Anathallo had a profound impact on my understanding of what indie rock should sound like. The early years of the band featured highly orchestrated arrangements, melodies that were catchy as much due to their complex rhythm as hummable qualities and surprising songwriting turns. Indie rock has moved away from this sound, but I have not. I’ll still up any band that gives me unexpected songwriting moves.
The Hague is on my good list in that regard. The band’s songs are nothing if not unpredictable. Whether ratcheting up to a crushing rush of guitar or dropping down to group vocals and tapped cymbal, the band plays with the ideas of how pop songs should work. To wit: those two parts I noted happen next to each other in “I’m Sorry.”
What sets The Hague apart from the pack and into Anathallo-excellent territory is patience in letting things unfold and excellent guitar work. All three tracks on the Stark House EP feature quick-paced, distinctive guitar runs that sound wonderful. They’re more prominent on “Valkyrie” and “I’m Sorry” than “California Curse,” but the goodness is present throughout. There are strings in and out of each piece. The tunes rock as well as quirk. That’s just awesome.
This type of indie-rock is embedded in my mind as Chicago-style, even if it’s not true. This is because of the way I view Chicago: less cut-throat than New York, less image-conscious than LA, less hip than Austin, less socially conscious than Portland, less jaded than Seattle. The Chicago of my mind is a place where smart guys have day jobs and also play rock shows of unusual music that they wrote in the basement with their friends. Someone played french horn/violin/other, because he had the instrument and he wanted to.
(Chicagoans are shaking their heads. Whatever. I’ve been to your city. It’s awesome. Let me compliment your hometown with half-truths if I feel like it.)
And that’s how I view The Hague (who were until recently tagged with the ironic moniker “And Then I Was Like, What?”, which only strengthens my opinion): A bunch of guys just doing their thing, even though they are in fact from Portland. And their thing (currently, the Stark House EP) is great. Check them out if you miss Anathallo or indie rock circa 2005 in general.
When Andy Werth began playing trumpet in the middle school, he probably didn’t realize that this instrument would be the first of many that he would learn. As a sophomore in high school, Werth started teaching himself piano after hearing some ’50s songs on the radio. And then, as a senior, guitar almost literally fell into his lap.
“I actually picked up guitar because a friend of mine left his acoustic guitar over at my house when he went on vacation, and I began teaching myself,” Werth said.
Werth gradually began writing his own songs, and now, years later, this singer/songwriter and accomplished musician has two EPs under his belt, and a full-length album that has just recently been released. He says now that learning so many instruments helped him grow as a songwriter, especially with writing for his band members.
“You learn how to speak with a different voice, and it unlocks possibilities and new capabilities for writing for others, too,” Werth said.
The new album, called Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass, is a step in a new direction for Werth and his band, because the music is moving away from piano pop-rock into new and varied directions.
“It’s all over the place, which makes it kind of hard to label,” Werth said of the album’s sound.
Werth describes Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass as a grab-bag, but adds that its diversity makes it possible to keep the fans of the EPs happy while also “bringing new people on board.” But it didn’t come easy.
“It was like giving birth to a mountain,” Werth says. “It ended up being very fun, but definitely exhausting.”
With the album out, Werth and his band are now focusing on playing live shows around their hometown of Seattle. Onstage, the musicians consist of two guitarists (one of which also sings backup), a bassist, a drummer, two trumpet players, occasionally different string instruments or saxophone players, and Werth singing and playing piano. In other words, their set is not usually what a concert-goer expects.
“Playing at indie clubs, people see instruments on stage that they don’t normally see,” Werth said.
Because the group is from Seattle, Werth says that there is a lot of competition, but also adds that the wide variety of music coming out of the city is more of a blessing than a burden.
“On any given night [in Seattle] you can hear a DJ, or a jazz concert, or a rock set. The clubs are overflowing with great music from Monday through Sunday. I love to be influenced by lots and lots of different music, especially hearing it live and then incorporating it,” Werth said.
Werth’s personal music taste is also diverse, like his songwriting style and the city he lives in. He listens to jazz, indie, and classical, among other things. And while he’s not rehearsing, writing, editing, or working on lyrics, Werth spends his time reading, writing in journals, enjoying the outdoors, and delighting in all the vegan food Seattle has to offer.
In eight or nine months, Werth plans to head back to the studio to record another album. But, in the meantime, Andy Werth is offering a promotion for Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass: send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Andy Werth, and you’ll get a code that you can plug in on the homepage of the website that will enable you to download tracks from the new album.
Andy Werth and band hail from Seattle, Washington, but there’s not much evidence from their first full-length album, Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass, that it ever rains there. And while we all know this to be untrue, Andy Werth sure makes an impressive case for listeners to believe in Seattle’s perpetual sunshine. With bright accompanying horns (trumpet and sax), joyful piano arrangements, and a hint of electronic sounds mixed in, Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass is a perfect soundtrack for spring. There are clouds on the album cover, and there are some “cloudy” moments on the album, but there’s always sun in the forecast.
The album’s opener, “Stay Here with You,” begins on a calm note with Werth’s Ben-Foldsy piano part, but really shines during the incredibly catchy chorus. You’ll be singing along the first time you hear it. “Stay Here with You” also introduces the reoccurring theme of travel (especially by car) and direction, which would make this album really great for road trips. “Get in Your Car” has a pretty similar format to the opener, but has a different enough melody to make it another pop gem.
“15th Street” stands out for its fun lyrics and (again) its catchy chorus. By moving seamlessly from verse to hook to chorus, this song is very well-composed in an “art is hiding the art” sort of way. The energetic and dance-inducing bass (played by Steve McPherson) is also fun in “15th Street.” “Emily” has a lyric that really stands out for me – “you’ll find out there’s more to life than just being alive.” Also, listen for a neat bit in here with a low, walking piano line working in tandem with punctuating horns – it only comes once, so pay attention!
“Back Row” brings more upbeat rock to the album, and includes a downright funky horn section. Relentless, pounding energy from drummer Jeff Roeser drives the song. “Nothing to Fix” also adds another jolt of adrenaline to the second half of the album, with an insistent beat and angry lyrics.
Some of the weaker songs on Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass are the electronically-driven ones, but they are pretty short, and it is still interesting to hear it partnered with the classical piano. The best moments on this album are the choruses, which are generally the most full-sounding and satisfying parts. Another strong point is Werth’s voice, which is fun and youthful, but also developed enough to sound mature. He has a no-nonsense vocal style which hits all the notes (some of them soaring) without unnecessary embellishment. Burn the Maps and Bury the Compass will be available for purchase on April 7th, but you can check out the whole thing on Andy Werth’s website.