Lost Within a Wonder: The Hallock Hill Interview
New York’s Hallock Hill (aka Tom Lecky, who named his project for his NY hometown) is an instrumental guitar virtuoso, creating a sort of sonic novel beginning and ending with acoustic pieces while more distorted tracks fill out the middle. For those who think they couldn’t possibly be interested in an instrumental album, The Union should be a challenging test to that theory. Deeply thoughtful and self-aware about his music, Lecky speaks to us here.
ELM: Your album consists of acoustic pieces bookended by more distortion-heavy ones. Do you see it as forming any kind of narrative?
TL: I definitely do. The sequence was very important to me, and was originally quite different. In the early stages of bringing it out, I had a sense of an arc I was trying to build, and it was a bit too literal. Tim Noble at Hundred Acre Recordings offered some great advice, and we refined the sequence, I think and hope. It’s hard to say what kind of narrative is being expressed in instrumental music, but there is a development that I hear. Of course, it will be a different experience to each listener.
ELM: Are you a fan of any contemporary (or 20th century) classical composers?
TL: Absolutely. And the term “classical” has become so much broader than it once was. The only truly formal training I ever had was with a classical guitar instructor. I was seriously into jazz at the time but wanted to rein in some of my inherent catch-as-catch can approach. A few lessons on classical showed me a new way. It took 20 years for me to figure out how to appropriate it into what I do, but sometimes these things take a while to work themselves out.
ELM: What inspires you most?
TL: Musically: the instrument. As someone who really does improvise, and does so alone, I am completely responding to the instrument. Each one is different, and the same instrument will be different on any given day, at any given hour. I just want to let it speak. It’s all about kinetic energy and dynamism to me. I’m just the doing the work that gets the instrument up to speed. Personally,:my family, and memories of those no longer here.
ELM: Why don’t you record under your own name?
TL: I’m attached to place and time. Hallock Hill has a deep resonance with me. And the music isn’t about Tom Lecky. I want to disappear into it and become just another listener.
ELM: You’ve been getting some (well-deserved and well-written) reviews for The Union already. Do you find yourself agreeing with those descriptions of your music?
TL: The reviews have been immensely gratifying. What is so intriguing are the different approaches and different responses. They’ve all been incredibly humbling.
ELM: The review at The Quietus mentions that your record could potentially incorporate found sound. Do you use found sounds at all?
TL: Every sound on The Union was made on some kind of guitar with the exception of chair squeaks and room noises. What I play is then either left clean or processed in some way. The processing is actually very minimal, and simple. But as I stack tracks upon tracks, the final layer can get quite thick. It is the spaces where the different voices converge unexpectedly that I look for and like. My second album incorporates a number of field recordings. We’ll see how people react to these sounds being more obviously delivered.
ELM: Who are your favorite writers?
TL: Herman Melville, Robert Creeley, Paul Blackburn, Charles Olson, Edward Dahlberg, Gilbert Sorrentino, William Carlos Williams. In no particular order.
ELM: Your music is so intimate that it seems like live shows in noisy bars would be difficult. What sort of live show have you crafted?
TL: I haven’t played live since 1991. I couldn’t really replicate what I do in a live setting. I could show a window into the process that leads to the end result. I am [an] improvisatory musician, and the recording studio is one of my instruments.
ELM: “Pencil Spin” is obviously noteworthy for its wide sonic berth and length. Do you see yourself writing other ten-minute pieces?
TL: Nothing I do is written per se. If the guitar gets moving and wants to stay moving, there’s no defined end. But I think most of my pieces have an arc that works tightly. I’m working on some acoustic things now that get above 10 minutes.
ELM: “Grow” is another song that really captivated me. What can you tell me about it?
TL: People instinctively seem to want to hear strummed chords in “Grow.” The mind is telling the listener that there is strumming going on and I really like that. There’s no strumming. The main voice is me hitting the guitar with a pair of metal brushes (I am in love with the sound of a jazz drummer playing the kit with brushes). So multiple notes are being hit simultaneously but not as strumming. “Grow” started off as an experiment with a couple of different ideas: the guitar is a canvas, a palette of colors. And the brushes become a means of painting on it. People have said it reminds them of typewriters, or Morse Code. I like that.
ELM: Have you thought of doing work for films?
TL: Reactions to my music have often had a strong visual component. People associate the pieces with places or a type of scene. I love that: for me they are reflections of ideas, which are rooted in places and scenes of my past and present. And when someone says to me that it “feels” like a certain event, I think that is great. So, sure, I think there could be a space for my music in films. But it is unpursued.
ELM: What is your favorite guitar?
TL: If I pick one, the others might get mad at me and start an uprising. Think I’d better remain neutral.