Brooklyn’s Hospitality is an intelligent, immediately likable indie-pop outfit whose brand new, eponymous LP – released this week – is pricking up ears and making listeners feel fine. Fronted by Amber Papini (vocals, guitar, piano) and backed by Nathan Michel (drums) and Brian Betancourt (bass, vocals), the trio has breathed new life into works from a few years back and assembled them into a re-energized collection that both The New Yorker and Wired.com deemed among their most anticipated for 2012. From her sister’s home in Connecticut amid the sweet din of nephews playing nearby, Amber shares what it was like finding her best voice, details of their recent, celebrity-studded video shoot, and how now, with their debut finally released on Merge Records, Hospitality are feeling completely at home.
Where does a name like Hospitality come from?
We mulled over a few different names – I think we were called Trumpet for a week – but Hospitality just stuck. I liked how it looked, you know? It has lots of letters, it ends in a ‘y,’ and it’s also not a typical rock and roll band name. It actually sounds quite…anti-rock and roll.
What struck me about this record was that there’s such clarity and immediacy to your vocals; you’re not hiding behind anything. Can I take this to mean you’re a very confident singer?
I don’t know…I think I’ve grown into being more confident with Hospitality. Some people are very loud and proud when they sing, but I’m not. It took me awhile to find my voice. When I was a teenager I used to write songs and I loved to sing but I was shy and I had to find my own style. I’ve always enjoyed proud singers with attitude: I love how Mick Jagger sings and I love how the guy from The Fall sings – he has this particular style that is so great.
Has singing got easier for you over time?
I think I’ve evolved from our first recording. I was allowed to be quiet before because we were using acoustic instruments so I didn’t need to be forceful. When we moved from acoustic to electric, I learned how to sing louder – and I actually think I over sang for a bit there. I had to learn how to balance my vocals and know when to be forceful and when to hold back. Circumstances like playing in loud clubs make you louder and force you into being more confident.
How does this new record translate live?
We recorded it live in a room over four days essentially, and so live, things don’t change too much. There are some horns and synthesizers on the record that we’ve adapted to guitar. Nathan – who played drums on the record – plays our second guitar live and fills out the harmonies and melodies.
How much of the material on this record was re-recorded from older versions?
Well, we did an EP in 2008 that we considered it a sort of demo in our early configuration of acoustic guitars and an improper drum set. There were six songs on that EP and we felt like five of those needed to be revisited and done in a way that would show how we’ve evolved from then to now: more electric and more confident. We got a professional studio and got a professional engineer and mixer…and we just felt like, why not, you know?
I noticed that ‘I’ shows up in your songs quite a bit – is your writing often personal or do you create personas?
I am interested in the ‘I’, I guess – and I love personal stories – but the songs aren’t strictly personal. I’m inspired by everyday things that I notice and things that I feel but I like to stretch the truth and bend the narrative into something not expressly autobiographical. I think that’s okay to do and I’m comfortable doing that.
So tell me: who is this Betty Wang?
When I first moved to New York I had massive credit card debt and student loans, so I worked at a bank on Wall Street as an administrative assistant. Betty was a manager I worked with and she was a good friend to me. I was writing songs at night when I’d go home and Betty Wang just sort of became a muse. There are lots of songs with women’s names in them that I’ve enjoyed and I thought her name was really pretty. The song is generally about the feeling of being an outsider and I think it was really more about me and how I felt in that very male-dominated, corporate world.
Do you feel at home now in your world with Hospitality?
For sure; I feel great. I feel like finally we’re getting the support I always wanted us to have: a great record label helping to push our record and a booking agent to get us shows. It all feels very…welcoming.
The Friends of Friends video is so entertaining; I was giddy to see one of my favorite TV characters – Maeby Funke – in there.
(laughs) It is a great video but we can’t take any credit for it really. Scott Jacobson (former Daily Show writer) wrote and directed it and got the actors (Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development and Gabe Delahaye, stand-up comic and Videogum editor) and it was really his creation. But we love his work and totally trusted him and we just wanted him to do what he does. We were totally surprised and pleased to have celebrities appear in it.
I think it’ll make people smile, considering every person on the planet can relate to being forcefully cheered up during a breakup.
(Laughs) Yeah, I think the narrative he wrote goes really well with the song and compliments it so well.
Being your first video, did it feel completely surreal and unnerving to be in front of a camera?
(laughs) Yes! I mean, we did it in our apartment and these actors were coming over and we were kind of…star struck. We’re all pretty shy and not what you would call big ‘performers.’ Scott wanted something…lively…that I guess we weren’t really giving him because he had to give us whiskey to loosen us up.
Outside of tour dates coming up, what else is on the agenda for 2012?
Well we’re going to see how this record does and tour as much as possible, and I think that will dictate whether we head into the studio again sooner rather than later. We’re playing it by ear right now.
And are the creative juices already flowing?
For sure. Now that I know more about how the studio process goes I’d like to do more preparation the next time and not restrict the songs to a live, electric quartet. I’d like to give us more freedom with arrangement, you know? You can conceive the songs anyway you want in a studio and so I’d like to go in with more acoustic songs and exploit the power of that a little more.
Hospitality celebrates their debut tonight in Brooklyn with a record release show at the Glasslands Gallery and will tour North America throughout February and March with Archers of Loaf and Tennis. For a complete list of dates visit their MySpace profile, or follow the band on Twitter and Facebook. View the new video for Friends of Friends here.