The One AM Radio Sends Out a Strong Signal: An Interview
One AM Radio is the project fronted by Hrishikesh Hirway, a composer and songwriter from LA. Along with bandmates Scott Leahy and Fontaine Cole, Hirway makes intelligent, dreamy synthpop music that is as smart as it is catchy, best showcased on their latest release, Heaven is Attached by a Slender Thread.
ELM: I read in your press sheet that you initially set out to make a dance record. I found that funny because dance music isn’t known for having great lyrics, and your lyrics are definitely something that you work at. How important are the lyrics to you?
HH: You can have a good song without good lyrics, but the songs in my life that have meant the most to me—the ones that made me want to write my own songs—have great lyrics. So it’s something I strive for.
ELM: While your music obviously invokes electronica and synthpop, I don’t feel like you’re direct heirs of any band in particular. Is there a band or movement which you identify?
HH: I suppose it’s not obvious in the music, but the ‘movement’— if that’s what you want to call it—that I identify most with is DIY punk and hardcore. The DIY part is what stuck, but I came to it through punk and hardcore. Putting out records, booking shows, making zines, doing whatever, it boils down to this: no one needs to only be a spectator, and the only limitations out there are what you decide you don’t want to do. Put something out into the world. That was a very important ethic in that scene and it resonated with me in life- changing ways.
ELM: Where in India were you living? How do you think that influenced you?
HH: I was in Bombay, but only for a couple months. It wasn’t the city that influenced me during that time so much as all the time I spent alone there. I read all the time, I slept very little, and I realized ultimately, that I am not a loner.
ELM: Do you still keep in touch with Ted Leo?
HH: Not so much, although a childhood friend of mine just saw him at the Chaos in Tejas festival and said hi and I guess I came up in the conversation. I’m still a big fan, and I go to see his shows when I can when he comes through Los Angeles.
ELM: Who are your favorite writers?
HH: Ummm, the big ones for me are Michael Ondaatje, Yeats, and Tolstoy. I recently read ‘Wolf Hall’ and loved it. I’ll read pretty much any Michael Chabon novel that is put in front of me.
ELM: In reference to you often getting booked with hardcore screamo bands, your bio made a mysterious reference to your musical roots. Can you elaborate on that?
HH: That’s what I was referring to in terms of the DIY stuff. I listened to a lot of different kinds of music, but hardcore shows were the ones that were happening right there in my friends’ houses or somewhere close by, and I went to a LOT of them. I started playing shows with some of my friends’ bands, who were pretty heavy and loud, even though I was just a solo dude with a guitar and a drum machine playing these very very quiet, sad songs. I think there was enough emo in the screamo audiences that they would usually listen to me.
ELM: Your bio also mentioned that you see this album as being about living on the fumes of hopes and dreams. How do you feel like the record establishes that?
HH: Hopefully that comes out in both the lyrics and the music; hope and desperation have some kind of shared boundary line, and that’s where I was hoping these songs would fall.
ELM: When I first contacted you, you were pleased to see interviews with Mia Doi Todd and Hauschka on the site. How are you familiar with them, and what do you think of their music?
HH: I’ve been a fan of Mia Doi Todd’s since her first album in 1997. Hauschka’s music I’ve only recently come to know; he’s managed by a very nice guy here in Los Angeles named Tim Husom, who works with other bands I’m friends with. Tim’s the one who introduced me to the record.
ELM: What was the first record that changed your live?
HH: I think it was “Apocalypse 91″ by Public Enemy, actually. Before that, I’d mostly just listened to whatever was on the radio. It was the first time I pored over every word in the liner notes. It was the first time I could appreciate the depth an album could have.
ELM: Do you make music every day?
HH: I try to, but I’d say I fail on about 85% of the days.
ELM: With “Heaven is Attached…,” did you consciously set out to make a record than a collection of songs? If so, when did the theme emerge?
HH: I didn’t set out with a particular theme. I didn’t have a title for the album until after everything was written and recorded. It was really only then that I stood back and tried to see what the connective tissue was between the songs.
ELM: What is your live show like? Also, do you tend to stick with the same setlist or switch it up?
HH: Live, the three of us try and bring as much of the record to life, even though about half of the sounds on there weren’t generated by any live instrument. So I play a sampler with all the electronic drums in an old school MPC kind of way, just like a drum kit of samples, along with some other sounds that I trigger live. Scott plays guitar, and Fontaine plays a mix of accordion, bells, keyboard, and another little sampler.
We switch up our set list from tour to tour, but within a tour, usually we try and make a single show that’s thought out and mapped from beginning to end.