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southern comfort
by: Sara Nowak - August 12, 2007

An elementary school tennis court may typically be a place where nightmares are made. For Hymns, it's where a dream was born, when a chance encounter between Brian Harding and Jason Roberts sealed their fate. The lads bonded, becoming brothers of sorts, amid shared family vacations, the pressures of youth, and the desire to play music. Eighth grade was marked with the event of Roberts teaching Harding how to play Nirvana's "About A Girl" on guitar, and the following years entailed the incubation of their skills. As most young and eager musicians do, they played for their high school public, and later their college peers. Unlike most amateur musicians, however, these characters actually stood a chance at making a name beyond their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Although their talent has undeniably taken them far, luck has definitely greased the wheels. While working at The Living Room in New York City, Roberts met Ben Kweller. The two must have got on well because before long Roberts joined Kweller's touring band. Drumming for Kweller at the time was John Kent, who would later produce Hymns' first album "Brother/Sister" and develop Blackland Records. Along the way, John Kent introduced his brother Tony to Roberts and Harding, and he soon became another member. When the band recently needed a new bassist, Tony called in his friend Matt Shaw. Shaw had already contributed to "Brother/Sister" and worked well with the band. Cataclysmic isn't it?

Since their first show as official Hymns, these guys have been operating at warp speed, with gigs supporting their friend Ben Kweller, The Lemonheads, and Beck. Their first show was in December of 2006, mere months after they completed their album (which was released in October of 2006). Vocalist Brian Harding attributes the band's steady line up of performances to "lots of good help," and Jason isn't afraid to acknowledge Kweller's input. "It helps to know Ben. I've met a lot of people being on tour with him for a year." Evidently.

Even if Roberts hadn't ever met Kweller or Kent, it's safe to say that his charisma, along with that of his band mates, would have carried them. As determined and focused as these guys are, they manage to keep their bonds and have fun along the way. Maybe their having been born and bred in the South is what accounts for their pleasurable demeanors. Whatever the cause, any band could stand to take a lesson from Hymns. Just one Hymns song demonstrates the potency behind each member. Lead singer Brian Harding's voice alone can commiserate and encourage, and has led to Tom Petty comparisons. Along with Roberts, Kent, and newcomer Shaw, a blend of country-twinged rock is effortlessly conjured. Their brand is easy-going, and accessible, but far from disposable as so much modern music can be. The music of the Hymns is meant to be savored. It conveys a sense of comfort and invites you to linger.

Hymns, then, is quite a fitting name, since a hymn is a song meant to bring people together and essentially encourage them. Although it may seem calculated, the name more or less found the band, as Harding notes, "We were playing as Player Piano at this place called The Steeple, an old church that had been turned into a music venue (in North Carolina). I walked into the bathroom and there was an old sign that said 'Hymns'. The moment I saw it I knew I wanted my band to be called that." Adamant about the grammar of their band name, Roberts finds himself correcting people a lot - even venues, "It's not THE Hymns!"

For as much time and thought as they have put behind their moniker, these musicians have put loads more into their sound and message. Although most of their material comes naturally to them, they mull over everything with careful dedication. When asked where he finds most of his inspiration, the band's primary writer, Harding, can't pinpoint many specifics, that is aside from "girls". "I can't ever sit down and write a song. I just can't do it. I try all the time. It usually happens when I'm walking down the street, or if I've had a bad night. Stanley Kubrick says he gets his inspiration from bad films. There are a lot of bad bands out there, and that helps me a lot. But then you hear better bands... there are so many bands that there are many worse bands."

It might sound cheeky for any band to make such a remark, but the music Hymns create allows them to be slightly cocky. They are not in the business for the misguided reasons that many find themselves following. While their sound may not be innovative, it is also not contrived, as Harding openly discusses, "It's not like we've stumbled upon some genius sound. We're playing the same kind of stuff that lots of other bands are playing, but hopefully it's just the personality that's different." Something in the group dynamic, at least in particular between Harding and Roberts, definitely does seem different. They give the impression of knowing that most bands have an expiration date. However, rather than forcibly trudging through the well-worn path of most vapid bands, these guys prefer to leave much of their

future up to fate. While they do work hard to advance themselves, with rigorous touring, they realize that it can all be taken away in the blink of an eye; or in the review of a critic. "I guess the way that I look at it is the only thing you can do as a band is just be as good as you can possibly be - play the best that you can possibly play. It's all up to luck, 'cos either nobody's gonna hear you, or a bunch of people are gonna hear you and hate you, or somebody's gonna hear you and like you," explains Harding.

Its seems while although they would love to make music for as long as they can, they would be able to accept bowing out gracefully and pursuing other endeavors, as if they don't want to disgrace what they have had together. That alone proves that they are operating with the best intentions. When asked what they would be doing if they weren't in Hymns, two members, Harding and Kent claim they would be writers. Roberts, a bit more technical, thinks he'd be "an astronaut... or a sound engineer."

The day these guys stop playing music would be a sad one, particularly for a few specific demographics, as the guys have noticed, "Old people like us... and teenage girls". It's no wonder older people can appreciate Hymns' music, being that it is rooted in classic rock n' roll. It's also no wonder that teenage girls would latch on to this act, for as much as these guys may not own up to it, their looks don't hurt (am I right ladies?). Many more soon-to-be fans will be discovering that for themselves this summer, when Hymns play near them. The tour planned for the summer will find the guys in practically every state - their first intensive coast to coast tour. Other acts to join them include Mezzanine Owls, The Morning Pages, The Dead Trees, The Shys, and Naked Gods.

One final suggestion, being that it is summer: get Hymns' "Brother/Sister" for extensive car tripping. Hell it's even an excellent soundtrack for the monotonous drive to work. If you aren't excited about your destination, you will be excited to have Hymns along for the ride. And remember, it's Hymns not The Hymns.

How was the show with Beck?

Jason - Good. The band HIM played first, and then it was Beck, and then us. HIM, Beck, Hymns. Beck got there an hour late... and he was supposed to play a solo acoustic. But right before Beck got there he called his tour manager and said he wanted a full band. They didn't have any equipment, so they had to use ours, which was already set up. Their drummer was a left-handed drummer, so they took Tony's drums and flipped it all around. They wanted to use our keyboard; they wanted the amps on the other side of the stage... So he gets there late, plays the show, and instead of playing for 30 minutes he played for 50. It took us about 20 minutes to get our stuff back to normal.

Brian - It's one of those things where you get offered the show, and you call your mom and you're like 'We're playing Beck!,' and you get to the show and you see him playing and you're like 'Oh shit... we're playing with Beck.' We knew everyone would leave after he played. Which they did.

J - The second he finished everybody left. But if he had done the acoustic thing, we could've been up there within 3 or 4 minutes and hopefully a couple of people would've stayed.

B - We had a crowd of maybe 10 people. But it's still cool to say that we've played with Beck.

J - It was also cool that our drum head with our album cover on it was behind Beck. We've been finding pictures online. And Beck used Brian's wurlitzer to play 'Where it's At'.

Who are your influences?

B - It started off with Pavement, it kind of moved on to Neil Young, The Byrds, Gram Parsons. and then Guided by Voices, Spoon.

We used to be Radiohead-y in college ...

J - I had tons of guitar pedals...

B - It was all very epic. Then it felt so good to just plug into the amp and play. It kind of happened in Texas, because all we had to listen to were old records of Merle Haggard and AC/DC. John helped us a lot with the sound.

J - Brian has lots of different influences when he writes stuff - a lot of the songs sound different. We try to keep it as cohesive as possible. We want to have the same kind of tone for everything.

What makes you stand apart from other bands?

B - I think it's a pretty pure sound. It's subtle. I think it's just the honest pop songs.

J- I know it could sound like I'm lying, but we don't try that hard at all to make it sound that way. It's just the way he writes stuff and the way that the rest of us come up with stuff - it just sounds like that. And thats gotta be somewhat different than other bands hopefully. Some people hate's Brian's voice but you don't really hear anyone else that sounds like that.

B - Our best review was that if you buy this record you should have a blunt object to throw at the CD player.

J- We got a good review today that said that Brian has more range than Tom Petty when he sings, which is a little far-fetched.

Do you have goals in performing?

J - Should we talk about fueling out?

B - We should try explaining it.

J - Our main goal is to fuel out. Fuel is our thing. It's like if you see some fat, jolly guy walking around in the street in a bathing suit - that's a fuel.

B - Like Hulk Hogan, Little Richard-

J - Ted Nugent. They don't have to be fat-

Tony - Gary Busey-

B - Like if I took this book right now and threw it across the table - that'd be a fuelish move.

J - So what we decided to fuel out before every show we play. We don't dress like Elton John or anything. We're not The Darkness- they were fuels.

B - We have levels, like double fuel, triple have to be interesting. So we just try to fuel out. I jump around as much as possible. I wear a feather in my hat. The way we get into it is, we found this Osmonds clip on YouTube, called crazyhorse

B -It's from the era when they were trying to be like Jackson 5 and Led Zeppelin.

J - They were trying to be badass. If you type in Osmonds it's the first thing that comes up. It is fuelish.

T - We watch it before every show.

J - We made a preshow CD for the Lemonheads tour that played on the P.A. system before every show. It makes you feel so crazy. They're insane. That's our goal: to get people into it. We try to get clapping and tambourines...

B - and we try to get a guest from another band come and clap or something.

J - I want to throw out a bunch of tambourines. I saw T Rex do that once, it was pretty cool. But we'd probably get sued.


"we were scheduled to play after Beck which sucked. He got there an hour late... and he was supposed to play a solo acoustic. But right before Beck got there he called his tour manager and was like I want to do a full band. So they had to use our equipment, because they didn't have any. Their drummer was a left-handed drummer, so they took Tony's drums and flipped it all around. They wanted to use our keyboard - we had everything all set up. They wanted the amps on the other side of the stage... So he gets there late, plays the show, and instead of playing for 30 minutes he played for 50..."


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