Hodera is an indie rock band from Little Falls, New Jersey. Currently touring their album “United By Birdcalls”, released in 2015, Hodera emerged from the churning indie music scene in Montclair. The band is led by Matthew Smith, the lead singer and one of the guitarists, and WPRB was lucky enough to have Matthew into the studio for an interview and a few songs. In the interview, Matthew discusses couches, songwriting, Kansas, The Front Bottoms, and some other stuff too.
WPRB: I’m here with Matthew from Hodera. How’s it going, Matthew?
Matthew: I’m doing alright, I just got off work. I’m tired. But I’m sitting on a comfy couch so it’s kinda nice.
WPRB: This is actually not one of our comfy-est couches.
Matthew: Yeah, it’s not. I think it’s a futon. I don’t know what defines a couch from a futon.
WPRB: I think it’s the foldage going up here [gesturing to back of futon].
Matthew: I think it’s still a futon. It’s lying about being a couch pretty much.
WPRB: Yeah, we have some better couches that we could’ve brought in.
Matthew: No, no! It’s fine! I’m just saying, let’s call it what it is.
WPRB: I appreciate you honesty, that’s very important to us here at WPRB. So Hodera just finished a music video? Is that right?
Matthew: Yeah, for lack of a better word. We did one before for a song called “Reset to Default” so we kind of just did the same thing, we just threw a party and told a bunch of people to come. Our friend Brian filmed it, hopefully he’s going to send us something soon. I was just thinking about that today, like “Brian hasn’t sent me anything, I wonder how that’s going.”
WPRB: Come on, Brian.
Matthew: Oh no, he’s a really renowned cinematographer. Last summer he toured with Mumford and Sons when they were in the U.S., and he just does us a favor, I can’t really complain about anything.
WPRB: I always wonder about those music videos where it’s just a party and everyone’s having an awesome time. Did you just play that song 50 times in a row? Was that what the party was?
Matthew: No, we got to the house like an hour or two early, and he didn’t bring his whole crew because he’s just doing it for free, so we’ll play the song four times, one for each member of the band. Like we’ll play the song once and he’ll film just the guitar player, and the next time just the bassist, so we have all those up-close shots so when the video comes out it looks like there were ten cameras. Then when we play the song live, we know what the tempo was and my drummer will just put the tempo in his ear, click it off, and then we’ll just play the song and we’ll have a camera in the back rolling the whole time and then he and his friend filming, and then we have those plus the earlier up-close stuff and we’ll just mix it together, plus some B-roll stuff. I went to a Phish concert the week before, not really my scene but I’m just dabbling, and everyone was throwing glow sticks everywhere, it was just a glow stick party, and that just inspired me. So I got like 500 glow sticks and brought them to the show, so we just have a lot of B-roll of people messing around and breaking glow sticks.
WPRB: That sounds like a party.
Matthew: Yeah, so I don’t know what the music video is going to be. We didn’t do any—I guess we should have—any other scenes of us playing in different areas or the storyline. We didn’t do that.
WPRB: On the rooftop with the fan and the hair blowing and all that stuff, that’s not in it?
Matthew: Well actually, I brought seven fans to this show, not for hair blowing or music video stuff, but just because it was our album anniversary show too, and our album release show last year was also in a basement, and it got so hot that one person fainted, and we ended up only playing five songs because it was that ridiculously hot. The cymbals were condensating, the cameras that we had were fogging up, we just had to stop playing. But the fans didn’t do anything, for the record. They just moved around hot air.
WPRB: Well it’s the effort that counts. I’ve been in basements where the condensation has actually made it rain on the people.
Matthew: You know what it’s like. We mustered through it and played like eight or nine songs. But most of our shows in New Jersey are really crazy, people throwing each other around, but the July / August shows are just so hot that people can’t, they’re just done.
If there’s one thing I know in my life will stay constant, it’s creating.
WPRB: That sounds about right. You kind of touched on it, but in New Jersey in general, you’ve definitely noticed there’s a different vibe around the music scene in New Jersey as opposed to anywhere else you’ve been on tour. Can you talk about if there is a difference that you’ve noticed that’s tangible or if it’s just location.
Matthew: Every scene around the country—and we’re talking local scenes that are just completely run by whoever wants to be a part it— is always different. You go down south, like Georgia, Florida, they don’t even have basements, it’s just living rooms so they do what they can. And in terms of friend groups, everyone’s different, everyone forms their own sub cultures. You’re a show-goer in New Jersey, you see all the same people there. They form a community, they form their own kind of ethics and ideas, based off of the whole global scene. But everyone has their own thing. Just take New Jersey, in the North Jersey scene everyone stands pretty still. They’ll have like one beer, it’s just very quiet, listening to the music. In New Brunswick, people want to get drunk, they want to move around, it’s a lot dirtier. And even just within a scene, like I’ve seen New Brunswick change in the past few years, slightly genre wise, the newer younger kids are coming in, bringing their own kind of energy, and you can take that anywhere around the country. I’ve seen music scenes all over the world, and everyone has their own way of doing it. Some are a little better, some they just want to party, and some of them they’re really just there for the music, they’re going to buy merch. Everywhere’s different. I do very much like the New Brunswick scene, and the Montclair scene.
WPRB: You’re more into the dirty, getting into it kind of thing?
Matthew: I like both, Montclair is also really tight. Every scene ebbs and flows, and right now Montclair’s really only got the Meat Locker. And I support the place but it’s not really my scene. A couple of the house venues closed there, there’s an art space that they’re trying to work with. And then a lot of the bands that were there a few years ago either got big, like Pinegrove got big, or just fizzled out. That’s how it works with every scene.
WPRB: Is there one specific scene that you’ve seen going around on tour that has been particularly stuck in your mind as odd or weirdly good and you weren’t expecting it somewhere in the country?
Matthew: You know where it gets weird is the places in the middle of nowhere. They have these small scenes where these people are super secluded. They have access to the internet, but then at the same time they’re in the middle of nowhere. I think we played this spot in Kansas, a few bands that we knew had played there, and we had an off day, it was like a Sunday, so we were like “Yeah, let’s hit them up and pick up a show.” So we’re on our way there and we’re pulling up this long driveway and this dude runs out. He seemed weird on the internet, and it’s him and this girl running up the driveway, and he jokingly hip-checks her into a bush. And he’s laughing and I’m like, “What did he just do?” And she’s just limping and laughing, and we get in there and he says, “You’re playing in our garage,” and I’m like, “Cool,” and I thought no one was going to show up, we’re in the middle of nowhere, this is crazy. And then like 50 kids showed up because, I guess, there’s just nothing else to do. I don’t even remember the name of the town. It wasn’t even near a major city. And then it ended up being really cool, we just totally didn’t expect it. They were a little off, but who isn’t? They probably thought we were a little off.
WPRB: You guys put on a kind of unique show, you have those lights. That’s really cool, I’ve seen that played around with in a few different ways before, but the foot pedal with the lights was really cool. Where did you get that from?
Matthew: I had seen this band OWEL, you guys should check them out, they’re a New Jersey band. Kind of a different genre, a lot more polished pop rock, but it’s a great band, they’re amazing. They have a huge light show and they all do different parts, like they have the Edison light bulbs up front that they fade in and out, I think one of them does it with their foot. The drummer has like stacks of three lights on each side of his drums that go on and off, they have flood lights on the guitar amps. I saw them up in New York, we played a show with them and I had no clue who they were, and they just blew me away. I was like, “I want to do that, but I can’t do that much,” so I just went to Home Depot and bought three lights and a Christmas Tree footswitch, like the kind that you can only buy at Home Depot in the winter. So I brought them to band practice and the guys were like “No. No. We’re not that cheesy band.” but I said, “Just try it.” And we’ve been doing it ever since.
WPRB: Nice. Has that been new or…?
Matthew: No, that’s been around for like a year and a half, two years now. Pretty consistent.
WPRB: You were telling me before that you were working on some new stuff, and this is a question that I have for all songwriters. As long as it’s not too intrusive-
Matthew: No, be intrusive!
WPRB: Nice. Could you take me through your process for how a song comes from where it is at literally nothing to being an actual song? What’s the full process? Because I feel like everyone’s different.
Matthew: Yeah you’re right, everyone’s different. My father is a songwriter, and I started writing songs just how he did, and now we’re on completely different spectrums to the point where it’s really hard for us to share songs with each other without the other one trying to nitpick it and try to make it how we want it. I just wrote a few songs this past week, and for me, it comes out really quickly, and then it’s polished over time. I mean, I mainly write on the guitar, which I’m trying not to anymore, but it usually starts with a nice chord progression and a melody off of it, or if I have a melody in my head, I’ll use the voice notes on my phone a lot and I’ll just sing it into my phone. If I’m at work, I’ll go outside and do it. Especially if a band I love does something I really think is cool, I’ll eventually rotate that and try to make something similar to it. However the inspiration starts, once I get into that zone, where I’m like, “Okay, I’m creating, here we go,” the structure of the whole song and even sometimes the majority of the lyrics, if not all of it, just comes out at once. And then it’s stepping out of that zone and coming back to reality and then looking at it from a different perspective and being like, “Alright, how do I now shape this and make it a final product?”
WPRB: Do you step away from it for a few days and then come back to it?
Matthew: I don’t know, like last night, I was really inspired by my friend’s band’s performance, they’re from Boston and I saw them in Manhattan the other night, and I was just really inspired by the sort of sound they had, and I went home and started writing a song, and I just completely finished it. And now I’m listening to it today, and I’m just realizing that I need to support the melody of the chorus a little better, but all the lyrics are written, the song structure is written, so now over the next however long it takes I’ll probably mess around with it and move some parts around, but for the most part, I’ve got the bread and butter.
WPRB: And then from there, you’ll just show it to your band and they’ll kind of find their own niche in the song?
Matthew: I guess, that’s what kinda sucks, I mean we just finished a new record, and that’s not even going to come out for a really long time, and even that, I had like 30 songs and we cut it down to like a third of that, so it’s really hard. I’m trying not to write right now, but I can’t help it. So I’ll show them a few voice notes of what I’m working on, but it’s pointless right now to bring anything to the table and say, “Hey, let’s start rounding this out,” because we have a bunch of tours coming up off of the album that’s already released, and we can’t even play the new songs that have been written for like eight months.
WPRB: Yeah, I mean that new song—I guess it wasn’t just put out—but that song “North Dakota”, were you sitting on that for a while?
Matthew: That’s been written since April of 2015.
WPRB: Okay, so that’s been around for a while.
Matthew: A long time.
WPRB: And even that was something that you were itching to get out there?
Matthew: Yeah, I mean it was even a risky move putting out an acoustic video of a new song, but then we did another new song on our Audiotree session, but yeah, we’ve just been sitting on them for so long. We’re really trying to take our time with this record and find the best way to put it out, and trying to seek out as many opportunities as we can instead of just rushing to put it out by ourselves, and then it maybe not reaching as many people as it could. But yeah, we’ve just been sitting on it for so long, and it’s not fun. Especially because I’m already over it, I’m writing new songs now.
WPRB: Yeah, I can totally relate to that. It’s the lament of the songwriter, you’re writing new stuff and always can’t wait to show people new stuff.
Matthew: Well it’s different for every writer. Some people put out a record every three years because they’re just not writing that much, and my vision would be to be one of those bands that puts out a solid full length every two years that’s different from the next one, like a Radiohead sort of thing. But I feel like it’s leaning more towards a Neil Young thing where he puts out a record every year for like 30 years.
WPRB: Right, and everything you write you can’t wait to share with people, I guess that makes sense.
Matthew: We’ll see. I’m also 22 and we’ve only put out one full length so life changes.
WPRB: I’m noticing—and you told me to be intrusive—I’m always curious about people’s tattoos. Could you tell me about your favorite tattoo?
Matthew: Okay, I don’t have many just because I don’t have any money. This one, ‘TFB’, was my first one, I did it with a safety pin when I was 15, it’s for the Front Bottoms. I think I was the first or second person to ever get a Front Bottoms tattoo. They were the band that introduced me to the music scene when I was 15. They were the first local band, before that I was listening to Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. Without them I really wouldn’t be here, and it’s just crazy, everyone has their first band that introduces them to the local scene, and it’s crazy that my first band was them, and just to see where they went from to where they are now. And they did it the most honest way, like one fan at a time, not selling out, it’s just extremely inspiring. That summer, 2010, all the friends that I had then, all the music. This one on my ankle, it was supposed to be an eyeball, also done with a sewing needle, it turned into a leaf, drunkenly in a dorm room. The dot right below it, another stick-and-poke that I did with my friend when she graduated high school. She’s my longest lasting friend, she lives in Colorado now, and me and her, we both did it. I have two that were done with a gun, both on my left arm. One is a Hebrew tattoo that I got done in the Negev Desert in Israel, it says “hope” in Hebrew. That was just a really inspiring trip with a really great group of people, and we just spent a night out in the desert, and it was such a crazy experience, that whole trip, and seeing the lives that certain people live, and that we just have such privilege living here. I could say a lot about that, it was a really inspiring trip, and hope was really what most of those people living there are living on. And then my biggest one is on my left arm up top, it’s a blank notebook page, it looks like it was ripped out of a book. When I was writing “United By Birdcalls”, the record we released a year ago, it was based off of notebooks that I had been writing in religiously when I was like 11 or 12, when I first became creative, and became a real person, I guess. This was just my first notebook ever, and I would write all my thoughts in it, and there was one page left in it that wasn’t written in, that had been accidentally torn out. So I guess this is just basically saying that there’s always going to be a continuation. If there’s one thing I know in my life will stay constant, it’s creating.
WPRB: That’s awesome, thanks. I guess we’ll finish it up. Is there anything you wanted to add?
Matthew: Anything you’re willing to. I’m just happy to be conversing in friendship.
WPRB: I’m gonna do a few quickfire questions.
Matthew: Do it.
WPRB: Favorite book?
Matthew: Favorite book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
WPRB: Favorite New Jersey beach?
Matthew: Asbury Park.
WPRB: Pork Roll or Taylor Ham?
Matthew: I am a vegetarian, but Pork Roll, straight up, come on.
WPRB: Favorite Front Bottoms song? Since you brought it up.
Matthew: I’m sorry, Front Bottoms, but I don’t like any of your new music.
WPRB: Me neither.
Matthew: “Slow Dance to Soft Rock”, the EP that came out right before they got signed and put out their full length, is by far my favorite songs that they’ve ever put out, which is half of the full length. I’d say “Swimming Pool” or “The Beers” are my two favorite Front Bottoms songs. And I will just say, I’m not really allowed to announce it, but we’re opening for the Front Bottoms soon, and I’m just ecstatic about it. It’s probably the biggest honor I’ve ever been granted.
WPRB: Wow, are we allowed to put that on air?
Matthew: I mean I guess so, no offense but it’s college radio. I don’t think their agent is listening. Plus I’m not saying when it is, where it is, or why it is, so I don’t know.
WPRB: I’ll most definitely be there, as long as it’s in New Jersey or near New Jersey.
Matthew: New York?
WPRB: You’re revealing a lot, here, Matthew [laughs].
Matthew: [laughs] Alright well thank you for having me.
WPRB: Yeah, thanks so much for coming in.