Zach Hill… What a hero! With guitarist Spencer Seim the two formed Hella and cut the mind-blowing Hold Your Horse Is LP in 2002 which is… well, my favourite album! Hella sound impossibly messy and layered for a duo: a noisy, discordant and brain-bendingly complex strain of music churning, churning, churning in your ears. Since then Hella have churned a handful of quality releases, as well as respectively being involved in terrific side-projects: The Ladies, Team Sleep, Marnie Stern (Hill) and The Advantage (Seim). In 2005 they expanded their line-up, added vocals and the result being not as ball-clenchingly stunning as the good old Hella that we previously loved. But hold this in your musical brain: in no way have they sold out or done some lame album for the sake of it – they always do what their they want to do.
No one sounds like Zach Hill. His style is mental: completely scattered, break-neck that on first listen sounds free and improvised but is in fact intricately structured. It’s the most exciting and energised drumming to listen to, the sort you’d like to slow down and see what’s actually going on.
Zach’s latest project is his solo album, Astrological Straits. It’s typically wild and spaced-out, with some definite tunes – very, very entertaining listening. I spoke to him after an immense set at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds: a half-hour long song called Necromancer which features on the second CD of his latest album.
Brudenell Social Club, 3rd Dec 08
What’s your experience with foreign crowds?
I don’t really categorise anything, any country or any place… Audiences are much more reserved [in Europe], a bit more standoffish in the show environment. But the same thing can happen in the States as well, it just varies. As far as respectful audiences are, or people that are actually taking in the music more than anywhere else I’d say Japan. As far as people are going there strictly to see the band and do nothing else and really are taking it in, than that would really be my number one. Being there it really puts off a sense of more or less them just really taking it in – really thinking about what’s happening or what they’re seeing. And a lot of shows too where it’s like you play there and you finish a song and it’s just like really excitable and crazy and then in about ten seconds it’s just silent until you start your next song…
So it’s the nervousness of the crowd?
I don’t think so – I think it’s respect. I think they’re anticipating what’s going to happen, what’s going to happen.
I’m wondering how the transition from little hella to BIG HELLA came about. Did you burn-out as a two-piece or did you have the opportunity to expand your line-up?
Both, really. I don’t know about ‘burn-out’ but we always wanted to [pause for thought]. In the beginning we always planned on at some point incorporating more people. It was getting to a point where we were kind-of tired of well, not tired, just kind-of like, naaah [makes inscrutable shrug gesture] about just two people I mean… Drums and guitar… it’s a lot of fun, it’s great, but it’s a bit limiting at a certain point so it felt natural to try to incorporate new things in the band.
How did you start out playing drums? How did the process begin?
I don’t have a music background in my family or anything. I just had a neighbour behind me that played drums and I’d hear him play drums all the time and I just felt that I understood it when I listened to it even though I couldn’t do it physically. So it just grew from there. I ended up getting a drum-set and then just teaching myself.
And your style. How long did it take you to define the technique you use now?
It was a gradual process. I just naturally heard things in my mind and just practiced until I could get across [hand gesture, we get what he means].
It’s a bit of a personal question but when you were involved in projects like Hella, Marnie Stern and The Ladies for example, did you have to hold down jobs to keep yourself going or could you sustain yourself?
I could sustain myself… modestly! I worked… I couldn’t call it work but I play… I do work very hard but modestly I’ve been able to sustain myself.
Cue an annoyingly repetitive drunk bloke who interrupts, making it massively awkward and Zach is treated like a pisshead’s zoo animal… Damn. In reply to the question “what does There’s No 666 In Outer Space mean”, Zach replies, “everything’s nonsense” which is pretty pertinent I suppose. End of a terrific chat with a very friendly Californian. Cheerio now!
Zach Hill – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds