Horizontal Hold make enthusiastic off-kilter noise-pop that carries the flame of the great indie-rock outfits of North Carolina of the 1990s. Which makes sense when you consider the band is made up of NC music scene veterans of bands like Analogue, Shiny Beast, Wembley, In the Year of the Pig, and Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan.
Their new album The Silence was recently released on PotLuck. The Durham-based band sat down with Pedal Fuzz over a few beers before a show at Monstercade in Winston-Salem, NC. While a small dog nipped at their heels, they poked fun at each other in the way that only friends of many years can effortlessly pull off. The following excerpts have been condensed and edited.
Pedal Fuzz: Your music feels like part of that North Carolina indie rock lineage, but there are also a lot of different things going on. How did you arrive at your sound?
Dave Cantwell: We didn't have an aesthetic deliberately in mind. We just play the way that we know how to play. I play guitar in the band (ed.note Cantwell is known for playing drums), but I can only play in the way that I play in this band. We all come from rock bands and that background, so we kind of generally knew what it would be like. The band started because Kim Walker and I wanted to do something together musically and we weren't quite sure what. And I think that she wanted me to play the drums initially, but that's not what I wanted to do. So we started playing with me on guitar and her on bass, and then Kerry Cantwell (keyboards) came then Elizabeth Hammond (drums). We never said, “here's what it’s going to sound like,” we just kind of had some jams and they wound up sounding like we do.
PF: Your songs seem to be about really particular, very specific things. Another one of the unique things about you guys. No one really writes lyrics like Kerry does.
Kerry Cantwell: I write the lyrics after the whole song is finished. Our songwriting process is very, very organic. There's not a songwriter, so the way we kind of build the songs is Kim and/or Dave comes up with some kind of riff and brings it to the group and we all build upon it and then once we have it all set the way it's going to be then I'll write lyrics that fit into the individual pieces of the song. So the songs are not written to be sung over. The singing is more just frosting.
PF: One song that really stands out from your first record is “All In A Day's Work,” where you're talking about a student asking to borrow a pencil. That's when I first noticed how unique your lyrics are.
Kerry Cantwell: I'm a community college instructor. And it is hard, poorly paid work. And so that song is just kind of about what my day is like. Oh there's so much content in the classroom. You could write really sad songs, really sweet funny songs, or really traumatic songs [about it].
PF: How important are particular instruments and pieces of gear to you in the writing process?
Dave Cantwell: When I'm working on music it's always electric, and it's usually at my house. I just like the sound of my electric guitar amplified loudly. That's a way for me to test to see if things are going to sound cool at all. When songs are in their genesis it's often Kim and I bouncing ideas off each other. I don't think we pay a whole lot of mind to the instruments themselves; it's just more the parts and how they sound. And I think that we tend to write lines that kind of meander around each other and complement each other, but at the same time sort of crooked sometimes. And I guess that has something to do with the sound of them, but I don't know if it's that conscious. I mean, I put a lot of thought and time into how my guitar sounds. Like a lot of folks I am obsessed about that sort of thing. But once it comes time to actually play and write a song maybe not thinking about it quite as much.
Horizontal Hold Gear
Dave --Brian-Haran-assembled "Frankencaster" Tele-style gutar with Mojotone pickups and Harmony neck. (Pink!)
--mid-'60s Custom Kraft "Ambassador" (single DeArmond pickup, sorta-SG-looking)
--others as needed at live shows (mainly a Daisy Rock "Tom Boy" with TV Jones and Mojotone pickups--and another Haran-assembled Frankencaster based on the 1980 Fender "Bullet".)
--mid '60s Silvertone 1484 "Twin Twelve" piggyback (2x12) amp with Celestion speakers
--Custom Kraft "Fireball" combo (only for recording)
--Radial "Tone Bone"--always on (used as a pre-amp, really)
--MXR "Micro Amp"
--on-board tremolo (in the Silvertone amp)
Kim --early '80s Japanese-made Squier Precision Bass (These are in a weird "medium scale" that's longer than short scale but shorter than a standard P-Bass.)
--early '80s Fender "Bassman 135" tube head with homemade, EV-loaded 1x15 cab
(although she recorded The Silence with the Fidelitorium's Ampeg "SVT".)
--Boss "Bass Overdrive" pedal (the yellow one)
Kerry --Early '80s Crumar "Performer" (mostly used for recording since she got the Casio below)
--Modern Casio XW-P1 "Performance Synthesizer" (mostly used live)
--Kustom "Commander" 2x12 combo (solid state, tuck 'n' roll)
--Digitech "Turbo Flange"
--on-board amp reverb and tremolo+vibrato (the Kustom has both trem and vibrato...it's weird.)
Elizabeth --late-'60s Ludwig 4-piece kit in gold sparkle w/ ‘60s Ludwig Supraphonic snare drum
--various Zildjian cymbals.
PF: So when you're obsessing over it what are you adjusting, what are you changing?
Dave Cantwell: I have this sort of paradoxical notion of where I want it to be very simple on the one hand - I don't use a lot of effects, I don't have any tone knobs on my guitars, I want my guitars to have basically one sound - but then I want that sound to be adjustable by how I play. Basically the dynamics. So if I play harder it sounds more aggressive, if I play lighter it's quieter of course. And I spent a lot of time trying to get that sweet spot where I can sound a little bit overdriven if I need to and still be heard if I'm playing quietly. So I spend a lot time dealing with that. I like the sound of a Telecaster through a tube amp. I’m trying to find the definitive version of that. It's a good tool because I can control how I sound, but I don't use a lot of effects or anything really.
Elizabeth Hammond: I would say that Missy was so good at just trying to make us feel comfortable there. And she's a really great manager of people, which I think is a huge job of anybody who's engineering in a studio. And also she was really good at giving us really graceful feedback.
Kim Walker: It was like the therapist model. As in, "Do you think that that was your best take? Well how do you feel about the take?" Rather than, "That take is great," or whatever. Her approach for giving her opinions was really more about facilitating. She was more concerned with us getting what we wanted out of the process, and letting us fix our own problems if there were any.
*Look & listen for our full and laugh-filled interview with Horizontal Hold in an upcoming episode of the Pedal Fuzz podcast.
EDDIE GARCIA PLAYS GUITAR AND ALL THE PEDALS AS 1970S FILM STOCK. YOU CAN ALSO HEAR HIM REPORTING ON NPR AFFILIATE 88.5 WFDD IN WINSTON-SALEM, NC. IN THE WEE HOURS HE RUNS PEDAL FUZZ, WHICH IS A PROUD RECIPIENT OF A GRANT FROM THE ARTS ENTERPRISE LAB / KENAN INSTITUTE FOR THE ARTS.