Matthew Hittle of Auxiliary Voice Talks Seeing Van Halen, Playing Extreme's "More Than Words"

Auxiliary Voice's Matthew Hittle has had an interesting ride, musically. Long before he formed the ambient post-rock band with Justin Young, he had to deal with living in a house where secular music was hard to find. Hittle recently sat down with us and talked about his first musical experiences and gave a preview of the forthcoming Auxiliary Voice debut album.

What was the first instrument that you learned to play? Well, I was saving up for a drum set when I bought my first guitar. I realized how expensive drums were gonna be. My parents were like, "We'll support you with whatever you want to play, but you're gonna have to buy your own gear." I got about $400-$500 and saw how long it was going to take to buy a drum set. But drums have always been my favorite instrument. I'm a drummer inside somewhere. The guitar is what I latched onto at about 11 or 12.

What was the guitar that you bought? It was a Mexican Fender Squire.

Oh, even better! A knock-off of a knock-off! I still had a little money to buy a few effects pedals. Me and my buddy were getting into guitar effects.

What kind of effects pedals? I got a fuzz pedal that was terrible. It was a Fab Tone. Awful. It was terrible. And a digital delay, like a DigiTech, which I still have a version of.

Can you remember the first song that you learned on guitar? Yeah! [laughs]

I'm sensing that it had power chords in it! No, no! My brother is a little older than me, so it was whatever he knew how to play. Or whatever my dad knew how to play. We were a very musical household. There was always guitars laying around. My dad was always playing something. I knew the versions he knew of songs. It was never the actually correct way of playing it. One of them was "Blackbird" by The Beatles. Which is a weird finger-picking pattern. He played it in a very simple way. My brother taught me how to play Extreme's "More Than Words." So the first two songs I learned how to play [involved] finger-picking.

First song I learned to play was The Cranberries' "Linger." "Linger"? That's awesome!

Yeah! It's only four chords, repeated. It's not like they do an inverse of anything. Anyway, what would you say was the first band that you obsessed about You want the cool response?

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I'm all about the truth. I don't care if it's cool or not, because that's why I love doing this column. It's like people fessing up that they worked at the Renaissance Festival. It was whatever my dad had around the house. [My parents] were super religious when I was younger, but they have chilled out in their older age. They threw away all their vinyls and now it makes my dad sick. I'm starting to collect vinyl for the first time. Anytime I buy this or that, he'll be like, "Oh, I could have given you so many great vinyls. I'm so sorry!" They went through that 80s stage where they got rid of all their secular records. But I found my dad's stash of tapes in the garage. It was like finding a porn stash. But it was tapes of secular music. My little stereo had a cassette player on it so I would sneak tapes in. It was Jethro Tull, Joe Cocker, and Led Zeppelin. I don't remember the albums, specifically. I can't tell which [Jethro Tull] song, but I played the shit out of that cassette.

But you remember the flute, don't you? I remember the flute! And I still love Joe Cocker. Can you remember the first show you played in front of people? It was probably at the Door, back when it was . . .

Before it was a parking lot next to Sons of Hermann Hall. Yeah, right! [laughs] That was the only place that let underage kids play a show. That's what's cool about what they do. I was in a shitty high school band trying to sound like Silverchair. I hadn't hit puberty all the way, so I was trying to push my voice to sound tough.

Were you rocking the drop D tuning? Oh yeah! I-couldn't-even-drive-to-my-own-show kind of situation. Playing that Fab Tone through a Crate tube amp that really would have had better distortion if I had just turned it up loud. It was pretty bad; I'm not gonna lie.

Justin [Young] had mentioned that Auxiliary Voice started in a church. Well, my parents were hippies-turned-pastors. It's still strange to me, but I love them. They have a little country church out in the country, where Flower Mound turns to country. My dad had this big building. If we needed somewhere to rehearse, he was like, "You're more than welcome to rehearse here." We started the writing process before we moved to Chicago in my dad's church. We were in Chicago for a few years, then came back and moved into Bishop Manor, and we've been there ever since.

What's the timetable looking like for the Auxiliary Voice record? Definitely going to be able to release a promotional-use-only copy by March and then we have to get the record designed, printed, and shop it around a bit. But we're hoping for the summer. It's technically done, except for mastering and all the legalities.

What was it like to record a choir? It was awesome. There was only four girls, but we needed a girl choir on one song and our producer got everyone to stand in a circle and then rotate musicians for another take and another take, so by the end of it, it sounded like a larger girl choir. We got as many people as we could, but still, it was only like, 10 people. We had more guys than girls, so we had to have the guys stand back to even it out.

Since Explosions in the Sky is often cited as a comparison, are you flattered or get a little defensive? No. That band and This Will Destroy You and Mono were the first bands that we heard that we dug who were instrumental. Besides the obvious Appleseed Cast and Unwed Sailor. We really latched onto those bands and realized that no one ever put vocals over the top of them. So, that was the beginning process.

You have any shows coming up? The only one that's booked is March 2nd with Weatherbox from San Diego. We just added Kristen Spencer from The Virgin Wolves [on keyboards]. She's learning all the parts that Kevin Howard wrote and recorded on the record. So she's playing catch-up, trying to get into his mind. We're really happy to have her be part of this. . . . I had a first show all prepared and you didn't bring it up.

What was it? What was the first show that you saw? It took me a while and I had to talk to my dad to remember. When I was 11, he took me to Van Halen and it was Van Hagar, essentially.

Oh yeah! Which should not be forgotten, because a lot of people want to forget now that they're back with David Lee Roth . . . for now. It was the first time I smelled pot. My dad had to explain to me what it was. This was before he was a pastor. Do you remember anything about the show? Nah, I do remember that the drummer had a neck brace on.

Put you on the spot here. How old are you? I'm 28, so it was '95.

OK, so that was probably the Balance tour. They probably opened with "Seventh Seal," "Can't Stop Loving You." I have no recollection. I just remember being at a big show, smelling a new smell, and wondering why my mouth was dry.

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