What is your name and role within Happy Abandon?
PV: My name is Peter, I am the singer, guitarist, and songwriter for Happy Abandon.
JE: I’m Justin, and I play bass in the band.
How did you start?
PV: The band started after I graduated from college, around the end of 2014. A previous band of mine had broken up, and though I was finding plenty of other projects to play with, I had no outlet of my own. I began to write about where I was at that time. I was looking at big picture ideas, and tried to express them as best I could through my music. I spent a lot of time in my hometown of Washington, D.C. writing when I didn’t have anywhere to go in North Carolina. Eventually I put together a good set of songs, and Jake (Waits, drummer) and I were able to play as a two piece before getting Alex (Thompson, keyboards) and Justin (Ellis, bass) involved. Now Alex is off doing incredible things in theatre, and we are continuing to tour as a three piece.
Where are you based?
PV: The band is based out of Carrboro, North Carolina, which is a small town right next to Chapel Hill. We were all at one point or another students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Please give an example of your music writing process?
PV: I was told once that one of the greatest creative tools we have as artists is boredom. Allowing your brain to just think without any consequences or expectations can really bring out some interesting ideas and interesting ways to communicate them. So to begin I try and put away anything distracting. I write in a notebook instead of a laptop just in case Reddit accidentally pops up and I get lost in a rabbit hole of useless information. I try to change my environment regularly to give myself different perspectives on what’s around me. I keep my instrument close by so that if something strikes I can make sure I have something for my hands to do. And I try to write the songs in a way so that I could play them on my own if I wanted to. I try to cover all the different frequencies, from the low foundational notes, to the higher melodies. After I get a rough idea of structure and content for the song, I bring it to the band. Either I record a rough demo or I’ll play it for them during a rehearsal. Either way, I show them different ideas, and we just jam on them. At first it can be a little messy, but eventually things naturally begin to fall into a nice pocket. I make sure to encourage everyone to listen to each other, as well as what they are playing. What can we do to make the song more powerful, more engaging, and how can we convey a mood that matches that of the lyrics. It seems like a lot for one song, but it’s really not. If you are allowing yourself the opportunity to write, then a song will get written. I know so many people who never finish a song because they don’t allow themselves to. They thing the song is stupid or too predictable. But how can you judge that if the song isn’t finished yet? My biggest advice for songwriters is to just finish the song. Finish it. Whether you like it or not, you will become a better songwriter if you learn to finish a song. It’s the hardest part, but it is so important. You don’t ever have to play it again, but at least you completed it.
What are you working on right now?
JE: We’ve just finished making our first record, which will come out in late August. In anticipation of that, we’ll be touring a bunch. We’ll be doing 10 days on the East coast of the United States later this month, twenty days around Ireland, The UK, France, and the Netherlands this July, and we’re putting together a 40-date tour of the American West Coast this September through October. This is almost entirely new territory for our band, and other than a few shows in Canada, none of us have ever played music outside of the US. We’re really excited.
What is your gear setup?
JE: Our gear setup is surprisingly minimal. One drumset, one bass amp, one guitar amp, and that’s it on a surface level. However, Jake and I sing harmony to Peter quite often, and we use backing tracks for strings, brass, and keyboards to help beef up the sound – but sometimes we’re not able to use them, and we just play as a power trio. They’re not a crutch. Peter and I use vocal processors, delay, reverb, and distortion pedals to make our voices and instruments sound larger at times, and Jake plays the drums like he’s two people. But because we don’t rely on specific gear to make any of this happen (save for Jake’s laptop for the backing tracks), it’s allowed us to tour without worrying about whether we can fit our amps in the van or no – we just borrow from friends or other bands anywhere we go. When we do bring our gear places, the brands we use include Gretsch, Fender, Blackstar, Line 6, TC Electronic, Boss, Red Witch, Electro-Harmonix, Yamaha, and Zildjian.
What do you like to do outside of music and does it affect your music?
PV: I work a lot. It’s the unfortunate truth of these creative endevors, but surprise surprise, we don’t get paid that much. So I make sure I have a nice little nest egg for when we go on tour. I also read a lot when I’m not working, and I’ve recently become transfixed with Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve always enjoyed the fantasy genre, but only recently have I had the opportunity to play this tabletop game. I didn’t realize how many of my friends and other people in town were interested in the game, so I’ve tried my best to bring together people to share in the collaborative story telling. Justin hates it though…
How would you describe your music genre?
JE: To me, Happy Abandon is at it’s core a rock power-trio. But instead of a classic rock or blues-rock foundation, I feel the band’s sound comes from a folk element – which you can hear in Peter’s fingerpicking style or the way the songs are structured, or even how the harmonies work. In addition, we’ve all studied and performed theater, or played in orchestras, marching bands, sung in choirs or a cappella groups growing up, so things like dynamics, larger-than-life arrangements, and the “show” factor of live performance is extremely important to us. But when I send booking emails, I just call it “orchestral indie-rock”. Artists people have compared us to after seeing us live include Fleet Foxes, Local Natives, Band of Horses, Jeff Buckley, Alt J, and Queen, so I feel we’re doing something right.
Do you know any music theory?
PV: Any music theory that I know would just be through observation. I’ve never taken a music theory class. I’ve never actually had any formal training in music. I did take vocal lessons for a semester of college, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. I find it very interesting, and I can get by well enough. But when I write, I don’t think about how the notes theoretically relate to each other. I’m more interested in the sounds they make. I guess it’s the same thing, just different perspectives.
JE: Jake, Alex, and I all formally studied music at UNC, and it especially comes in handy when we figure out our harmonies or when Alex writes out the arrangements for our string players. We typically concern ourselves on how the music makes us feel rather than why it works on a theoretical level – but luckily, it usually does.
What are your plans for the future?
PV: I personally have no idea. I’m just riding this wave and hopefully I’ll be happy where I end up.
JE: Echoing Peter on this – it’s a very exciting but uncharted time in the band’s life. All we can do is tour and make ourselves available for whatever opportunities may open up to us once our album is released. We’re ready – or at least as ready as we can be!
How did you get into music?
PV: Both of my parents listened to a lot music when I was a kid. My dad was into The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, and The Clash. My mom introduced me to Rush, Heart, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, I could go on. I think being introduced to these bands when I was younger gave me a good idea of how interesting music could be outside of what was being played on the radio. When I was in middle school I had friends in high school who would make me mix CDs. That’s when I started getting into some of my favorites, like Belle and Sebastian, Sufjuan Stevens, and Elliot Smith. I started playing guitar when I was just a kid, and began writing pretty quickly after I picked up the foundations of how to play. From then I never stopped. Here I am, in my mid 20s, still writing songs on my bed.
What are you listening to at the moment?
PV: I’ve been really digging the new Alex G. album, always a fan of Bully, Courtney Barnett, And The Kids. I’m loving the new Kendrick album. There’s so much out there it’s hard to keep track of.
JE: I’ve been spinning the new albums from Alt J, Fleet Foxes, Perfume Genius, and Phoenix a bunch. I’ve been on a kick rediscovering “Torches” by Foster The People, “So Long, See You Tomorrow” by Bombay Bicycle Club, and of course the new Sgt. Pepper’s remix. Jake’s been listening to a lot of Twenty One Pilots and Pinegrove lately.
Who are your top 5 influences and icons?
PV: Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Conor Oberst.
When are you playing next?
JE: We’re playing often and all over the place. This is what’s happening for sure so far.
Fri. 6/16 – Boone Mills, VA – Hammer and Forge Brewing
Sat. 6/17 – New York City – Sofar Sounds
Sun. 6/18 – New York City – Pianos
Mon. 6/19 – Brooklyn – Pine Box Rock Shop
Tues. 6/20 – Highlands, NJ – The Chubby Pickle
Weds. 6/21 – Philadelphia, PA – The Pharmacy
Thurs. 6/22 – Richmond, VA – Gallery 5
Sat. 6/24 – Atlanta, GA – Rowdy Dowdy
Fri. 6/30 – Washington, DC – Gypsy Sally’s
Thurs. 7/6 – Dublin, IR – The Workman’s Dublin
Sat. 7/8 – Dublin, IR – The Odessa Club
Thurs. 7/13 – Cork, IR – Coughlan’s
Sat. 7/15 – London, UK – Into The Wild Festival
Sun. 7/16 – London, UK – The Lexington
Thurs. 8/3 – Charlotte, NC – Petra’s
Wed 8/9 – Athens, GA – 40 Watt Club
Wed. 8/23 – Charlotte, NC – Sofar Charlotte
Thurs. 9/7 – Sun. 9/10 – Raleigh, NC – Hopscotch Music Festival
Sat. 10/7 – Los Angeles, CA – Hotel Cafe
Please feel free to include any extra info.
Here’s a recent video we did through the City of Raleigh, which gives a better idea of what our live show is about.