and Taylor frequently throw around words in the vein of “empathetic,” “honest,” and “fun.” While the album isn’t all sunshine, the idea of deep human connection and all its complexities is a common theme throughout: “My mama called me crying/ Her son is a father,” Martin sings on “Hope,” just moments before arriving at an equally unsettling realization: “My father is a son.” True Love explores these nuances with a refreshing sense of unguardedness, all with the underlying awareness of life’s futility.
Below, watch Hovvdy’s new “Blindsided” video and read our interview with Martin and Taylor.
It’s pretty ambiguous throughout the record which songs refer to romantic love and which songs refer to more familial love. Was that intentional? Do you feel like with the life changes you’ve been through lately, love has a different meaning for you?
CHARLIE MARTIN: So, we pretty much write the songs separately, and then come together on the recording. Once we had all the songs together, I had “True Love,” and after hearing everything together, we realized that it was like a really strong thread throughout the record. The concept of love and all of its different forms.
WILL TAYLOR: One compliment that we received in the past that really stuck with me was about our inclination to keep those lines a little bit blurred. Friendship love and family love is as powerful as romantic love, and I feel like we accomplished that message again on this record.
MARTIN: There’s a song about my brother, there’s a song about my wife, and a song about my nephew, and it was never like an intentional thing to do that. It’s just what came out.
Your records have tended to gradually pick up the pace throughout your discography. Did you ever feel like you needed to prevent yourself from getting pigeonholed as a slowcore band?
MARTIN: In the beginning, the pull and the strength of that type of [slowcore] music made us happy and really excited.
TAYLOR: As time has gone on, different things have made us happy and excited. We’ve also brought new people in. Ben [Littlejohn] helped us with [2019’s] Heavy Lifter, which was our first time working with someone else on a record. Even that in itself frees you up. That’s what we did again, with our buddy Andrew Sarlo. He’s really talented and he was a really good encourager, which I think led us up to having these opposing moments, but still leaning on the somber moods we like to play with. I think it reflects our growth both as people and as music fans.
MARTIN: The first time we worked with Sarlo was on “Runner” and “I’m Sorry,” the two singles we put out last summer. I remember after that session, we were making plans to potentially make a record together, and his big thing was encouraging us to go really deep and push us. It was less about “make the record sound crazy” and more “make the songs substantial and emotionally felt.”
TAYLOR: I think on Heavy Lifter, there were an array of songs that were more about “vibes,” whereas we really tried to bring “song songs” to True Love.
In the music video for “True Love,” there’s a lot of imagery that’s related to childhood. Do you feel like this record has put you more in touch with that more naive, nostalgic side? Or are you trying to channel that part of yourself?
TAYLOR: People tell us our music sounds really nostalgic, and we haven’t really been able to pinpoint why. But I think there’s a natural instinct for us to have a kind of free spirit.
Speaking of childhood: Will, do you have any music you’re excited to introduce to your daughter? Where is she at in her musical journey?
TAYLOR: Right now, I’m just excited to get past Elmo — Elmo’s “Home On The Range” is fire, though. We’ve started to show her some folk music that’s easy on the ears, and she’s already starting to dance to Lucinda Williams and stuff. She might grow up to hate all the music I like.
Seems like you’re setting her up for success. Now that your sound is getting bigger, do you ever see the band expanding, or do you think the core duo is crucial for Hovvdy?
MARTIN: We both see Ben as the honorary third member. He’s been working with us in a big capacity for years. But in terms of making records and performing live, we’re excited to let it grow as big as we want it to. As songwriters, though, I think it makes the most sense for us to keep it a duo. It’s really fun this way, and I think we have a really special evolving chemistry.
The story goes that you guys were both touring drummers when you met and neither of you knew much guitar. How have you pushed each other musically throughout your career?
TAYLOR: A simple answer would be that Charlie learned how to play guitar in open tuning, so that’s pretty much what he does best, and it created a moment where I got to explore that, coming from playing in a standard tuning. But even just the way each of us writes separately, hearing each other motivates us and helps us feed off each other.
MARTIN: I feel like we’ve kind of come full circle. Neither of us has focused too much on drumming since, like, 2015.
How do you think the pandemic affected each of your creative processes?
MARTIN: Songwriting is a very therapeutic practice for me. It’s interesting that a lot of the songs that we wrote during this time came out bursting with love and joy. Maybe that’s just what we needed.
TAYLOR: I was listening to less new music, and more just listening to stuff I had known in the past. I also challenged myself to spend more time on the computer making music, whereas before it was more sporadic. This was also kind of the first time that we were actively sharing things that weren’t even close to done, or were just ideas that were less fleshed out.
I feel like it’s very easy to make corny love songs. How has your perception of a love song changed over time?
TAYLOR: I have plenty of corny love songs. But I think we try to have a unique take on what a love song is.
MARTIN: I don’t think either of us really commit to a concept when we sit down to make a song; I think a lot of the time, it’s pretty stream of consciousness, and we both think more in terms of melody and rhythm. Over time, we’ve just gotten a little bit more confident lyrically. Toeing the line between corny and not corny is tricky.
TAYLOR: That’s why Certified Lover Boy is so good. It’s just almost corny the entire time. [laughs]
I was shocked to see y’all cover Charli XCX a while ago. I assume you’re fans, but what’s your relationship to pop music like?
TAYLOR: As much as it doesn’t sound like it, we pretty much try our best to write a pop song every time we write.
MARTIN: I think we realized over the first couple of records that when something we did was good, it was just a pop song. We’ve always been fans of bands like Coldplay, and now Charli XCX. We’re both deep hip-hop fans. Most of what we listen to primarily is under that umbrella.
TAYLOR: There’s just something to say about the immediacy of pop music — something that, after the second time listening to it or whatever, you can sing it back. We strive for that. We always try to have catchy stuff going on, but maintain our attitude and our mood.
MARTIN: On the first record, there’s that song “Pretend.” I remember when we wrote it, it just felt too easy — we were giggling over it. Now, that song is by far the most popular from that record, so it’s been a funny lesson.
How would you describe your relationship to your old music now?
MARTIN: It’s hard, because back then, we produced it, engineered it, and mixed it all ourselves. We’re very self-critical of how it sounds. So I find myself listening to Heavy Lifter more if I want to revisit our older stuff. I’m super proud of that one. But to get real for a second, I think what I’ll associate most with the making of this record is the overcoming of fear that we were all experiencing. Just me, Will, and Sarlo in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles, just having to trust each other and take a leap of faith and cancel a session or two [because of COVID protocol]. The circumstances made making a good record a real challenge, where you’re prone to existential crises.
Do you have a song on True Love you’re the most proud of?
TAYLOR: When we released “Junior Day League” as a single, I realized I liked that one way more than I initially thought I did. So, that one.
MARTIN: “Blindsided” for me. It’s about my relationship with my dad, and getting to that place in a tough relationship where you realize your parents are just people, just like you. It’s about the relief of realizing that those difficulties are less about you than you think.
What lessons have you learned while making True Love?
TAYLOR: Trusting instincts. It’s easy to want to change things when you go in to record, even if it’s strong the way it is. I feel like I have more of a grasp on trusting when a song is good.
What do you hope people take away from the album when they listen to it?
MARTIN: Happy tears.
True Love is out 10/1 on Grand Jury.