Speaking from his home in Austin, Matthew Hines, comes across as one of those likeable nerds everyone knew in high school. As leader of the indie rock outfit The Eastern Sea, Hines has turned that nerdy charm into three compelling albums, especially 2012's Plague.
In anticipation of Friday night's show at Lola's Saloon in Fort Worth, Hines talked to us about the trials of making Plague, the joy he gets out of Christmas music and the dog-eat-dog music scene in Austin.
Is it difficult to be a band in Austin with such a crowded music scene?
I've been ranting about this online. I was having a conversation with the guys in the band What Made Milwaukee Famous. We started talking about the community of musicians in Austin. Unfortunately, the way that I look at it, there is not a lot of community here. The bands tend to be pitted against each other. The way the industry is set up, the bands don't get paid a lot of money. You start being cutthroat. There are so many bands and there is not enough money to go around. The people that are controlling the market are very protective of it. You have only a few production companies. You have a ton of venues, but they are not run in a professional manner. I actually like Houston. Houston is a much different scene. And I grew up playing in Denton and Dallas. All those cities have different feels. I think bands in Dallas have more room to breathe.
Who are some of your favorite bands?
You can separate it into a couple of categories. First off, I am a huge Neil Young fan. I am also a huge fan of Springsteen. Those are a couple of monolithic, singer/songwriter guys. I've always been into serious characters that have moments of playfulness. As far as contemporary artists go, one of my favorite bands is The National. That band doesn't have many tongue-in-cheek moments. One of my biggest songwriting influences is John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats. He is a hero of mine and he can be so funny.
Can you talk about the problems that the band faced when recording Plague?
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We started recording in February of 2011. We didn't finish it twelve months later. It took a long time. Even from the beginning, it felt like things weren't going our way. We were in preproduction for months. We were incredibly ready to make a record. Everything was there musically, but then things started falling apart. We recorded during a freak storm in Austin and everybody got iced in and the schedule got thrown off. The studio got shut down and we ended up being homeless, going from place to place, trying to record. It got incredibly frustrated. We ended up finishing the album in Bastrop at out engineer's girlfriend's house. And that house got nearly burned down. It was crazy.
Did you think the entire process was cursed?
I would be lying if I said there weren't times I thought that. In the end, I knew that these were just problems that I had to overcome. There was a lot of learning that I did. Today, if those same issues came up, I could handle them. I titled the album before we went into the studio. I really should have thought that out.
Do you think the struggle made it a better record in the end?
When I first started to make this record, I knew it was going to be something that was not going to be liked by all, but loved by a small portion of people. Looking at the reactions the record has received, I couldn't be happier. In the end, we made the album we wanted to make. It came out like we wanted. It was a deep experience for me making it.
Why did you decide to make a Christmas CD in 2012? Did you figure there wasn't enough Christmas music in the world already?
I've been doing Christmas music for a while now, on and off for the past couple of years. It was something I did for friends and family. It seemed to make these people really happy. I got approached by this charity foundation in Austin. They asked if they could help out and pay for recording costs in order for me to make a Christmas CD. I jumped at the opportunity. The band needed something to bridge the gap between what we were doing in the summer and what we were going to be doing in the spring. It was fun and we enjoyed it. I love Christmas music and I have a passion for that. It was a nice way to keep people's attention during the holidays.
Did you play a lot of shows featuring the Christmas music over the holidays?
Yes, we did this mini tour. We did about eight dates. We played one at the Spoon Christmas party. We went around the country playing Christmas songs. It was kind of strange, but it was fun.
How did you choose the material to cover?
Some of it was songs that I had already done over the years. I tried to pick things from here and there. I wanted to do one song for my dad. Another one I just did because I thought it would be funny. I have a personal relationship with a number of these songs. I just wanted to put my own personal spin on them.
Plus, an album of Christmas songs is a nice, optimistic switch after releasing an album called Plague.
Exactly, that was part of it. I didn't want to go around showing that we were a heavy, emotionally overwrought band. I didn't want people to think that we don't have a sense of humor. I think Plague showed a sense of humor, but on the surface, it's still a record called Plague.
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Even the name of the band seems to refer to some Emo band from the Czech Republic.
Sure, it's got a melancholy and serious tone. In my opinion, my favorite bands always have that undercurrent of seriousness. That was important to me.