The Los Angeles-based indie quartet, Hi Ho Silver Oh, has spent years diligently crafting atmospheric folk rock that envelopes their audiences in warm, building rhythms and leaping, unpredictable melodies, that has earned the band rightful comparisons to Fleet Foxes and Blake Mills. With their latest track, “What Am I Doing”, the Hi Ho foregoes the countrified sound we’ve grown accustomed to for a hook-heavy romp of heartland rock to make Tom Petty proud.
For the track’s accompanying music video, which is premiering here on Nerdist, Hi Ho Silver Oh rally comedian friends Joe Hartzler, Justin Michael, Dan Lippert and Ryan Rosenberg to help save a local community center. Watch the delightful music video, then read our interview with frontman Casey Trela, below.
NERDIST: What’s the track “What Am I Doing” about?
CASEY TRELA: I think a lot of the songs change meaning after we make them into songs. Right now, this one is an “accepting responsibility” song. I’m someone who is quick to shirk off responsibility, by not taking myself too seriously and going to humor. I’m finding that, with music, it’s important to work seriously, and take responsibility for things I say and the choices I make. It’s about feeling sure of myself, and building a solid ground to stand on.
N: Was that struggle between humor and seriousness the inspiration for the music video?
CT: Firstly, we wanted to do something fun, just because we have a lot of comedian friends and wanted to create a place for them to be funny. And then we wanted to contrast a message that we feel is serious in the song with something goofy in video form. If we’re to assign meaning, I think it’s about a group of people trying earnestly to do something that is not exactly working as they planned. Even the premise of saving a community center is pretty silly, but it represents a loose, confusing situation where people are trying to do their best without really knowing what they are doing.
N: Did any of the Hi Ho gang frequent community centers growing up?
CT: I spent a lot of time at the Y. It felt sort of dangerous; they had to buzz you in. I played a lot of basketball there, and swam, it was where I first danced with girls, and had independence from adults, where I could just run around and do whatever I wanted. I guess, subliminally, it was an important part of my life as a child. I think the rest of the Hi Ho group grew up on the street. Especially Roxy; no church would ever take her.
N: The track sounds distinctly different from your previous work. In the past you’ve focused largely on textured, ambient folk rock, and we get a taste of that at the beginning of the track here, but then the drum machine kicks in and we divert into some full-bodied pop. Is this a new direction for the band?
CT: It was kind of an experiment. I’m used to just writing songs and letting them fall in whatever order they come out. And it’s usually not a linear song, or a song where it goes in the standard “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, end” structure. “What I Am Doing” was originally a six minute song, and then I trimmed off all the fat, so it was just the hooks. We have a few songs that are like that on the new album, where it’s just supposed to be the melodies, and the messages, and it’s nonstop for two minutes. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way to do things, but I don’t think it’s a bad way to do things, either. It was just something I hadn’t done before, and something I was a little scared to do. It felt mainstream and poppy, and those were things I’m compelled to rebel against. I wanted to try pop out, and also take ownership of it at the same time; just be okay with writing a pop song. It worked with the message of the song.
N: When’s this album coming out?
CT: Right now, it’s supposed to be May, so I’m going to say May.
N: Are those turquoise glasses prescription? And where can we get them?
CT: Yes, they are prescription. I normally don’t wear them when I play, because I’m scared they’ll fall off, but I needed to see [director] Jon Mackey. They’re very broken, though. They’re sunglass frames that I bought for $10 at a thrift store, and then got my prescription lenses put in them. They don’t close anymore; they’re superglued open. You can have them one way, or not at all.
Hi Ho Silver Oh will be celebrating the release of “What I Am Doing” with a free show at Downtown Los Angeles’ Mrs. Fish, 8-11pm. You can also check them out at Boise’s Treefort Music Fest in late March.
Hi Ho Silver Oh is guitarist Roxy Radulescu, bassist Kevin Manwarren, frontman Casey Trela, and drummer Chris Dunn. Photos by Ben Irwin.