Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Man That Never Was: A Q&A with Michael Hindert

How did you get into music initially?

Michael Hindert: It started with Nirvana, and the Beatles about the same time.  At the same time, my sister was dating a guy in this band called The Pietasters.  He was the trumpet player in that band, but he played guitar, and somehow I had him teach me guitar.

How old were you?

12. I’m not much of a practicer, so it took a long time.  I watched a lot of T.V. and played on the two chords I knew.

Sometimes that’s all it takes…

Yeah, lots of time.

When did you start to get serious about music?

Well I started playing in bands with my brother when I was 12, until I was like 16.  In junior high, we had a band, and then two or three years in high school we had a band.  It was a sort of a weird, eclectic, bluesy project, and we even had some classical stuff; it was really weird.  It was a horrible name—The Court Jesters.  Then we started a rockabilly band with a friend of ours who we had played with in junior high.  That was looking like we were going to start playing a lot of shows.  This band had an even worse name—The Conjurers.  Then we were playing basketball one day and my brother broke his arm, and so that ended that.  Then I went off to school, and I thought, ‘Oh man, I want to be in a band.’  I went to school, and more school, and then I was in New York.  I was like, ‘Well, I kind of want to try to join a band.’  This was in 2003, and then I started auditioning for these pretty bad bands.  One, I got a call-back for as a guitarist, but then Mike from the Bravery, he called and said, ‘Our bass player just quit.’  It was right before their first show, so they had a fill-in, and his name was Phil—Phil the fill-in (laughs).  He played a couple of the shows.  I auditioned in the meantime, and Mike helped me learn the basslines, ‘cause I hadn’t played bass before that.

You had never played bass before?

I maybe picked it up once or twice, but it was mostly guitar.  So I learned the songs, and got in.  Then I toured for a bunch of years, playing bass.

Seems like there’s a gap in there… What’s your history with Mike?

Me and Mike went to school together.  I was at school for two years in Boston, then I transferred back to D.C.  He was at GW, which is where I transferred.  I ended up transferring to Georgetown, but the one year, I was at GW.  There were two colleges, and a couple little secondary schools.

Did you mainly study music?

No.  Philosophy, then cooking, and then a short-film program.

You’re more eclectic than I thought…

Mike and I had philosophy classes together, and that’s how we met each other.  And then I was up in New York, and he moved back to New York.  Right before he tried out for the band, I was like, ‘Oh man, let’s see if they need another guitarist.’  And then he started playing guitar.  I would run into him in New York and he’d be going to band practice.  He called me, and I was either going to move down to Costa Rica and try to learn how to surf, or I was going to try to join a band.  The band, I couldn’t tell if it was working out, so then Mike called me.  At first I got this call back, so I was nervous.  But of course I said yes.

Once you started playing with The Bravery, were they already established and playing tours?

They had played two shows, and I was at both of them.  I auditioned before those shows I think.  They had recordings, but they hadn’t really started any sort of plan.  They did have a manager already, who was a friend of the drummer’s in Boston.

That’s good you had a manager from the beginning.  Most bands swim upstream without for quite a while…

Yeah, and he was from Boston and he had gotten a few bands major deals so he knew a good way to go about it.

Connections are key.  Did you start playing bars to begin with?

Yeah, we played Boston and New York mostly.  We played at Bars like Lit Lounge.  It’s sort of cabaret—like the Beatles, low ceilings and stuff.  It’s really cool, but it’s a bitch to play at, because the stage at one end is a really small bar with little turns and things, and you have to keep your equipment at the other end.  So between sets, you have to go through all of the audience.  It was a cool place.  Other places were just small bars in New York, Boston, the Middle East, T.T. the Bear, and other little venues.

What was the first show that you knew there was something big going on?

We opened for The Libertines.  Well, right before that we did our residency, and each week there were more and more people.  By the last one, there was a line out the door.

Where was that residency at?

This place called Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower Eastside.  I think it was either a Fader or Nylon party, we opened for The Libertines.  A bunch of people were there, I think mainly industry people, but it was a big show.  That was probably the first one I guess.
Did you ever tour with The Libertines?

No no, that was just one show.  That’s where, I think, our label that we ended up signing onto finally decided that they were interested.

So did it take off from there?

Yeah, it did.  We did one short tour in the US opening for VHS or BETA from Kentucky.  And then we went over to play one show in Iceland, and then we went to the UK.  We lived in London for a month, and then toured through the country a little bit in between a London residency.  Then we went to Paris and started touring for three years straight.

How is it being on the road for that long?

Uhh, I hate it, but we don’t tour that rough, but we tour for a long time.

Do you have tours where the shows are night after night after night?

We’re not as bad as we used to be.  We used to go almost every night.

How do keep the performance going every night?

Well, alcohol (laughs).  The problem is when you quit drinking, ‘cause it’s way too much, and you feel a little better ‘cause you’re not hung over so you’re doing a bit better.  But if you do a stretch of a couple empty shows, sometimes it’s a bad stretch.  Then you start drinking again (laughs).  Most of the band doesn’t get drunk on stage while they play.  I made a rule pretty soon into it that I wouldn’t drink before shows, to keep from hitting bad notes.  That would just cause us to drink more on stage.

That’s smart.  Some bands don’t follow that rule.  Once you had success with The Bravery, how long was it before you began Merrifield Records, and what is the label all about?

I guess three or four years.  I started writing my own songs a couple years into it and that was slow-going, but I finally got an EP together.  Then we had some time off.  During most of my time off I would travel—either go on surf trips with John, the keyboardist for The Bravery, or just travel up and down California, trying to figure out where I wanted to live.  I never found a home.  Then, as I was writing music and had this EP together, I wanted to get my band together.  At first I was thinking of bringing the drummer out to California, but I decided that was too much of a pain in the ass.  Honestly, maybe I should have done that, but instead I moved back to Virginia.  Our bass player lived in Virginia, but he lives in LA now.  This is Gary, an older bass player.  We’d have five members, but mostly it’s Kenny (Pirog), me and Dex (Fontaine) in my band The Danvilles.  I haven’t figured out exactly what’s going on, but Gary wouldn’t move home, so I started a new band, No Lover, ‘cause I didn’t want to have to deal with new members.  But then with No Lover came The Dusty’s, and then Dex is in a bunch of other bands, so I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, we have like a whole record label here.’  It took me a while ‘cause I had, as long as I had played music, never tried to write anything.  It took me a while to write anything, and the first EP I recorded sometime in 2009, I think in the Summer.  I probably started writing in 2007 or 2008.  No Lover ended up being really awesome, and I thought, ‘This will be it.’  So I brought The Dusty’s on tour with The Bravery, and had No Lover play after-parties.  We played a few, but I was like, ‘If we’re going, we should make a few compilations.’  So we put a few of the bands on and handed that out.  Through playing some of the after-parties, we met some other bands and I told them, ‘You should be on Merrifield.’  Once I had Dex out on the West Coast, I thought, ‘Well, I gotta do a Danvilles tour out here,’ but the bass player had to get back soon for school or something. So he went back to the East Coast and I told him, ‘I got Dex out here,’ and he was interested in doing a mini-tour.  We did it with Semi-Sweet, and through that I met more bands.  Then as I traveled more and more, I met more bands, and over the last couple of years we ended up signing a lot of bands.

How many bands are signed to Merrifield Records now?

It something close to 50, and they are different levels.  They’re all over the country, and a lot are in Virginia, Santa Barbara, a few in Costa Mesa, plus a couple East Coast.  Then there are a couple projects I’m still trying to get going, which I’ll sign once they have something.  There are about 40 that I want to eventually sign.  We’re also signing visual artists, filmmakers, videographers, and trying to get a couple writers.

Sounds like a good group you’re forming.

Yeah, what to do with it I haven’t quite decided.

That was my next question.  What’s to come in the future?

Yeah yeah.  I want to start a movie production house so that eventually, all of our movies will use Merrifield music.  But to do that, I have to get investors, and I have to think about that.  That’s a separate company, but I feel like that’s something I can set up.  The music for Merrifield Records, I can’t decide how to set it up yet because there’s no telling what is going to happen with the industry just yet.  I don’t want to rush into anything because there’s nothing to rush into.  So right now I’m just trying to get all the bands as far along as possible.  We have some really good ones.  Everyone I signed was a friend, or a friend of a friend, almost completely, and from that we ended up with some really really awesome bands.  It’s interesting to see what will happen and what bands will get signed.  No one signs to Merrifield.  As we build it, I want to preferably keep it so that no one has to sign.  I can’t tell what’s going to happen.  I’d rather not get any investors ‘cause then nothing has to come from the bands.  Eventually, we will need to get investors, but I want to be setup and bring as much to the table so that as much can be kept for the bands as possible.  So really I’m just trying to make a home for my own bands so that I can concentrate on enjoying life and playing music, and not having to deal with the business stuff.  Not that I have to deal with that much with The Bravery, but for my own bands, I have to figure stuff out.

You work in video as well, right?

Yeah, I want to be a filmmaker, I think.  I keep going in and out of it.  It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it.  I did a short-film program at NYU—it was a three-month program in their adult-school.  I really liked it, so I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go to film-school,’ but it’s so much work for so little assurance of a good job.  And, everyone will tell you, if you wanna make a movie, just do it yourself.  Still, the amount of work to make it was a lot and I was like, ‘I don’t want to deal with all this.’  But, it seems like technology is getting better, and when technology is better, maybe I’ll start again.  Then I was in The Bravery and we had different people following us around, and I was like, ‘Man it’s pretty awesome what has happened with all of this technology.  And then I asked one of the business heads of our record label if I could have a camera and he said alright, he’d get me a camera.  Then I asked the A&R guy to buy me Final Cut, so he got me Final Cut.  At first I made little Bravery videos of touring and things.  I got a free introduction to it, and then I read all the Final Cut books.  They had these workbooks to learn Apple transitions.  So I just started doing it, and it was something I could just sit in my bunk and work on.  I was listening to the Growlers a lot of the time and I used their music sometimes.  I think I had like four videos using their stuff.

How did you select Merrifield Records as the name?

I was trying to think of a band name for The Danvilles.  I was driving around and there’s a city right there.  I grew up in Falls Church, and nearby there’s this area called Merrifield.  It’s where the movie theater is and Taco Bell and all that stuff. All the bands that were on it were started were right by it.  I was driving one night, and someone had told me to start looking at signs, so I was looking at signs and saw Merrifield.  That’s how I got The Danvilles too, from a street sign.

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