Sympathetic Vibrations: Hembree's Next Chapter
Local indie dance-rockers release stunning, high energy debut
Growing up is tough.
And aside from our adolescent years, there probably isn’t a time where we feel more awkward, unstable and filled with self-doubt than our mid-20s. It’s a period of personal evolution where we go from being a kid to becoming whatever we’re going to be for the rest of our lives.
These critical years are very much the subject of “House on Fire,” the debut album by local indie rock juggernauts, Hembree, who — despite not having a full-length to date — have been able to garner significant national recognition on the foundation of only a handful of singles and EPs.
The band’s debut is a stunning achievement – 10 tracks of high-octane, layered indie rock that showcase not only the commendable pop sensibility of its principal singer and songwriter, Isaac Flynn, but the sweet alchemy of musical styles contributed by his co-authors, Garrett Childers (bass, vocals), Eric Davis (keys/synth), Alex Ward (guitar) and Austin Ward (drums). The record deftly manages to be both introspective and uptempo, and its sonics are delivered with a level of polish that – frankly – isn’t common around these parts.
The Bridge caught up with Flynn after a whirlwind weekend that included three release shows in Kansas City, Lawrence and St. Louis to talk about the new record and what this step means for both him and the band.
Hembree is an interesting sum of individual parts. How did the five of you end up making music together?
Flynn: After my first project, Quiet Corral, ended, I was really young and not really ready to give up playing music or move on with a different career. I had even considered maybe working somewhere in the music industry, but I was conflicted. So I started doing demos and writing songs and I realized that’s really all I wanted to do. And I found out that that’s my favorite world to live in – one where I’m constantly creating, writing, producing and recording. And the best outlet for that is a band.
So Eric, Garrett and I started Hembree, and we began to realize that as we got more serious about it, it meant a lot more touring and studio time. It can be pretty all-consuming at times. So we asked ourselves who we knew we could bring on the road with us who we would love hanging out with, who are also really good musicians. Enter the Ward brothers (of The Noise FM). They are musicians through and through, they love the lifestyle, and they brought an energy that really breathed some new life into the project and made it fun for all of us. So that’s really when Hembree became what it is now and what it will continue to be for the remainder of the band.
The band has grown a lot, but with this album it seems like you’ve really found your sound as a group. Did you have these particular sonics in mind when you started the band?
No, there was a lot of development and a lot of growth, and it truly feels good to know what our band is. In retrospect, I guess I wish I had a clear-cut vision for what we became, but that’s just the way it worked out for us. But I think it’s important to write a ton of songs and really wrestle with what your musical identity is going to be. And with the streaming era and social media, you don’t see people be patient enough to find that identity, because if something doesn’t hit, they just move onto the next thing.
The band has been pretty successful just periodically putting out shorter releases. Was there any desire to just stay in that space?
I think it’s difficult to get into a band as a fan when they don’t have an album. So for us to be able to get some recognition off some singles and an EP really surprised us. But we sort of view an album as a statement, and the singles and EPs are just a preview of what a band can become.
So the whole time we’ve been a band, we’ve been pestering our team about wanting to make a record. And it finally timed out well with signing to Thirty Tigers and having a budget to actually do things the way we wanted to. Now that may sound like we just had enough money to go to the nicest studio on earth, but in actuality it was just more money to rent a couple of nicer preamps.
Hembree (L to R): Garrett Childers, Austin Ward, Isaac Flynn, Alex Ward, Eric Davis | Photo: Stephen Shireman
We did a lot of stuff on the cheap – I converted my parents’ house into a recording studio and recorded the vocals in my downtown loft. And hopefully we’ve gotten past the initial stages of singles and EPs and reached the next phase where we can transition into the type of career we’ve always wanted.
That’s interesting because the concept of transitions seems to be a prevalent on the record.
I started making the record when I was 23 and it’s coming out now when I’m 27. And those ages aren’t very far apart in number but they feel vastly different. I’m way more comfortable in every aspect of my life than I was then. I know that music is what I want to do and songwriting is what I want to pursue. So the record is a lot about sorting out those kinds of issues and finding yourself.
Because when you get spit out into the world, some people are playing in bands, some people are going into finance jobs, some of your friends are buying houses and having kids. All these things are happening, and nobody tells you which one of those things you’re supposed to be doing. So it’s definitely a record with a lot of searching. And it felt like a big relief to finally have the masters back. It felt like both me, personally, and the band were ready for the next chapter.
And you somehow decided you needed to record in your childhood home to take that next step?
I know. It all kind of ties in perfectly to the coming of age thing. When we were doing pre-production on the record in Nashville, I was with our producer, Eric Hillman, who has a home studio set up in his house. And it’s just so nice to pop back into the house and make some dinner. You’re not on the clock and you’re not as stressed about anything. It’s just a more comfortable way to work.
My parents have this living room with vaulted ceilings. And for my entire life, I’ve wanted to record in there. So I asked them if we could convert the entire house into a recording studio for a week. They’re musicians and were very supportive of the idea. My mom even named it Roundabout Studio and made a sign for us that she kept in the living room.
We grew up with a studio in the basement of that house. And I was getting ready to move to Los Angeles, so I knew this would be one of the last times I would be making music in this house where I had made all of the music in my life up to that point. So it was really cool to close that chapter of life by working there to record.
Hembree’s debut full-length, “House on Fire,” is out now. The band sets out on a nationwide tour this month that wraps up at the end of June.
—Dan Calderon is Kansas City native, an attorney and contributor to 90.9 The Bridge and Flatland. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com or on Twitter @dansascity.