A Q&A with Hootin
Expressive alternative from Vancouver – here’s Nick Houghton, aka Hootin
What’s the title of your latest release, and what does it mean to you?
My latest release is a single titled ‘The New Queen’. My goal when writing and recording a track is to have that idea expressed through both the lyrics AND the instrumentation. ‘The New Queen’ is fictive narrative about the unfair state of politics today. How despite the claims of representational governments, so often they are anything but. The lyrics tell a ‘tongue in cheek’ story about taking the place of the queen of England and destroying the system from within. Not only am I quite proud of the lyrics and their message, I feel I was successfully able to create a driving yet introspective musicality that matches the tone and timbre to give the message more power.
What was the hardest part about putting this release together, and why?
Getting the lyrics over the finish line was probably the most difficult. Luckily I have a close friend who acts as my quality assurance team for all of the music I create. Kevin has an incredible eye for the larger picture and I would never even dream of releasing something without his sign off.
Who produced the release – what did they bring to it?
‘The New Queen’ was produced by Braeden Ragno of Vancouver. This was the first track I’ve done working with him and I see a long partnership for the future. I actually had an earlier version of this song done by another studio in Vancouver and their work was flat, un-interesting… uninspired really. I was then introduced to Braeden; immediately I felt his investment into the project. This was no longer just my track, but his as well. He took my work and used it to paint an incredible picture. He understood what I was trying to do and amplified it. Not only are his mixes and edits incredible, he added creative delays and fades, added new textures I would never have even considered. Had me go back into the studio to re-record vocal doubles to get the punch he wanted. He is an amazing person who genuinely cares about the music he works on, which is rare.
What do you want the listener to take away from listening to your music?
I want people to listen to my music and walk away with whatever it was they needed from it. A high school teacher once told me that one of the best things about poetry is that despite the fact that the author was trying to express how they felt, each reader walks away with their own version of those feelings; I think music is much the same. Each of my songs have a specific meaning to me, but if a listener has a different emotional response that’s ok with me as long as they are able to connect to something in the music. I may, for example, write a sad song about something I’m going through, but if the listener instead walks away with a sense of hope because they take solace in knowing that someone else is going through something similar to what they are, then I’ve done my job. That listener was able to connect to something. That’s what I want: a connection.
How does a track normally come together? Can you tell us something about the process?
It has taken me quite a while to come to a description of the style of music I create. The best I have come up with so far is “Expressive Alternative”. Being a drummer by trade, rhythm and energy are usually the most important factors in good music for me; lyrics being a close second. I usually begin writing a new song with the drums or percussion to define a feel. From there I take time to think about all of the things that have been going on in my life that tend to otherwise be hard to express verbally; things I’ve been feeling, thinking about but maybe struggling to articulate… I then pick one of these ideas that I think fits the energy of the track I’ve put together so far. I build the rest of the instrumentation to fit the tone and timbre of the idea I’m trying to express. Finally, I then find lyrics that don’t describe the feeling I’m trying to express… but demonstrate it. I want each of my songs to be about something. A concrete idea that I can name but allows the listener to have their own experience with.
What band/artists have influenced you the most since you started this project, and why?
I take inspiration from a lot of different artists. At first the list might seem quite eclectic but it has a theme. What makes a great artist to me is one that I feel is truly expressing an idea, something personal or tangible. There is a lot of music that just picks a catchy phrase and repeats it over and over in hopes of getting it stuck in your head; often there is no greater message to it. Artists that catch my ear are trying to tell me something whether that be with the lyrics, the instrumentation, or both. If I feel like a song is just trying to get my attention I lose interest pretty fast. Off the top of my head, for amazing lyrics you really can’t beat Laura Marling or Tom Waits. For pure energy, there is a well known underground funk band from Vancouver called Five Alarm Funk that constantly tours across Canada. Their size varies but usually consists of no less than six members, their music is primarily instrumental but is some of the hardest hitting, energetic, danceable music I have ever heard. As a drummer by trade, it’s impossible to not be inspired by them. Unlike most ensembles, Five Alarm Funk sets up their live performance with their drummer front and center. Nobody else does that as far as I know. There is another Vancouver based artist named Matthew Goode, his raw expression is unbeatable. If you really pay attention to his music, it’s like sitting in on a therapy session. I also find expression in the way you perform extremely important, and for that my first stop is Jordan Rakei. The tone of his voice, the soft diction, it creates so much texture to his music… I find it irresistible. Here is a little list of others I really enjoy: Tom Misch, Lianne La Havas, Still Woozy, Erik Sumo, FKJ, Half Moon Run, Pinegrove, Mike Snow, Amber Mark, Neil Frances, Rudy Norman.
What countries would you like to tour? Are there any standout venues you’d like to play in?
I consider myself a recording artist. I am not performing currently. I spent many years playing in bands that toured all over North America. I would say that my favorite places to play are small rural music festivals. There is nothing better than spending three or four days camped in the artist section of a festival grounds, surrounded by other artists making friends, sharing CDs, swapping stories. If I ever take this project on the road, that will be my target.
If you could pick one track for our readers to listen to in order to get a taste of your music, what would you pick, and why?
I would choose the first track off my recent album Exit Conditions titled ‘Wisdom’. It is about the exchange that we all make: the time we have left on earth, for the experience we gain. It’s a sort of transaction we all make throughout our lives, but affects each of us differently. I want each listener to reflect on their own transactions: how it shaped them. The instrumentation underneath is driving yet jagged, much like the ups and downs of life. I think this track is the best example I have of “Expressive Alternative” and most clearly demonstrates my style and what I’m trying to do.
What ambitions do you have for the band/your career?
For now my goal is to continue to build up my catalogue. I’m really enjoying releasing singles every 3-4 months. Within the next year or two I hope to do another full album but that is down the line a ways. One day, when I’m ready I’ll take all this music I’m working on live but for now I’m just enjoying the creative process.
Finally, as you leave the stage, what are your parting words?
“Till next time.”
For more info visit: hootinmusic.com