Kill Hannah: making great music until there's nothing left...
J. Gordon
7/9/2006 11:48:22 PM

"I have a total grasp on the lunacy that is the record industry"

The tough part about writing up a Kill Hannah interview is knowing, as a writer, which direction you want to take it. For instance, there’s the creative track: Bass guitarist Greg Corner and lead singer Mat Devine mused for what would be many paragraphs on technique, creative routine, and how the sound and spirit of this almost decade-old band has evolved (the current lineup has been together five years). We could talk about how the industry’s bashed them around, largely ignored them for most of their career, and how they’re finally getting some recognition for being forerunners of electronic darkwave-glam (is that a genre? It is now). We could talk old times, gossip about past members and share funny stories (“Didn’t we crash at your house one Christmas in ’96?” Greg asked me. Yep, that was my house). After all, NT has been of friend of this band since 1995. Or, we could just write up Mat’s funniest lines. After all, he’s witty as hell.

After quite literally a month of deliberation and false beginnings, we’ve decided we’re just gonna give you the highlights. (Want more on a certain subject? Write us).

Kill Hannah’s bassist Greg is a lanky, handsome guy with looks well-suited for posters and CDs, and a charming, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ that precedes almost everything he says. Lead singer Mat Devine looks every part the rock star offstage as on, with the addition of a couple ‘normal people’ accessories such as reading glasses and a berét. His slender frame and soft voice create a fragile impression --which one soon realizes is completely false when you consider his persistence and determination to make this band happen and follow his dreams.

Sitting in a tacky sports bar in downtown St. Louis, Mat Devine scans a white nail-polished finger down the menu and, with a sleepy voice, he expresses concern that he’s getting ‘puffy’ before ordering a plate of steamed vegetables along with a 10” mushroom cheese pizza. “The vegetables are to compensate for what I know my drunken alter ego is going to order tonight, which is either wings or hot dogs at four in the morning,” he says.

The questions begin:

NT: You guys were selling out the Metro, a significant venue in your hometown of Chicago, long before the single “Kennedy” blew up on the radio. What’s changed for you now?

Mat: “Aside from my mom, I don’t think anyone really thinks ‘Kennedy’ was a hit. It did really well on a number of stations for a short period of time. But we never had a video. We never had it in movies. The next single will blow ‘Kennedy’ out of the water. If it doesn’t, we don’t know what we’re doing [Mat admits he doesn’t know the single just yet—there are a few contenders].”

Greg: “There’s still not much of a difference [in Chicago]. Then, when we started traveling around the country, certain radio stations would be playing it. In those towns we did well. Denver was sold out. It was awesome. We had fewer people in other cities because it was never in heavy rotation.”

NT: Your new album, Until There’s Nothing Left of Us, comes out August 8th. Talk about your sound today

Mat: “We’ve changed so dramatically [since our early days], and yet, we haven’t at all. The things that seemed to matter to me back then still matter to me. I still sing a lot about themes of romance and tragedy, underdog stories, hope. I sing for the disaffected kids out there.”

Greg [an original member since the band formed in 1996]: “We were electronic before the wave. Like, the Killers exploded, and Interpol exploded, all these bands that are so cool for ripping off the Cure. We sounded like the Cure back in ’97. We’re a little more rock, and each member that joined the band brought a different element in. When people ask me, ‘what do you sound like?’ I say, ‘Remember when alternative was alternative? Like, [MTV’s] 120 Minutes alternative? If you had to place us [back then] with other bands, we were somewhere between Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure and Depeche Mode. But evolving from that, not retro. We were made fun of for so many years—for sounding like the Cure, wearing makeup and sounding kind of 80s and stuff. Then we were totally left behind on that whole entire movement! It might be better, or worse, I don’t know.

“This was before electronic music was really accepted on the radio. It was already really hard for us to break into the alternative market. Then, the label merged. 80% of the staff stopped working our record three weeks before the album came out. We had bad management and fired them. We didn’t know what to do.”

NT: So, in your opinion, has music changed to welcome your sound?

Greg: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Back when I was in high school, you’d get your ass kicked for liking certain bands. If you said, ‘Hey, I like Motley Crue, I like Poison,’ that was the field you were in. If you said, ‘Poison and Slayer’—that wasn’t even acceptable! Let alone listen the Cure and heavy metal at the same time. But nowadays, with the iPod and singles, it’s all about a song. The kids don’t care if it’s Kanye West or Fall Out Boy. They’ll like it all. It’s helped out, but it’s also hurt a lot in the sense of genres. It’s really hard to find a kid nowadays who can say who their favorite band is. They really don’t have an answer. Back in the day there was [he uses a definitive tone], ‘they’re my favorite band!’ The sense of owning or identifying yourself with a band is over. Now it’s a culture, like, the whole emo scene. It’s so diluted now. But we don’t fit in anywhere,” he laughs.

NT: I imagine almost ten years in the business has taught you a lot…

Mat: “We’ve learned so much. When I talked to you back then [in 1996], we’d never recorded a serious album with a serious producer. We didn’t have a real hardcore fan base. We’d never traveled. So as a band, as musicians and artists, we’re ten times the band we were back then. Our live show is immeasurably better. Personally, it’s interesting because I look back and we didn’t know anything. We were so naïve about the music industry. That’s one education we learned through hard knocks. Ten years! It just kind of happened to us.

“From 1996 to 2002, we were doing amazing things and no one cared. We were selling out the Metro, and not a single representative from the coast would fly in. We couldn’t pay anyone to come see. People at that time were motivated much more by trends within the industry rather than personal taste or passion. At that time, nu-metal was catching on. We weren’t nu-metal. Or indie rock was big and we weren’t indie. Or maybe they never discovered that we were a real band, playing shows. We weren’t two months old. We were what they call, ‘shop worn’—which means if you’ve been rejected by a label already, they’ll never give you a second look again. Our whole lives have been a chance to prove ourselves. We have a whole network of people around us who believe in us. We’re just hoping this record will be a chance for vindication.

“I feel like now, not only do I have a total grasp on the lunacy that is the record industry, but I could write a book on it.”

NT: So tell us about the new record…you’re working with producer Johnny K, [whose previous work with metal rockers Disturbed -- also from Chicago -- earned him two platinum records]. Seems like an interesting mis-match.

Mat: “He’s definitely giving it more of a rock sound. Where we were maybe a little more indulgent, Johnny was more simplistic. So we kind of met in the middle. We borrowed a lot from each other and he definitely expanded his palette working with a band like us. None of his other bands care as much as we do about burying stuff and effects… all that kind of stuff. He tries to represent the general American public. I wanna hear a sound. What I care the most about is getting the song across; something I can sing along with that matters to me. The new record is definitely lush, but it’s also super-emotional. [As is true for all Kill Hannah albums, Mat is doing the cover and says he has ‘a boxful of artwork ideas’].

“When we got off the last tour, we were given six months to write 18 songs. A real tight deadline. There was even kind of like a thinly veiled threat included in that. Like, it’s not a suggestion [from Atlantic Records]. We’ve never had that kind of pressure before. But we all worked on it, we met the deadline, and we’re all psyched about the new songs. Every song kind of marks a new evolution for the band. The musicianship is tighter. The band sounds tighter. Vocally, I’m exploring a lot more…”

Greg: “The new record [Until There’s Nothing Left of Us] was mastered in February and the 14 tracks are all done. Mat is singing a lot more now. He’s not doing the breathy vocals—he’s holding notes and projecting. It’s totally a step up vocally. Also, there’s a lot more strings, piano, and epic sounds on the record. It’s so cliché to say that it’s more mature, but those are the elements we added to it. If that makes it mature, then it is. The new song is up on MySpace.”

Mat: “I hated the tight deadline, but it’s a good exercise. In college I always waited to the last minute to do everything. It’s just a facet of my personality. Sometimes, if you don’t feel forced to do something, sometimes you never will. It was like getting the most important assignment of all time, with your entire g.p.a. riding on it.”

See Kill Hannah with Mindless Self Indulgence:

Jul 10 2006 First Avenue- Minneapolis , MN
Jul 11 2006 Beaumont Club- Kansas City, MO
Jul 13 2006 Pop's- Sauget, IL
Jul 14 2006 Congress Theatre- Chicago, IL
Jul 15 2006 Orbit Room- Grand Rapids, MI
Jul 16 2006 Newport Music Hall- Columbus, OH
Jul 17 2006 Nation- Washington D.C., MD
Jul 19 2006 Webster Theater- Hartford, CT
Jul 20 2006 The Palladium- Worcester, MA
Jul 21 2006 Starland Ballroom- Sayreville, NJ
Jul 22 2006 Phoenix Concert Theatre- Toronto, Ontario
Jul 23 2006 Spectrum- Montreal, Quebec

and with 30 Seconds To Mars...

Jul 28 2006 The Cotillion Ballroom- Wichita, KS
Jul 30 2006 The Annex- Madison, WI
Aug 1 2006 Century Theatre- Cincinnati, OH

and at Lollapalooza!

Aug 5 2006 Grant Park- Chicago, IL


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