Whether it's a job interview or a first date, dealing with the anxieties related to manifesting the best version of yourself can feel like taxing labor.
For the Grand Rapids-based quintette, The American Hotel System, it's a crucial way of thinking about what remains unspoken, related to social anxiety, and what needs to be said in order to produce a more hopeful future.
Through lush anecdotes of self-improvement, this Michigan band does precisely that with their newest music.
On the introductory track off their latest record, 'Postcards,' The American Hotel System ruminates over the romantic and elegist-like introspections associated with feeling like a victim upon realizing your own self-awareness, "no I can't make an excuse, when I'm a victim of truth," before the blues-mirroring electric guitar slides into a salacious solo to drive the subject home.
The easy-listening sonics all work in tandem to emphasizing the hooking lines that come next: "the truth is such a funny thing, they say it sets you free, I've used it as a weapon, in selfish irony." Frolicking with the sentimental connotations of the title, 'Always Greener,' which winks at the idea of getting behind your own truth for a better shot at happiness, sounds melancholic, fleshy, and convivial at the same time.
Narrated with the plasticity of an elegist behind the microphone, The American Hotel System seems to be hinting that the grass is always greener on the other side when you end up being honest with yourself, to dive deep into your own 'truths,' while the warm texturized sonics of each band member's instrument softly corral your emotions to front and center.
Reinvigorated after a year spent formulating folk and blues distilled orchestration in the studio, The American Hotel System calculatingly marshals remedial and poetic stanzas throughout their string garnished extended play. "I wish I could change where my soul has been, I'm running out of the past, as the world's last light spins," they sing, recalling and ruminating over a feeling they desperately desire on "The Feeling."
The outcome is a melodious song that dances amid cultural detachments and alarming vulnerabilities, amalgamating into a more soft-spoken and folkier tone than the blistering rock orchestrations of their 2018 and 2019 Extended Plays.
In this way, 'Postcards' feels more regulated by the contemporary folk influences of bands like Big Thief and City and Color, utilizing a texturized vocal tone to chaperone profound narratives over folky, blues-mirroring orchestrations endowed with: blithe acoustic guitars, earthy drums, warm bass-lines, infatuating string arrangments, and the occasional harmonica. While the bands' songwriting might not be filled with the same hot-blooded criterion of their previous work, their newest sensory experience projects flashes of melancholy and self-renovation with magnetizing topics surrounding growth, the eminent tomorrow, and real communal synergy.
On their past EP's, The American Hotel System tantalized at the emotional spectrum of their acoustics, only giving audiences a taste occasionally, like on 2019's heartfelt 'Home'—and 'Postcards' expands on that concept more on their latest record, with 'Another Road (Home Pt. 2),' which unsurprisingly, fits on this record like a tailor-made glove.
It's a highlighting track, saving the best of this band's repertoire for a powerful obi of the most inherent moments of bliss encircling the places we call home. The band confers a less subdued version of the somber, raw acoustic ballad from 2019 and evokes their most frivolous impressions of hope through their folk instrumentation, as the lithe harmonics of their gently plucked apparatuses dissolve back into the fleshy, atmospheric voids from which they came.
It's these cohesive and self-reflective detachments that hoist 'Postcards' to a brand-new level: the vulnerability of 'Nothing is New' when the band confesses, "living for more is my prayer, cause nothing is new" or the compact, fervent push of "The Poison," a song about being humble and meek, regardless of cultural interjections, and social ques.
'Postcards' continually invites listeners to dive deeper within themselves, and through the guidance of clinical narratives touching on issues related to the present's personal and cultural strains, the experience behind their latest catalog feels like a well-needed mediative getaway.
Learn more about The American Hotel System's latest EP, 'Postcards' here.
Can you run us through how you managed to compile the songs you've featured on 'Postcards' after your original plans of releasing an LP were detoured due to the on-going pandemic?
Jacob: This year was set up to be our biggest and busiest yet. We had already begun production on our next full-length record and we’re gearing up to release the first single (‘Loyalty’). Michigan began a stay-at-home order in mid-March and we quickly realized our year was going to be turned upside down. By April we had canceled a total of 26 show dates, including a 12 date regional tour. We found ourselves stuck in our homes, totally isolated from one another.
I started hosting Zoom calls where I’d send an open invite link to the band so we could chat and have some sense of community. One day, C.T. and I were going through some song ideas and I pulled out a poem written by my friend Caleb. After 10 minutes or so, we had written what became ‘Another Road’. I hung up and recorded my parts, then sent the tracks over for C.T. To record his. Two days later and I received the mix back from our engineer Zach...and this began ‘The Postcard Series’! Each of the four singles that released over the summer was written just 3-5 weeks before they were released.
What were some of the most profound emotions you found yourselves diving into during some of the performances you've captured on 'Postcards?' And are there any songs that jump out as incredibly profound in their ability to bring out those sentiments?
Jacob: The emotional turmoil of waking up, opening my newsfeed, and being met with seemingly endless chaos and despair left me feeling exhausted and bitter. The temptation towards bitterness and hate was stronger than ever. This is where ‘The Poison’ came out of. I’m really grateful for that track because it’s served as a daily reminder to myself to take my focus off of the brokenness and onto the hopeful.
How did you curate the flow of the playback behind 'Postcard'? What were the deciding factors behind the track order?
Jacob: I knew I wanted to open the EP with a spoken word piece and end it with ‘Nothing Is New’. My goal with the opening track (‘T.A.H.S (Isolation)’) was to weave the themes of each song together I to one narrative concept. ‘Always Greener’ seemed like a good, upbeat place to land as the first full song leading into the melancholy of ‘The Feeling’ — both representing a longing for what I can’t have. Then we explore the self-destructive coping mechanisms we can turn to when isolated, physical (‘Another Road’), and emotional (‘The Poison’) before finally settling into the peace of living for more than selfish desires and disparity (‘Nothing Is New’). As with any project, my goal is to weave a cohesive narrative that serves to convey a bigger message.
If you could give audiences a few words that would act as the prologue for the experience and the message behind 'Postcards," what would you feel the need to say and why?
Jacob: These songs are an attempt to navigate the anxieties of the ever-changing landscape of 2020. Further than that, ‘Postcards’ is a musical journey for those who feel isolated and alone — and it is my hope that those who listen and reflect on it will be encouraged to look towards the hope of tomorrow.
C.T.: For me, postcards is as much an “I miss you” to live shows and fans as it is a reminder of how resilient music and my love for it is. Everyone’s love for it. To go even further, it represents the resilience of the human race when faced with struggle, heartache, and pain. So for anyone who is going into a listen of ‘Postcards’, remember, you are resilient and we miss the heck out of you. Enjoy.
Hailey: The songs on this EP have served as an exploratory tool of contentment, loneliness, curiosity, and opportunity for growth; especially in the time of a global pandemic. I hope that ‘Postcards’ does the same for everyone who listens. These songs are an ode to what we miss and to what is to come.
Sam: Postcards, to me, is an attempt to sort out the jumbled mess of emotions we’ve felt this year. Through political turmoil, fear for our health, and several months of being forced apart. The songs hold much meaning to me in that they represent much of what we’ve seen each other go through or have experienced ourselves and it makes us cherish and treasure the moments we’re able to come back together and love each other in person again in a way that couldn’t be shown through text messages, the occasional video chat, or through a letter or postcard.
What's been a new Milestone you've set out for yourselves as a band this year? And how have you been inching closer to accomplishing those goals daily?
Jacob: While our original goal was to release another full-length record, that goal shifted into this; creating and releasing new music every month. ‘Postcards’ came out of that goal and we still have a few more things to drop for the last two months of the year. Personally, I’m writing every single day — some days it’s just a few lines, others it’s entirely arranged songs. Every new day’s challenges bring another opportunity to respond creatively.