Now Hear This!: Hoops

The guitars ring with lo-fi charm and some would easily compare Hoops to the basement pop madness of Ariel Pink. This band has something to say and one of the catchiest albums of the year.
Fat Possum

The digital revolution caught some musicians by surprise. In the ’60s and ’70s, owning instruments, much less booking studio time, was very much cost-prohibitive, meaning some amateur songwriters were left with little more than a hobby, not so much a profession. Nowadays, someone can get a studio sheen on everything from vocals to instrumentation without having to exit out of their laptops, leading to profoundly untalented acts like gnash scoring actual Top 10 hits in this day and age.

Yet the indie rock revolution of the early ’90s did something truly groundbreaking: tape hiss, lo-fi equipment, and distorted ideas could be just as essential to the shape of a song as something with airless polish. That is why Guided By Voices, Pavement, and a litany of Merge Records artists still get talked about to this day, some even bravely standing by their basement-recorded works like the essential form of their sound. In fact, without this aesthetic, artists like Ariel Pink wouldn’t still have careers as we know it today.

So when Drew Auscherman started Hoops as an ambient solo project, little did he know that this his project would soon blossom into a full-bore four-person band, his knack for instrumentals soon leading towards lo-fi pop songs that, even with some grit on the finished product, are still chock full of hooks that will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Yes, Routines, the band’s debut album, may very well be the catchiest pop album you’ll hear all year but its chiming guitars, keyboard trills, and sighing vocals wouldn’t be anything were it not for the fact that “The Way Luv Is” and “All My Life” are built around such song chord structures, the whole album feeling like a water-warped cassette tape of pop hits recorded off of AM radio in the late ’70s. Yeah, it gives you those kinda vibes. This is a good thing.

The current active members of the band — Auscherman, Keagan Beresford, and Kevin Krauter — recently sat down with PopMatters to discuss what it would mean to add that studio sheen (if ever), what it was like to (basically) record an album twice, and their distinct lo-fi influences.

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Hearing your debut album draws a lot of questions: from it’s lo-fi-but-rich production to its clear sense of pop melodicism, one can hear this and immediately think this is a solo project, not the work of a four-piece band. Was keeping that “aesthetic” essential to Hoops’ sound?

Beresford: We did deliberately try to make the album at least a little uniform because the songs all sounded quite different from one another in their early forms. That was probably the most labor-intensive part of making the record; finding a general vibe and mixing each song to fit. Like similar vocal effects, guitar tones and whatnot.

Moreover, early press releases indicate that a strong inspiration was Oneohtrix Point Never, which is fascinating given that Routines ends up giving off a lot of early (but refined) Ariel Pink vibes. What other inspirations would you cite towards the sounds that invigorated the band?

Auscherman: The earliest recordings I did under the name Hoops were strictly ambient and sounded way more like Oneohtrix Point Never. When I made the change from ambient to full-band pop, I was heavily inspired by all sorts of pop music. Ariel Pink was an inspiration for sure, and with Routines our demos were heavily inspired by the band the Radio Dept. That band heavily influenced the way we mixed the album. We are all also in love with Prefab Sprout. They write perfect pop music.

Although the aesthetic for Routines is defiantly and gloriously lo-fi, the mixing and leveling here is key, as this album, for its home-spun charm, no doubt had a lot of effort go into those soundboard decisions. What were some of the largest challenges you had in getting Routines‘ sound?

Beresford: Routines was our first attempt at recording in a proper studio (Thump Recording in Brooklyn to be specific), so it was a challenge to take the high-quality unmixed songs from that setting and remake them into the album we wanted. We ended up re-doing parts of songs and sometimes literally the entire thing, so it ended up feeling like we made the album twice. Just mixing took more time than actually recording the instruments; like we would work on something for hours and then hit a wall and have to start from scratch. It just stretched out the whole process of making the album across half a year. We’re pretty happy with the way it came out though, so it was a labor of love.

Lyrically, the album has many themes involving distrust and uncertainty, specifically in looking at the metaphors on “Management” and even “Underwater Theme”. If there was a lyrical conceit to this record, what would it be?

Beresford: I think there is a lyrical conceit to the album, but it was deliberate for sure. A lot of the subject matter has to do with dialogues we’ve had with other people and within ourselves dealing with our own personal shortcomings and conflicts in relationships, a lot of it because of the drastic lifestyle change that came with doing this band full time. It may seem bogus and self-referential to make an album about how being in a group affects your life, but that’s what was on our respective minds when we were making Routines.

In touring and even going forward, would a more polished studio sound be of any interest or, like Guided By Voice’s Do the Collapse, would the result diminish the sound?

Beresford: I think trying something a little more polished is kind of inevitable, if only for the sake of keeping things interesting with making consecutive albums. Low or “medium-fi” music has its charms, which has been a large part of our identity as far as recordings go, but we all love to listen to higher fidelity stuff as well, and the prospect of refining it a bit more is exciting to me.