Photo by Courtney Brooke Hall
Guitar rock is dying. Strike up a conversation with any music critic that’s been around a while and they’ll likely make that claim. While it’s hard to argue with as classic rock legends pass away and twee-filled melodies fill the chorus of self-proclaimed rock acts, that statement doesn’t hold true if you know where to look. Thankfully, you’re reading this in Boston, a city ripe with remarkable rock acts like Pile and Lady Bones — and local treasure Hallelujah The Hills sits at the top of that throne.
“These the instruments we play, so we can’t help it,” says frontman Ryan Walsh. “The way we try to stand out is by being the band we know we are. Everyone has influences, but there’s no need to chase them too hard. You’ll come up with something interesting when you’re naturally working towards it.”
Now a decade into their career, Hallelujah the Hills have found the sweet spot between enjoyable punk, guitar-heavy rock, and poppy melodies on their sixth full-length, this year’s contagious A Band Is Something to Figure Out. The dark loops of “Hassle Magnet” and gleeful romp of “We Have The Perimeter Surrounded” recall The Fall, Titus Andronicus, and The Hold Steady. Even roadtrip-ready number “The Mountain That Wanted More” seizes guitars the right way with synth singing above it all. Energy like that is a direct result of recording in upstate New York for five days straight. That, and its fruitful work that stems from staying together so long — something they always knew they would do.
“In our first press release, we said we would be together for 33 albums and then break up,” laughs Walsh. “It was a silly thing to suggest, but it meant that we were together for a love of art. I think that’s why people love TV shows they binge watch: They’re stories that develop over a long time. I was interested in telling this story of the band over a long period of time.”
Time is a valuable commodity Hallelujah the Hills never waste. If anything, they optimize their surroundings, include the internet. Instead of building up a wall of mystery like most bands do, they tear theirs down in favor of transparency. “No matter how much you want to engage or not engage in revealing the process, a bassline will be shown no matter what,” says Walsh. “The interesting thing was to lean into that and cultivate mystery by being honest with fans or opening up a new series of questions that someone would have about the band.”
Drummer Ryan Connelly, guitarist Joseph Marrett, bassist Nicholas Ward, and newfound synth master Brian Rutledge keep Walsh on his toes. “They don’t let me bring in garbage, they call me out when I’ve written something bad, and they take these song-skeletons and bring them to life in ways I would’ve never imagined,” he says. “I write the initial take of the songs and do most of the interviews, sure, but without them, all of this would be far, far less interesting.”
Perhaps that’s the real key to making rock music that lasts — finding a crew of musicians who not only mesh well together, but who push one another to keep going. Hallelujah the Hills may pretend to not have the whole band thing figured out, but if anything, they know the answer better than any other act here.
HALLELUJAH THE HILLS, SWALE, BEACH TOYS. THU 5.12. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 9PM/18+/$10. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM.