The name "Texoma" is an important one to the members of Herrick & Hooley. Growing up in the North Dallas suburbs, Ian Olney, Hunter Lewis and Michael Barnes spent much of their formative years at Lake Texoma. It was a place the three would take trips to with friends, a place where they had "awesome experiences," but as they set off for the lake last spring it seemed destined to be a last hurrah. On the verge of graduating high school, it looked like the days of Lake Texoma and even of being in a band together might be over.
"This might be it," Herrick & Hooley bassist Michael Barnes remembers thinking about that trip. "People are going to change when they go to college. Some people are going straight to the grind. It's all going to be different after we graduate."
But that wasn't it. The band went their separate ways, heading off to freshman year at three different colleges — two in Colorado, one in Utah — but they continued making music together. This week, for spring break, Olney and his bandmates return home and are together for the first time since December. Rather than simply returning home with stories to tell their friends, these three guys return with a new album, and one with a name that hits close to home: Texoma.
Making an album while in college on three different campuses is no easy task. Not only was time and distance constantly an issue, but personal matters continuously affected the process. And for singer Ian Olney, the idea of home had very literally been changed, as his parents had moved out one week before he left for college. It was in Olney's bedroom that the members of Herrick & Hooley had made much of their music throughout their high school years.
“My old house was the spot. Fuck!” Olney exclaims, thinking back on the band's former home base. “That house is gone. All those memories are here with me but nothing else. Everything else is gone.”
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On Famous Honey, the band's debut album that was released last year, the trio were simply having fun jamming together in Olney's bedroom, which housed the band’s drum kit, piano, guitars and recording equipment. That album garnered the then-high schoolers a shoutout from The Fader, a 30-minute hangout with their idol Tyler, The Creator, and praise from The Internet, another favorite music act of theirs.
On Texoma, the process was much more cathartic and acted as a much-needed release for life’s new stresses. Before the band finished Side B to Famous Honey in the spring of 2015, Lewis, who is the band’s producer, learned that his mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The devastating news affected the high school senior to the point where it became nearly impossible to focus on school and apply to colleges.
“I’d be sitting in math class looking at the board thinking. ‘What if my mom is at home vomiting right now, or thinking she’s going to die?’” Lewis remembers. “It was just a shitty year.”
After later learning his mother’s diagnosis was benign, Lewis continued his production work as a means to vent and express the stress of that ordeal. That spring and summer, he produced 100 new tracks. That batch of tracks would eventually be the material for Texoma, but that wasn’t necessarily the plan. Lewis was simply sending Olney the new material because that’s what he’d always done. Little did he know that Olney was going through his own emotional hardships.
On that last trip to Lake Texoma, Olney had started a relationship with a girl who would inspire much of his writing on the new album. He was away from the girl he loved, his lifelong friends and had too much time to think about it all. So, when he heard Lewis’ new work it was easy for him to put pen to paper and flush out his lyrics in a more concise way than he’d ever done.
“Sometimes you’re just writing shit and you just go with it,” Olney says of the process. “I’d listen to those beats and, boom, it was written. And I was like ‘Yo, we have this. Let’s record this.'”
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Every weekend during the semester, Olney would make the drive to Lewis’ dorm (both go to school in Colorado) and record music. Some weekends they could knock out three songs and some weekends they’d just spend hours on end tinkering with production. Lewis describes the project as a summer album that sounds like winter: Olney was writing about love, while Lewis was working to pull himself out of a depression, which eventually rubbed off on Olney's lyrics as well.
“It’s such a focused album on both falling in love and the struggles of loneliness and dealing with the love we just created,” Lewis says.
Appropriately enough, it's the title track, “Texoma,” that embodies this sentiment most profoundly. The four-minute song features four verses that show off Olney’s smooth voice and dexterity as both a crooner and a tongue-twisting rapper. Lewis’ production is emotive, smooth and affecting. The band says the song is their thesis statement, and it mirrors the arc of the rest of the album. It's approachable highbrow music.
“It’s got real weight to it. Living our lives and being around, I can hear it in the album,” Barnes says, his one-time fear of growing apart from his band mates now firmly countered by the arrival of Texoma and, with it, a trip to South by Southwest this week. “Its weight comes from its application to life.”