Launching out from a supposedly dusty Los Angeles rehearsal studio back in 2015, Hello Stranger has progressively built a following the success of their self-titled album in 2018 and Social Dissonance in 2021. Punk, folk, and alternative rock being major influences within the core of the band, Hello Stranger are set to release their latest effort, True Belief. Feeling liberated by changing directions and self-producing the new tracks, the band used the time during writing and recording to freely pursue new terrain within themselves.
Hello Stranger has released the forthcoming EP title track today along with an accompanying video. The modern rock track, featuring strident guitar riffs and trashing drums, centers lyrically on the commodification of rebellion. “I was inspired after seeing Che Guevara shirts for sale at popular, conservative retailers. It’s infuriating to see historical figures and artists decontextualized – from Joe Strummer or MLK Jr.,” explains Sam Deffenbaugh (vocals/guitars/keys). ’True Belief’ is a down-the-middle rock song that calls out these hypocrisies.”
We recently chatted with Deffenbaugh about the new album and more.
Being a child and being aware of the varying degrees of cultural and political backdrops within the cities you lived in, when did it become so clear for you?
I actually grew up just outside of D.C. so national politics were always in front of my mind, even before I had an understanding of them. Likewise, I was fortunate to grow up in a very diverse community. In my school, fifty-plus languages were spoken. In a funny way, I became way more aware of cultural differences when I moved to Chicago in seventh grade. In Chicago, communities seemed much more insular and separate than I was used to in D.C. That experience informed my songwriting tremendously.
What were some of the most polarizing experiences you took away from your childhood seeing what you saw?
One experience that left a profound impact on me was growing up during the D.C. sniper attacks. During that time twenty people were shot at schools and gas stations very close to where I lived in Virginia. Unfortunately, my school was being remodeled and so my class was studying in a trailer on the field outside. If we wanted to go to the bathroom, we had to go in pairs and were told to sprint and zig-zag in case someone started shooting at us. For a ten-year-old, this was a life-changing experience. The fear and paranoia of that time stuck with me and informed many of the lyrics on the True Belief EP. Specifically, there’s a lyric in “True Belief” that goes “our generation hopes we die when we get old”. I felt like The Who’s “My Generation” is so out-of-touch with the experience of being young now. We wanted to speak to the pervasive fear that Millennials and Gen Z have grown up with.
Did you find your passion for music when moving from place to place growing up?
Definitely. Being in a new place, without your familiar group of friends, music is both a comfort and a way to meet people. When I moved to Chicago, music is what introduced me to some of my lifelong best friends. It was this communal, creative experience that I fell in love with. And again, moving to New York for school, and moving to LA after graduating, music was the thing that I could rely on to feel at peace and to connect with people.
The lyrics for most of your work focus heavily on the issues that we are facing. How essential is it for you to incorporate these themes into the work?
If you’re lucky enough to have someone listen to your music, to have a platform, it’s imperative to have something to say. I’m not saying every song needs to be topical. I love “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M, but for us, there’s so much division and abuse occurring in the world, that we feel beholden to speak out. As a group, there are so many issues we feel passionately about from homelessness to civil rights, that it would be dishonest for us not to speak about those topics in our art.
Most of the new album formed during the height of the pandemic. Do you feel that having the time to stretch out the process of writing?
There was definitely a lot of refining that we did on the EP, but I think the big lesson from the pandemic was that we need to make this music now. The issues that the lyrics speak to – isolation, gun control, drug use, homelessness, mental health, and poverty – are more salient than ever and the need for music that matters is also greater than ever. We realized that we couldn’t take this opportunity to play together for granted and we needed to keep creating. So, for us, it was like the pandemic showed us the real value of the music we were making.
Was there at any point when producing and recording the album solo felt to be the opposite of free?
Absolutely. Sometimes, when you’re just not getting the sound you want, or a technical issue is getting in the way of recording, it can feel like you’re being stifled. But, ultimately, working with these limitations, and growing from them made us so much stronger as a band. We’re excited to explore how technology can inform our creative process and use the studio as an instrument to augment what we’re playing. In that regard, True Belief EP was the most important record we’ve ever made.
The band seemingly experienced a rebirth during the recording of True Belief. What did everyone takeaway that you didn’t know previously?
Yeah, exactly like with the pandemic, we all realized how essential playing music together is. We learned that we could produce great records independently and that we need to speak up for the issues that matter to us. It feels like Hello Stranger is just gaining momentum and I think the process of recording this EP together and surviving the isolation of the pandemic brought that sense of urgency. I’m really excited for everyone to hear the new album and for all the new music we’re working on now.
True Belief is out August 26th.
Photo Courtesy: Sofia Felguerez