With experience in a more straightforward indie band in the past, the members of Hoan play with conviction and maturity over a brand new smoldering, electronic backdrop. Since the release of their first EP in April, they’ve been busy touring and promoting and look to jump back in the studio after one more bout in the States and a pair of hometown shows.
Lead singer Alex Nicol filled me in on where they’re at and where they’d like to go:
Donovan Burtan: How did the Hoan project come together?
Alex Nicol: Oussama and Mike and I were playing in a different group around 2015 and we decided to shift it up and make something a bit more electronic with a different approach to songwriting and sound. Since then we’ve been exploring songwriting as a four-piece.
The inspiration came when I went to India for two months. I was thinking maybe that would be the end of me doing music, but I brought my computer and I just began making a whole bunch of wacky music on Garageband or Ableton — I didn’t know I could write music with no guitar, basically. I thought I was constrained to certain structures of songwriting, but that trip spurred an interest in doing something a bit more expanded and we’re still only getting close to that. This release (Modern Phase) is really sort of an intermediary, sonically, between what we used to do and what we want to do next, and we’re at the end of that chapter with our little tour in the States.
DB: I’ve seen you live once before and I think you do a good job of mixing a cappella moments and moments of instrumental exploration. Do you try and find a balance between songwriting and sonic exploration?
AN: One of my problems with dance or electronic music as a genre is that the voice is more often than not sort of second to the music and I want to try and make music that incorporates the voice as much as the music in a genre that makes you want to dance.
I don’t really know what that’s going to mean for this next album other than me as a songwriter knowing that every song is going to have a specific point and a certain hook vocally that will be wrapped by music. That won’t change and it’s not something that’s going to be rudimentary vocally. I’m going to try and make each song have a specific core emotionally that resonates after I play it 50 times.
DB: What about lyrically? I know on your last album you were speaking about modernization and technology — is that still a theme?
AN: What’s happened recently with me is my grandpa passed away and my parents are much older. So there’ll be a real kind of humanistic focus on aging and on time and how time works in a very interpersonal way and a general way. It’s going to be a more personal album than the previous one.
Lots of those songs came from me reading Freud — I had a book of his lectures and his writing, and I was very into it. Not that I’m into psychoanalysis as a method necessarily, I just wanted to get into his writing cause I never had. I was reading a lot of heavy psychology shit at that point and that spawned this critique of modernization, but this next album’s going to be a very human album.
DB: Do you think the more personal nature of the lyrics could drive how you approach the sound of the next album?
AN: Yeah, I think it’ll be maybe a bit like a Bjork album in that the lyrics sit really strong and present without being overpowering, agile without being too emotive. That’s going to be something to explore. I’ve never had as much confidence in my voice. It’s going to mean some risk-taking and some things will work and some things won’t work, and then I’ll know.
DB: You guys make intense moments almost like guitar solos, but they’re not flashy — more sonically driven than melodically driven.
AN: Mike and I have jammed since the age of, like, 16. The first songs we wrote were these random prog/funk jam things — we wouldn’t sing. We would write nine-minute songs. We had, like, 10-, nine-minute songs that we thought were fucking amazing that had eight parts in them and we would rarely go back to part A. We just loved doing that. So there’s something about our music that still has that — weird sort of extended parts, you’re confused why they’re there but it’s not out of place.
I’ve always wanted to push the pop structure if I can, so there’s a bit of a prog vibe that we might lose on this next album, frankly, because it might be something that hits really hard, and there isn’t any space to pull off extended jam parts. But we’ll see. ■
Hoan play the OUMF music festival, Jansport stage (Emery and Sanguinet), on Thursday, Sept. 7, 6 p.m., free and the POP Montreal festival, opening for Teen Daze, at Bar le Ritz PDB (179 Jean-Talon W.) on Friday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m., $10