Armed with smart, introspective lyrics that shine on both twee-tinged ballads and psychedelic freak-outs, Brooklyn’s Hospitality is the kind of band that can captivate a sleepy coffee shop before rocking a crowded club. Fronted by singer Amber Papini, who shuffles between keys and guitar, the group’s 2012 self-titled debut quickly garnered plenty of buzz. But while Papini’s sharp vocals are definitely a focal point for the band, multi-instrumentalist Nathan Michel, percussionist David Christian, and singing bassist Brian Betancourt add layers of slick instrumentation—jazzy drum beats, swirling guitar licks, and groovy bass lines—that linger long after the wordplay has stopped.
Hospitality released its second album, Trouble, back in February and are kicking off the first few dates of its month-long tour with D.C. rockers (and Merge labelmates) Ex Hex. Betancourt recently spoke to Arts Desk about branching out on the band’s latest record, mixing up arrangements on the road, and working day jobs. Catch Hospitality with Ex Hex tonight at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
WCP: How did Hospitality get together?
Betancourt:We had a few mutual friends in Brooklyn. When we first got together in 2007, Nathan was actually looking to start his own band with his own music. I was playing guitar and Amber was playing keyboards and eventually she started sharing her own songs with us. Months went by and it just naturally became more about her songs. We played New York as a trio for years before recording a four-track with our friend Paul. Things just developed from there.
Your second record, Trouble, came out earlier this year. How did you approach it differently from your debut?
We had more time to work on it, which is ironic because they say that you have your whole life to make your first album. We actually recorded the first LP pretty quickly. With the second one, we had more time in the studio which allowed us to make a lot of decisions after the fact that we didn’t anticipate while we were recording. During the recording of [Hospitality], we assumed that we had everything we needed the first time around—it only took four days to record. With this one, we definitely had more breathing room.
Your first record received a lot of critical praise, did you feel any pressure when working on Trouble?
Only when we were completely done. Mostly just because we were nervous about being done. But we knew going into it that we wanted to try new things and flex different muscles. Our label doesn’t really put much pressure on us at all. So the only pressure was from ourselves.
Speaking of your label. What’s it like working with a long-running and respected label like Merge?
It’s really great. I think one of the reasons that they’re still around and successful is that they’re so modest. The company is so small and a lot of people on the team are musicians themselves. They have a lot of wisdom and a lot of good advice offer.
You’re about to head out on a month-long tour. What has the band been up to during the down time?
Working day jobs. We all live in Brooklyn and everyone has their own things going on when we’re not on the road.
You guys spend a lot of time on the road. In past two years, you’ve toured with Eleanor Friedberger, Wild Flag, Jenny Lewis, and more. Any favorite things about touring?
One of my favorite things is changing arrangements and tweaking things for a live show. It’s a really fun way to mix things up.
You’ve played tons of shows in D.C. over the past year or so. What keeps bringing you back?
With D.C., it’s just so close to New York that we always pass through, so we get to play the city a lot. Plus, D.C. is a really great place to play a one-off show. Like, the Jenny Lewis show that we played a month or so ago, it was a totally last-minute offer like, “Hey do you want to play with Jenny Lewis?” and we said, “Sure.”
What are you listening to right now?
Our good friends Glass Ghosts are about to put out a record in September on Western Vinyl. It’s called LYFE; I think it’s a really special record. And—full-disclosure—I sang on one song. They’re definitely one of our favorite bands.