Christian Holden (The Hotelier)

The Hotelier just finished a seven-week-long tour across the United States supporting an album that'll likely be in a lot of Top Ten lists for 2014, Home, Like No Place Is There. It's their debut release on Tiny Engines and their first time trekking across the country. The dudes went from a wild show in Boise, Idaho into Denver, where Punknews Copy Editor Britt Reiser was able to catch up with vocalist Christian Holden in the basement of a DIY venue called Seventh Circle Music Collective.

We chatted about the usual things, like perception of the new album, tour and the relatively new name change from The Hotel Year to The Hotelier (which includes a Punknews commenter shout out!), to the completely unexpected and insanely interesting twist of un-schooling and the entire movement around not going to school. You know the drill, read the full, winding and turning interview underneath Read More.

Is it weird that people are paying attention to you and your band right now?
For the last couple of years whenever there was a review or anything about the band on the Internet, we’d see it and read it because I was excited to see it. But, the new album came out and it’s gotten so much press, we’re trying to read every single one. I just got exhausted.

Part of it, very little of it, has been negative. That was weird. I can’t even; I really wanted to see someone say "I just can’t get into this." It sounds cocky to say that I haven’t seen it, but I just haven’t seen it. Of course, the people who are the most loud about it are also the most excited about it.

It’s been three years since you released It Never Goes Out, what have you been doing? What did you do in between releases?
There was a whole level of growth as people and as a band that we never had. We put out We Are All Alone and we only played at a skate park called Rad Skate Park. We’d only play with the same bands, people would call them "Rad Skate Park Shows," bands like All Set, Born without Bones, American Alligator.

Then we put out this record and people started to care outside of Massachusetts. We didn’t know anyone who toured at the time. Then labels started talking to us and we didn’t know how to do any of that stuff. It took a year for us to just hate everything about the music industry and learn from people doing it in Windsor and from the people we met when we were finally on the road.

It was a gradual growth, something new was always happening so we didn’t feel the need to put something new out. Then we went to Tiny Engines in the spring of… 2012. We said, "Hey, wanna put out It Never Goes Out because our label went defunct?" They were like, "We don’t, but we do want to put out your next record. Depending on how that goes, we can re-release this one later."

Then it took forever for us to write it, mix it and master it. Everything about that record took forever.

How is working for Tiny Engines?
The greatest. We had a list of labels we were going to pitch the record to and at the time, there seemed like cooler labels to go with other than Tiny Engines. As soon as we signed, they started signing these great bands and I got more involved with their roster.

Their roster is incredible!
It’s SO incredible! They are seriously one of the better curators of music through their label, music and people. In the end, we wanted to be with a label that wouldn’t overshadow us as a band. It was the perfect smaller label with great bands. They made it real easy to work with them. I wouldn’t have asked for anything differently.

Home, Like No Place is There is significantly darker than your previous works. You’ve also self-professed to this, how did you get there? Is it in response to your criticism of the music industry?
Instrumentally, it would have to do with that. I have a desire to make not necessarily sadder music, but more emotionally provoking music. We’re always trying to push things forward. Not in that we think we’re leading the pack, but there are certain things you can do to leave your genre while keeping certain ties. That’s what I’ve always tried to do, push it a little further than I felt people were doing.

The two years I was writing the record were really dark years for me. It seemed like everyone in my life were having messed up experience. I was dealing with a lot of abusive relationships, and while they settled down, being able to go back and relive all of it, put it in perspective. Not have it be something constantly in my subconscious. So, it was a dark period while writing it.

Was it therapeutic to write it?
Yes, while I was writing it I was coming to terms with it as it happened. I’m pretty particular about how I write. I won’t write unless I’m really in the mood. Where I’m at peace, and at peace with everything else. Not exhausted or having my mind in other places. Just really centered. That’s how it came out as therapeutic.

Since this album is so personal, and it does deal with these really dark images and themes, is it weird to have the recognition you’re receiving, that kids are singing along to things that could have essentially wrecked you?
Kind of. It’s weird when I’m playing "Your Deep Rest" and people are having a really good time and I’m trying to perform a song that’s really deep and personal. I’m not necessarily feeling the emotion that I was when I wrote the song. But at the same time, me as a person – I like to get really deep with people really quickly. Those people are listening to it and connecting with it is what I wanted, to cut the superficial, delve right into whatever I can, what I feel is really real about me. I do see a lot of music that stays on the surface for whatever reason, whether the writer stays on the surface or just not willing to get there. That’s how I interact with many of the people in my life, cutting the bullshit and getting to where they are.

You did a Tumblr post right before you announced the name change and album, and you mentioned "Marketing is the art of bullshit and I have a pretty solid bullshit detector. "
I wrote that whole thing in one night when I was just feeling it. I saved it until the night before we were going to release a song. I didn’t read it ever again after.

I’m seeing this dislike of marketing and crafting an image as a theme because you’re talking about creating authentic music and relationships with people, letting that authenticity show in your music, but you’re also expressing this idea of the music biz guy and this terrible experience. Where does this come from, in terms of your passionate need of authenticity and going below the surface?
Yeah, I just hate being sold things. I hate people that have ulterior motives that come to talk to me and aren’t interested in, you know, more interested in what they’re going to gain from me. More so than being open to having a conversation and seeing what we might both gain from it.

When someone is selling you something, there’s always a dynamic of them having everything they could possibly gain from the person they’re selling to, they’re the provider. In that sense there’s this weird power dynamic in that conversation already. And while I like to have very face-to-face conversation and in terms of dynamics, on the same level, conversations – it’s just not anything that jives with me. I don’t like being sold things; I don’t think people like being sold things. It’s the anti of what I like.

At the same time, we have this album and we have people that are putting money into getting it into a world where people are more likely to hear it and talk about it. This is a part of the way I like to interact with things as a band; I have to say this is going to happen. But I don’t sit at our Twitter and retweet every single thing people say about us. If you like it, you like it. I don’t need to tell you other people liked it.

When you started out, or you started writing, were you intending to be a politically based band or politically influenced?
It was a progression. When I first started writing it was straight pop. Writing songs about relationships with my girlfriends or whatever. Then I started getting into more political stuff. But it was still real personal; it was what’s causing my friends to be sad? What’s causing them to be really disempowered? That progressed into It Never Goes Out which I wrote in high school. When I was writing it I felt like I had a lot to prove. First I was in high school and I was an anarchist. And when you’re in high school and an anarchist, it becomes "oh you’re a young kid, what do you know." So I felt like I had a lot to prove which is why when I wrote these songs they seem so overtly political but trying to keep a personal vibe. But then I was over feeling like I had to prove something in that context. So I did what felt more comfortable when writing this album, and felt more me.

When you wrote this new album, how did the collaboration piece go with Chris and Sam?
When we wrote the album it was a three piece, we have people coming in and out of the band. A lot of it is song ideas that we’d bring to practice and just jam. A lot of this album was me, in my house, writing a song structure as a bare bones. Then we’d flesh it out. A lot of the songs are basic structures until we go into the studio and spend more time building on individual parts. I would be able to hear a singing melody over it, and if I couldn’t I would immediately be too bored with the song and it wouldn’t work. Any songs I can’t hear immediately we would just throw away.

This is your first time in Denver. Are you getting a good response in these new cities you’ve been to? Do the kids know you? Have they heard you?
Yeah, in some of the threads of people following us that I read, I hear people saying "there’s like 20 kids at their show. There should be way more." But that’s pretty much it. There’s a few exceptions, like a basement in Martinez, or LA had a good turn out, Seattle, Boise. They’re getting better. The thing I’m most stoked on is that people are listening and will come up after and say "hey, I’ve never listened to you before, you have a great sound and are really great live." Which is solid, and I would hope happens after playing together for five weeks and being pretty open about calling each other out on something that sounds pretty bad.

Can we talk about the name change?
[Laughs] Pretty much the reason we changed the name is that anytime someone would post us on a forum, without fail someone would be like "I thought this was My Hotel Year." So they’d either be like "I was surprised, this is pretty good." Or they’d be like, "This sucks. This isn’t My Hotel Year." Punknews being one of the big sites that this happened. Your commenters are fierce.

Oh, I’m aware.
So we decided to change it because I was partially annoyed by that and because it didn’t feel like a name that belonged to us. Cuz if there’s this band that already has a similar name then I don’t want to step on their toes or have to think about how they even exist while we’re doing our own thing.

We decided to be funny about it and do the exact same pronunciation. We didn’t have a name going into the studio the first time, so we made a shitty name we didn’t care about and then got stuck with it. We figured this was barely a name change; it wouldn’t be the same impact as, you know, American Nightmare changing to Give Up the Ghost, where it’s like two separate eras. We’re just the same pronunciation.

What do you do when you’re not in the band? I saw something that you hate school and think it sucks? I assume this means you’re not in college?
Yeah, actually these go right into each other. I have been doing band stuff for the last year and a half in my free time because I’ve been writing the album, stressing about writing the album, and it was spread out forever. Then working on getting the tour for Fest lined up, and I’ve been doing this nonstop.

But every fall, including this past fall, I work at a camp for Un-schoolers. Un-schooling being a youth-empowered home schooling movement that has camps in Oregon and Vermont. I work at the Vermont sessions; it’s these kids who come from this more radical approach to parenting and home schooling. They go, and they’re just like "hey, I’m really really good at this one thing, let me teach you how to do it." And everyone does that every day for a while, while the staff is focused on making events for getting these un-schoolers to really connect on deep levels. It’s all based on Unitarian, Universalist methods of bringing community together.

If you’re really getting involved in it then you’re really opening up to everyone at camp and allows home-schoolers to make friends with other home-schoolers from across the United States and sometimes the world. It’s called "Not Back to School Camp."

I got really into un-schooling in my last two years of high school. I read this book called "Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Real Education." I read about it when I was reading about anarchism stuff, and I was like "oh, that seems like a pretty controversial book" so I got it. I read it and went "WOW, this is probably the most life changing book. This is great, it makes me hate school and I can’t take school seriously, no matter what it is. I’m wasting my life here, what the hell am I doing?"

I left high school and started working on a farm. I would later realize that the family un-schools their kids and has un-schoolers come and work on the farm. It was the weirdest coagulation of things to happen. Then I went with them to an un-schooling conference, and then that summer went to camp as a camper.

When I was there they encouraged me to look into being a junior staffer, and last year was my first year as a staffer. I’m going to do it again this year and I’m going to be an advisor and project leader.

My idea is to talk about chaos and de-centralized and centralized structures and when they can come into play in your life. When they aren’t supposed to be what you’re using. It’s going to be deep but digestible. Really broad exercises, like going for a walk in nature and seeing how de-centralized it is but then how little pieces of organic matter is centralized in this structure.

How did your parents react to wanting to become an un-schooler?
Well, I graduated so they didn’t care. They didn’t want me to not go to college but I was pretty adamant about not going, so I didn’t. But luckily I have a mom who is very open to understanding things, even though she’s semi-traditional in how she looks at things. But still so open to learning.

That’s pretty cool, I didn’t see this coming [Laughs}. I’ve never heard of this concept of un-schooling. Especially as a child choosing to be un-schooled. This doesn’t sound like it’s a hooky 101 though.
But it even kind of is. The reason you hate school is not because you’re lazy but because school sucks, school really sucks. Learning is an actual part of your life, it’s one-hundred percent your life. Your life is about learning and if you’re bored with learning then you’re bored with your life.

The argument is that this isn’t the best way to raise someone you want to be highly intelligent and creative. So, part of it is jut straight-up sympathizing with people who just want to play hooky. And even to a certain extent sympathizing with kids who get into a lot of trouble in school.

Something I think about a lot is how gender performance is very exaggerated. Reasons being that you’re in situation as a youth where you’re under the control of these other people who have your education, thus your life, six hours a day, five days a week, in a school. Even when you’re out of school you have to do homework or stuff for school. So, essentially your life is out of your hands.

So in my idea that people naturally desire power over their lives, people turn to ways in which they can act out some sort of domination over another person, make someone else their subordinate. The easiest way to do that is exaggerated gender expression.

Hyper-masculinity and the like?
Hyper-masculinity and even with women, there’s a lot of "I’m doing it the right way, you’re doing it the wrong way. You’re gross for doing it your way, or whatever you do. It doesn’t seem very womanly the way you’re doing it." And it’s not just enforced by women; it’s enforced by men as well. So, even finding a way to navigate having power over your life without adopting the gender performance of hyper-masculinity.

It’s weird, I was a lot more openly violent when I was in school. I said "look, I’m not going to be hyper-masculine but I’m going to keep myself safe and not let people fuck with me. I’m going to have control over my own life. "

Gender violence and other forms, racism, and all the isms, if you have the power taken out of your hands - well, I’m an anarchist. So if you have a government or people with money that then have power because you live under a system where your money equals power over other people’s lives, then you look for these other ways to enact and gain power a domination over another person. That’s how you’re going to gain that power back for yourself, or the desire from power, that was taken from you. That’s how I think these things stick. It’s pretty easy for a free-thinking individual to call bullshit and recognize that it doesn’t make any sense to real world events that happen in my life. But when something that is so integral to who you are, which is the power over your own life, is taken from you, is how you adopt those other ideas that already exist.

That was a really cool, unexpected tangent. We should wrap up so anything to say to the readers?
Not really. Don’t sell me things.