ABOVE: HOSPITALITY. PHOTO COURTESY OF KYLE DEAN REINFORD
In a land where bands run plentiful, Brooklyn threesome Hospitality has found its niche. Signed with Merge Records, lead singer and guitarist Amber Papini, bassist Brian Betancourt, and percussionist Nathan Michel have spent the past five years perfecting the elements of a sound that is as effortless as it is charming, like the vintage picture of friends on a boat cruising into a foggy future that covers their recent first album. The self-titled 10-tracker is a blend of Papini's languid voice against moody percussion and synth, held close by a tether of lyrics that reminisce on the post-college reality crash. Such is the case in "Liberal Arts," one of the album's more poppy tracks, as Papini sings "So you found the lock but not the key that college brings/and all the trouble of a B.A. in English Literature instead of Law."
Relatable without being overly kitschy, Hospitality is winning over fans and critics alike with an album as enjoyably listened to from front to back as it is vice versa; a rarity in the age of MP3s. Papini caught up with us in the midst of what will soon be a two-month tour across the country following the record's release. Hospitality's tour will include stops in New York at the Bowery Ballroom on March 3 and the Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 5.
AVERIE TIMM: How is the tour going?
AMBER PAPINI: It's going really well; we played with Archers of Loaf last weekend, and that was a blast. They're really amazing musicians; we really enjoyed playing with them. And now we're off to Toronto to play with Tennis, and then SXSW in a few weeks. We have a tour with Tennis that takes us to Austin.
TIMM: So you guys have been together for nearly five years now—how have you evolved since then?
PAPINI: Well, when we first started playing together, we played acoustic. I played an acoustic guitar and Nathan sort of played a ramshackle drum set, Brian played bass out of a guitar amp, and the sound really documented our EP that we made a few years ago. I would turn up the singing in the band so there was like a double female vocal happening. We gradually, out of necessity, had to be louder, so I started playing electric guitar and Nathan started playing a rock-proper box drum set, then Brian started playing out of a normal bass amp. So, we got louder just because we started playing bars and clubs where we had to be. I guess our sound just got louder, that was the evolution.
TIMM: Would you call your latest album loud?
PAPINI: It's loud, but there are some quiet moments. It's dynamic, there's a wide range, I think.
TIMM: Have you always been called "Hospitality?" How did you choose that name?
PAPINI: Yeah, we have, basically. I was thinking about our band names this morning. We went over a few names for about a month, and I think we would change every week. One week we were "Shoulder." We tried that name and then we tried "Trumpet." Then we settled on "Hospitality." We were kind of brainstorming and it just sort of fell out. We were just spitting out names and that was the one that came to us.
TIMM: Did you get started in Brooklyn or transport here?
PAPINI: Yeah, yeah we started in Brooklyn. We met in Brooklyn and got together and started practicing in Red Hook in our apartment, and it grew from there. We started playing shows at Pete's Candy Store and then met other bands and started playing places like Mercury Lounge and Union Hall, Death By Audio.
TIMM: What's it like to be an up-and-coming artist in Brooklyn? Does it feel like the center of the music world?
PAPINI: Well, it's really cool. Brooklyn is great for music, because there's the infrastructure to support it, there's a lot of cool clubs and bars you can play. I think that there's also a cool community here of other musicians, and bands, and music lovers that come see you. And there's magazines, the local magazines that support you.
TIMM: You just released your first album at the end of January. What was the recording process like for the band?
PAPINI: We were trying to get into the studio for about a year. We started looking in 2009, but our schedules weren't matching up with other studios, and our bass player was traveling with another band and touring. It was just difficult for us to get in, but we finally started recording with Shane Stoneback in October of 2010. He recorded Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells. For four days we tracked it, and then he was really busy because he was recording Cults, or something. In the time he was recording us, he just had a window of free moments that he could get us in, so we laid down all the tracks then we took some with us so we could do overdubs. Nathan did a lot of overdubs at home, he added a lot of guitar parts and synth parts and really fleshed out and arranged the songs. Then we went back and mastered in February of 2010.
There were two songs that really grew in the studio, especially with "Friends of Friends," that was the song that we had a little extra time that we could blow up in the studio. It was really funny, because we recorded everything, all the guitar parts and the bass and drums, and I was feeling kind of sick so I left early and Nathan and Brian stayed in the studio and they played around. The next morning when I came in to record the song, the whole track was pretty much edited and finished. It was a pleasant surprise, and for the first time hearing it—when I was ready to sing it—I heard all of the synth parts, and all of the weird percussion parts.
TIMM: You originally recorded "Friends of Friends" a few years ago, right?
PAPINI: Yeah, I think it was 2009. It was just an iPhone recording from our practice space, it was on Myspace for a while. It's real blown-out and over-driven, I think it sounds great. We actually played that for Shane and we kind of wanted to go for that sound, sort of big drum sound, big percussion sound. I don't know if we got that, but I'm happy with what we have.
TIMM: Someone, I think it was Capital, said about the album, "Put on their self-titled debut on Merge, out this week, and your earbuds will automatically grow cardigans." Does this hold true for how Hospitality sees themselves? Do you want to have a feminine sound?
PAPINI: Not in my mind; I don't think we have a really gentle sound, but I think there are gentle moments. Like I said, the record is full of dynamic range, but there are a lot of loud, rock moments and also, quiet parts.
TIMM: Who or what would you cite as influences?
PAPINI: We all really like Elvis Costello and Robert Wyatt. We're major music lovers and our tastes are really broad I'd say. In the car today, we were listening to Max Tundra, Police, and Kraftwerk. We listen to so many different kinds of music.
TIMM: What are your plans for moving forward from here?
PAPINI: We're going back to New York this weekend. We play at Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, and then Music Hall of Williamsburg on Monday. We go down South, and to Texas, and come back up then out again. We're going to be touring for about two months.
HOSPITALITY WILL PLAY BOWERY BALLROOM TOMORROW, MARCH 3, AND MUSIC HALL OF WILLIAMSBURG ON MONDAY, MARCH 5. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.