I was one of those kids who grew up singing into her hairbrush. I guess in adulthood the equivalent is dancing in the kitchen singing into wooden spoons. When Ben Hughes from Night Windows shared his latest EP Home with me I couldn’t wait to take a listen. It’s the first release in a long time that has me dancing and singing in the kitchen again like a kid and I like that.
Instead of just writing up a review I wanted to know more about the themes in their EP Home and more about Night Windows themselves. I set out this past week to ask some questions and take some photographs of the Jersey/Philly trio. We did this at the American Sardine Bar and it was a lot of fun. And, lucky all of you SD readers you get to stream Home here before it’s released! Take a listen while you read on
Ady: So, I’m excited about this release. How long did it take you to complete Home?
Ryan: The songs recorded on “Home” were added to the set list and took shape in early 2016. We recorded them in our garage studio at Ben’s house in February, they were sent back and forth to Fred (Thomas) for his input over the course of spring/summer 2016. The masters were finalized earlier this year, and now we’ve got some pretty nice looking little cassettes for the analog kids to enjoy.
Ady: Cassettes, love it! Who’s idea was it to embrace the good ole’ days of analog?
Ben: It was my idea. It just seemed like something fun to do. We actually listened to one of the tapes the other night in Ryan’s car, and it sounded really good!
Ady: Tell me about Night Windows! How do you all know each other? How long have you been making music together? And what does the writing/recording process look like among you all?
Ryan: Ben and I met as Freshman in high school. We bonded over Weezer “Blue” and have been playing in bands together ever since. In our travels, we came across Tad while he was playing with a great South Jersey/Philly band called “Big Fat Marker”. They eventually disbanded. Then, in Winter of 2013/2014, we recruited him to play drums for Night Windows. In the music creation process, typically new songs come in mostly-completed demo form which Ben records by himself. Then, Tad and I help to refine the structure and the parts for our instruments.
Ady: Alone (punk rock tees) really resonated with me. I’m 100% guilty of weaving my rock tees into my professional attire at any chance I get. Is this something you do too? I love the line in the song …”I still wear punk rock tees…- as I fool myself into believing I still dream”. Is this how you keep your youthful side alive? And do you have any advice for us on how to keep going even when the years pass (and we work these day jobs) and watch some of our dreams pass us by? (or am I over identifying!)
Ben: When I wrote Alone, I was working between 50 & 60 hours a week as a mail carrier. I had to put everything, including being on time for dinner & spending time with my wife, on hold for something that I didn’t give two shits about. It felt strange and stupid and the only thing that made me feel better was blasting all the old punk records I used to listen to growing up. I had this little portable speaker in my mail truck that I’d listen on. Most of those days, I was wearing band shirts under my uniform. Advice for keeping it going: I really don’t know, but I think it has to do with the idea that you have time for what you make time for. Also, a supportive significant other and group of family & friends helps.
Ady: I like that— the idea that you have time for what you make time for. So true and I’m glad you have made the time! I’ve really enjoyed Home (the whole EP) I’ve had an earworm all week! Which song off the EP is your favorite right now and why?
Tad: Miss You and the Weekend. I love every part from start to finish. Really fun to play as well.
Ady: Safe to assume this one will be included in the set for March 28? (Am I trying to get a set list spoiler??)
Ben: You got it! We have a little surprise planned to go along with it, too.
Ady: The song Alone (punk rock tees) is of course about much more than the attire we wear. You talk about loneliness in this song and also about being ashamed of admitting this. So, is it fair to say this song is about getting older, wanting more, resenting the grind?
Ben: I’d say this song was more about growing up than getting old. I remember feeling really down for an extended period of time. Then it hit me. I was spending all day alone, working really hard for something that I didn’t care about — I guess that would be resenting the grind… So many negative feelings are suppressed throughout life. It’s taboo to bring it up. It would be better to talk about it, but who wants to hear it & who wants to admit to feeling it? It’s tough. I know that those feelings and moods are there for a reason, so I try my best to accept them. It’s still really hard to talk about it. Nobody wants to feel vulnerable or to be viewed as weak.
Ady: It sounds like such a double-edged sword, some of the things that can bring you down also create the space for your creative/writing process. How many years have you been writing and playing music? Was it always an expressive outlet for the down times in life?
Ben: I started writing songs when I was 13. I’m almost 30 now. It’s hard to explain, but yes, songwriting has always been an expressive outlet for the down times in my life. It’s been so much more than that, though. It feels like a whole different dimension sometimes. There’s a certain energy and serenity, where everything makes sense and I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, where I’m supposed to be doing it. It could just be the simple fact that I’m distracting myself or the fact that I’m fully present in the moment — who knows… Whatever it is, I’m addicted to it and I’m grateful for every moment I get to spend in that little world.
Ady: The creative flow! Yes, it’s the space most human beings long to be- where you can lose time and be immersed. Lucky are those who can find this outlet in their lives! So when you’re in this space of writing and creating your flow, is it a solitary experience or a collaborative experience?
Ben: Solitary all the way. I love collaborating and fleshing out the songs after the fact, but I’ve got to be alone during the initial phases of songwriting.
Ady: I love Home, the first track. It honestly got me bouncing around my kitchen when I first heard it. It’s so catchy. I can’t wait to see it live (hope you play it). Got me thinking about your song creation. When you write a song do you write the melody first and lyrics after? Or do the words come and you write the melody to match? The songwriting process is always so fascinating to me.
Ben: Funny you mention the kitchen… I actually wrote Home in my kitchen. The chords came first, then the melody and lyrics for the first verse came shortly after. Eventually, the whole song came together. Back when I wrote these songs, a lot of times I’d write the melody and the lyrics as I was walking (mail routes) and then I’d get home and figure out the chord progression. It’s nice writing the melody first, so the song isn’t held captive by my muscle memory on guitar. Historically though, I don’t have a set formula or method for songwriting. I go through phases and follow what excites me.
Ady: That’s awesome, so maybe having a job that keeps you on foot is a good thing. You can have that quiet head space to create even while on the clock. Sort of like footsteps as a metronome.
Ben: Exactly! I don’t work as a mail carrier anymore, but I do get an hour lunch break that I use to walk a nearby nature trail everyday. Also, my wife and I have an awesome dog now (featured on the album art of the EP in a jean jacket). She’s super energetic, so we take her hiking and on walks around the neighborhood all the time.
Ady: What does spring/summer tour look like now that you are releasing the EP?
Ben: We’re all really excited for the release show at Boot & Saddle on Tuesday March 28 with Fred Thomas, HLEP & Max Stern. After that, we’re planning to get out for some long weekend tours over the summer months.
Ady: I’m excited to see the show also, and I will definitely keep an eye on the tour calendar! Here’s a fun question for you all. If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
Ben: Hands down, I’d say John Vanderslice. Ever since I first heard his record Emerald City, I was in love. The records he produces are almost always done to tape with minimal takes and they sound amazing. We don’t currently record to tape, but we try to apply the same mentality when recording. It would be awesome to get out to his studio, Tiny Telephone, someday and make a record with him.
Ady: I know you and I have some mutual musical favorites. What’s currently on repeat on your playlist? I love hearing what musicians actually listen to when not working on their own projects.
Ben: New records from Bonny Doon, Conor Oberst, Big Thief, Shannen Moser, The Afterglows, Wilco, Fred Thomas, John K Samson, Pilkington, Sun Organ & Beach House. Also, a lot of old Dylan & Cohen records.
Ryan: Over the last year: Conor Oberst, John K Samson, Regina Spektor, Kacey Musgraves
Tad: Mac DeMarco, Real Estate, Tennis, Deerhunter, and 80’s remixes of Justin Beiber
Ady: See this is why I get along with you all! Great musical taste- and more importantly you make great music. Thank you for letting me be a part of your EP release! I really enjoyed talking with you three, rearranging the furnishing at the American Sardine Bar and taking photos, and having some laughs. Good luck this Spring and Summer.
NW: Thanks – let’s do it again sometime!
Their EP officially releases March 31, 2017 on Black Rd Records.
Release show with Fred Thomas, HLEP & Maxwell Stern 03/28 at Boot & Saddle in Philly.
In addition to their release show, you can also check out their Daytrotter Session and Rubber Tracks Session.