Judging by the number of people who have adopted its cover art as their Twitter, Facebook or Absolute Punk avatar, the second LP from Worcester quartet the Hotelier, Home, Like Noplace Is There is one product of the “emo revival” that inspires the kind of devotion usually reserved for ’90s titans Mineral, Braid and American Football. There’s not a single idle moment on the record; the melodies are relentlessly anthemic, and Christian Holden’s verbose, desperately-delivered lyrics give his existential crises a life-or-death immediacy. Fans have likened it to Brand New’s Deja Entendu. People who have no interest in emo tend to compare it to RENT.
Both comparisons make sense. I had the chance to catch the band live a few days before Home‘s release. The few dozen people there endured four openers of dubious quality to prove they knew all the lyrics from a record that hadn’t come out yet. By the time they reached Brooklyn in April to play Suburbia with 2013 heroes The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, my indie-leaning friends were shocked at not only the relative youth of the crowd, but also the intensity at which they joined in.
I speak to Holden a few days after that show and he’s in a typically loquacious mood. A straight-edge, self-proclaimed “anarcho-punk,” Holden seems aligned with often-prickly auteurs like Patrick Stickles and Bradford Cox. In fact, prior to the release of Home, the Hotelier were called the Hotel Year and were primarily known for Holden’s propensity to start trouble. (Before our interview, Tiny Engines label head Will Miller promised/warned me that “Christian speaks his mind, which a lot of people have an issue with.”) In truth, Holden doesn’t have an interest in being liked as much as being heard: “If my work is going to have an effect, I need to live and embody my ideals,” Holden says. “Not pushing things just to make things easier, it’s too exhausting. I’ve lived with it my entire life. It’s tiring. It’s underwhelming.”
Someone on Twitter claimed that the Wonder Years’ tour manager offered him two free pieces of merch if he burned his Hotelier T-shirt. What happened there?
There’s no beef with the members of the band, I don’t think. This is what happened: November of last year, a friend of mine decided she wanted to come out about being sexually assaulted by [Harry Corrigan] from this band from Long Island, Bellwether. And I was like, “OK, I can give you as much support as you need in this.” She didn’t want to out herself, so I told her I’d step up and do this. So I wrote up this whole thing about this dude — I already talked to him a bunch of times about this. I also talked to the dude who managed his band and I told him, “You should drop this band because it’s only gonna get worse.” A lot of people were defending him, telling me he’s a good dude. But I came out about that and decided to be no-bullshit in my approach, and a lot of people got mad at me. [Here is Harry Corrigan's response. — Ed]
A lot of people in pop-punk bands decided they wanted to threaten me and then this dude John James Ryan, who tour manages the Wonder Years, called me up and went non-stop for 20 minutes, telling me his uncle was going to sue me because he’s cousins with Harry. And he started talking about the “telephone game” and how it related to the music industry. And he said, “This is going to get around, and when people hear about the Hotelier they’ll say, ‘I don’t want to work with that band, they cause trouble.’” He basically said no one’s ever going to help my band again. And then we released this album, and it did really well. I wanted to stick it in his face and be like, “You’re a fucking dick.”
Seeing as how you weren’t directly involved, did you consider the consequences your actions could have on the Hotelier when you express these things?
No. I’ve been spending my whole life doing what I can to feel free and be heard. I need to validate myself and the things I believe in. I have friends I want to protect because I love them, and when things are happening to them, I’m not going to put up with it, because I wouldn’t want that to happen to me either. That’s everything I write about and everything I believe in.
You’ve stated that Home, Like Noplace Is There is a political album and that the Hotelier is “anarcho-punk,” but there don’t appear to be any explicit references to government or revolution. How do your politics manifest in the music?
I’m an anarchist and I really admire anarcho-punk and peace punk that incorporates politics into the music. But I’m trying to work around the aesthetic. The whole “personal is political” idea is my lived experience. A lot of the ideas are just filtered through politics and power. A lot of it deals with personal situations, but they’re all influenced by power, and power is political. Power is a Foucault thing.
A lot of the people on the record seem to be battling issues with drugs. Is that prevalent in your part of New England?
I touch slightly on drug abuse on some of the songs, but mostly it’s about how prescription drugs treat the symptoms. My ex-partner’s parents were alcoholics, and that really shaped how she learned how to deal with her issues and it set up the perfect scenario to develop mental illness in the way she did. I don’t have too many friends who really have serious drug issues, but I know people from my hometown that have wild stories. I used to date someone who would go house to house asking money for the troops and she used that to buy heroin.
Has that influenced your decision to identify as straight edge?
A bunch of us got straight in high school and didn’t use drugs, and then the upperclassmen that decided to take our group in were straight edge. Chris [Hoffman], our guitarist, was one of them. Over time, that fizzled out and left just a few of us. After school, instead of going to someone’s house and playing video games and smoking, we’d play baseball or went on long drives somewhere or did cool stuff other than drugs or drinking. It got wild with Chris’s friends because they did other shit that was pretty wild and made me question whether drugs were better. It was all like prank-type stuff, nothing that fucked anybody up.
In previous interviews, you’ve called out patriarchy and the “bro culture” in the punk scene. How does the Hotelier set out to combat these problems?
In Worcester, it’s less of a problem. Our problem is that our scene is more white than anything, which people actively talk about. As far as gender goes at our shows, there’s a good mix, and people don’t feel like it’s their world where they can just start pushing and punching people, because it’s not all guys. But we still play areas where it’s not like that. We played a show in Atlanta and there was a vocalist who was like, “We all have one bitch ex-girlfriend in our life,” directing that “we all” only to the men in the room. No one really spoke up about it, and I ended up just drinking a jug of milk and puking on their gear.
We’ll see it when we start a set and there are a lot of women up front, ready to watch and really excited. And then after a few songs, it’s all dudes, and you’re like, “What happened?” They must have literally all been pushed out of the front. That’s something I have to speak up about from the time and say, “What the fuck did you guys do?” There’s this way of interacting with people that happens when it’s only men. I don’t like going on tour with only dudes in bands, it’s just annoying. I don’t know how to describe it, the way they talk to each other isn’t explicitly misogynistic. But if I was in a group of dudes talking about music, it would just turn into talking about who’s cooler based on who knows who or we’d talk about what gear we have and shit like that. When I’m talking to women, it tends to be more focused on how powerful and challenging the performance is, as far as musicianship. [That situation] isn’t true of all dudes, it’s just something I see happen when it is all dudes.
In that case, which female artists would you like to perform with?
I don’t see us playing with a lot of the female musicians we like because they’re in a totally different world from us. Like Regina Spektor, she’s a really brilliant musician. Actually, Lemuria, we’ve played with them, and they’re incredible. They present themselves and perform in a way that is poppy, but still really challenging as far as musicianship. Little Big League, I really like Michelle [Zauner]. Hop Along, obviously, is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Her voice and how the songs are structured are really challenging. I listened to that Frankie Cosmos record for the first time, and she has this way of interacting with weakness where it’s something embraced and presented in a way that isn’t the way women are taught to be weak.
Would you ever consider doing the Warped Tour?
We’ve decided that if we ever got a good offer to do the Warped Tour, we would accept and our set would consist of six blink-182 “Dammit” covers over and over again. And that would be our set until we got kicked off the tour. Otherwise, we’d never do it.
I ask because Warped Tour is often the primary way for punk bands to expand their audience, but I think of groups like Touche Amore who refused to play it due to the surrounding culture.
Honestly, I was content being a band that not that many people knew, but the people who knew us respected us. It’s cool that we’re at a point where it can pay for itself and we don’t have to put our own money into it anymore. But we haven’t solidified what we want to do as a band. Chris has his ideas and everything we do is a clash. We don’t want to surround ourselves with bands who made a good record but aren’t doing things to push stuff in a different direction. I’m not too focused on trying to build a large fan base or play for tons of people, I’m more focused on the people who listen to the record because they’re into challenging themselves and into being caring individuals.