Gainesville, Florida’s Towers of Hanoi recently unleashed their third release upon us and Paranoia for the New Year is a shining example of what post-hardcore can be even while being brought down to earth by simple hard rock influences. It’s the kind of album that makes you wonder, “Whoa, how did they do that?” In an effort to find out, I was able to get this interview with their guitarist, Travis.
RnRnMN: Your music seems to bring together two disparate genres: hard rock and post-hardcore. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of each and how do you bring them together? Was that the intention or a happy accident?
Travis: The line between post-hardcore and hard rock was never something we consciously drew. It’s been more a matter of trying to write songs that get a certain feeling across rather than tap a certain genre. Parts of our music that would probably be called post-hardcore usually boil down to riffs we’ve written that make use of a lot of melody while still trying to fill in the rhythmic gaps since we only have one guitar. A lot of the harder rock parts are really just us trying to get a certain heaviness across while still playing rock & roll. We usually try to put things together as a band, so a lot of what happens in our songs boils down to spontaneous ideas thrown together at practice.
RnRnMN: How do your influences play into that sound?
Travis: We listen to a lot of different bands and different kinds of music. Sometimes we’ll run a band or album we like into the ground to the point where we can’t listen to it anymore. That’s when elements ofthat sound start usually start showing up in our music. We never deliberately try to rip anybody off, but it’s only natural to incorporate elements of the music you love into your songwriting. We bounce back and forth between bands and genres a lot, which is a good thing because it provides new sources of inspiration and keeps you from narrowing into a specific sound too much.
RnRnMN: Your previous album, Black Feathers, was a concept album. Paranoia for the New Year seems to work as a single unit, but I didn’t catch a specific concept. Was there any specific concept for this album? What do you think gives it its continuity?
Travis: Paranoia For The New Year wasn’t ever really intended to be a concept album lyrically, but we did have a very definite idea about the sound we were going after at the time we started recording, which probably makes it our most consistent sounding record to date. Black Feathers was sort of born out of chaos in the studio, and while it has some very concrete lyrical themes, it’s less composed from a musical perspective. PFTNY took us 2 years to write, so we had a lot of time to kick around the songs and figure out what we thought would work together musically and lyrically. We learned a lot from our previous time spent in the studio in regard to how to get the sound we wanted for this record, and the recording of the core of the album was done in about two days. From a lyrical context it’s a more open-ended record, but it does contain some basic elements of doomy-ness, which are inspired by a combination of the general affect in America today as well as repeated listenings to albums like Over The Edge by The Wipers.
RnRnMN: I know that at least some of you have other projects that you work on. Does that help or hinder the progress of Towers of Hanoi?
Travis: We think it’s a good thing. It’s pretty standard in Gainesville to be in at least a few bands. Towers doesn’t really have any kind of schedule attached to it, so members being on the road certain parts of the year isn’t really an issue. Playing in more than one band helps boost your creativity as a musician, which is a positive, and it’s also nice having our records spread around the country a few times a year rather than just once for a two-week tour.
RnRnMN: Gainesville seems to be a pretty fertile spot for punk rock, with a lot of bands pushing the envelope creatively while remaining in touch with the raw roots of rock n roll. What do you think contributes to the scene producing so much good music? What is your role in this?
Travis: We’ve lived in Gainesville for a long time, and it’s been awesome watching the music scene here grow over the years. There were a lot of great bands that played around town back when the Hardback Cafe was in full swing in the mid to late 90’s, and then things settled down some when the Hardback closed. Growing up and watching those bands play made a big impact on a lot of people who were hear to see it, and when new bars opened up to provide a space for live music to thrive again, all of the inertia from those previous bands helped push music here to a new level. We’ve been playing around Gainesville for almost five years now, and we’ve made a lot of great friends in the process. These days, the scene here has reached a new peak with the combination of all the great bands, The Fest, No Idea, and great up-and-coming labels like Barracuda Sound.
RnRnMN: Aside form your records not going gold, what’s wrong with music today? What’s right?
Travis: Whati’s wrong is there’s not enough emphasis on the musical side of music. Kids growing up in the mainstream these days are surrounded by manufactured images of artists and aren’t getting any exposure to what making real music is actually about. It’s always been this way to a certain degree, but it seems worse today. It seems like records are looked at as something people don’t want to pay for anymore, so to make a living as an artist, you have to tour constantly. What’s right, is a lot of artists seem to be taking control of their careers and removing major labels that take advantage of them out of the equation. There’s a bigger pool of independent bands today than ever before, and the upside of the internet is it allows people from all over the world to hear your music, which is pretty huge.
RnRnMN: Pick your favorite between:
The Beatles versus the Stones
Travis: Stones, pure rock & roll.
Sex Pistols versus the Clash
Travis: The Clash, a real band with real ideals
Fugazi versus Hot Water Music
Travis: Hot Water Music, Gainesville representin’
Hank Williams versus Johnny Cash
Travis: Hank, he’s the grandfather…
Iron Maiden versus Black Sabbath
Travis: Sabbath Boody Sabbath…amen