Chad Deal 6:58 p.m., May 21
Hills Like Elephants
Daniel Gallo: Bass guitar | Andrew Armerding: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Vocals | Juan Carlos Ortiz: Drums | Sean Davenport: Electronics, Keyboards, Vocals | Greg Theilmann: Electronics, Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Vocals
RIYL: Twin Shadow, the Soft Machine, Peter Wolf Crier, Destroyer, Tame Impala, Candi Staton, LCD Soundsystem, James Booker, the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Pavement, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Vile, Al Green
Upcoming Local Shows
- "Hills Like Elephants Celebrate Release of Feral Flocks at Bar Pink" · March 22, 2013
- "Hills Like Elephants Write Note to Self" · Jan. 26, 2013
- "Feral Elephants" · Dec. 12, 2012
- Blurt: "Certain Girl Situations" · Feb. 1, 2012
- Jam Session: "Endless Charade" · Jan. 13, 2012
Inception: San Diego, 2011
Influences: Twin Shadow, the Soft Machine, Peter Wolf Crier, Destroyer, Tame Impala, Candi Staton, LCD Soundsystem, James Booker
What would happen if the Pixies hung out with Al Green, or if Jay Mascis did an album with Marvin Gaye?
Hills Like Elephants was founded in 2011 singer/keyboardist Sean Davenport. The bourbon-based modern Motown bluesman is a Bonita born pianist who spent the better part of his young adulthood stumbling from Boston to New York to L.A. and back to San Diego, tripping over women who kicked him when he was down and leaving behind a trail of soul-heavy lost love epitaphs via ex-bands Abigail Warchild (in NYC) and Gun Runner (San Diego).
“I think Hemmingway and maybe Bukowski are the only writers who I’ve read all of their books,” says Davenport, whose project is named after a Hemingway reference. Raised a bottle-toss away from Tom Waits' old turf, the candid crooner finds solace in a place where heartbroken vocals, Pavement guitars, and driving drum machines meet in a curious exploration to see what would happen if soul had a synth, and if synth had a soul.
Davenport began prepping the debut Hills Like Elephants full-length just before Gun Runner announced a “long term break up” in late 2011. The expression is consistent with the heart-on-sleeve mood of HLE’s The Endless Charade, a concept album “about certain girl situations.”
“A girl kind of messed me up. I was dealing with that for a while and the music became therapeutic,” says Davenport. “Lyrically, I felt like I made breakthroughs because I was having such a rough time and things were just coming out. A lot of honesty.” The full-length features cover art by Jon Kruger (River City).
“The album’s called The Endless Charade and, from one end of the album to the other, it shows you that as bad as it gets, it’s going to be OK, and you learn along the way. The games never stop - you have to learn how to play. It’s not spiteful. It’s more just if you can relate.”
Davenport’s “Motown album with drum machines” includes live drums by Matt Lynott of The White Buffalo and engineering by Gun Runner’s go-to, Christopher Hoffee at Chaos Recorders in Escondido.
“Every time I give Chris a musical reference, he always knows exactly what I’m talking about. He’s the other part of the album. He’s good at identifying what I normally go for and gives the album continuity. He knew that for guitar I usually go for something Trip Hop where maybe two notes can be the whole thing, and for keys I go for Talking Heads or the old school Wurlitzer organ. He knew how the vocals would sound. So we’ve been able to work very quickly. He’s phenomenal.”
As The Endless Charade makes use of vintage drum machines, Moog plug-ins, an old school pump organ, and an “‘80s synthesizer with fans blowing in your face to cool it down,” Davenport says the real challenge thus far has been making what happens in the studio happen live with a lineup which included at that time Andrew Armerding (River City) emulating synths with guitar and effects, former Gun Runner trapsman Carlos Ortiz, and guitar/bassist Danny Gallo.
“The idea was to make a keyboard album where the guitar is textural rather than the main drive of the song,” Davenport says. “I didn’t want to do a Sea Change or Bon Iver thing, where the music matches the mood, which is sad. I wanted to keep it dancier. So the album is like a remix of the songs I started with. None of them sound like how they started.”
A new single, “Invisible Ink,” was released in June 2012. That August, they won Best New Artist at the San Diego Music Awards.
In 2013, the lineup including Davenport, Andrew Armerding (River City), Greg Theilmann (Dark Shapes), and drummer Carlos Ortiz (Gun Runner) geared up for a nationwide tour — first stop, SXSW 2013 — to support their pending sophomore release, Feral Flocks, released via Requiemme Records/BMG Chrysalis in March 2013.
The title comes from a prerecorded zoo segment that Davenport overheard while interviewing with FM 94/9 host Tim Pyles and refers to lost birds of prey forming feral flocks to migrate home. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, Davenport agrees, disclaiming: “I’m not trying to be profound. Like, if I wouldn’t say it to you at a bar, I won’t say it lyrically. I’m not going to start spouting poetry.”
Davenport says Feral Flocks strikes an upbeat contrast to the laments of his debut. “On The Endless Charade, I was harping on the idea of past relationships, but I was also trying to move on,” Davenport says. “Feral Flocks is more about noticing the subtleties of life.”
“Ninjavitus,” a video from Feral Flocks, was shot in North Park and directed by Eric Casas of the Visualists.