There seems to be a bubble of creativity that exists around Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves of Southern California's HXXS. Their new album Valley Fever draws you in right away but never allows you to get too comfortable. There are poppy and danceable elements throughout but also a thread of something darker and less accessible. Be sure to listen to (buy) the album and keep an eye out for shows in your area. Thank you for the interview, HXXS!
The new album, Valley Fever, turned out so good! What are the circumstances around its creation? Did you record and mix the record yourselves?
Gavin: Yeah we recorded, mixed, produced and more or less mastered it ourselves. The first part of that question is a pretty loaded one for us.
Jeannie: Yeah one of the reasons Valley Fever came into being was out of necessity to establish who we are sonically.
Gavin: We really wanted to give people access to where we are at artistically, what we want to make and a point to look back at as we grow. Like a sonic mile marker. It was also just from direct experience living near LA and in the desert. It's such a weird space and weird living. Things are so strange out here. Valley Fever is the dark side of the California experience, the stuff white suburbia tries to hide. I would advise googling valley fever.
How did you meet and start making music together? Were your influences and direction pretty much aligned from the start or are you drawing from a lot of different areas?
Gavin: We met in downtown Portland (OR). Jeannie was working and I was busking, and I sang some dumb Rolling Stones song to her.
Jeannie: We started making music together a few months before we moved from Portland. We were both at a weird point in our lives and Gavin had been trying to get me to sing on a few tracks he had been working on.
Gavin: Yeah, I was pretty insistent. We had a house out in St. Johns and I was using the garage as a hub to experiment with recording and production and started to move away from traditional rock/guitar stuff. That's where it really started and just continued to unfold from there as life threw us curveballs. Being in a relationship before making art together means we had a lot of time to learn what makes each other tick. So I think in that sense, whether we knew it or not our direction and influences were aligned from the start. I mean I think that.
Jeannie: Yeah, I also think that we draw from different areas as well, like everything felt very aligned from the start but we also have things separately from our own paths that influence us that the other simply could not really know. So in that sense I think its a combination of both.
It seems like all of the tracks have a kick drum at the core of the beat. Is that usually a starting point?
Gavin: Yeah, we definitely build from the drums up. At least I like to start there. That's like my most common foundation. I love rhythm, even simple rhythm so its important to me to start there.
Jeannie: Yeah, its where we both like to start because we both love rhythm and recognize that the music we love shares that. It also make the times that we don't start with drums more challenging and sweeter to finish.
How do you go about producing new material for HXXS? Do you bounce ideas back and forth as you go?
Jeannie: We're constantly producing new material. Whether its recording or performing live. Ripping them apart, rebuilding them. We've probably played some of these songs 20 different ways in the last two years but someone would think its just another song. We bounce all of our ideas back and forth and make a very collaborative effort to get to where we're feeling with tracks, together.
Gavin: We never really stop producing new material. We're really restless with it. I don't sleep at all because my head is always buzzing with arrangements or production ideas. I bounce a lot of my ideas off Jeannie and whittle them down to how she reacts to different things. And I'd actually say she does the same with me. A good amount of material we start with is tracks that never saw the light of day in my previous projects. But I never wanted it to be "oh I wrote these songs", I wanted to deconstruct and construct ideas together with someone to see where they end up going.
Do you feel like you have to finish projects from the past and push them to their full potential? Is there ever a point when old projects expire and you don't want to use them any more?
Jeannie: I don't think they ever expire. Eventually they just take a new shape or become something different. I mean, we always push to finish past projects but we don't feel like we have to finish them. At least I don't.
Gavin: I think I feel like we have to. If an idea goes untouched for too long its starts to affect what we're working on. Like some piece of an old song will work its way into a new track because it was never resolved and I'll have a crisis as to whether I want to scrap the old project for the new one just because of that one defining piece or keep the old piece and completely re-imagine it. So I'm always driven to finish old material first. I cant say old projects expire because there will always be something to them that if they don't get finished initially they gestate the longer they're left dormant. Which is always an interesting thing.
In my own creative projects there are a lot of ups and down and occasionally I crash pretty hard and fall apart emotionally. Do either of you go though this at all or are you both pretty level headed throughout?
Gavin: Haha, there's a lot of peaks and valleys in it. I think the crash is something special to draw from too so I try to absorb as much as I can from the process even if its emotionally taxing.
Jeannie: Yeah we definitely go through that. Like we mentioned we go through several different versions of songs before we reach a final so I think we're really stubborn about it too. We see everything through 'til its done even if there is a period of time where we hate everything and hate ourselves, we just push through. I think its challenging but I think the reward of getting through these emotionally challenging things is important to our music and it teaches me control. Its therapeutic in a way for my mental health so we never let ourselves give in.
Are you both writing lyrics? Do you have notebooks of lyrics to draw from or do they form around the music?
Jeannie: We have a ton of notebooks, we'll attach a picture.
For a lot of writers lyrics can be pretty personal and maybe less collaborative than other aspects of a band. Do you work on lyrics for the same song together or is it one or the other?
Gavin: I'd say its both. We both have different personal experiences that intersect, so its only natural that we dissect and work together.
Jeannie: It's definitely personal but we experience a lot of things together and recognize what the other goes through. So its hard to say that we write lyrics independently from each other.
Gavin: Older tracks that existed before HXXS are about the only example of lyrics being written independent from each other, but we still approach that as an editorial force together.
When I've seen HXXS live I thought it was interesting that you did not face the crowd a lot. It seems to create a greater divide between the performer and audience but also gives the impression that you are not "performing" for anyone. Is this a conscious approach or is it just because you have to face your gear a lot?
Jeannie: I think it's both, being honest. A lot of the times I do think, I'm not performing for anyone. I can't tell you how many dudes come up to me after a set and tell me specifically to face the crowd and it's like "fuck you dude, you get up there then. Ill do whatever the fuck I want, this is my thing". I had a man come up to me so entitled and say something along the lines of "how dare you play with your back to me". Fucking gross dude, get a life. Anyway, the way we perform is always changing too so I really think its a combination of both.
Gavin: It was never about facing gear for me unless the stage room demanded us to set up a certain way. I always loved live performances by the Talking Heads where David Byrne didn't face the audience. Same with Jim Morrison. I like something about it. I always have a specific thought since we're at the bottom of the food chain so to speak, that I'm a nobody. Y'all aren't here to see me or her necessarily but listen to new music at the core of it. Hang with friends and have an experience more or less. I don't know, I definitely think its situational.
It seems like every other show I see someone is being disruptive or confrontational. Any other characters out there that come to mind? How do you deal with it when it happens?
Jeannie: The most common things I'm confronted about at shows is drunk dudes asking if I'm "the merch girl", "a vocalist?" Or just drunk dudes in my personal space. It happens to me a lot. I don't know if its confrontational, but there are plenty of assumptions that are just baseless and unwarranted I guess.
Gavin: I cant keep track anymore, sometimes I wonder like, do we attract this or something? I have a different perspective. I also get a lot of rock/guitar traditionalists who make it a point to make sure you know they don't think what you're doing is music. I have a lot of push/pull relationships with sound guys. Sometimes shows are just a mess. They're incredible, but doing everything independently you run into a lot of messy situations. There was a show in New Orleans where this drunk old white guy who insisted it was a tragedy that he had to put his toy cars with confederate flags on them into storage boxes and that propane was safe to inhale, asserted himself onstage before the opener so he could play an actually good rendition of Madonna's "Into The Groove".
You guys are hitting the road right? What are your plans?
Jeannie: Yes! We're hitting the road in June, the plan is coast to coast until about September. But who knows, it's tour. We're also planning and booking through our own network and friends so we will see what happens.
I had to laugh when I saw a picture of the all the gear in your van. It looks really well organized in one crate but there is definitely a sacrifice of sleeping space. Are you cut off from buying new synths for a while?
Gavin: Nothing can stop us from finding gear. Except for money I guess. We have enough sleeping space for the both of us.
Jeannie: Honestly we can never really afford to buy synths anyway sooo.....
What gear would you both buy if you had unlimited funds?
Jeannie: I don't know where to start if I had unlimited funds. I really like Arturia's new Drumbrute. Id like to get a violin pick up to be able to track live strings. Maybe a MIDI violin. A guitar, probably a Fender Duo-Sonic like Gavin's old one. A new looper because ours is dying a slow death. Definitely want that new Critter & Guitari visual synth. There's a lot of things. Its overwhelming.
Gavin: Wow, unlimited funds. Um, right now I have my eye on a modular rack unit that I have a specific use in mind but I don't want to get into details 'cause no one is really using modular for that use right now. At least I don't think so. Id really like that new compact mini mellotron being released this year. An MPC500 and an Elektron Rytm or Octotrack would be really tite as well.
It seems like now more than ever there are a lot of really interesting self released albums out there. It is obvious in the result of Valley Fever that you guys are really talented and put so much into your work. Do you think that people are putting enough effort into discovering new artists?
Jeannie: I don't even put enough effort in! It's so overwhelming. There is so much new music right now it's hard to fault anyone for not trying hard enough.
Gavin: At the same time, I feel like you have a group of friends who you share music with that shares music/art/influence with others and everything travels along its own path so I think in some sense not a lot of effort is needed. I also think human emotion and all its personal necessities play a part in "discovering" art and music especially as a medium. So its hard to chart what is the "trending" way people discover music coming out. So sometimes it fucks me up thinking about commercializing peoples emotions. Because who the f knows how people discover something.
Will there be a break from writing new music for a while to play these songs live? Any plans for the next project?
Gavin: No we don't have a break right now. Even when we're performing something could happen in a song that will be later saved for a future song. We have a few projects already finished hopefully coming out soon with some well known people and have stuff planned to possibly work on with some friends while we're on the road so we have a lot of work in sight. But we will be playing all of this on the tour coming up as well as unreleased stuff.
Where can people pick up a copy of Valley Fever? Will there be a physical release?
Yes, you can currently pick up a digital copy of Valley Fever on our bandcamp wearehxxs.bandcamp.com or at our website wearehxxs.com. For the time being physicals will be available through us in the form of Cassette and CD while we're on tour. Any updates will follow about where physicals can be picked up.