Hanging Hills aren’t your parents’ folk band. They bring a modern spin to tales about Civil War battles and hitting the country roads. They play as an inseparable, well-rehearsed unit, consisting of Greg Dyson, lead vocalist and guitarist, Elliott Woolworth, lead guitarist, Ross Paige on bass and Mike Arcata on drums. The sounds they make are timeless, loud and absolutely commanding. Whether bombastic and fuzzed-out or soft and soulful they are always entertaining. They have two records, the LP The Great Divide released in 2014 and the more recent EP Sewn, released this past February.
On their debut LP The Great Divide, Hanging Hills expertly hit all the notes of a more evolved ensemble. What would ordinarily be the aural palate of a band’s second or third album turns out to be these young Yankees’ opening statement. Mike told me that The Great Divide is a “concept album, in a lot of ways, with many of the tracks specifically laying out this mid 19th century post-civil war narrative. However, we never wanted Hanging Hills to be a ‘concept band’ anchored to that narrative and sound. Admittedly it’s a bit strange for a band to assume such an identity for it’s first project, but that’s just what came out of our writing. Sewn is definitely a step in a new direction, but the change is a natural evolution for us as we all continue to develop as musicians and writers.”
The Great Divide is a bold album, but the members of Hanging Hills are bold people. Not very many bands would up and leave their hometown together, continuing as a unit in an unfamiliar yet welcoming city. The four boys from Connecticut moved to Philadelphia last year to make their way into our booming indie rock scene. On the transition, Mike told me that the move felt right for everyone: “We moved from a rural part of eatern Connecticut that was very much a ‘college town’ type of area. A lot of young people, but most don’t stay for longer than a few years. We had all finished school and I don’t think any of us had intended on staying in the area permanently. Although we till have a lot of friends in the area and loved Willimantic, it was time to move on and Philadelphia was very attractive for all of us for its vibrant arts and music scene. And cheap housing. We know too many people paying way too much to live in NYC. Fuck that.”
Their latest effort, the EP Sewn, creates a distinct vision of their world. Ultra-folky, with Fleet Foxes-esque leads and vivid lyrics. The record was written and recorded before they moved to Philadelphia last year, with Massachusetts-based producer and engineer Andrew Oedel at the helm. Andrew played a “hands-on” role in the making of Sewn, according to Mike: “He directs things brilliantly in the studio and had a real grasp for our intentions on each project.” Andrew also produced The Great Divide, and after working together on two projects, the synchronicity between band and engineer is clear.
On Sewn, Hanging Hills combines old and new material to speak relatably to those who listen. The overarching tone of the record is quite melancholy, but in somewhat of a postive, forward-thinking way. These are artists on the verge of a great change, who know it, who know where they’re going and can’t wait to get there. “Highway 206” is a great example of these feelings. Written by Greg during a previous stint in Philadelphia, it has been retooled into a prophecy about the future of the band. This is a song about travel, creating visualizations of “driving through the Garden State in springtime,” stepping up in volume as the driver shifts into high gear.
This is what Hanging Hills is best at – in addition to being magnificent live performers and super nice guys, their songs beam imagery straight into the listener’s mind, with the same skill for interpretation of subject matter as a 19th century Impressionist painter. You forget that you’re listening to a band as their sounds consume, soothe, and wash-out the hard world around you.
Check out Hanging Hills at Ortlieb’s Thursday May 5th, and watch their Sofar Sounds performance in Cleveland below:
Hanging Hills online: