Two Texas drummers bond over Sparklehorse, pick up guitars and write songs they never knew they could write
Charlie Martin had always been drawn to ambient bands and quiet music, but the real game-changer came when friend and fellow drummer Will Taylor turned him on to Sparklehorse in 2004.
“It felt like my favorite band I had never heard,” Martin said recently by phone from the road. “I think both of us are heavily influenced by the range of dynamics and textures that Mark Linkous [of Sparklehorse] made.”
Soon enough, Martin and Taylor translated those influences into Hovvdy, an Austin-based indie-pop act that crafts pretty, unhurried, melancholy-tinged songs the band previously described as “pillow core.”
Before forming Hovvdy, Martin and Taylor had played in various bands, but always in support roles.
“Early on, before I started writing songs, I was heavy into Townes Van Zandt. Listening to that always made me think I wouldn't be cut out for writing songs. But then I realized you can do other things,” Martin said. “I taught myself how to play guitar in this open tuning that enabled me to make a few chords. Singing with a guitar felt natural. … A lot of stuff for the next record I wrote on piano. That was my first instrument. But guitar was what opened up songwriting for me.”
Taylor had also dabbled in guitar, and the musicians' found they shared a similar, simple approach to the instrument. “I think having limitations has always been an important thing for us, and finding ways to express what we want to do with limited means,” Taylor said.
Eschewing a proper recording studio for two of their families' homes — the foyer of a house in rural Texas, and a two-room farmhouse a couple of hours northwest of Austin — Hovvdy self-recorded its debut, 2017's Taster, and the less-cluttered Cranberry, a gorgeous, hypnotic follow-up released earlier this year on Double Double Whammy.
The pair tends to write with similar emotional mindsets, often disguising a happy song as a sad song. “We both love that balance a lot. It's always occurred naturally for us — not going too dark, not going too light,” Martin said. “That's an honest portrayal of where we're coming from, I think.”
Certain songs on Cranberry address the concept of perspective, and the revelations that a shift in viewpoint can bring. “I saw you in a new way for the first time,” Martin sings on “Quitter.” And on the very last line of “Swing,” which closes the record, Taylor describes “looking out in a new way.”
“There's a handful of lines that point to being a better listener, growing from the experience of misunderstandings, or seeing something wrong and then opening up your view of it,” Martin said.
“I think ‘growth' would be a good word to describe that notion,” Taylor said. “We're always growing in our understanding of the world.”