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Hotline TNT's Will Anderson on 'Cartwheel,' blowing up, and what's in a name

Hotline TNT
Wes Knoll
The Glow

The New York alt-rock band performs at The Broadberry on Monday, January 22.

Brooklyn-based rockers Hotline TNT describe themselves as “music to listen to after redownloading Hinge.” Their latest album, Cartwheel, pairs noise and distortion with a self-aware perspective on relationships, unpacking how we approach them and what we expect from each other. Newly signed to Third Man Records, the band is currently on tour with Wednesday – and they’re heading to the Broadberry early next week.

I caught up with frontman Will Anderson to learn more about Cartwheel, Hotline TNT’s “anti-gear” philosophy, and the delicate balance of bringing real life into your art.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Annie Parnell: You're performing here in Richmond on January 22, opening for Wednesday. Tell us a little more about the show.

Will Anderson: We’ve been friends with Wednesday for a few years, and we've been looking forward to this tour since as soon as we heard about it.

It's going to be just a nonstop party every single night. I think us and Wednesday are a really good one-two punch – really loud music that people are going to get excited about. We're gonna do half songs on the new album, and then the four or five records that came out before that, and probably throw a few fun things in there, too.

Cartwheel is your latest album, and it's very focused on relationships — all sorts of them. How were those on your mind as a theme?

They're on my mind all the time, whether I'm writing songs or not. It's all kinds of relationships — I tend to overthink everything; whether it's my family relationships, or my working relationships, or romantic or whatever, they're just kind of always swirling around in my head.

Music is an outlet for me — and I think for many musicians and songwriters — to express whatever I'm feeling about those relationships. There’s some songs where I talk about that. There’s one line that people tell me about a lot from “History Channel”: “there’s a lot in this song that’s not in my diary.”

The lyrics, honestly, have always been for the most part the last thing, but that has changed a bit over the last two releases. I would say there's been a few songs where I have words in my mind first, and make the songs work around them.

Maybe that's a sign of growth? I don't know, maybe it's a sign of slipping away. It seems like this album has been well-received by a broader audience, so something seems to be working.

You said that it's been changing recently, but can you give us a picture of what the creative process typically looks like for a Hotline TNT song?

Usually I'll write the guitar part first. The advice I always got when I was first shopping for a guitar was “make sure you get a guitar that looks cool, because if it looks cool, you're gonna want to play it more.” I think it's so true.

I go, “oh, there's my guitar, that looks cool, I should play it a little bit.” Then I'll just be messing around, maybe some chords come out that sound like they make sense in combination with each other, [I'll] get a little riff going, get some pretty melodies swirling. That’s kind of how it starts, and then I'll go into Garage Band. That's how that's how I write and record most everything.

In a recent interview, you described Hotline TNT as an “anti-gear” band. Tell me more about that approach to the sound.

This kind of music, people call shoegaze — but they go back and forth on whether we actually are shoegaze. There was a Reddit thread up on the shoegaze forum the other day – I don't know if those guys know I read it, but yes, I read all of it. People were going back and forth on whether we're shoegaze, or whether we need to do something differently, which I don't really care about.

People who are really into shoegaze tend to care a lot about what kind of gear we're using, and what kind of pedals we're using. It's usually disappointing to them when they find out that we don't use pedals, and we don't care what kind of amp we have. It's just supposed to be loud. That's really all it is. It's supposed to be loud and distorted.

We do share a lot of similarities sonically to those bands, like My Bloody Valentine. That's the only shoegaze band I actually listen to. I've never listened to Ride, and I’ve barely listened to Slowdive. I like what I've heard, but I just don't listen to it, and I don't care if we're really in that lineage. To me, whatever's around is fine. As long as we can be loud and make the songs come out. That's all that matters.

Cartwheel is the first Hotline TNT album since the band signed to Third Man Records last year. Did that step change the process at all?

No, the whole album was done before we actually signed the deal. I didn't know we were going to move to a bigger label, and in fact, up to the eleventh hour, I wasn't sure I wanted to move to bigger label at all. There were a few people interested, and in the end, Third Man just made the most sense.

I'm really, really happy we went with it. It's been really great working with them. We'll see what happens for the next one – that's when the real test will come. Now that we have more resources and I have a team helping me make decisions, I'm a little…interested, I’ll say. I’m not worried, but I'm curious to see how that's going to affect things as far as making a new album.

Can you walk me through that decision to sign to a bigger label?

It really was just a natural progression. We've been a DIY band forever. As long as this band has been around, it's been just me and whoever's in the band at the time, just bulldozing our way through life. Like, “we're gonna be on tour all the time, and we're gonna pay for everything ourselves, we're gonna put out the 7-inch ourselves.”

I didn't want to wait for someone to think it was great and let that slow me down. Third Man, to their credit, they thought I was great already, and they thought the band was great already. That's why I was like, “Alright, let's do it. Let me do my thing.”

That's exactly what they did: they let me take my vision to a bigger level. I went to them and said, “look, the album's done. How soon can you get it out?” And they said “ASAP.” I didn't want to wait around until February, I wanted to move — because I'm already working on the next album.

There’s a golden rule I’ve followed with taking this band from DIY into something more, which wasn't really my plan. It was kind of a dream that I never thought would ever come true.

Anytime we took a step in that direction, it was “alright, I'm not gonna add anyone to the team unless they seem like they're ready to run through a brick wall for us.” That's how we got our booking agent, that's how we got our lawyer. Everyone on the team has seemed really, really excited. I don't want to beg somebody to put this record out, and with Third Man, we were mutually excited about each other. I think we still are.

We talked a little bit about relationships, but names are another aspect of Cartwheel that appear throughout. Voicing a name carries a lot of weight, and we’ve got Maxine, Michael and Kyle, and a few others. Are those real names?

For the most part, they’re alter egos. I know who I'm talking about, but I don't want to be too on the nose. Especially because some of the people I write songs about I'm not in touch with anymore. I don't think there's bad blood or anything, but it would just feel a little weird to be like, “hey, so and so, here’s a song directed right towards you,” you know?

Having an actual name in the lyrics makes it a bit more accessible and easier to get into the narrative. When I'm listening to songs, I find it easier to get them stuck in my head when I can hear a name of somebody. We've been listening to a lot of The 1975 lately, and they have a new song called “Oh, Caroline.” That song gets stuck in my head all the time. Because it's like, it's Caroline! I’m thinking about Caroline.

You can conjure an actual person in your head, even if you don't know anyone in your life named Caroline or Maxine — it helps you latch on. I also think about the Slowdive song “Alison.”

Yeah, and that's their biggest song! I don't know if it's because it's called “Alison,” but that’s a song I think about all the time. “Jessie's Girl,” that's another one. That's kind of a double whammy – it’s about Jessie, but it's actually about Jessie's girl. There's something really catchy about that. “I wish that I had Jessie's girl.” Yeah, I do wish I had Jessie's girl.

There's a song on the last Hotline album, Nineteen in Love. I don't want to say who, but when I wrote the song, I was like, “yeah, this song is about such-and-such’s girlfriend.” When I finished writing the song, I was like, “actually, this song is about such-and-such.” It wasn't about the girlfriend. It was like I was writing around this guy, and it ended up being more about my relationship with him.

The fact that you didn't want to say who is funny, because this is something that I also think a lot about when I write: how much from your real life do you want to pull from, and how do you want to pull from it?

How much do you want to put yourself out there into your art, and let people know about you? I'm pretty open for the most part. I'm not hiding a lot. I'm part of a community of people, and we all write music and all make art, and it's all about what we're going through. So, you know, it's bound to happen.

You mentioned working on a new album. What can you tell us about it so far?

I have some goals about who I want to work with. I don't have anything confirmed yet. But I think this is going to be a bit more of a group effort, rather than the last two albums being just me for the most part. After two albums of fake drums, we're going to go back to a real live drum set. I would have done the last albums with drums if they were available, but I didn't have a permanent drummer in the band at the time. So again, I didn't want to slow down, I just wanted to get the songs out. That’s kind of the way this band works: “the songs are out there, let's get them on tape and move on to the next one.” Some people might say I should spend some more time honing the songs, but that’s just not how I operate.

You’re working on new songs, Cartwheel is out now, and you're on tour for the next few weeks. Beyond that, is anything else exciting going on with Hotline TNT?

We're announcing another whole set of tour dates. We're going to be pretty much on tour until forever – we have tours lined up through August. A big U.S. headlining tour with a bunch of bands I really love, then some more shows in mainland Europe; festivals in the summer. And recording whenever we can!

I’m just excited to play Richmond. I love Richmond. We have some friends, former members of the band living there that we’re still close with. Shout out to Roots Natural Kitchen — I'm going to be getting some food there before the show.


Hotline TNT performs with Wednesday at The Broadberry on Monday, January 22nd. Their latest album, Cartwheel, is available now.

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