San Francisco-based indie rock band Hi Lo Ha was formed by Ben Reisdorph (lead vocals, guitar) and Brian Davis (vocals/bass) and named after the Woodstock-area home where Bob Dylan wrote the folk-rock Americana classic Highway 61 Revisited, Hi Lo Ha has a reverence for the past drawing inspiration from bands like The Rolling Stones and The Band along with contemporary bands like Built to Spill and Pavement.
Hi Lo Ha’s confident songwriting has never been stronger than on their latest, Ain’t Gone Tonight, which was released via Heavy Setters Records on April 13. Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Reisdorph and Davis to discuss the record.
When did you first begin writing the material for Ain’t Gone Tonight?
Ben: I started writing most of the songs for Ain’t Gone Tonight about a year ago. With the exception of “Cold Weather Clothes,” I think I was writing all the other songs as a batch. I had a week where I was working on all four at the same time. A very good friend of mine passed away suddenly and I wrote “Thinkin ‘Bout a Friend” the night I heard the news. The next few days the other songs started coming out. I suppose I was in a really reflective state and was tuned in to something.
Brian: Some songs take years to marinate and find the right arrangement. We must have gone through three or four versions of “Cold Weather Clothes” in our live set over the years but we were never quite satisfied. One day in rehearsal we were struggling to figure out some transition and this bass groove came to me that just tied everything together. It required total commitment from the band, though, to rearrange all the other parts. It was an idea that got shelved in the moment but was resurrected later on when I started playing bass full-time again after James (Fisher) left. The keyboards really make that song sparkle, though…every time I listen I hear something new.
The title appears to come from a lyric from the song “Guest List.” What was the thinking to naming the EP after the lyric, but not the song itself?
Brian: We didn’t ever really have a title track in mind while making the record. The thought hadn’t even occurred to us until the mastering session at Fantasy Studios when George asked us what the title of the reference disc should be. Listening back in real-time as the tracks rolled by, it just seemed like that chorus, that refrain, really embodied the experience as a whole.
Ben: Ain’t Gone Tonight seemed perfect because that line in the song is all about being in the moment while the songs have kind of an overarching theme of loss.
You’ve been releasing EPs for a while now. Any eventual plans for a full-length?
Brian: There are those who say the LP album format is dead…not us. Should we ever come across both the financial means and the artistic muse to write a full-length concept album or rock opera we would do it in a heartbeat. That being said, we like making EPs. It lets us focus our energies on putting out the best product possible by giving each song the just attention it deserves.
For our new EP we tracked basics at a studio in Berkeley called Wyldwood.
Ben: Mike Walti who runs the studio is great. We recorded everything to tape and then bounced everything to protools. All the vocals/guitars/keyboards etc. were done at our space in the Mission. Brian is a great engineer in his own right and has a bunch of great gear. We also mixed it ourselves.
Brian: Our studio features a hybrid of commercial and custom outboard gear built I built including but not limited to: Access 312 (API) preamps (8x), Neze 1290 (Neve) preamps (4x), Hamptone HVTP2 (custom) preamps (x2), Hairball 1176 (UA) compressor (2x), D-LA2A (UA) stereo compressor,
Serpent Audio SB4000 (SLL) two-bus compressor, Lexicon PCM70 effects processor (2x), Soundcraft Ghost 24x8x2 console, Roland SRE-555, etc.
Do you have any plans to make any videos from Ain’t Gone Tonight?
Ben: I would love to make a video. I have a few local filmmakers in mind but videos are expensive. I’ve thought about going out with a shitty camera and just doing something ourselves.
What artists are you listening to these days? Any Bay Area faves we should know about?
Ben: I always have my favorites that are always in rotation.
Old stuff: The Band, Big Star, The Velvet Underground/Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, The Replacements, New Order, The Jam, The Stone Roses, Buzzcocks, The Jesus and Mary Chain, to name a few.
Less old: Grandaddy, Built to Spill, Spoon, Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene. And a bunch more that I can’t think of right now.
Bay Area bands: Thee Oh Sees, Smokin’ Ziggurats, Mayya and the Revolutionary Hell Yeah!, Meerna.
Others: The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit (I play lead guitar in this band) Sugar Candy Mountain, The Blank Tapes
Brian: I came across this power pop act The Steve Lindstrom Problem whose bandcamp has been open in my browser for a few weeks now. Some of the guys from Chuck Prophet’s band play on it. We used to share a studio space with Chuck and those guys so I like to keep up with their musical endeavors.
What’s next for Hi Lo Ha? Touring?
Ben: We’re already working on our next EP which I’m really excited about. This year our goal is to play around Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. We want to be able to make it back to places we’ve played before and foster more of a connection with our audience. Next year I want to explore touring a bit wider. I’ve been in bands before that have done DIY national tours and it doesn’t seem to be productive if you don’t have good shows and a plan.