While Austin may usually be just another stop on a cross-country tour, during SXSW, one of the music industry’s most influential conferences, it was a chance for Hotels & Highways members Patrick Thomas, Lisa Piccirillo and Ventura resident Erin “Syd” Sidney to hit the big-time.
All three were independent singer-songwriters for years, and had recorded and toured together at different points in their careers. But when they met up to write a song for Piccirillo’s solo album, they decided to take a stab at a group project. Coming off a 10-day recording session in an upstate New York cabin this past fall, the band produced Lost River, its debut as a trio.
The band likes to think of its music as Americana/roots rock — Fleetwood Mac meets Fleet Foxes. On this tour, you can find out where they’re playing, what they’re eating and where they’re staying. They’re even “yelping” about their hotel stays on their blog.
Funding an album and a cross-country tour for a new band isn’t easy, but Hotels & Highways has a strong fan base (or fan-mily, as they like to call them) whose support through a Kickstart.com campaign made the tour a reality. After receiving $13,000 in fan contributions, they found themselves in a hotel room in Austin, preparing to play SXSW. “I mean, it’s a little mind-blowing. We were given a gift from our supporters to be able to get in the van and go where we were needed rather than trying to chase dollar signs,” said Sidney.
Recording from a cabin in the woods, on a lake in upstate New York, made for a unique setting. “The experience was totally unlike any other, and yet drew from previous positive stuff. I had done a record in a barn in the woods of Vermont in the dead of winter a few years back. Patrick lived in his home studio, and Lisa had always dreamed of a cabin recording experience. We all had. So it just came together. We set up Patrick’s home studio, we lived there. We went kayaking, running, walking. We tried to just devote every moment to nurturing creativity. We didn’t drink or dull our minds, we stayed sharp and focused, and we had fun. Every day we’d run the “tape” and play a few blues songs, covers of our own stuff, whatever, get loose, and then explore the latest idea.
“After we came home, Pat took the tracks back to his studio and started the long process of mixing. He did such a great job. It’s a headphones record; it’s a good driving record. I’m truly proud of this thing. None of it feels forced or contrived. It feels like a record of people making music in a room together. That’s what it is.”
“Train Whistle,” the lead song to the album, begins with “Spin the globe, wherever it stops I’m going.” It’s apropos to the three-month spin the group is on now. For the band, the song “Night Song” is really special. “That was a song we had come up with, tried to record and couldn’t quite capture,” said Sidney. “It came to us in one take after a day of preparation doing other stuff. That song is take one on a warm summer night with the cicadas humming away in the background. What a gift.”
Hotels & Highways will perform on Thursday, March 24, at Zoey’s in Ventura to celebrate its CD release. For more information about the band, visit www.hotelsandhighways.com.