A band so low-maintenance, getting knocked into a sh-t bucket is still a good night.
The first thing I’ll say about The New Highway Hymnal is that they’re punctual—
an unusual quality for a no-holds-barred rock n’ roll band. I wandered into Charlie’s Kitchen 10 minutes past the agreed-upon time, soaked from torrential downpour, to find three cheery faces already waiting. Three-quarters of The New Highway Hymnal is here (minus New Hampshire-dwelling guitarist Lukas Goudrealt) and, for some reason, they’re ready and willing to spill their guts to a strange schmuck with a wet notepad.
Drinks are ordered. Introductions are made. French fries are considered. Eventually, we even get to talking about the band. The names and respective roles of my three companions are as follows:
Hadden Stemp: vocals, guitar, tallness. Amelia Gormley: bass guitar, quiet confidence. Travis Hagan: drums, gorgeous red hair.
I quickly learn that The New Highway Hymnal as we know it has been together for three and a half years, although the members have known each other for considerably longer than that. This may explain the highly collaborative nature of their music.
It may also explain why they seem to kinda like each other.
I could give a lengthy account of their influences, idols, and favorite bands, but you can learn all that from their Facebook page. I’ll just say that if you want a taste of where these guys are coming from, listen to a sampling of The Doors, The Grateful Dead, and some 60s surf-rock, then smash something and you’ll have an idea. What you didn’t know, however, is that this band’s moxie was forged in the grimy basements of Lowell, Massachusetts. Some character-building, as explained by NHH:
“Travis got knocked into a bucket of shit once,” says Hadden, smiling. Travis affirms, with no sign of shame that, yes, he did fall in a pile of shit.
“Lowell is a dirty-ass place,” Amelia offers.
Naturally, I demand elaboration on this point and soon learn that this incident is the result of a rowdy basement show fueled by an excess of alcohol, an impromptu wrestling match, and a cracked drain pipe being temporarily remedied by an unfortunately-placed bucket.
Hadden helps paint the full picture for me by noting that, at the same show,
“there was literally a river of piss on the side of the house from people going out and urinating everywhere.”
Long story short: A “shit-soaked” Travis Hagan ends up biking home to shower, change, and grab a towel for sopping up the mess.
Perhaps most surprising (and, arguably, most indicative of this band’s fortitude) is that this gets chalked up as a good night, overall: “It was traumatic, but it was a good show,” says Travis, almost nostalgically.
But before you get the impression that it’s all dirty basements and excreta for The New Highway Hymnal, please note that the band played Austin’s SXSW this past year along with their labelmates, Bearstronaut, riding down on a converted prison bus. Furthermore, The New Highway Hymnal is releasing a brand new album, Whispers, through Vanya Records, on October 18th.
The release party is at Great Scott. While it’s certain to be a raucous, disorderly good time, it’s safe to say that no shit-filled buckets will be involved. Great Scott has excellent plumbing.