Interview by Lindsey Craun.
The Dark Water Hymnal is an indie-folk group based here in Austin. They’ve been slowly making a name for themselves since the release of a self-titled EP in 2007, and have since released a debut album, As Above, So Below, that’s gathered critics’ acclaim. The Dark Water Hymnal’s newest release and second full-length, Collapse the Structure, was released in January. We asked Jeremy Ballard, lead vocals and acoustic guitar, a few questions to find out more about the history of the band, the new album and what they’ve got planned for the future.
How did all of you come together to form The Dark Water Hymnal?
Ballard: It started as a quiet home recording project. I had songs I was working on and asked my friends Andrea and Emily to record a few violin and vocal harmony tracks and it grew out of that. We eventually wanted a more dynamic, full band sound so we asked more friends to join. Andrea, Bryan and I were in a band called Belhome previously and we shared our practice space with Mike, Brandon, and Emily’s band Goodbye Stranger. After those bands dissolved, The Dark Water Hymnal happened pretty naturally.
I understand that your lineup has changed several times throughout the years. How has that affected your music?
Ballard: It’s made the music be in constant state of growth. There’s an adjustment period that goes with that, but it’s also a very creative time. When members come or go the music changes because there’s a new dynamic happening, new instruments, new people. It always lends to trying new approaches to songwriting. We’re a completely different band in a lot of ways than we were before the last lineup change in 2009.
How has your sound evolved since your debut EP in 2007?
Ballard: The EP was very soft and quiet, and extremely sparse – just acoustic guitar, vocals, and violin. We’ve grown louder, brighter, more dynamic overtime. Early on, it was kind of about experimenting with writing specific kinds of songs, songs that centered around a lyrical structure and had instrumentation that accented the words. The sound has evolved to fill in all the spaces that used to be there. There’s just so much more energy now.
How does Collapse the Structure compare to your first full-length, As Above, So Below?
Ballard: Collapse the Structure is a big move forward for us. We did everything from a different perspective and with a new approach. The biggest difference is that the drums are much more present and we’ve added bass guitar and keys. I’m also singing in a much different way than before, in terms of volume and phrasing. We also asked our friends from One Hundred Flowers to add some choir tracks, which was a lot of fun and added some nice variety and fullness to a few songs. The new record is also a lot shorter, at just about 35 minutes. It’s compact and unrelenting, where as As Above, So Below really took it’s time unfolding. The songs came a lot quicker and weren’t handled too preciously on Collapse the Structure. We had some built up energy we needed to get out, so I think the outcome sounds much more raw and immediate.
Ballard: I hope people pull some joy out of it, are able to lose themselves in it a bit. It’d be nice if the music hit the head and heart with equal force. I hope it provides a good memory for people, something they want to go back to and re-experience in a different way later on. Pleasure, I guess, would be the simple answer.
I understand that the album was recorded in just two days. What was that like?
Ballard: Pretty intense, but fun. We had to scramble a few times when the clock was running down. We were doing a lot overdubs this time, while the last record was done mostly live in one room. Being in such a crunch allowed us to not be too picky about our takes and just let some happy accidents work their way in and add some unintended character to the songs here and there, which is really what we were going for in a round about way. I tend to like recordings like that, plus having so little time made it a bit more exciting.
In the past, you’ve been compared to artists like Iron & Wine and Sufjan Stevens. How did you react?
Ballard: I kind of take comparisons lightly, though they can be flattering. With our early songs, the Iron & Wine comparison made sense. Those songs we’re whispery and quiet and darker. But since Collapse the Structure, I’ve heard people compare us to Rural Alberta Advantage, The National, Arcade Fire, The Waterboys, and early New Order once. I like that it’s all over the place, just like the music that inspires us is. I guess my main reaction is to just keep making the songs we make. Any music is always going to sound a little like something else, and that’s a good thing because it helps you connect with it.
What genre would you say your music fits into?
Ballard: We hear indie folk-rock a lot, or orchestral indie-folk; but some post-punk and soul and garage and pop and classical music also figure in. We pull from a lot of different influences as a group, so I have a hard time knowing what genre we fit best into. I tend to think we’re a mix of a lot of things, so I don’t really think about it too much.
Do you guys have a spring tour in the works?
We’re going to do a few weekend trips over the spring to cities close by. Mid-summer we plan on doing a week or two toward the midwest and northeast.
What do you all have planned for the future?
We’re writing a lot of new songs now and booking more and more shows around town. We’re also starting to get ideas together for a video for “Wherever We Are.” We also have more shows planned for outside of Austin at the end of spring, and then the short tour in the summer. We’ll begin recording again in the fall.
Live photos from The Dark Water Hymnal’s CD Release show at Mohawk on January 20, 2011. Photos by Mari Hernandez.
Made in Austin is regular Red River Noise feature that showcases some of Austin’s best up-and-coming independent bands. Check back often to see what undiscovered talent we’ll interview next.