ABOVE: HAPPY HOLLOWS. IMAGE COURTESY OF FISHER PHILLIPS
For a band that’s based around darker synthpop and indie-rock, Happy Hollows is a pretty ironic name. Just listen to “Endless” [below], the trio’s first single from their sophomore record, which feaures lead singer Sarah Negahdari’s voice shimmering upon soothing guitar hums and electronic beats.
With a four-year gap between albums—Amethyst, out tomorrow, is a follow-up to 2009’s Spells—the band’s recordings have become much more polished, while still sounding nostalgic for ‘80s acts like Blondie and Siouxsie and the Banshees. It’s obvious that with this record, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Metric had more of an impact on Negahdari and band members Charlie Mahoney and Matt Fry. In addition to her time spent as Happy Hollows’ frontwoman, California native Negahdari’s talents have led her to be a touring member of Silversun Pickups as the band’s bassist. We spoke with her about what she’s learned from that experience, overcoming shyness, and being a badass shredder.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did Happy Hollows start? I know you’re a touring member of Silversun Pickups, so I guess I was just wondering where your own project came into play.
SARAH NEGAHDARI: I’ve been doing Happy Hollows for about six years. We did our first record and released it in late 2009, early 2010. This is our second record. We were making it in the studio and right when we finished in the studio, Silversun Pickups asked me to join them for their Neck of the Woods tour. We mixed and mastered the record while I was on tour with Silversun Pickups. We actually recorded an additional song for it. Now a year later, it’s finally ready!
KAPLAN: When I hear your voice, it kind of reminds me of Mazzy Star and Kim Deal. Were you going for a ’90s grunge feel?
NEGAHDARI: Yeah, I think the ’90s are a big influence because I sort of got into music at that time. I was young, but the music that was coming out of the late ’80s and early ’90s, like the Pixies, influenced me. I loved Mazzy Star. I think all of that really seeped in at an early age. I can’t help but reflect that in music. I don’t think we were necessarily going for any particular sound. I think the sound of Amethyst happened and came by surprise. Our early days with the band, we were kind of like a three-piece garage-rock style [band], with just bass, drums, and guitar. I would cover most of the melodic ground in terms of guitar. I would have to do a lot of the work to get the sound as lush and as detailed as I could get it. Our drummer had to leave the band in 2011. Instead of looking for a drummer right away and jumping into auditioning people—because he was such an integral part of our band and such a great friend—Charlie, my bass player, had a ton of beatboxes and synths and all sorts of toys he was playing around with. He started bringing those into the rehearsal space. We built all of our songs into electronic beats and synth loops. At that point, our sound really changed for the next record. I had a lot more to work with in terms of making my guitar swirl around in melodies. It went from a real stripped-down sound to a lush sound.
KAPLAN: I can definitely see that change. How did Happy Hollows become the name of your grunge-inspired band?
NEGAHDARI: [laughs] When I grew up in San Jose, CA, there was a little petting zoo called “Happy Hollows.” When I originally got to L.A., I was playing by myself. I would play music that was raw and electric guitar. It wasn’t singer-songwriter, but I didn’t have a band. Every time I would try and get gigs by the name Sarah Negahdari, they wouldn’t book me at Silverlake Lounge because they thought I was a singer-songwriter. I figured, I’d just call myself Happy Hollows, so they would think I was a band. They’d book me as if I had a band. I’d show up by myself as if I had bass and drums behind me, and I’d rock out by myself. I thought it would be just a temporary solution, but once I got these guys on board, I had already built a fanbase with just myself. I figured I’d just keep it.
KAPLAN: That definitely worked out. Has your experience playing with Silversun Pickups fed into your music? Or has your music fed into playing with Silversun Pickups?
NEGAHDARI: I think it has. I mean, luckily I wrote the album Amethyst before they asked me to join, so I think it’s pretty different. After playing with them for a year, they liked that I was a pretty good guitar player. I think they were looking for a female shredder that could handle all of the intricate basslines and serve as lead guitar sometimes. I learned bass, and that was pretty amazing. Now, I think I have a rhythm-section perspective. It’s interesting: the last songs I’ve been writing, I’ve been writing on bass. I think I’ve grown quite an affinity for the instrument, and I don’t know if I can leave it behind. I think in terms of sound, they’ve always been a little bit of an influence on me. I really love them. When I moved to L.A., they were starting to take off. I used to go to their shows, and I was a total fangirl. They didn’t know me at all. I loved their old stuff, like Pikul (2005) and Carnavas (2006). I think they’ve always had a bit of an influence, especially Brian Aubert’s guitar tones. I think he’s just a genius with tones. I thought about him a lot during the making of Amethyst. I bought a lot of guitar pedals. He’s always been my guitar-tone hero. I never imagined I would get to know him and become such good friends with him. It’s pretty cool. I’ve gotten to learn a lot from him.
KAPLAN: It sounds like you’re living a dream life. Were you always interested in pursuing music?
NEGAHDARI: [laughs] I’ve always written music. I’ve always imagined it, but I never thought it could be real. It just seemed very far-fetched. In high school, I would daydream about being on stage and playing guitar. It’s still incredibly surreal to me. I was really shy growing up. I didn’t speak at all during elementary school. They thought I had a learning disability because I didn’t even talk. Once I got into sixth grade, I started taking music classes and singing in choir. I was able to sing and really express myself through music. It’s easier for me to be myself and express myself on stage than it is for me in real life. It’s a huge surprise to everyone who has known me my whole life that what I do is perform and make music. I think everyone thought I’d be a librarian.
HAPPY HOLLOWS’ SOPHOMORE RECORD AMETHYST COMES OUT TOMORROW. THE BAND WILL EMBARK ON AN EAST COAST TOUR IN OCTOBER. FOR MORE, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.