INTERVIEW: Amber Papini of Hospitality

Earlier this year, the New York band Hospitality released what is shaping up to be one of the years best records. With songs like "Friends", "Betty Wang" and our personal favorite, "The Birthday", the band is on the fast track to indie superstardom, and shows no time of slowing up anytime soon.  Tonight they'll make a stop at DC's The Black Cat opening for label mate Eleanor Friedberger and as great as their songs are on record, we're pretty comfortable with letting you know that you ain't seen nothing yet. 

A few months ago we had the chance to chat with singer/guitarist/songwriter Amber Papini a few months ago and she let us in on some of the history of the band, band crushes how making a their debut record took a mighty, mighty long time. Here's what she had to say.


I read that you guys actually wrote a lot of material for this record a while ago, and didn't quite get into the full-time band business until recently. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Yeah, sure. I wrote the songs over, I guess 2008 to 2009, and then we recorded in 2010. We started out…we recorded this EP in 2008 with [producer] Karl Blau, and wegot things going with that. And then in 2009 Brian got this opportunity to tour with White Rabbits, so he took that and it basically turned into like 2 years of him touring. So we were actually ready to be in the studio and record in 2009 but we just couldn't. It was between Brian's schedule, and then the studio’s that we wanted to work with schedule, and it just never happened so we just had to wait. And then when we did finally get in the studio, we were working with a guy who was sort of really busy. The same time he was recording us he was recording Sleigh Bells I think, so we were paying him discount prices and we were getting like… we had to do this very quickly and we really had to wait for the mixes. 

We recorded in October in 4 days, live as a trio, and we just did everything live, and then over-dubbed vocals and a few other instruments in the studio.  And then we sat on the recordings. We took them home, and Nathan produced further, worked with them more and added parts like guitar parts and strings, and more keyboards and stuff like that. And we didn’t end up mixing until February. So that was sort of just waiting around for f@#@ers basically [laughs] Not in a bad way …that’s just an expression that we like to use. [laughs]

It sounds like you guys were pretty ready to go and it just sort of a slight delay of game.

Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s hard living in New York, and we all are not independently wealthy. We’re all working and so, you know, we're working jobs, and parts of our band are just gone, Trying to, you know, make it all happen

Hospitality at home in NYCSo, you are all still working right now?

Actually, I recently had to quit. I'm a teacher and I was still teaching - I've been doing that for 4 years - but I had to quit because we're going on tour which is, you know, a good reason. But it's a little scary but yeah, it's a good reason so we'll see what happens

As far as live shows go were you playing out for a good bit before you did any of the recording.

Oh, yeah. We've been playing out in New York, we played a lot. We didn't really do much touring outside New York just because we didn't have a record to promote. So I was just really hoping to get a record. My goals were just to get a record and well, I should say our goals were to get a record, and get a booking. Those things could really help us get out of New York, which they did. It turned out that that was exactly what happened, and that has helped us get little tours with other bands, supporting them. We did some in the fall and did more recently and then we're coming out again in March

So are you guys are native New Yorkers?

No, I'm from Kansas City and Brian's from Hackensack, New Jersey. And Nathan's from Charleston, South Carolina

I’m asking because one of the things that I actually really liked about the record is that it just has a sort of an old school New York feel. If you go back to the New Wave of, you know, Blondie, Talking Heads and that stuff - stuff that was going on at CBGB’s. Was getting that feel an intentional thing or you think that just comes out from living there now?

You mean like the sound of the song?

Exactly. Your song “The Birthday” is probably my favorite track on the record and one of the reasons for that is that it sounds like it’s coming from a slightly different place…like something that almost could only be made in New York.

Yeah, well, I like that air of New York music, like Television and Blondie, and we all like Talking Heads and I think that that…we all listen to a lot of different music and I think we have internalized a lot of them. So we're not like consciously going after a certain sound because we have so many influences that we're not… we don't have that kind of vision right now but we weren't consciously going for that…but I'm glad that you hear that.

It seems like a lot of people try to like emulate other bands, and it sounds like you guys can emulate other bands, but I think it goes with what you said, is that you just internalize it and then it comes out.

Yeah, I think also Nathan is really into this, like a disco beat, something like sort of New Wave, maybe like, you know, beats that are more on the Blondie records and stuff like that. Definitely. And he loves the Talking Heads and their rhythmic sensibilities so he's definitely internalized that.

Were there any bands that you guys were listening to when you were making the record that you would say influenced you more than others?

Oh yeah! Neil Young is a big influence on Nathan, and me and Brian really love Elvis Costello. Destroyer is an awful big influence for my song writing - the way he writes songs. New Order was like a huge love affair. Prefab Sprout we all adore. Robert Wyatt is also a huge influence. We love Robert Wyatt. It's funny how you live life and you have, you know, like, band crushes,love affair with different musicians and bands. When I was a kid I liked Psychedelic Furs a lot. I liked Merge bands…Matador…K Records.

Speaking of Psychedelic Furs. I’ve noticed that your singing voice has an affectation that your speaking voice clearly doesn't. It’s like it’s challenging the listener. Sort of saying “we're not just like playing these pop songs, we mean them!” There’s almost a little brattyness to it…

[laughs] Yeah.

…but, you know, in a good way.

Yeah, no, that's all right. Its okay, I mean, I know that a lot of people talk about, the English that there’s slight British accent. I think it's a combination of…I'm kind of trying to enunciate, I have a lot of words and trying to get them all out, and I think when I was - I think I heard a teacher, a voice teacher tell me one time - I've never really had voice lessons but had one voice lesson and she told me that the power from your voice is enunciating your consonants and your vowels. So I think that that's sort of it. But, it's also like really natural for me to sing that way; I'm not trying to do it. And I think I've internalized 1940's movies of that sort of mid-Atlantic, Julie Andrews, and I don't know., I also really love another American who sings like he's from England, Robert Pollard. I love the way he sings

Absolutely. And you mentioned the band Television. Those components can definitely be found in that bands vocalizations.

Yeah, right.

Are you guys  working constantly on new material or is it an album/tour cycle. How does that work for you?

I guess in the past, and it still is, it’s just kind of accumulating materials. Right now we have two new songs in our live set, we have more in the works. Nathan has one and I have a couple, and so it's a matter of getting them to the band and rehearsing them and arranging them. And that's kind of an evolution, just a self editing. We're just working it out over months.  We work out stuff, you know, really intuitively

So you work it out more like a creative process together? Do you start the material together or is it a situation where somebody says “I have this song, what can you all add to it?”

Well, I have this song together. I have the melody and the chords and the structure will be in place. Sometimes I intentionally leave holes where I'd like a solo, an instrumental part. When we were a trio, Brian would play the melodic like solos and he would come up with his own solo or his own melodic idea in that space, and then Nathan really drives like the rhythm and the arrangements, you know, how we. You know, on the record, he added, you many other instruments and parts. But we don't write like together in a room, you know. I guess somebody told me…there's a book out about how the most productive creations are done separately and then people come together, and that’s pretty much how it works for us.


Hospitality will play The Black Cat in Washington, DC TONIGHT. Tickets are STILL AVAILABLE!