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in good company
by: Nancy Chow - January 31, 2012


Recently signed to Merge Records, home to numerous indie luminaries, Hospitality is in excellent company. There’s something irresistibly charming about the band members’ unassuming dispositions that bleed into the quartet’s accessible pop music.  Instead of canned responses, they offer stream-of-consciousnessanswers.

When asked about the name Hospitality, vocalist/guitarist Amber Papini discusses how she likes the dichotomy between the band’s upbeat, inviting sound and subtly cynical lyrics.  She remembers that guitarist Nathan Michel had mentioned an interesting point about the band’s name.  He takes over beginning with a thought about the state of the word “hospitality,” trails off, and says, “It’s not clear what…what I’m saying.”  The band erupts in laughter, and Papini admits that they probably have to think more about what to say about Hospitality.

“We haven’t done many interviews, especially together,” says bassist Brian Betancourt.  “So this is actually a really fun learning experience.”

The seeds of Hospitality can be traced back to when Papini met Michel at a party while attending school.  He had already been recording experimental electronic music under his own name.  They later formed a band with Papini’s sister Gia.  Shortly thereafter, Betancourt, who Michel had met through an old schoolmate, was enlisted to play guitar.  Initially, they performed mostly Michel’s songs, but the gang eventually shifted to playing more of Papini’s tunes and settled into Hospitality.

After soundchecking for a show at Cake Shop, Hospitality was offered an unusual proposition by Karl Blau, who happened to be sharing the bill with them that evening.  He complimented the group and offered to record their music in exchange for them becoming his backing band for a few shows.  He also wrote some songs specifically for Hospitality featuring “bouncy basslines and two keyboard parts that were supposed to be played in harmony with each other.”  A few of the songs over time would appear on Blau’s later records.

“I always admired [Blau’s] four-track demos,” says Papini, who purchased a four-track from eBay shortly before recording the band’s self-titled debut EP.  “The beauty of tape and four-track is like there isn’t much work that has to be done.  As far as production, it’s already sort of part of the package of four-track recording.  I knew it was going to sound great.”

The EP session barely took the whole day to record – merely the afternoon to lay down the six songs.  There is an immediate appeal to the effortless pop tunes with jazz touches.  The tenuous tracks are coated in sweetness with the delicate, fey vocals of the Papini sisters and temperate instrumentation.  The group viewed the EP (which was only available on CD at their shows and via as something between an official release and a demo.

Although, they were satisfied with the recordings, they still hoped to rerecord the songs again down the line.  In fact, some of the tunes on the EP reappear on the band’s self-titled debut label LP in amplified form.  The rekindled songs have a breath of new life with more layers and a heartier quality that was developed through their live performances over the years.

“We all agreed that we wanted to give these songs their due,” says Betancourt.  “The EP was great, but there weren’t many choices to be made with recording on a four-track.  A lot of these songs, especially the newer ones that aren’t on the EP, needed to have a bigger life.  I don’t think [the latest single] ‘Friends of Friends’ could exist on a four-track in the right way.”

At the outset, the group wanted to record with Blau again in Washington, but the logistics deemed that plan impractical.  Instead, they opted to work with Shane Stonebeck (whose diverse resume includes Cults, Vampire Weekend and Fucked Up), and recorded locally.  Stonebeck’s demanding schedule limited time in the studio as the band tracked live, but Michel judiciously added additional layers afterwards on his own to expand on the band’s studio session.

The full-length album isn’t a far cry from the EP, but rather a natural progression.  Over the years, they lost a band member.  Gia Papini decided to pursue other interests.  However, they picked up another, Kyle Olson, whom they added as a drummer due to instrumental responsibility shifts.  Hospitality’s current scopious sound developed through the various adjustments made as they grew as a band.

“The songs have a lot of nice harmonies that just weren’t well-represented with just Amber playing the guitar and singing,” says Michel of his decision to move from drums to guitar.  “We just wanted to fill out the harmonies a little bit more.  I also like to play really fast solos, and I wanted to be able to do that.  Just playing guitar as fast as possible.”

Every track on the album is more pronounced and confident with sardonic lyrics that bear a lot of bite.  The songs are expertly bulked up with lush, detailed arrangements: Every little note or effect has a purpose.  They excise the excess to bring out the brightest, best parts of the songs, resulting in each track coming off as a single with catchy hooks that delve deep into your skin.

“It’s funny picking a single,” says Papini.  “We tracked the record according to the flow – the way the songs sound like as a whole piece.  When we were deciding singles, we were like, ‘What about the last track?  No, we can’t do the last track, because everyone will scroll down to the last track.’”

After the album was completed, they started looking for a label to release the record, and by chance, they made a connection a few years ago that would land them a deal with Merge Records.  After comedy writer and music video director Scott Jacobson was impressed by the EP version of “Betty Wang” that he had found via Stereogum, he emailed Hospitality to ask if they would like to make a video for the song.  The music video never happened (although he did just direct the video for “Friends of Friends”), but they still stayed in touch and became friends.  Jacobson eventually heard the finished LP and sent it to his contacts at Merge the rest is history.

“I listened to Superchunk when I was a teenager,” says Papini.  “I couldn’t believe when I was talking to Mac [McCaughan] on the phone.  I was completely starstruck.”

The fortuitous signing has opened up a yet unwritten chapter in the band’s lives.  The album’s release is a long time coming, and they are eager to share its songs and take them on the road.

“Before this year, I think the farthest we’ve been is Connecticut,” says Betancourt.  “I think we toured New York for five or six years, but now we’re heading out.  We’re ready.”

" We all agreed that we wanted to give these songs their due,” says Betancourt. “The EP was great, but there weren’t many choices to be made with recording on a four-track. A lot of these songs, especially the newer ones that aren’t on the EP, needed to have a bigger life. "

"Self Titled"

what it is

Irresistibly charming, unassuming pop music.