[Essay Test is a segment in which we assault a band/artist with interview questions and let them answer in an essay test format. We let them roam and wander. We encourage run-on sentences and love fragments. We may or may not take points off for spelling mistakes. Here's how Sarah Negahdari did!]
Words and questions by Brendan
I stumbled into The Happy Hollows a few years ago and immediately fell in love with their rock tunes. The way Sarah Negahdari’s voice pierces through the shreds of her guitar and the precision of the rhythm section … mmm, it’s delicious. I wrote about the band, and Sarah’s solo weird (in an awesome way) folk-rock project as Pisces, last year in this here post. Since then, Sara has gone on tour as the bassist for Silversun Pickups and, more pertinently, Happy Hollows have recorded and announced a new album, due out next month! I exchanged emails with Sarah about the band, the new record, touring, and songwriting. Stream some tracks from the new record here (and download some from their previous), and read on for more!
DUL: How do you introduce yourself when people meet you and ask what you do? And what would you say to someone who doesn’t know The Happy Hollows to try to get them to listen to your music?
Sarah Negahdari (SN): What a unique question! When people ask what I do, I tell them I’m a musician. I have been making my living off of music for a few years now, but it’s still the biggest thrill to hear those words come out of my mouth when someone asks! I would tell someone who doesn’t know Happy Hollows that if they like me, they should listen to my music because it’s like me but with sounds! I honestly am the worst sales-person though, and find it really hard to “push” my music on anyone. I have to get better at that.
DUL: Chris, your drummer, left the band a little while ago. What have you been doing to work around that and/or find a new drummer? Has this affected the band’s live shows at all?
SN: Yes, he left the band in 2011. It affected everything. He was going through so much at the time, and we totally understood his decision, and remain best friends. For the first six months after he left, it was just too much for me, emotionally, to audition someone new. So, instead of forcing ourselves to move forward too quickly, Charlie [our bass player] began making beats on beat boxes and synths, and we would build songs around them. All of our new songs came from these synths. It changed our sound, completely. Once the songs were developed, we had our good friend Matt Fry come in and add some more guitar work, and we loved what he added so much, he joined our band. We had a drummer come into the studio to lay down real drums, and live we have had different drummers join us. It has worked out for the best in many ways, and Chris still plays with us often live.
DUL: You have a new album coming out in July. Fantastic! When was the album recorded and what was the process like? How and when did you write the songs for it?
SN: The album was written in 2011 and 2012. We recorded it in 2012 with producer Lewis Pesacov and engineer Eric Palmquist. We recorded live for the first time, with all of us playing together. All the instruments took only a few days, but my vocals took a month! Lewis Pesacov literally whipped me into shape! He pushed me like no one has ever pushed me in the studio. He would make me sing each song for hours, literally until I got the perfect take. I would sing so hard and push myself so much, that I would lose my voice after each song and have to rest for a few days, and then come back to do it all over again. He heard something in my voice, and really pushed me to grow and express myself with it. I still can’t believe that’s me singing when I hear our record back. I can’t speak highly enough about that guy. I am forever changed for the better because of him.
DUL: Where did the album title and artwork come from?
SN: We have a song called “Amethyst” on the record, and amethyst is my birthstone, and I LOVE crystals, and when we recorded, the room had a purple, amethyst color light we would turn on and play in. So it seemed fitting to go ahead and call the whole album, “Amethyst”.
For the artwork we asked an amazing artist who goes by the name “Bez”, to do it. He does a lot of brilliant street-art installations, and he did an incredible poster for one of our shows. We gave him the record and told him to come up with whatever he wanted. What he sent was perfect, and exactly what I was hoping for!
DUL: How has the band’s sound changed between Amethyst and Spells? Listening to “Endless”, I’m noticing a heavy synth element that wasn’t there before, and digging it!
SN: Thank you! The sound changed drastically when Chris left, as I explained above. We started building each song around drum machines and synths loops. We also included an additional guitar player, Matt Fry, to our band, and his parts add so much depth and beauty to our sound. He has this ability to perfectly swirl around my parts, and in the studio it felt like our guitars were dancing around each other, twirling into the clouds, and diving back down through the sea. It was quite heavenly.
The Happy Hollows / “Big Bad Wolf” / Spells B-Sides EP [self-released, 2010] / dir. Ryan Reichenfeld
DUL: How do you approach writing songs for Happy Hollows as opposed to Pisces? And do you think your personality comes out a bit in your songwriting? I’m inferring that you’re something of a mystical person, one who believes in the wonders of the universe; is this accurate?
SN: Wow, I love your questions! Thank you. Yes, I am a bit of a mystical person. I love pondering the mysteries of the universe. I once thought Happy Hollows and Pisces were very different, but with Amethyst, they sort of collided. Amethyst is a very mystical record. Whether or not it reads that way, every song on it is about my personal experiences with cosmic love, expansion in consciousness, visits from deceased family members, questions about growing older, and thoughts about time and space. It is mostly about my wanting to love, and be loved, and how vulnerable and scary and complicated and human that is.
DUL: You’ve been touring with Silversun Pickups as their bass player. How has that been? You guys came to Pittsburgh recently, too (but sadly I missed it!!). Was that your first time here? Any thoughts on the city, and when you might be back?
SN: Well, first of all, Pittsburgh is my new favorite city!!! What a beautiful city! Brian (of Silversun) and I went to Kennywood before the show. What a crazy amusement park!
I don’t know where to begin with Silversun. The experience has been life-changing and thrilling, to say the least. I learned to play bass, for starters. I got to experience living on a bus, touring Australia and other amazing places, and I’ve met the most incredible people, and had the most divine adventures! I have 12 new brothers (band and crew) and I love them dearly, more than words can say. It has been amazing and they will always be my brothers. Now my time is wrapping up with Silversun, and I am looking forward to returning home to my Happy Hollows boys this summer!
DUL: Any recent books read/movies seen/albums listened to that you really dig and people should know about?
SN: I really loved the film Mud. I love the new record from The Knife. I love the new material from Cloud Nothings, Bad Books, Marnie Stern, Besnard Lakes, Django Django, and I love Tame Impala.
Sarah, you rock! Thanks for chatting with us! Can’t wait to hear the new album, and here’s hoping you and the band can make it back to your “new favorite city”