We’re trying to fill the void of bands that aren’t around anymore.
Because the band has a new record due out in October and a steadily growing tour schedule, boys and girls everywhere will finally be able to get their hands on Atlantic’s most recent signing, Kill Hannah. The Chicago quintet, which has been around in various forms for the better part of a decade, has been a midwestern sensation. Formed in 1995 by singer Mat Devine, KH uses creative guitar work and catchy loops to create their sexy, pop-trash persona. Imagine the sound of a collision between The Smashing Pumpkins, The Smiths, and Garbage. Called “the cutest band in Chicago” by the Chicago Sun-Times, Kill Hannah is flogged wherever they go by legions of female—and sometimes male—fans ranging in age from 11 to 45. They’ve managed, through DIY sensibilities, to sell well over 4,000 records, maintain traffic of over 6,000 visits to their Web site per week, and consistently garner more and more fans wherever they play, all well before their signing to Atlantic.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the boys to talk about their newfound success over a casual dinner at Sundecker’s. What started as a normal interview turned into an all-night adventure, culminating in a slumber party at my house. Kill Hannah is Mat Devine, vox and guitar; Dan Wiese, guitar; Jon Radtke, guitar; Greg Corner, bass; and Garret Hammond, drums.
A good place to start would be to find out where you guys feel like you fit in.
Mat: That’s really hard. I don’t think that we fit perfectly anywhere, you know?
Greg: We’re trying to fill the void of bands that aren’t around anymore. Like the Joy Divisions and the New Orders and bands like that. Today, yes, there are some elements in some bands that we could play with, but as far as a scene, we’ve always started our own.
So, then what is your goal? Every band has to have a goal.
Dan: Ask Garret! [Lots of laughter]
Garret: I want to make another record! [More laughter] Hopefully we’ll do well enough with this one so that we can actually do that again.
Mat: I want the cover of Rolling Stone.
Greg: I want the cover of NME.
Mat: We’ll do that one first.
After speaking with Atlantic, I got the impression that in the case of your recent signing, it isn’t the band that has to impress the record company, it is the record company that has to impress the band. This is a very foreign concept in this day and age. How does it feel to have a major label actually believe in your success?
Greg: There are probably people that aren’t like that at the label, but it is really good to hear that at least some of them feel that way.
Dan: I think there are two ways to do it; there are people who get picked up right away after doing very little on their own, and then there are bands like us, where after you go past a certain point, you have to shove it down people’s throats and do it all on your own accord.
Mat: We had such a hard time getting the ears of people in the industry because our sound is so different, and I’ve heard so many terrible stories about the facelessness of the industry. Atlantic has surprised me on all accounts because not only are they very personal, but they also seem like they have good taste, and they honestly do believe in us. I think that that has to take courage because we don’t necessarily fit a mainstream stereotype. I’m amazed, our A&R guy is amazing, everyone we’ve met at the label has been extremely supportive, and to that, I say thanks.
How did the deal with Atlantic come about? Was it the three songs you did previous to the record with Sean Beavan?
Greg: It kind of came in several directions. We got buzz from those recordings, we got buzz from being on the radio, but as far as winding up on Atlantic, our A&R guy actually just got a CD-R from our lawyer and he listened it to it and loved it. He had no idea about all the other stuff we had done.
Dan: [Interrupts] It all came about really quick. We’re always presented as this band that has a big Chicago following and that has a great Web site and great merchandise, but when they signed us, they didn’t know all of that; they just loved the music.
How would you respond to criticism about using backing tracks in your live show?
Dan: That’s a strange criticism. I mean we could hire someone to play keyboards, but we just don’t really want to do that.
Greg: Hell, half the bands you see, the keyboard player isn’t playing what you hear anyway.
Mat: I think you should do what best suits the song, and in our songs, the instrumentation is pretty complex, which is what I think partially defines us. I would never conform our sound to what some indie asshole thinks is cool.
Dan: When we were recording, it completely opened us up because on some songs, we had two completely different drum sounds, and now we are able to use that onstage. Its great because we don’t have to settle for something we don’t like.
Mat: If Radiohead had this slowed-down recording of a xylophone that they couldn’t play live, but they had it on tape, would you like Radiohead any less for doing it?
With the new recordings, I have noticed a definite growing sense of maturity from the early days of the band, the standout aspect being in Garret’s drumming, I definitely feel the presence of a live drummer, with still maintaining the danceability and electronic vibe.
Mat: I would agree to that; the recordings in the past have been kind of hurried, and compromises had to be made. This time what’d we take, four or five months? [Silly laughter]
I also felt that there wasn’t the overproduced debut record aspect to the songs.
Dan: [Sean Beavan] did a lot of the Nine Inch Nails and Kidney Thieves stuff before, so we were really conscious of that going in, because there is a fine line between industrial-based bands and guitar-based bands.
Mat: I think it is funny that we could get criticized for being overproduced or for paying an unreasonable amount of time to sonic details, because I think conceptually…philosophically we are indie. When we were in the studio, we weren’t necessarily interested in bringing in giggers to play bass or string sections, we were interested in cutting corners wherever we could. We worked long hours and bathed infrequently.
Greg: This band has always been run indie, everything we did in Chicago. We printed our own flyers and promoted everything ourselves.
There was always a big-money professionalism to your shows, even though you were still poor independent artists. How do you respond to criticism that your image is more important than your music?
Dan: I don’t know any other band that has done more low-budget shows, made their own merchandise…
Mat: Hired friends to shoot photos…
What about all of the fansites? I have seen bands with a handful of major-label records and tours under their belt not have as many or as good of fansites as you do.
Mat: We kind of set the standard, and people responded. I took a lot of care in writing my journals during the recording process, and the e-mails I was getting back from kids were all very well structured and well written. I think with the aesthetic of the band it is the same thing, when you put yourself out there, if you show it is something you take really seriously, and I don’t think the fans really want to disappoint.
Besides the production aspects we talked about, what were some of the things you hoped to accomplish with this record?
Greg: I think we all wanted something that we were proud of because in the past, we were never really proud of giving our record to somebody, saying this is us. We never liked the way it came out whether it was mixing, or the recording of it, or the songs, and whatnot. This time, we wanted everything to be perfect
Mat: I want it to be like a symbol of ten years of hard work. I think it is 99 percent there.
I really heard the guitars come to the forefront more as guitars than as the synth-like tones from previous recordings.
Greg: Yeah, our producer and A&R guy really wanted it to be a guitar-oriented record.
Mat: We wanted it to sound pretty natural, too. When we went into the studio, we were citing examples of Wilco and other records that have a very natural feel to them. We didn’t want it to come across as over-processed and phony.
At this time, the interview ended; the checks arrived and everyone was more interested in who had added their food to Greg’s bill. Visit www.killhannah.com.