Check Ahead: Happy Hollows, 'Amethyst'

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Happy Hollows

Happy Hollows -- led by guitarist and songwriter Sarah Neghadari -- is a power pop band with an experimental streak. The Los Angeles group's sophomore album, Amethyst, is a collection of songs revolving around Neghadari's soaring vocals, fierce guitar work, and an otherworldly bed of glimmering synths. This is some cosmic stuff -- but it also has a lot of heart.

Neghadari and I recently spoke about the making of Amethyst (out July 30), how the band creates its hooky sound, and whether she might be just a bit psychic.

Gretta Cohn: This record has a much synth-ier sound than your previous album (2010’s Spells). What happened, did you find a keyboard fire sale?

Sarah Neghadari: [Laughs] Actually, what happened is our drummer from the album Spells had to leave the band to go take care of a lot of family things for about a year in Florida. We were just without a drummer and so instead of auditioning for somebody, we started just making synth loops. Then I would play guitar and sing over it. And we liked the sound so much that instead of using it as just like a temporary thing we ended up making the whole album to it. It really changed our sound but we loved what happened so it was like a happy mistake.

GC: It seems like it really influenced the tone and the themes of Amethyst in a pretty big way -- from its first introduction, the sound of synths is the sound of space and the cosmos.  

SN: I think you're right about the sound of the synths -- they made me feel very cosmic. [Laughs]

GC: Where does your interest in the cosmos come from?

SN: Ever since I was a little girl, I've always been interested in the mysteries of the universe, and I'm very much interested in sort of the big questions like "Why are we here?"; "What is life really about?" You know, quantum physics and time and space. I guess I'm sort of a spiritual person -- but I'm more of a person that just wants to ask a lot of questions and that comes out whether I intend it to in all the writing just 'cause it's who I am.

GC: Would you say that you're a little bit psychic? Is that kind of a part of that too?

SN: Yeah, I think I am. I think I've always been a very intuitive person and I even had a job at one point a couple years ago: I read tarot cards at the mall -- which is a horrible job. But yeah I think that's a big part of who I am. I grew up in Northern California, my parents are pretty New Agey, so that kind of stuff was all always around so I think it seeped in on some level. Although, I'm not that far out.

GC: The album title comes from this too, the world of crystals, the Amethyst. What's the significance of the amethyst for you?

SN: It's my birth stone. While I was writing the song "Amethyst," I was sitting on my bed and I was looking at all these amethyst crystals on my headboard. But then it became significant because when we recorded the album there was like a purplish amethyst colored light that we played the entire record to. So the boys were like, "Let's just call it Amethyst.” So I said okay. [Laughs]

GC: I wanted to ask you about the sound of the record a little bit. Apart from the synths, it's very hooky and I wonder: What's your secret for writing a really good hook?

SN: Ever since I was little, I mean like literally born, I would just walk around during the day and randomly hear tunes, melodies -- it feels like channeling. It's the only way to explain it. I know every songwriter or creative person knows exactly what I'm talking about. I don't necessarily sit down and do it  -- it sort of just comes.

Also I was born in the '80s and raised in the '80s and I think a lot of that poppy, hooky music sort of seeped into the womb on some level that I could never really take out of me.

GC: Do you have any particular vocal idols from that era?

SN: Siouxsie Sioux -- Siouxsie and the Banshees -- has always been someone that I really look up to. And in the studio our producer said your "voice is a mix between Cyndi Lauper and Stevie Nicks." [Laughs] Those two women as well are major idols. So I think those three have been my biggest vocal idols.

GC: Do you have a favorite song from the album?

SN: “Supernatural.”  It was another song that came really really fast. We actually wrote it in like a day. It’s a song about love -- about more than romantic love, but actual, like, real human connection and cosmic love. It was really coming from my heart and every time I hear it I can kind of hear that energy coming through. What I intended to get across on the record really comes through in that last song.

I hope it makes people feel cosmic and good the way I intended it to.

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