North Carolina indie rockers Happy Abandon are poised for greatness. Not the kind of greatness that if they had the right people behind them and enough money, they could go somewhere. It is much more akin to an explosion of fireworks off in the distance. You see it and are drawn to it. The desire grows for more. The nostalgia sets in and becomes overwhelming. And just like that, you are taken back to the moments of your youth when everything was new and pure and undiscovered. Like a long day in the sun and water. Like your first night out in a new city where everything happens. Youth to Adult. Awakening.
Recently we caught up with the band during their fall tour and were blown away by the mature thought that encapsulates every move they are making. It is rare to find something so complicated and complex coming so naturally. Every moment of this interview was both enlightening and delightful.
GSLM: Do you remember your first time on stage?
Justin Ellis : I was 15 or 16 years old, with my first band, and playing a “pay to play” battle of the bands. Really, really terrible. But at the time, I didn’t know any better. A production company was able to get the show put on at Cat’s Cradle (Carrborro, NC). There I was, fifteen years old, playing this giant room to maybe 30 people paying attention. At the time, it was easily the happiest that I have ever been. I was like, “Yes! I get it. This is what it’s all about. This is what I want to do.” Luckily, two years later, I din’t have to do any more “pay to play shows.”
GSLM: What about your first instrument?
Justin Ellis: It was a red toy xylophone. My mom enrolled me into a thing called kindermusik. We lived in New Jersey, and in the Northeast, they have programs that are like pre-school, but brings music into the class. It is so much fun. Not only do I still have it, it makes several appearances on our new record (Facepaint). It was kind of weird to come full circle on an entire lifetime of playing music.
Peter Vance: I originally wanted to be a drummer. My dad said that I would have to practice on this practice pad, which was not exactly what I had in mind. In retrospect, it was a really good idea. Then I decided that I wanted to play guitar instead. I got this little half-sized acoustic guitar. I guess that I was seven or eight when I got it. I had been playing it for over a decade, and I brought it to North Carolina when I went to college. One day it broke. The neck snapped. I still have it, because I want to do something with it. Maybe destroy it and make something out of the wood.
GSLM: “Love Like Language” is incredible. It begins happy enough and draws the listener in through deep swells. In it you say, Longing for silence/and somehow afraid of it/But when chaos begins to accumulate/you cover your ears/Hold back the tears in silence
This is a sentiment that holds back most people from ever being what they were truly made to be. Talk about your thoughts when writing the song. What message were you trying to create?
Peter Vance: I wrote that song right as the idea of Happy Abandon was decided. Jake and I knew we wanted to do a project. We already had a couple of songs. At a certain point, I going back to my hometown of Washington, DC. I was there for a couple of months and ended up writing several songs, “Love Like Language” was the most significant.
I like the idea of coping mechanisms. It’s the idea of, when my parents fight, I go in my room and put on my headphones and I zone out. It’s the letting go of your surroundings. And how that is not a very productive way of dealing with that.
GSLM: “Take Me” is almost like the opposite of “Love Like Language” with the sentiment of silence. Like, “There may not be words for this, but it has to be expressed.” What does that part of the song represent to you.
Justin Ellis: For me, the end of “Take Me,” there are no lyrics, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a feeling there. Because of the way that the instruments grow and expand, it feels like catharsis. It keeps growing and doesn’t stop growing until it cuts out. It is one of my favorite songs to play live.
GSLM: Some friends and I have been talking about communication. When you can feel that, your song doesn’t have to mean what you wrote it about. It can mean what the listener needs it to mean.
Peter Vance: When people ask what a song means, I ask them what it mean to them. When they tell me, then a say, “Well, then that is your answer.”
GSLM: Let’s play a game. There has been a zombie apocalypse. You three have somehow escaped. You don’t know where you are, but you are on an island. You have to rebuild, but you don’t have immediate food supply. (Laughing) One of you has to get eaten. who will it be and why?
Peter Vance: (Laughing) I am so happy to say that I am just the scrawniest, little stringy, un-nutritious boy in the world, so feel like I am pretty safe.
Jake Waits: It would probably come down to battle of strength.
Peter Vance: (Laughing) Between Justin and Jake, there is a lot of muscle and goodies. I’d say a lot of flavor.
Justin Ellis: I’m 6’6″ and have been described as Midwestern with how husky I am. I would totally be the food.
Peter Vance: If he is volunteering…
Justin Ellis: I’m vegetarian. I couldn’t eat Peter of Jake. (Laughing) Not that I wouldn’t want to, but because I am morally opposed to it.
Peter Vance: (Laughing) At least it’s organic…
Justin Ellis: Yeah…I guess I would be the food. I think in terms of body mass, you could fit four Peters in one of me, so I would probably be like, “Welp,…See Ya.” (Laughing) If we ate my legs first, I could be there to party for a little while.
Go see this band! A full list of dates can be found below, along with their latest album Facepaint.
Happy Abandon Tour
10/13 Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall
10/17 Birmingham, AL – The Nick
10/20 Bryson City, NC – Nantahala Brewing Company
11/11 Richmond, VA – Gallery5