Seasons are crucial to me when it comes to my listening habits. If a record that sounds like summer comes out in the winter, that feels to me like poor planning. This is not the case with Hovvdy’s new album, True Love, which was released on what is, for all intents and purposes, the first day of fall. (For context of how important this seasonal demarcation is in my family, we promptly attended an outdoor jack-o-lantern carving showcase on October 2.) True Love is the perfect album to throw on a fall drive with the windows down, hearing the leaves crunch under your car tires. It’s the soundtrack for a walk around the neighborhood when you find yourself in awe of our planet’s natural ability to create beauty, for now at least. You get the idea.
After a string of lo-fi releases that were focused primarily on vibe and melody, the Austin duo signed to a new label home in Grand Jury, and enlisted producer Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief, Bon Iver) to help bolster their sound in the studio setting. “We were just able focus on the performance and songs, and then let him really take it,” Will Taylor explained over Zoom from a Portland hotel room on a day off from tour, nursing a coffee next to bandmate Charlie Martin. The resulting effort is twelve tracks that stay true to the bare-bones aesthetic that made Hovvdy special in the first place, but with access to studio wizardry that creates extra space for the band to blossom and evolve. “I think that we have both become more confident in our songwriting and organically leaning into our more pop sensibilities,” Martin elaborates. “This was a really fun step, to have fun with those pop influences while still keeping the core of it centered on strong, emotional songs.”
As touring returns and the rooms continue to get bigger for a band like Hovvdy, the unique ability to continue drawing upon the initial inspiration points and using them to reflect the current situation is surely what’s going to set the duo apart from the pack. True Love is one of the rare “return to roots” albums that build upon the band’s lore and set them up for further success. To celebrate the new album, I spoke with Taylor and Martin about the new resources afforded to them by a larger label, and the beauty of DIY, and more. The below conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Both of you guys had a lot of big life moments since the release of Heavy Lifter. You both got married, and Will, you had a baby. Did you ever think that the band might be over?
Will Taylor: The band has to adapt in ways to make our lives possible. We haven’t crossed anything crazy yet, but we’re certainly flexible and ready to adapt to any situation that comes. But so far we’ve been able to kind of keep our heads down and finish the record and have this surprise tour [with Dayglow] really last second, and it all works. So far, thumbs up — all is well.
This album sounds a lot more polished and less lo-fi. Was that a product of more resources readily available to you on Grand Jury, or something you’ve been working toward throughout your career?
Charlie Martin: I think we tried to take a big step forward with Heavy Lifter. It still ended up being like pretty low-fi, but it felt like a step forward. Whereas with this one, we went full-steam with Sarlo who co-produced and mixed it. We kind of knew from the jump that it could be as hi-fi as we wanted it to be. I think we maintained a lot of the texture that we always go for. But yeah, it’s super satisfying to finally have something that feels like it’s really up to standard in terms of, like, fidelity.
What was the writing process like before you guys put anything to tape? How did the songs come together?
C.M.: We always start songs kind of independently, then started sharing demos. We ended up boiling down like 25 or so songs down to 12, which was more than previous records. This is a very fresh batch of songs.
W.T.: I don’t think either of us write the lyrics outright, then try to put it to music. I’ll play the chords and sing until I find a melody that sits nice. Then sometimes I do the terrible game of trying to fit lyrics with that melody that I did.
C.M.: He usually just starts with a chord progression and then I start with just the first verse and it kind of just builds from there. But writing on piano, most of the time I write the melody first. The last song on the record, “I Never Wanna Make You Sad,” was actually an instrumental piano, something that I had been playing for months and kind of struggled with whether or not I even wanted to add vocals to it. Then for our last session, I ended up hitting something that I liked, and it ended up being like a proper song.
Last year you guys released that standalone single called “I’m Sorry,” which seemed to incorporate more electronic tones, which made it seemed like you might be heading in a more experimental direction. Then True Love jumped back into the Hovvdy bread and butter with expansive and folk sounds. Was that a song you just needed to get out because it was in your head?
W.T.: That song was paired up with another other song called “Runner.” We did those with Sarlo as our first… I can’t find any word for it, but we wanted to work together. We knew we wanted to do something new-ish so we both had songs built around drum machines and added stuff like that. To be completely honest, we thought that may end up being the record too, or, like, a good chunk of it. Then we met up for the album sessions, and Sarlo encouraged us to bring our most heartfelt songs. So just with our limitations on actual gear, and also just trusting our initial skillset, and the acoustic guitar, we kind of just stuck there.
C.M.: I remember coming into that first session [for “Runner” and “I’m Sorry”] honestly being a little intimidated. The first time working with a kind of hope high-profile producer, and maybe we both have the inclination to go bigger with the production. Then leaving that session, we had all gotten comfortable with each other. We had sort of a new confidence in ourselves that maybe led us back towards our roots, versus pushing forward with like some glossy, pop stuff.
Can you tell me a little bit more about working with Sarlo?
W.T.: There’s a lot that goes into the work that he’s doing for us. He’s at the computer the whole time so that we can be standing up, walking around, working on things, which is great. He’s a really good encourager, so trying to get the best side of us, which is really helpful. Just his expertise in recording, engineering, and mixing is a bit deeper than us.
The promo materials for this record say that True Love is a return to writing for yourselves, instead of writing what you think other people want to hear. Can you speak to that a little more?
W.T.: I think you’re always kind of juggling both. Ideally, you try a song and you can just, like, live in it. We tried a bunch of stuff on [Heavy Lifter] and had a lot of fun. But I think on this one, we really just wanted to serve the song as best as we possibly could with as little to no frills as possible. Which I think is a big difference of working for the song rather than working for the vibe, if that makes sense.
C.M.: Even with Taster, it was just me and Will staying up late, just trying to make something that sounds really cool and working really hard to do that. Whereas with this record, we knew we could come in with the most bare-bones, three-chord song, and Sarlo could make it sound as expansive and atmospheric as we wanted it to be. So it was really, like Will said, all about the song and the story and the message.
Is there a story or a thesis statement that you’re trying to embody with this album?
W.T.: I think the title is pretty good. Those two words are kind of heavy or just up-front. but they can mean a lot of things. Each individual word is also powerful in itself. These songs are lyrically more focused than usual, so it’s really all there. Whereas in the past, we almost didn’t want you to… I mean, kind of joking, but the lyrics were less important. I think now you can listen to this album and create your own story to associate it with your own life.
C.M.: Yeah. There’s really nothing cryptic about this record, which is a fun, kind of new thing for us.
Did you have a moment as a music fan when you were listening to a song and you thought, “oh, I can do this too”?
W.T.: For me, the Orchid Tapes-type stuff. Alex G, R.L. Kelly, Elvis Depressedly, and stuff. Seeing those bands the limitedness of it… they just did it themselves. It was kind of the first time I heard the term DIY. So I feel like they really made it feasible for us to make our own recordings and not be insecure about it.
C.M.: Yeah. Just realizing that, as long as you’re kind of decent or can fumble yourself through some stuff on guitar and keyboard and drums, and realizing that it’s about the layering and the chemistry of a recording. That was, I think, something we both discovered in that early bedroom pop phase.
W.T.: I think the limitations helped us in the beginning. There’s just kind of a certain charm to that. It just felt really wholesome. And I hadn’t heard a lot of music like that.
C.M.: There was just a real buzz about it, too. So it was just cool to see that possibility. It’s been interesting to see those artists, especially Alex G, all growing together.
It’s an interesting point of how creativity can actually be fostered by that bootstrapped mentality. It’s probably more rewarding to make something that’s completely on your own, and to add on those layers of resources as you keep building.
W.T.: It’s funny, we were talking to Sarlo because we weren’t sure where he heard our music. He said he heard Cranberry, which is the last record that we did all ourselves. And we both think that record sounds like shit. But we’re also proud of it in other ways. But yeah, he said someone was playing on that record and it kind of pissed him off. He was like, “This doesn’t sound good. Objectively, it doesn’t sound good. But I love it.”
True Love is out now on Grand Jury. Listen here.