Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kid, You'll Move Mountains

Most music lovers know how it feels to stand in a humid venue, sandwiched between other sticky, singing patrons, exhausted yet energized by some bandas they expose their souls explosively in song. Many want their voices as hoarse and their fingers as sore as those performers, aspire to stand on a stage and, some day, eyes stinging with sweat, stand beside these musicians that they admire.

This is where Jim Hanke was—one person in a living swarm of sweating, screaming people—when he saw Troubled Hubble play for the first time.

It was at the Globe East in Milwaukee almost ten years ago. A local label called Latest Flame was putting on a showcase and Hanke was there to see his friend’s band perform. He wasn’t quite prepared for Toubled Hubble’s angular energy—their wandering melodies and mettle—when they took the stage.

“I had heard of these guys, saw posters in Milwaukee,” Hanke remembers, “but I don’t think I had ever heard their music or anything. I couldn’t believe the energy that I was seeing. I saw these four guys bash out thirty minutes, playing as crazy as if they were playing punk-rock.”

After the set, Hanke approached the band members and began a conversation with them. “I’ve always been that guy, since I was thirteen years old,” he explains with a smile. “They struck me as the most humble guys in that scene. For a band to go up there and be that confident, then come off stage and be like, ‘Oh, shucks,’ was strange. I hadn’t seen anything like that before.”

That night would become, in a strange way, the beginning of Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, the band that Hanke would start with brothers Nate and Andrew Lanthrum, Troubled Hubble’s drummer and bass player, when the Chicago band collapsed in 2005. Though he became fast friends with all four members of Troubled Hubble, but kept in closest touch with the Lanthrums. “I kept talking with Andrew and Nate,” Hanke explains. “Sooner or later, ‘Hey, why don’t you come down and visit’ became, ‘Hey, why don’t you bring your guitar’ or, ‘Hey, why don’t we bang around in the basement.’ All the sudden, it spun into, ‘Maybe we should start a band.'

“And that was really cool,” he continues, “because that Globe East show was not a fluke. These guys, whether they were playing for twenty or two-hundred people, put on intense shows, and I just admired that so much. Getting to play in a band with two of these guys was like, wow.”

When Nate’s girlfriend Nina expressed interest in applying her prowess as a classically-trained pianist and singer, the whole band was on board, especially Hanke, who was excited about the thought of splitting vocal duties for the first time. After that, friend Corey Wills offered his guitar work; the Lanthrums and Hanke knew Wills as the frontman of Inspector Owl, a band from the scene that they had played with previously, and knew that his presence would add an expressive and experimental layer to their sound.

Since this onset, though, Kid, You’ll Move Mountains has been determined to approach music differently than they did in previous projects. The band set out to strike a balance between approachable and experimental, catchy and uncanny, and is ultimately concerned with creating layered, atmospheric songs. “We try to find a happy medium between all that,” Hanke says. “That’s what the band is all about. There’s a part of us that wants to be experimental and see how things go. There’s another part of us that really wants to play a good indie pop song and just put in a little monkey wrench every once in a while.”

It’s likely that this ambition is why Loomings, the band’s first full-length, took two years to record and release. Bunkered down in the Nate and Andrew’s parent’s basement where Troubled Hubble’s old recording equipment could be put to use, Kid, You’ll Move Mountains took their songs and toyed with them, adding second drum parts, fourth and fifth harmonies, sounds spiral and swell and cut out completely.

“Make It Sing”, for example, feels muffled and dizzying at first; snare hits hop from ear to ear and Hanke’s voices (there’s two, one that almost whispers and another that rises violently from the first like an exorcized spirit) seem to tip toe on a dotted line of guitars. When the song finally ignites after the second verse, it breaks apart and the voice of an old man emerges between the pieces. “It’s Nate and Andrew’s uncle,” Hanke says, “who had recorded his thoughts that he had on life. Andrew got an idea and was like, ‘Not to get super deep or anything, but what if we inter-spliced him in the song?’”

Loomings is full of moments like these; though the melodies are the focus of each track, an atmosphere exists around them that’s hard to ignore. The record’s second track, “Volts” seems to capture this best. On the surface, the song seems simple. Wills’ guitar drips with so much delay and chorus and reverb that notes blend into impressionistic blurs and bob behind the song’s stalking beat. As with all of the band’s brand of complex power-pop, Nina’s piano seems to drive the song instead of merely punctuate it; between her lines of lyrics, which are sung in an effortless alto, Hanke’s voice rises in soulful swells before retreating back beneath the song’s surface.

From there, though, things get strange. As the song slips into its dark outro, guitars growl beneath Nina’s bubbling piano. Wills’ guitar wiggles and waves, and sometimes shoots out of the song like a bottle rocket. Nate’s drums cut in and out explosively, sometimes distorted and dusty, sometimes landing on the backbeat like it’s a bad ankle. As it comes to a close, multiple Ninas drift through the song; some float ethereally in background almost in silence while others rise boldly in the forefront, but all harmonize with one another.

“That was a song specifically where, when we first wrote it, we had an ending,” he continues. “It ended with me and Nina harmonizing for one last time. Then we started recording it and thought, what if we tooled with it? This song has a solid groove, but what it just completely broke down? What if there were seventeen different Ninas singing it? We had been playing these songs for so long, we wanted to find different ways to interpret them for the record—not change them, but to experiment.”

By the time Loomings was ready to be pressed, Hanke and the rest of Kid, You’ll Move Mountains had spent two years tilling these nine songs, cultivating them until they were something about which all five could feel confident. “I don’t understand how people could put out a product that they’re not proud of,” he confesses. “A year later, there definitely are things that I’d change, but I’m glad it sounds the way it does. I might change it, but I don’t know if it would make a better record.”

With a new set of songs ready to record, it’s kind of remarkable to consider Hanke’s ten-year ascent from fan to friend to bandmate—from staring wide-eyed, grinning and gaping at Troubled Hubble’s set from Globe East’s congested confines to performing alongside same guys, now his brothers, and two others that have become his family.

But Hanke doesn’t take that for granted. If anything, he’s still that awe-struck fan who is well aware that he’s living the dream of music lovers everywhere. “I’m in a band with four other people who are amazing musicians and I get to be a part of that,” he says, suddenly reminded of what it’s like to play with musicians that he admires. “Jesus, I feel like I’m riding the coattails of everybody else. I think I’m playing with people who are so confident that it spreads. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

Though Hanke originally spoke to the Switchboard Sessions during an interview in April, it took he and Nina Lanthrum three months to arrange their schedules so that they could record these tracks together. The wait was worth it; "gorgeous" is probably the best way to describe how these songs were written and performed.

"No Applause" appears on Kid, You'll Move Moutains' 2009 record titled Loomings. "Nevermore" is a Queen cover; the song originally appeared on the 1974 album Queen II.

Sorry, but these songs were taken down due to space constraints. Please download The Switchboard Sessions, Volume One for a track from this and other sessions recorded in 2010. If you're desperate for a copy of these tracks, please see the "About the Switchboard Sessions" page for info on how to contact the author.