The solid, reliable, Michigan-hailing rock band, The American Hotel System, makes their highly anticipated return to the scene with a long-awaited 12-track sophomore album, 'Interrobang.'
One of our Top Ten Acts of 2019, we know and love The American Hotel System for their consistently conceptual tracks and versatile instrumentation. The five-piece prides itself on intentional musicality and heartfelt lyrics, and we're sure to get a generous dose of that on the recently released 12-track album, 'Interrobang,' which is said to explore "rhetoric through the lens of mid-century Americana and pulp," notes the band.
The American Hotel System explained that an interrobang is a combination of a question mark and exclamation point created in the 60s to slap at the end of quirky, corny, yet nostalgic rhetorical questions in advertisements. That tongue-in-cheek era is conceptually weaved into The American Hotel System's new record.
Beginning that venture, the album opens with the introductory track, "T.A.H.S (Interrobang)," perfectly reflecting the statement above right off the bat. The American Hotel System instantly transports us into an AM radio-like 50s-inspired acapella tune that sees the band in a deeply nostalgic advertisement that's bound to put a smile on anyone's face. This short but effective intro track was definitely the band's best way to start such a conceptual album.
Onto track number two, "111.7 WTST Presents Ameri-Dan (& Banner)," this is another minute-long intro-like track that gets even more conceptual. This time around, we introduce ourselves to the patriotic pair Ameri-Dan & Banner in a sort of super-hero-like radio show. When the star-spangled duo faces off against the Red Devil, a squealy Banner turns on Ameri-Dan, stabbing him in the back and declaring he takes on Red Devil alone. Will we find out what happens? "Tune into your same American channel and the same American time" to see—err, hear.
Track number three, "LOYALTY," is where the party begins. This song is all too familiar—we've had the chance to feature it once before prior to the album's release, but we're excited to see how it weaves into such a precise concept. This groovy and high-energy rock anthem also contains the most exciting instrumental transitions and making that experience all the more thrilling is Jacob Betts' familiar and gripping vocals. TAHS mentioned that the pandemic's setbacks allowed them to enhance the song's theme of lifting your neighbor during these difficult times.
Onto a track we've never heard before, "Second Hand," this song opens with a slow and tender acoustic guitar and soft white noise in the background. Jacob Betts' vocals are wildly dynamic; the track prior had him belting and ramping up the energy, but this song takes a far more reflective and emotional route. We get the feeling this song's theme might've been amplified by the pandemic, as Betts' warm vocals continue to sing of the second-hand sadness and the first-hand madness that washed the world these last few years.
The American Hotel System quickly takes us back in time with another minute-long transition piece that brings us into the heart of a swinging 50s rock concert with "Don't Believe Ya." While the crowd roars and the band channels all the surf rock elements they can, we get the feeling this track is preparing us for another conceptual news bulletin or advertisement within the coming pieces. Towards the song's end, the broadcaster reminds us that a very special act is coming up next, "so don't move that dial!"
But just before we get to that very special act, the album hits us with the "DMN News," where Dan Mack gives us the nightly rundown. He informs us that actor Glen Clarkson, known for his role as Ameri-Dan in 'Ameri-Dan & Banner,' was recently cast as Sheriff Holmes in the newly announced film 'Hotel Revolver.' Towards the end, we're met with your usual 50s advertisement that promotes Shades by Greener Pastures, helping you avoid conversation with people while hiding the shame and the pain.
Funny enough, the seventh track is dubbed "PAIN" and cranks open with a chilling and heavy rock instrumental right off the bat. This is another track we have yet to hear, but as soon as The American Hotel System blasts us with their thrilling and complex arrangements, we know we're in for a treat. This track is, of course, rather emotional (hence the name), but TAHS has this unique way of creating this sensation of cathartic release while driving the energy, groove, and rhythm to a high.
Reaching the eighth track, "Chains," we've also had the opportunity to feature this beautiful piece before, but it carries far more depth this time around when sitting in the midst of such a dynamic and conceptual album. This soothing soft-rock piece sings of focusing on the love that grounds us and keeps us stable, and when the world is at war, you know solace remains in the arms of someone dear. We love the beaming electric guitar solo that glitters and gleams with nothing but passion, perfectly adding a sense of sonic emotion.
The American Hotel System takes us into another concert, but this time with a heavier 60s early-psychedelic appeal. The performance is incredibly emotional and sings of wondering what life would be like in the 21st century. Towards the song's end, the broadcaster gives us the inside scoop about how the band we just heard isn't together, but past members have been seen talking outside the studio. This sparks many questions, like "how 'bout a ciabatta‽" Another humorous advertisement to close the piece.
In our last time around the story of Ameri-Dan & Banner, we hit play on "The Ameri-Dan Story Minute" with a radio jingle. The radio broadcaster introduces us to another Ameri-Dan story minute, where a child goes to inform his mom what he heard about Timmy Thompson. The mother asks him if he's applied the three sieves to what he's about to say. Is it truthful? Does it spread kindness? Is it necessary? She lets him know that if none of these are true, then let the story die.
A quick and high-energy transition leads us into track number eleven, "STORIES," a song we know all too well and urge you to hear. Not only did this song's theme ring true when we first heard it, but throughout the pandemic, it gained a whole new meaning. TAHS takes us through a mid-tempo yet dynamic rock composition that drenches us in soul and truth. While Betts belts his vocals and reminds us to let the stories die and put away conspiracy nonsense, The American Hotel System picks up the energy with a breathtakingly cinematic outro, leading us to the album's final track.
Hitting play on track number twelve, "Pretty Things," The American Hotel System offers this soul-soothing and gentle outro track, allowing us to recollect our thoughts and remember what we just experienced. This delicate piece also adds cinematic background strings to maintain that end-of-story feeling. Betts moves into a narrator delivery on the bridge to remind us that life's pretty things aren't what set us free; they're just temporary pleasures and echoes of nostalgia that we keep to convince ourselves we're at peace in such a chaotic world.
We're more than impressed with the deeply conceptual, dynamic, and relatable 12-track album The American Hotel System just introduced to us. If you're ever in the mood for some soul food, nostalgia, and gripping rock, find it in the new album, 'Interrobang,' now available on all digital streaming platforms.
Welcome back to BuzzMusic, The American Hotel System. We're thrilled to feature your long-awaited sophomore album finally, 'Interrobang.' What inspired your band to take this deeply nostalgic tongue-in-cheek route?
The origins of Interrobang can be traced back about six years ago to a 3 am conversation at a 24-hour coffee shop. A friend and I were working on assignments for a class together, and one of us pitched the idea of an album centered around a fictional narrative set in the 1950s or '60s. We had both recently taken a history of popular music class and thought it would be great to make a love letter to rock'n'roll baked in mid-century nostalgia. That idea evolved over the years to become the album we have today, a project dealing with themes of rhetoric, consumerism, and cultural commentary through the lens of satirical nostalgia.
Since a few songs from 'Interrobang' were created years ago, which song do you feel aged the best in terms of its lyrical concept?
"LOYALTY" was the first song written for the record, and those first verses were penned the day after our first EP was released in 2018. STORIES and Pretty Things are also two of the earliest tracks, the former of which evolved a great deal over the last few years. Despite having been released nearly two years ago, I really think LOYALTY still holds up and rings just as true today as it did when it was first released at the beginning of 2020. That track really captures the loud, rhetorical vibe we set out to capture.
What was the most challenging aspect of creating 'Interrobang?' Was it the many setbacks and delays from the pandemic?
We originally intended to release this album in the fall of 2020, but the pandemic forced us to delay the project several times. Many of our previous projects have flourished quite quickly in the production stages, but nearly every aspect of Interrobang felt like an uphill battle of struggles and challenges. In retrospect, I'm quite grateful that it took some extra time to bake because certain songs would either be drastically different or completely non-existent. Chains, for example, was written in the fall of 2020 in response to all of the chaos of the year. STORIES evolved quite drastically, and Pretty Things was originally just a spoken word. Without the last two years of delays, those tracks would simply not be the same.
What was it like creating those nostalgic advertisements and news bits for 'Interrobang?' What was that process like?
The narrative tracks and adverts were some of the most fun we've had in the studio. We've spent the last several years crafting a whole narrative and lore around 'DanMac Records,' 'LIVE! With Johnny St. John and all of the characters that pop up within those tracks. I have a notebook filled with pages of stories that we plan on continuing to craft and tie into future projects. Another fun aspect was crafting fictional artists and classic rock'n'roll versions of previously released tracks; 'Deaf Ears' became 'Don't Believe Ya' by Tye Lee & The Quarter Pockets, '21st' became 'I'm Letting Go' by The Republics, and we even have a Jerry Lee Lewis inspired version of our track 'Talk, Inc' that didn't make the album.
What do you hope the listener takes away from your conceptual new record, 'Interrobang?' What did you want them to experience?
After being bombarded by nostalgic advertisements for eleven tracks, the album ends with the song Pretty Things. There's a line in the bridge section that says:
"When the day is done, and the sunsets on me,
These pretty things aren't what set me free.
They're just echoes of nostalgia; news from a foreign land
The longing of discontentment for a peace I've never had."
The first eleven tracks of Interrobang are satirical commentary, but this final track realizes that all of the nostalgia that I seek isn't actually what I desire; it's the "thing behind the thing." I want people to walk away from Interrobang feeling introspective and freed from the cultural chains of pain, chaos, division, and consumerism.