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Podcast Episode Seventeen: The War on Drugs Drummer Charlie Hall


The War on Drugs are up for the Best Rock Album Grammy for their 2017 effort, A Deeper Understanding. In this edition of the Music Is My Life podcast Charlie Hall, the drummer for The War on Drugs sizes up the Grammy competition—Mastodon, Nothing More, Metallica, and Queens of the Stone Age—and says of the other artists in the category, “It’s a very different vibe. I’m glad we’re recognized as a rock band, to be honest.”

“Much respect, especially to John Theodore,” Hall says, singling out the Queens drummer.

Charlie Hall: My earliest memories would probably be Sgt. Pepper. My brother and sister are nine and eleven years older than me, so from a very, very early age there was music being listened to in the house, rock music . . . and my parents are a little older so it wasn’t coming from them, although they’re both music fans, but my father was very much just like . . . he listened to pretty much Beethoven only, you know? There was no . . . neither of my parents were of a popular music generation. But my brother and sister . . . my brother was listening to The Who and The Stones and Zeppelin and stuff like that, so that’s . . . I remember now, my sister had a 45 of “We Will Rock You.” I knew it was music, but it also sounded like something else too, you know? ‘Cause of the percussive elements, like, “are these people all banging on . . . what is that? It’s not drums.” I remember just feeling like the sound is so foreign to me. And then my sister was listening to The Cars and I loved how much that sounded like something that was sort of from outer space, just as an impressionable five-year-old, or whatever. I think that stuff kind of hit me, so those are some of my earliest memories and then it was really all about like a few records, like it was about the Rolling Stones Hot Rocks, that was like “Honky-Tonk Women,” that was when I realized, “I think I want to play drums.” Like listening to that song with that cowbell intro and that’s sort of how it really started. My grandmother gave me like a Muppet Show toy drum set, I think when I was about four, and I’d add on to it with pots and pans and try to make little extra toms for it and expand it and then I got a real drum set, I think when I was about six for Christmas.

Pat Healy: That’s great.
So that’s when it all started.

It’s interesting, you and I have a bit more in common than just the whiskey sours [Ed note: You’ll have to listen to the intro for context, but basically both the interviewer and the interviewee received the same whiskey sour recipes handed down through their fathers], because my siblings are nine and ten years older than I am and all the groups you mentioned were pretty much what they were listening to, especially The Cars. Now tell me, with your siblings, mine were loose guides to me for music but then my interest eclipsed their interest in music by the time I became like ten or twelve, but were your siblings still acting as guides for you? Or did your interests outweigh theirs?
Well, yeah my brother was and always has been very much a guide for me like that. As he grew out of his middle school classic rock phase, he grew into a very heavy Talking Heads/R.E.M. sort of thing and you know, this was the days of like WLIR . . . so, my brother and I moved away with my mom to Connecticut, and so we were kind of huddled up a lot, because of that. He was maybe 14, and I’d have been five or six and I think because of that, because of those circumstances, we definitely bonded together and yeah, I definitely, whatever his records were, I was always stealing them and listening to them and I remember this very, sort of, defining moment where I started to branch off into my own . . . By the time I was nine or ten, it wasn’t all just his stuff, like I started to get really interested in U2 and that was kind of like my thing, you know? Rather than his thing, and then same with Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead, those were both things that he wasn’t really as interested in and so those sort of became like my things. I always sought his approval on everything but I definitely remember when my interest really veered towards those things, those three bands particularly, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, U2, that I was like stepping out on our shared interests.

Right. I remember I had a similar thing, my brother came home from college and he found, like, my Sex Pistols record and my Cure Standing on a Beach record, and he was like, “Sid Vicious is a loser!” He was disappointed but also, it was one of those things where I was like, “This is my thing!” You know?
What were your brother’s pantheon of bands?

Well, he brought home from college that first year, R.E.M. Murmur, and U2 Boy, and I was already pretty headlong into U2, but you know, when you had to buy the stuff, like you couldn’t just stream it.
Right.

It took more resources that I didn’t have, so that was great! But I think he was just kind of unnerved by the fact that I was getting into things without his gateway.
I know. I can totally relate to that. I think, probably, my brother felt sort of the same way, like he was very much like my father figure, in a way, even though, like, he’s also my brother.

Right.
You know, and so, yeah, I think he was kind of like, “No, no, no.” I totally remember bringing home that Delicate Sound of Thunder (Live) Pink Floyd record, you know? He’s like, “What is this, man? It’s not even, like, really Pink Floyd,” I’m like, “Yes it is!” You know?! Plus, I was like 12 or however old I was, 13, and I totally remember his disapproval.

So, you find your own interest and you find your own voice, and had you been playing with any family members or who were you playing with?
No, no one in my family really played an instrument but I was fortunate that we had a piano in the house and I had drums, and my brother had a guitar. He had an acoustic guitar under his bed that he played for a little bit but didn’t really stick with it, so there was also a guitar in the house. . . . Honestly, my musical training was just teaching myself how to play these things, listening to his records and my records, just learning . . . I learned guitar mostly by listening to Led Zeppelin records and figuring out chords. I bought a chord book and just kind of pieced it together. Same with piano, I took a couple lessons when I was seven or eight and didn’t stick with it because I just didn’t have the discipline or patience or whatever, but I’ve always been really interested in chords and harmony, that kind of thing. So I just kind of taught myself, same thing, like sort of once I figured out the basics of scales and chord structures, I just kind of pieced it together myself, which is why I’m a total hack.

When was the first time you started playing with other people?
So I went to the school for . . . I went to the same school for 13 years.

Okay.
It was kindergarten through [grade] 12, so one byproduct of that was I was around older kids . . . like, there was access to older kids, so when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I was the only kid that played drums, really, in the school and so I got to play with high schoolers because they needed a drummer and I was this little monkey kid who could keep a beat or whatever. So I got . . . there was this thing every year, there was a, like a variety show, like a talent show. And so, I feel like that was like one of the things that really framed my years. It was like, “what band am I going to put together for this thing?” It was like the big show every year. . . . Starting in probably about fifth grade, was the first year where it wasn’t like a lip sync thing, where I was actually, like, putting together bands and learning three songs and playing for this variety show and the guy, Mr. Denise, he was like the dean of students so it was like his big show and he just was always so supportive, like every year, all the way through high school he was just like, he really just kind of like “What’s it going to be this year?” His tagline was “Boom!” He’d be like, “Boom, Charlie Hall! What’s it going to be this year?” He was just like . . . just always really encouraging me in terms of playing music and that kind of thing. That was a big, formative, kind of annual thing for me.

That’s great. Does he know how influential he was?
You know, as I was just saying, I was like, “Man, I’ve got to reach out to him,” I mean, I think he does but just like anything, I should remind him. I’m sure he knows, I mean he’s like a really special, amazing person, and I think he was probably really influential for a lot of people in a lot of different respects but yeah, I’m going to . . . when we finish this up, I’m going to figure out how to reach out to him. He’s not at the school anymore but he’s definitely around and I’ll find him. He’s a pretty amazing guy.

That’s great. Do you remember the first three songs you did? Or the first songs you did with the group?
Yeah!

“Sunday Bloody Sunday”?
Oh, dude you have no idea. We had “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” in the back pocket but what we actually did for the show, we were called Exit 18, ‘cause that was the exit off of I-95 to get to the school, we did “Message in a Bottle” [by The Police] and we did “Bad” by U2.

Oh wow!
We had “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in the back pocket, but we did “Bad,” ‘cause Kelsey Libner, the guitar player, had a delay pedal, he figured out how to do that Edge stuff.

Wow, I was going to say, that’s high tech for that age, the delay pedal!
Yeah, I mean those guys were probably like eighth grade, I was in fifth grade, those guys were like eighth graders. They were a little . . . we had Tobey Dawson on a Juno 106. I mean, looking back on it, it was a pretty sweet little lineup with some sweet gear, which I’m sure nobody has anymore, but you know, we had a guy playing a Juno, Anthony D’Alto on bass, Tim Hoshner on second keyboards.

So these are the formative years and when do you realize that this is something more than just, I mean . . . well, I guess, on some level, you have must realized it because [this talent show] was a thing you looked forward to all year.
Yeah, and I mean, I just always, like, when I’d come home from school, I’d just play music until my stepfather came home. I mean, I’d get home from school and I’d put on headphones and I’d play along with album sides for hours. Until, like, 7:00, you know? Like, my mom always encouraged me to do that and my brother always encouraged me. I mean, our house was, like, 200 years old, our house was made out of, like, plywood. I mean, you could hear . . . it was louder than you could possibly imagine, but my family was so encouraging and endured what sounded amazing in my ears (‘cause I had headphones on, listening to, you know, Zeppelin IV, thinking that I was, you know, John Bonham) but I’m sure it sounded like holy hell in the house, you know? So I guess it was always a thing, I just . . . I didn’t know, like, what shape music would take in my professional life, but I think I probably always knew since I was, you know, three or four years old that music was going to be the guiding force in my life. I went to college and I did study music. I studied music history and music theory, I wasn’t like a performance major or anything like that. My dream job, actually, was always sort of like . . . I loved school as a kid. I loved the rhythm of the school year and I had a really great experience, like I loved my friends and my teachers, so I think I always kind of wanted . . . like my dream job was to teach music in a school in some capacity, you know? Not necessarily being a band leader or being the choir director but, you know, teaching music theory and stuff like that.

Where’d you go to school?
I went to school in Virginia, in Williamsburg, called William and Mary.

Oh, okay.
Again, following my brother, ‘cause my brother went there.

Wow. Another thing! I followed my brother to the college he went to too.
You did not!

Yeah, it was the worst mistake I ever made. [Ed note: Since this is Charlie Hall’s story, liberal edits were made in trimming details out of the interviewer’s anecdote.] Okay, so you’re at William and Mary and are you playing in bands there?
Yeah, playing in bands, you know, not like the college band but like just playing in bands, playing in rock bands and stuff like that.

What kind of stuff are you guys doing? What are the names? I always like to hear the names of people’s first bands.
Oh, God. Oh, embarrassing names, you know what I mean? Like jam band names, like I don’t even . . . actually, I think I’ve like blocked them out. . . . They’re probably in there somewhere but, you know, probably something like, “The (Something-Something) Project,” or like, you know, “So-And-So’s…,” you know, whatever, just insert idiotic string of names here and you’re probably in the ballpark, you know?

Gotcha.
Playing like . . . yeah, kind of . . . I mean, I was really interested in jazz but, you know, also like a classic rock kid. So sort of a logical extension of that at that time and in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s was like . . . had this stuff that came out of the blender, sounding like, you know, jammy noodle fest!

Were you always the drummer?
No, sometimes I . . . I played a lot of guitar, so starting around age eight or nine, I got myself to the point where I could play the guitar pretty well. I peaked early at all the stuff, you know what I mean? Like, what I do now I’ve been doing since I was, like, 12! Yeah, sometimes guitar, you know, [and I] got into playing more and more keyboards like after college when I was in San Francisco and I bought a Wurlitzer, [and I became] the guy with a Wurlitzer, and was like able to kind of play with a bunch of people who needed that flavor and, [I was] literate enough to sort of fake my way through most scenarios.

That seems to be the lesson so far: be the guy with the instrument that nobody else is doing.
Great advice for your students. Take up the English horn!

So you moved to San Fran after college and . . .
Yeah, my wife and I lived out there, kind of the summer after college we worked for a couple months to make enough money to get out there and pay first month’s rent and we planted our roots out there and they got pretty deep, you know? And we made the really hard decision to leave there after about eight years, when it was kind of like we’re either there forever—‘cause we loved it and our extended family was getting really deep out there—but you know, our real family is all back East and our parents were older, and so we moved to Philly.

What was the first song you guys danced to at your wedding?
Good question. I had some friends of mine assemble a band. They played “Hold On” by Tom Waits, off of Mule Variations.

Oh cool. That’s great.
Yeah, I love that song.

So, back to San Fran for a little bit, you’re playing there and are you doing that to make a living?
Yeah, I was playing at night, teaching during the day, so it was a lot of, like . . . when I was in San Francisco, it was mostly playing either straight ahead jazz gigs and sort of trio, quartet, quintet form, or, after a while, for a few years,I put together this sort of bigger band that was doing, like, Bitches Brew-era, Miles [Davis] tunes, you know? Like everything from like In a Silent Way through Agharta, just . . . loosely exploring those figures, which would be like, I mean, you know, the head would be like an eight-bar phrase or something, unless those tunes were actually defined by, like, certain rhythms, you know? As much as they were defined by any sort of changes. I mean, most of them didn’t even really have changes, they were just, you know, modal things that . . . so that was really . . . that’s probably one of the most formative, that particular project was . . . I joke about not having improved since I was ten years old, but that was actually the first time that I really broke through to another level in terms of my playing and my understanding of harmony but also just playing drums.

When you were teaching, what grade level were you teaching?
It was a high school, very similar to the one I went to, so it was one of these schools where I got to do a lot of different things, which was really cool. They really trusted me with different projects and I worked in the college counseling office, I was a college counselor. This is crazy, but I was the ninth and tenth grade dean of students for a year, which was another really great experience, and I was teaching the jazz band and taught ninth grade history.

Wow.
So I wore a lot of different hats there.

Yeah.
That was another real defining experience for me in my life.

That’s amazing.
I mean, as it relates to everything, you know? Being in a band and, so was—for that matter—bussing tables when I first moved to San Francisco, I mean I learned as much bussing tables that has kind of prepared me for this life as any music teacher I’ve ever had. Just ‘cause it’s about everything. It’s about being in a band, it’s about how you relate to other people and all the different things that go into this whole process, making sense of everything and putting things in order and kind of keeping different irons on the fire. I think everybody should work in a restaurant at some point in their life. I think that if you ever think that you don’t have anything to learn, it’s all over. I mean, I’m going to be learning, hopefully for the rest of my life. I mean, that’s one of the things that I’m learning . . . you learn every day. . . . I was actually talking about this with the guys in the band that are opening for us on this tour who are dear, dear friends, they were watching our soundcheck and . . . they were really inspired by the fact that we were picking apart a song that we’ve played hundreds—literally, hundreds!— of times, like a song we’ve probably played, like, 400 times in the last couple years. But for some reason, whatever reason, we were picking it apart yesterday, trying to crack open something new in this one part, and those guys were . . . I guess it ended up being sort of inspiring to them to watch us sort of going through that. So yeah, it didn’t really occur to me that it was anything special or unique but, you know, it really sort of made an impression on them to see us doing that. I thought it was cool.

What tune was it?
“Under the Pressure,” which has kind of become like a, you know, it’s definitely a “moment” in the set. I think that’s a song that we’ll probably play for a long time because—in addition to just being incredibly fun to play—it’s sort of one of the tunes where things just open up and something new happens every day. And, you know, some songs are very, you know, everything is highly composed and some songs kind of have moments that reveal themselves the more you play them.

Right. What’s the name of the opening band?
They’re called Lo Moon. Matt Lowell was . . . he’s the leader of that gang and they’re an amazing band. Matt’s a Berklee alum!

Oh, cool.
And yeah, he was supposed to be a hockey player and he went to one of these schools . . . up in New Hampshire or whatever, where you play ice hockey and that was his whole trip and he had this moment where he had an epiphany of sorts and he told his coach he was going to Berklee.

That’s pretty funny!
Those guys are incredible. Their record is going to be out in February on Columbia and yeah, they have a couple, there’s a couple singles out that you can check out. They’re really pretty special, special gang.

So, in San Francisco, is that where you met Adam [Granduciel, leader of The War on Drugs]? ‘Cause he had a stint out there too, right?
Yeah, [he was living there, but] no [we didn’t meet then]. It’s funny, we had strangely parallel migrations. He was in Oakland for a bit. I didn’t know him there, but we both got to San Francisco and we both got to Philadelphia in 2003 and met shortly thereafter. I was playing in some bands and so was he and we used to just see each other on the scene, at the Khyber, that’s where everyone used to play. And then that was when he really started putting together this thing that is The War on Drugs. So it all kind of started to come together and a couple of years after, we both got to Philly.

Yeah, so when that’s coming together, you moved to Philly just to move back East to be near the family . . .
Yeah, to be closer to family, close but not too close, you know?

Right.
My brother lived in Philly, so I was just following him around again.

So, what are you doing for work at that point?
So, at that point, I’m touring more. So, I figured out a way to sort of stay in . . . I always loved having it both ways, you know what I mean? Like, that was like, that was my thing, like I loved . . . I think that really, like, my appreciation for music just continued to grow because I, like, had the job that, you know, kept me around the school but I also had the music thing and so I figured out a way, when I moved to Philly, that I could keep touring, which I started doing towards the end of my time in San Francisco, playing with a guy named Tommy Guerrero. We used to go to Japan a lot and do stuff, so I was working and when I moved to Philly, at Big Brothers Big Sisters, like in school-based programming, so I was like directing mentoring programs in schools. But I didn’t have a classroom that I had to be in every day, so I could kind of come and go; if I needed to be away for a month for a tour, they were so supportive of me and sort of allowed me to have this scenario where I could come back and still have my job. I’m really, really so grateful for that, that time in my life, and also just for that experience.

That’s great. And so, you befriended Adam and [I’m guessing you’d befriended] Kurt [Vile] probably by this point and it’s interesting [to me because] I love stories where the origins of a band have more than one central character and they go off and do different things, and [what I’m getting at is] did you always know [Kurt would break off from The War on Drugs], was it like a loose affiliation and you always knew Kurt was going to go do his own thing? Or . . . and, I mean, you went and did your own thing, too.
Yeah, I mean, Kurt always had his own thing, you know? And Adam always had his own thing. It’s just (understandably) kind of hard for people to wrap their heads around it because, you know, it’s like, at the core, it was like The War on Drugs was Adam and Kurt, and Kurt Vile [and the Violators] was Kurt and Adam.

Right.
You know? That’s confusing!

Yeah.
And you know, Dave [Hartley] was around from the very early days, partly. But yeah, it was like, you know, and then, you know, when Mike Zanghi was playing drums, he was Kurt’s drummer and he was also the Drugs’ drummer, you know? It’s like a lot of confusing overlap for people I think, even though, to me, they’re so different, those two projects, and I know on some level, people associate them together and that’s cool too, but to my ear, they’re scratching away at totally different things.

Right, right.
You know, awesome, but like, what Adam’s kind of scratching away at is, you know, definitely, you know, different than what Kurt’s after.

Right. So you began as the drummer for The War on Drugs, then you weren’t the drummer for The War on Drugs for a little while and then, now you’re back in the fray, is that correct?
You know, like in the early days of the band, there was a very large cast of characters that were sort of in the orbit of the band and I was one of those people [who would] kind of come and go and played as things were getting going and then those guys kind of took off and ran around the world for years and then I kind of was loosely . . . still part of that extended family and sometimes I’d be playing drums, sometimes I’d play keys and guitar, you know, just depending on what was needed at the time and then when we were making the last record, Lost in the Dream, was when things became a little more full-time. And then ever since, we’ve been, it’s been . . . I don’t know, I guess that was 2013, or 2014, you know, we’ve been really busy ever since. They went off and have had a few different drummers over the years and they went out and really did the grind and just pounded the pavement, like drove around and really just started building this thing that now has just kind of snowballed into where we’re at today, but opening for bands and running around doing small, sort of headline shows, and sometimes it was great and sometimes it was not. But, you know. . . hopefully learn from every gig you play. Like, what works and what doesn’t, or how to be resilient if something doesn’t go right, or how to push through and take things to the next level.

And would you go see them when you weren’t in the bands?
Oh yeah, always. I still can appreciate this band as Adam’s friend and as a fan, as much as someone who’s involved in it. I’m grateful to be involved in it and I love it, and I feel like everything, musically and otherwise that I’ve done in my life, has prepared me for this gig, specifically. Like, I mean, I really, really love this music and I love what Adam’s going for and I love the people. I wouldn’t do this otherwise, you know what I mean? Like, if I wasn’t with people that I loved and playing music that I love, I’d rather be home, you know? I’ve got a family and I’m a homebody, but this is something that I really, truly love and so, yeah. I’ve always been a super duper cheerleader for this band and for Adam.

That’s great. And how did it come to pass that you did join up full-time? What were you doing right in that period before that? Just touring with different acts?
Yeah, playing with a guy named Jens Lekman from Sweden and a band called Windsor for the Derby, which was a fellow Secretly Canadian band, that’s the label that we used to be on.

Right.
So yeah, playing with lots of different people and just trying to learn and grow in each different scenario and recording with lots of different bands and just trying to keep getting better. And then, when we made the last record, we did some shows and then when it came time to put together the sort of new version of the band, which is the way it’s been ever since, we just kind of, it was like . . . it just seemed like it was time, you know? And it was like, “Can we just do this?” I was like, “Yeah, we can just do this.”

That’s great.
Yeah.

So, it’s interesting because [from the outside perspective, it definitely] feels like a lot of people were in the orbit and then somebody said, “Alright, let’s put this all together and figure out the lineup that works best and stay with that.”
Right, right, like “let’s just do this!” Like, this feels great and it’s an amazing group of musicians and everyone plays every instrument, which is interesting. I mean, not onstage, but I think that’s something that is a little unique about this band and something that I think is . . . definitely is, a part of understanding each other is that everyone in this band plays drums, everyone in this band plays guitar, and everyone in this band plays keys and so, I think that really sort of helps, you know, helps the conversation when you’re both . . . in overt ways but also in more sort of subtle ways and just in terms of understanding what each other’s doing or helping each other actually with specific things.

How does the process work? Because, I mean, there’s so many elements of this band that make it compelling . . . A lot of the draw for me is [initially] the soundscape nature and then there’s the songs, which are . . . they function on a different level than the soundscape quality.
For sure.

So, I’m just wondering about how you guys develop each song as the way it sounds.
Yeah, I mean, it’s really hard to say, you know? Like, they sort of happen in different ways, I mean, I think that maybe more so than ever, some of . . . with the new record, these songs did develop first as songs, as opposed to starting as landscapes and then the song sort of building out of that. But, to be honest, it’s like, it’s such a blurry line that it’s kind of both, you know what I mean? Like, it is interesting, I agree with you, like it’s kind of compelling because it’s just part of Adam’s process that, and it’s really unique and these things . . . there is an element of starting from just finding a mood and finding . . . trying to find this space in which a particular song can grow, you know? It’s, Adam’s . . . really, more than ever, he’s really found his voice like on the synth and finding, sort of sculpting landscapes with various synthesizers and things like that, in addition to just . . . people always think of him as a guitar player and he has turned into a ripping guitar player, but it’s also like, this whole thing is, it’s his brain, you know? I mean, I think one of the things that makes this so successful is that there’s a very clear axis upon which everything kind of rotates and that comes directly from him.

Right. And that seems also probably pretty important with the way you play. I’ve played with a number of people, and a number of drummers and some of them aren’t secure enough or confident enough to just keep a regular beat, and they want to make it almost too interesting! And I imagine what you do requires some restraint.
Yeah, it requires a lot of restraint and, you know, it’s something I enjoy, personally. And I enjoy kind of trying to find that very delicate balance between holding things down and letting the sonics do a lot of the layering and dynamic building, as opposed to sort of like your typical, like, “we’re going to swell into this section with a BIG fill and it’s going to be this and do a fancy this and that.” It’s kind of like letting some of the other elements do a little more of that more so than your typical pop song drum thing. More like a German approach, in a way.

It’s interesting, though, if you look at the . . . well, first of all, congrats on the Grammy nomination.
Thanks!

But if you look at the other bands in that category, those drummers like try to be, like . . . they switch the structure by switching the drum parts and, whereas, you talked about . . .
Well, I mean, you know, much respect, especially to [Queens of the Stone Age drummer] John Theodore, but yeah, totally different thing, you know? Who are the other bands? Metallica?

Mastodon, Nothing More, Queens of the Stone Age . . .
Yeah, very different vibe. I’m glad we’re recognized as a rock band, though, to be honest.

Yeah.
I think that’s cool. I mean, I have no idea what any of that stuff really means, to be honest with you. But it’s great and, you know, something for my mom to talk about at the dog park, so that’s cool.

Does she really go to the dog park?
Yeah, she’s got two dogs, Portuguese Water Dogs.

So tell me a little bit about the Silver Ages project.
Well yeah, so actually, like underlying throughout this whole thing, this goes back to my experience as a kid, making music, like something that . . . I always loved was singing and close harmony in particular. I’ve always been a fan of that style of singing, like the Mills Brothers or the Ink Spots, you know like that kind of like Four Freshmen type of thing, which obviously was like a huge part of the Beach Boys’ thing, you know, the Four Freshmen specifically, and so like, in a lot of the music that I love, I’ve always been a huge fan of vocal harmonies like that. So when I moved to Philly, one of the things that was so cool about that town was just—and this goes back to what I was saying before, how Adam and I used to see each other at each other’s gigs and bands just like . . . especially, like, I know this still goes on, I feel a little detached from the scene on the ground in Philly, I’m not home a lot—but guys sort of figured out that I had this sneaky like choral history, like directing choirs and stuff, and so I kind of just pulled together like eight friends from different bands of dudes that were just interested in singing more, you know? Like, just learning, maybe like, learning to sing better or . . . but more so it was just an excuse to get together and make music that was kind of strange, foreign to everyone equally, like none of them had any experience singing close harmony stuff that I have libraries full of older men’s choral arrangements. It just turned into like a thing, just something to do, like we’re not selling merch, we’re not trying to sell records . . . we do one show a year just for fun for our friends, but just literally making music for the sake of making music. So that’s what it really became and now it’s 17 of us and we’ve been doing it for 12 years. We get together every couple weeks at my house around the piano and, you know, sing incredibly complex choral arrangements and drink a little too much.

It sounds really good and I was very nervous before I investigated it that it would be, like, Rockapella-type stuff.
Oh God. Yeah, I tried so hard to shield those guys from, like, knowing about this like seedy underbelly of, like, what’s happened to that fraternal style, you know? ‘Cause I’m . . . I grew up near New Haven, so my mentor growing up was actually the athletic director at my school, who was in those Yale singing groups, like the Yale Alley Cats and The Whiffenpoofs and stuff. So I kind of grew up appreciating that very old, traditional style, like that sort of folk-based, almost sort of barbershop-based style of close harmony singing. . . . I tried desperately to shield these dudes from knowing that there’s the whole unsavory world of college singing groups, doing like beat-boxing and singing, like, Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. It’s like the most dreadful thing imaginable. And then, of course, Glee happened and all this stuff. Like after we started doing this, they started to be like, “Oh, there’s this show on TV,” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I know, I know there’s a show on TV [that features singing, but it’s NOT the kind of singing I’m interested in].” They’re slowly starting to figure out that there’s like this whole world, but we’re as far away from that universe as possible.

What kind of musical interaction do you have with your kids?
My younger son . . . well, a lot, you know? I mean, there’s music on all the time in the house and my older son discovered Weird Al a few years ago and I saw that, for the first time, music was becoming a thing for him because of Weird Al, which is really neat, you know? Like, just ‘cause of the humor of it he just loves it and it’s interesting ‘cause he doesn’t really even know what the songs are parodying, but he just loves them. It’s great! And then my younger son, it’s like his relationship with music is a little different ‘cause it’s like very, it’s very natural and he just is like . . . he’s very into . . . he plays piano and he’s actively a music listener. . . . Yeah, so he’s just super into it, loves . . . well yeah, they love when the dudes come over and sing. They both like to kind of like sit at the top of the steps and listen to us sing these songs and now, my younger son has started to ask for a folder of his own so he can kind of read along, ‘cause he can read music now, so . . . he’s like reading along and, you know, even though he’s only seven, he’s like . . . kind of pretends like he’s doing it with us, it’s kind of cool. It’s really . . . I’m grateful to have that experience with my friends, getting to have my son’s experience that music is just something that can bring people together, and those relationships with those dudes, with those 17 guys, I mean, they’d be my friends anyway, but because we do this thing that’s like such a crazy adventure, it just keeps . . . those relationships are so, those bonds between us are so strong and it’s all, it really is, it’s because of the music and because we’re doing this thing together. So I’m really glad that my sons can see how music is just something that is a connector, and music’s been a connector for me my entire life, going back to, like, that’s how I made friends when I was a little kid because playing music together, [or even] just talking about music—it didn’t necessarily have to be playing music—it’s just, music is something that, you know, is this shared experience that we have and can have with people, and so, the fact that my sons get to see that means so much to me.




Hall also discusses the value of working in the service industry, how having an encouraging teacher meant so much to him, and the evolving ethos of The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile, in addition to his side unique men’s choir project, the Silver Ages (see below), which also features members of Dr. Dog, mewithoutyou, Teen Men, The Spinto Band, Windsor For The Derby, Nightlands, and other Philly bands.

About
Pat Healy is an Editor and Writer for Berklee Online. Prior to Berklee, he was the Music Editor for Metro Newspapers. In addition to Berklee, he currently freelances for Pitchfork and several other music sites.
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