Against interpretation

By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  June 12, 2007

What’s more, HtH balance words and music in a way that’s uncommon for bands with a literary bent. The Decemberists, for one, write cloying, over-clever lyrics that subordinate the music. “Sleeper Agent (Just Waking Up),” the first song on Collective Psychosis Begone, opens with the line “A test train rolls in at three in the morning.” Walsh slurs “morning” just enough to capture the solitude of the hour, and the draw of Bentley’s cello bow is an equal voice in the mood.

Neutral Milk Hotel are the band they’re most often compared with, and it’s an apt pairing. “It’s something in the air,” says Bentley, “the fanaticism of the music. They’re a really fanatic band, and we try to get that feeling across too.” It’s fast music for people who like slow, sad songs.

“We’re good at telling each other when elements are and aren’t working,” says Rutledge. That augurs well for their first East Coast/Midwest tour, as well as for their vow to put out 33 records before they’re done. “One album every few years is annoying,” says Walsh. “And I don’t want to be releasing albums when I’m 50,” says Meyer. “Really?” says Walsh, in a way that suggests he’s in it for the long haul.

That kind of collaboration on the sound doesn’t take place with the lyrics. “It’s one of the few things we don’t really touch,” says Rutledge. When writing, Walsh doesn’t over-analyze; interpretation comes later. He mentions how David Byrne wanted to write a “nonsense song” with “Burning Down the House” and felt he failed because of the response the song got. “That’s a beautiful story," Walsh says. "I think it’s pretty amazing that our subconscious, or the power of language itself, has the ability to trump our intentions.” A couple of days after our interview, Walsh sends an e-mail explaining that the title of the album had just become clear to him.

But on the eve of the album release, they’re thinking about how the band, the music, the lyrics get interpreted. DeLuca points to the closing song, “To All My Scientist Colleagues I Bid You Farewell,” and waxes indignant about how one writer misunderstood it. “It’s the most straightforward song! He got it wrong.” Walsh, Buddha-like, answers, “There is no wrong.” The song is a retirement speech. (“Surfing, making out — there’s enough young songs — this old guy from Plymouth, he needs an anthem,” says Walsh.) And it’s a sad song, a mix of pride and sadness and fear. The trumpet swells at the end and seems to march the man out of the banquet hall, the cafeteria, and into the rest of his life. It’s as triumphant as it is heartbreaking.

HALLELUJAH THE HILLS | June 16 | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | 617.734.4502

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