Towards the end of last year, and with everyone turning their attention to end of year lists, a real unpolished gem by Portland, Oregon’s Hemingway snuck out, courtesy of 6131 Records.
Recalling the 90’s alternative rock of Knapsack, the driving punk of Samiam or the textured post-hardcore of Texas Is The Reason, ‘Pretend to Care’ has numerous reference points but still remains forward looking. That it is a debut is astonishing, and means Hemingway are genuine ones to watch in 2015. Already Heard sat down with singer/guitarist Ben Ward to get the lowdown.
AH: First off, could we get a little background to Hemingway?
BW: Sure. I started the band with a good friend, who I actually live with right now. We knew each other from High School and we both moved to Portland, Oregon, and we just wanted to start playing music. So he hopped on the drums and I hopped on the guitar and we started covering Alkaline Trio and some other bands, and then we thought we should start writing music – and then we formed Hemingway.
AH: Was it a big decision to move to Portland – and was it a big move, or was it like just moving to the next town?
BW: Yeah, it was quite big. Compared to Southern California, it’s a completely different world. But we did it at different times – we both moved here for school and it just worked out that way. We didn’t plan it together, it just happened.
AH: So, ‘Pretend to Care’ came out last year…
BW: yeah, October.
AH: So before we get into the music, what’s the deal with the artwork? The artwork on the record is different to the artwork when I stuck it onto iTunes…
BW: Yeah, so when we were finished with it and had it ready to show people, we had no interaction with 6131, so we were just doing it on our own and not even a month after we put it up on our bandcamp, they said ‘Hey, we wanna put out this record’, so we took it down as soon as we figured out that that’s what we wanted to do with them, and the album artwork was just some iPhone photo – we weren’t particularly attached to it – so we changed it.
AH: What was the response like in that one month period? Did you expect a label to come in so soon, or was it very much just wait and see?
BW: That was definitely the overall goal. We wanted to show as many people as we could. We did a small tour – and that was what actually got 6131’s attention – and at first, I mean there wasn’t an overwhelming reaction, but we were pretty pleased. It wasn’t a big deal to me, I was just happy to be playing music, but when we heard 6131 were interested it was definitely a good feeling to know what we were doing was working and that it was getting a good reaction. And ever since then, it has improved and the word is beginning to spread about our band, which is pretty cool. I’ve been very satisfied with how it’s going so far.
AH: The thing is, there’s so many amazing bands out there it is often the case of just trying to hit the right set of ears to get things to snowball…
BW: Totally. I mean, with 6131, we literally just had an email from this really cool guy, Sean, saying ‘have you done anything with this album, because we’re really interested and we’d like to do something with you guys’. That was amazing. I’ve known about that label since I was in high school and I’m into a lot of the bands on the label.
AH: It does sound very much like a 6131 record. It’s not a million miles away from the last Dads record and it certainly sits nicely next to Better Off. Like kindred spirits…
BW: Thank you.
AH: In terms of Portland, I think back to a lot of the bands that I really like and I think of The Thermals and The Decemberists, and it’s this crazy, diverse music scene…
BW: it’s definitely an interesting scene. I was just talking with a friend the other day about the best Portland band, and thinking within our scene, The Thermals did come up, and there’s some great smaller bands that are coming up here, but my favourite band would be Tragedy. They’re this hardcore band – we sound nothing like them of course! But yeah, it’s really diverse. It can feel quite small – it’s not like Seattle or Los Angeles, but it’s pretty special in its own way.
AH: With regard to touring, are you focused on just that area at the moment, or are you planning on getting out of the region a bit more?
BW: We’re definitely trying to do things in the region. Like we’ve just gone to Seattle and Washington. But not so much Oregon as there’s only a few places to really play. But I wanna get out there. We’ve done the West Coast three times now – and we’ve got the fourth time lined up – but after that we’d like to do a full US tour. Get over to the East Coast, see some of the Mid West cities – that would be really cool.
I feel like, with every tour we do on the West Coast we’re getting more attention. But say on the last tour, there was a lot of the same people there I noticed – which is great – so it would be nice to spread our wings a little and see how other people react to us.
AH: OK, so onto ‘Pretend to Care’ – when I listened through the album the first couple of times, I was genuinely surprised at how much it sounds like it could have come straight out of the 90s. Like there’s nods to Samiam and Texas is the Reason and Knapsack and maybe The Jealous Sound…
BW: I’m glad people are getting that, as it is what we were going for. It’s cool, but then you do wonder if you did it too much or if it’s a total rip off [laughs]. But you know, it’s always really cool when people come up to us after shows and say “That sounded a bit like The Jealous Sound.” I reckon I listened to that album a lot when I was writing this. Or “wow, that really sounded like Jawbreaker.”
AH: But, say if you listen to Saves The Day’s‘Through Being Cool’, that record is phenomenal. We listened to that album a lot when it came out while we were at university – but you go back to ‘Can’t Slow Down’, and even though Lifetime’s all over that record, you can still see that there’s this huge potential for this band to go on and do something great – and I definitely get the same sort of vibe about ‘Pretend to Care’.
BW: Thank you – I’m hoping for the same thing! We’re currently writing some new stuff, and I have to say that I think we’re coming into our own a little more. It’s a little different, and it’s a slightly different sound – but I’m really stoked for it.
‘Pretend to Care’ by Hemingway is out now on 6131 Records.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair) Photo Credit: Olivia Jane