Ex-Ganglians member Kyle Hoover on the first album from his new group, Tiaras
All eras are defined by the fact that, eventually, they will end. There can be no Summer of Love Without a Winter of Discontent; no Woodstock without an Altamont; no old guard without a new wave; no lo-fi renaissance without a hi-fi takeover. Tiaras, a San Francisco rock outfit forged from the remnants of other groups (Blasted Canyons, Fine Steps, Sacramento’s own Ganglians), is starting the year by releasing a full-length illustration of this principle. The self-titled debut album, out Jan. 14, 2015, is a clear step away from the modes and methods characterizing the earlier work of its musicians. Where Ganglians once stood for a wild, heat-shimmery psych pop indebted to bands of the ‘60s, Tiaras glides—not leaps—further into music history (say, about two decades), emerging into a clearer, moodier intersection of mid-‘80s jangle-pop and new wave. Whatever the eras and styles that reverberate in Tiaras’ music, a few things are clear: their melodies are strong, their production is crisp and Tiaras may be one of the first great rock albums of 2015.
To get a deeper insight into the new record and its prehistory, we dialed up guitarist Kyle Hoover, who was spending his weekend hanging out in the illustrious Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. When considering the changes his band has been through, I wondered beforehand: how much of a hold does the past still have on that place? Does the feverish, acid-drenched zeitgeist of yesteryear still contain a slight hold on the City by the Bay? As numerous other bands from the local scene begin to decamp for other horizons, we can tell a lot about the current landscape from the musicians who have opted to stay. The music of Tiaras, for one, seems well suited to its locale. While traversing the bittersweet highs and lows of standout track “In the Room,” you can imagine the swift changes of elevation and climate one comes across while traveling through the city: the top of a tower, the bottom of a hill; burning sunshine and bone-chilling fog crowding into a single moment.
You’ve mentioned before that you’ve been living in the Excelsior area of San Francisco, how it’s fertile creative ground, but a lot of the old guard are moving south for greener pastures. What’s your point of view on these changes?
I’d say the curtains have been drawn back a little bit. I was joking around with my bandmates about the “endless summer of lo-fi ‘09.” It was this big thing—lo-fi garage, it was huge, it was everywhere. I mean, we were part of that too back in the day, but, I mean, me personally, I got over backing that stuff pretty quickly, and that’s part of the reason for the change. There’s definitely a message that we wanted to send going forward with Tiaras, like, “Alright, we live in San Francisco. We used to be kind of a garage band. Now let’s do something different.” A little more solemn, little more pop-oriented. We just wanted to do something different, and lo and behold, a year later, after the record finally comes out, there’s a bunch of other bands who are sort of shying away from that [lo-fi] scene as well.
A lot of my friends moved away—that’s just how it is. It’s super hard to live in the city. But it’s not the end of the world, there’s still cool stuff. I think if anything, it’s for the better that the garage thing has kind of faded a bit from the spotlight in San Francisco. More room to breed different genres.
The genre shift—going to the hi-fi sound, concentrating on the pop melodies—did you have anything to model yourselves on?
With this record, we definitely wanted to make it sound as good as possible. I’m a fan of using the best of both worlds—digital recording is super convenient and makes for a much less stressful recording environment; however, going analog is beneficial for different sounds. You can have the best of both worlds and get really experimental. With Ganglians, we were always trying to be hi-fi; it just always sounded lo-fi because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing. But the idea was always to try and sound as good as possible. Genre-wise, the shifts…we just started listening to different stuff. I knew Ryan [frontman for Ganglians, Tiaras] in ‘08, and we were like, “Dude! Pet Sounds!” And the influence of that album is super evident in Ganglians. For the new record, Ryan and I were getting into a lot of weird, obscure ‘80s music, along with the rest of the world, apparently—but I guess that’s just how it goes. We just wanted to disassociate ourselves from our previous sound, which is hard because I still sound like me, and Ryan still sounds like himself. Now we have three other awesome dudes with their own take on things, and I think it works. People aren’t saying we sound like the Beach Boys anymore, so that’s fine.
When you say you all started listening to different stuff, was there anything in particular that you got excited about?
Ryan and I got really into Chrome, which was like this super weird, kind of avant-garde ‘80s rock thing. I don’t even know how to describe it. We’d heard about them from back in the day, but we started listening to them all the time. I personally started listening to a lot of Echo and the Bunnymen…just a lot of weird ‘80s stuff that I knew was good but that I’d never really taken the time to listen to. When the Cleaners from Venus record was reissued a few years ago, that was being played around our house 24/7. That was definitely a record I was super stoked about.
Was there a good deal of downtime between the dissolution of Ganglians and the recording for Tiaras?
Oh yeah, definitely. I think we stopped playing together after our last SXSW, which must have been the spring of 2011. Ryan moved to San Francisco, our drummer moved to Brooklyn, our bassist moved to Oakland and I was stuck in Elk Grove. I was living at my dad’s house for a good eight months until I finally saved up enough money to move in with Ryan in SF.
Did a lot of the ideas for the new group and album come out of that eight-month period?
That would be nice, but definitely not. That was more of like a—I don’t know, we were so worn out. I think at that point, we’d been on the road almost constantly for like a year and a half. We were starting to argue a lot, and it was kinda gnarly. So I was mostly just being miserable in Elk Grove, commuting to Davis with Alex’s [Ganglians drummer] mom every morning. That’s basically what I did. If anything was going on idea-wise during that period of time, it was with Ryan and Antonio in San Francisco while they were jamming together.
It seems collectively like you have decades of band experience—you’ve been in a lot of bands, you kind of know the drill. At this point, is it easier for you to tell when the chemistry is right, or when you’re ready to call it a day?
Yeah, I’d say so. This is probably only my third band, but this time, the songs came together easier. Ganglians was like a shitload of trial and error. That was kind of a turning period, because we were all new to what we were doing. With Tiaras, it was super easy to make things work. I’d say there was a year’s worth of time where we were learning to play with each other. And it wasn’t super natural at first, but now we all understand what we’re trying to do.
Playing TBD this past October was sort of a mini-Sacramento homecoming for you guys. How was the experience?
It was fun! It kind of felt like a Sacramento Burning Man or something. Everyone was walking around with scarves on their face and dust was everywhere. I definitely partied too hard, because I stayed there for the whole weekend. I think we were all hungover for like a week after that.
Finally, how do you feel about Tiaras as a group at this point?
When Tiaras first started, I had known Ryan pretty well from being in Ganglians. I’d known Antonio pretty darn well—I think I’ve known that guy since he was like 16—and I had just met Adam and our bassist Ryan Hansen, so I was getting to know them, and we were figuring out how to play together and what our sound should be like. Needless to say, we’re still fucking with our tone settings and our amps to figure out what sounds we have and stuff like that. But I feel like the songs are getting better, and we’re getting better at writing them.
See Tiaras live at Harlow’s in Sacramento on Feb. 10, 2015. Tiaras will be playing in support of The Dodos. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through Harlows.com. Doors open at 7 p.m.