Hidden Hospitals (ex-Damiera/Kiss Kiss), a four-piece “alternative progressive rock” band from Chicago is probably the worst way to describe this group. Sure, it gives you a basic idea of what to expect, but it really does not do any justice to their sound, who they are, or what they’re about. And typically, you don’t expect a new band to have all of their shit together from the very start. It just doesn’t happen that often. When I came across Hidden Hospitals, however, and the band’s debut release EP 001, I listened to it eight times in a row. That is something that I just don’t do, but this was different. They were different. This is what people mean when they say that music is an “art.” We are not perfect–nothing is–but art is perhaps the closest thing to perfection that we can ever reach. Every time I listened I heard something new. It was the execution and the aesthetic and technique. It was the auditory manifestation of perfectionism.
I had the opportunity to ask Dave Raymond (vocals/guitar) a few questions about Hidden Hospitals, the premise of the band, and who they were (aside from a four-piece “alternative progressive rock” band from Chicago).
THE BOMBER JACKET: Before Hidden Hospitals you were in a band called Damiera, which definitely holds a similarity to what you’re doing now. Was Hidden Hospitals just the next, logical step?
Dave Raymond: While auditioning ideas for what to do “next” with Damiera, the decision to create from a blank canvas became more clear. It had been years between releases, and we’d grown into a different place entirely.
Is the band still adapting? By that I mean, are you still finding new sounds or ideas between each other or are those starting to come as a product from the whole?
In fact, yes. EP 001 is truly a prototype. We’re proud of it as a creation: sonically, structurally, and aesthetically. We completed it together–our first creation. While we were recording, we were learning how we affect one another and learning our roles. Our recent compositions are ambassador to what I believe Hidden Hospitals is. What we chemically sound like, as a band. This (alone) is the most exciting and rewarding time I’ve spent in music.
I always find it interesting learning how artists got their start. Were you making music at an early age? How did you personally gravitate to it?
I was classically trained on piano from age 4 to 16, then studied music in college. Though I had a band while in college, I didn’t pursue music until after school. I took a very small personal loan out, quit my job, and dedicated my time to learning DIY tour booking. At the time, all we had was BYOFL (Book Your Own Fucking Life), a small magazine that compiled punk contacts from around the country. It ranged from people that would do house shows, to promotional companies that booked tour packages. It was so much work, the incremental gains felt like monuments. If I had the tools available to me then that are available to me now (Facebook, etc.) I don’t think that I’d have gotten the satisfaction that I needed to continue that pursuit. I really don’t know what I’d be today.
EP 001 feels inherently well put together, especially for a debut release. How long was this in the making? Was the concept for this already pretty well developed when you brought the band together or was it something you all developed?
Conceptually, the only element that I had in mind was “less.” A clean and impressionable aesthetic that is able to be digested in only a moment. The more excess I cleared away, the more resonant this concept became. Ever present, but overlooked. We started forming the band a little less than a year before we released EP 001.
There is a certain depth and progression to your music, on tracks like “Atonement” or “Swan Dive” for instance, that just sounds different than anything else I’ve heard. There’s a certain musical purity to it, where each instrument shines through. You’ve somehow managed to avoid any kind of clutter, which I think a lot of musicians overlook. Did you approach recording or writing in a different way?
That’s precisely what we did. Many modern (and not so) records add so many sounds and technologies into their songs, thicken the canvas up with so much that each little idea becomes less identifiable. I’m guilty of this, myself. I’ve made recordings where all we did was add and add and add. This (to me) is great only if you’re aware of each good idea that’s going into the mix. You lose the power of contrast (quiet defines loud).
Addition by subtraction, in our case, is a needed discipline. This is something that we can apply to this project that will keep us from “guessing” what else we can weave into a song. You can find this in the EP by noting that where we have additional instrumentation enter a song, we’ll peel away something from our core (guitars/bass/drums/vocals). Sometimes a song calls for bringing the whole palette together, but most of the time, it diminishes another idea that could otherwise be shining.
Right now you’re in the middle of a tour through the Midwest and New England (with Squid the Whale and American Opera). Does playing live and seeing the reaction from people help to reaffirm what you’re doing? What’s been the response so far?
Making music and the drive to perform what I’ve made are primary elements inside of me. They’re things that I’ve spent years questioning, and simply don’t anymore. My affirmation isn’t driven by people’s reactions. It’s much more personal. It’s laying down my head at the end of a day, and feeling satisfied with how my time was spent. This isn’t to say that I’m disconnected from who we span time with during a show. I’m in fact very sensitive to that environment–we all are. We’d lack good sense if we weren’t. However, the two remain separate: Why we do it, and how people react to it.
One of the things that I’ve noticed from just following you through social media is that the band is incredibly giving. You seem very eager to thank fans with handwritten notes or autographed postcards or by giving away your EP for free. Was there something in particular that inspired that or was it something realized from everything you’ve done before?
We believe people’s time is a gift. We give to people, and they give back by spending time with our art, which is spending time with us.
This is kind of a broad question, but I feel like most people, at least those involved in music, have an opinion about it…how do you feel about the current state of music? Where do you think it’s headed?
The idea is to make something you’re proud of and share it with the world…not monetize it. With the state of the music industry, we embrace being the curl in a wave making it impossible for artists to survive on “selling units.” This model is antiqued, and dead. Media is a river. No matter how hard people try, they can’t stop it from flowing.
Making music is about living life, and living life isn’t about making money. If it were, then all we’d have in the end is a lot of money and an un-lived life. I don’t know where the industry is headed, but this is an exciting time to be in music. We (artists) can literally write the book on how to do things. The difference between the past and present, is that all of the walls have crumbled…there is no beaten path anymore. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. You can just DO whatever works for you. It’s exciting, scary, empowering, and most of all…current.
Personal Question: Do you have a favorite place to hang in Chicago?
South Loop. It’s beautiful in architecture, bound by water and parks to the east, and central to every demographic that is Chicago.
What are you looking forward to doing with Hidden Hospitals over the next several months? Any plans to get back into the studio or play another part of the country?
We’re touring east in April. Writing, and recording through Spring/Summer. We have a really good thing. The combination of we four, and those surrounding us is unique. The chemistry is real. I hope that we can continue to find ways to express how grateful we are.