photo by David McHank
Hotel St. George has only been together for a year and a half, but you wouldn't guess it by the amount of material the San Diego band has released.
“Quantity, not quality,” is how lead singer / guitarist Matt Binder jokingly describes their output. The current count is: a three-song demo, a five-song EP, a seven-song MP (a “moderate play” release is what the band members prefer to call it) and a full-length album. The latter is City Boy Lemon; a small Los Angeles label, This is Tightrope, will do a 500-copy vinyl run of the 10-song release this month.
“On this record, we tried to change up the instruments a lot more,” bass player Erik Visnyak says. “Different people play different instruments on different songs. Me, Matt and Brian [Riley, lead guitar] really kind of rotated. Everyone got their own little take of how they played guitar, bass or keyboards.”
Drummer Simon Leader, the lone Brit in the group, was left out of the musical chairs. The band likes to mislead people by telling them it was because he was pulling double duty on vocals and drums, but it's actually Binder, an American, singing with a noticeable British accent.
The band also seems dead-set on rotating songwriting duties, and their dynamic is steadfastly democratic when it comes to introducing new material. Moreover, they seem to have developed safety mechanisms to ensure that every release sounds different from the last.
“Hundreds and Thousands [the seven-song MP] was mostly [complete] songs that I brought in, and for City Boy Lemon it was music first and then lyrics,” Binder explains. “Some songs Erik brought in on guitar, some songs Brian brought in on guitar and some songs I brought in on guitar, but most of them would evolve more within the jam process than the last record, which was written beforehand. On Yippee [the five-song EP] Erik and Brian did all the writing.”
City Boy Lemon is the band's most mature effort yet. Its greatest asset is its ability to genre-hop while remaining true to their core sound. To give an idea of the different ends of the spectrum these guys draw inspiration from, Binder cites as an influence Guided By Voices, and Leader digs '90s Brit-rock such as Suede and Manic Street Preachers, while Visnyak can't get enough of the latest disc by metal band Mastodon.
“The reason I like the band is because everyone has a really open mind,” Visnyak says. “When you get a bunch of people with different influences and they mesh together—I think that makes something unique. If everyone in the band really likes one band, you kind of get a band that just sounds like that band.”
With San Diego's music scene lately generating some hype, it's surprising to learn that these guys have actually experienced more success a couple of hours north. They met the crew from This is Tightrope at a show in L.A.; the label seems to be a one-stop shop for the fledgling bands it picks up.
“They came out to a show we played at a bowling alley based on a recommendation from our person at BMI. They're sort of like friends, management, label—just like a collective thing. They have helped us out with every avenue: getting us on compilation discs, getting us shows, getting us shows at CMJ,” Binder says.
Meanwhile, the band's musical barrage continues, but this time there's a twist in the songwriting.
“We already have three or four new songs after [City Boy Lemon] comes out,” Binder says, “and we've made a rule for ourselves that we have to write with [keyboards]. Usually, we write with guitars and add keys in the recording process. A lot of the new songs don't even have bass—it's just like Doors-style with the two keyboards.”
So, place your bets now for the third LP. The smart money is on all drums and saxophones with an occasional kazoo. Hotel St. George play with Writer, Intricate Machines and Swim Party at The Casbah on Thursday, Aug. 13. www.myspace.com/hotelstgeorge.