Features | Interviews

One AM Radio

By David Greenwald | 8 June 2005

CMG’s David Greenwald sat down with Hrishikesh Hirway of the One AM Radio recently, chatting over lox and cream cheese at Noah’s Bagels. Violinist Jane Yakowitz spent the length of the interview desperately searching for a rare Los Angeles parking spot.

The One AM Radio’s A Name Writ In Water was one of the best releases of 2004, a beautiful merging of folk and electronics that inspired praise from all fronts. They talked about how to score a split 7” with Ted Leo, the top albums of the year, and of course, the power of rock criticism.

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CMG’s David Greenwald (CMG): I was listening to your first album today, and A Name Writ In Water definitely goes in more of an electronic direction. Why was that?
Hrishikesh Hirway (HH): Partly it’s just the songs that I was writing at the time. It wasn’t like a conscious decision or anything to be like, oh I’m going to make the record more electronic. On the first record there are some songs that have some electronic elements and then some that don’t, that sort of stray further from that stuff. At the time I was writing more songs that felt to me like in that electronic vein. The stuff that I’m working on right now, when I have them fully recorded and stuff, they probably won’t be that electronic sounding. I do think also, though, I’ve gotten a little bit better about that production, and so some things that I might’ve wanted to do before, I feel like I can do a little bit better now and so I feel a little more confident about so trying to pull some of that stuff off. I guess that extends not just to electronic stuff, but to recording in general.

CMG: So you do all your own recording at home?
HH: Mhmm.
CMG: On a Pro Tools set-up?
HH: Between Pro Tools and a digital eight-track.

CMG: Was there ever any desire to go into a studio and work with a producer or anything like that?
HH: Um, yeah I mean I’ve done some recording in studios before and I think I’d like to do more. This record, I would love to work with a recording engineer. I still feel at this point I’m kind of - I’m still figuring it out as I’m going along and I would love to be able to get someone who really, really knows what they’re doing to work with me. Some stuff I feel pretty ok about, recording, I think I’m getting decent at recording some stuff. But, you know, there are certain things, like especially recording live drums, where going into a studio would be great because there’s just a whole range of options that aren’t open to you when you’re recording in your house or your apartment.

CMG: When did you start playing music?
HH: I started playing in bands seriously when I was fifteen or so, but I was playing drums. I started playing guitar about seven, eight years ago. I started messing around with drum machines a couple years after that.

CMG: So your last record, as far as I can tell, got unanimous praise. Did that have any impact on your shows or selling records or anything like that?
HH: I don’t know. There’ve been a couple times --- it’s hard to know exactly how to correlate things that are written and then like, people buy the record or stuff like that. There’ve definitely been a couple times that I’ve gotten mail orders from people who were like, I read about this in this magazine or this website, which is really cool to hear because then you feel like people are really paying attention to those things. I played a show in Boston a couple months ago, and for the show there was a nice write-up in the newspaper, in the Boston Globe. The show was really well-attended and there were some people there who I think were hearing The One AM Radio for the first time and they just checked it out because of the article, so that was really cool.

I definitely read reviews and am influenced by them in terms of what I buy and I know some people who swear by certain reviewers or publications and stuff, but you can never tell whether it’s because of touring or what. I think ultimately it’s probably some combination of all the different things.

CMG: I’ll be honest, I downloaded your album before I bought it. How do you feel about that?
HH: I think it’s going to happen no matter what. I end up usually feeling a kind of like mixed reaction about it. Part of me just feels like it’s just awesome that people are listening to it and it is great because it just means that it’s getting out there. I have a lot of sort of bitterness about stuff like Metallica’s lawsuit against Napster.
(Jane calls to inform us that she’s still looking for a parking spot.)

Like I did a record, an EP --- what it originally was was actually just a Christmas present I had made for some of my friends. I basically covered their songs and gave it to them as presents and a couple of the guys said, y’know, that I should put it out and it didn’t feel right since they weren’t my songs and it was really just done for fun. I ended up putting it out on the One AM Radio website, as a free thing and I made artwork for it that you could download and print out. I think being able to get stuff for free is awesome and really exciting, and I really appreciate when a label or a band will have at least one track that you can download and be like, “oh this is what it is” and get excited about it. For me, when I do really like something, I try and make sure I do go and buy the actual album because I want to support what the person is doing and recognize that it took a lot of time and probably cost them some money to actually do it, and then only way you can sort of validate that is by saying yeah, it’s worthwhile for me to buy it.
CMG: Right.
HH: Sometimes people download stuff and they don’t like it, and that’s that. I think people end up using mp3 sort of like a radio station and some people end up just keeping that, that’s what they want, but for me it’s worthwhile to have the artwork and the full product and see really what the whole thing is if I like the songs enough.

CMG: I wanted to ask you about the song “Lucky” --- that’s a really powerful lyric, is that something that happened to you, or where did that come from?
HH: Not really, I didn’t drive off a road that was closed. It was sort of a combination of different car accidents - there was one car accident that I was in that was pretty scary and I ended up being ok and it kind of came from that, and just other people I know that have come really close to being hurt and ended up being ok. Just basically trying to capture that.

CMG: There are a lot of great folk musicians out right now, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens; are these guys who you listen to, or what do you like?
HH: Yeah, I definitely listen to both of those guys, as well as older folks too, like Leonard Cohen and Tim Buckley and stuff like that. I listen to basically everything that I can get my hands on, I mean in every genre. I was just listening to the Antony and The Johnsons album [I Am A Bird Now] n the car on the way over here and I think that’s going to be my favorite record of the year. At least it is so far.
CMG: Yeah, it’s really great.
HH: It’s so sad. I was checking out the new Montag record, I downloaded some stuff off of iTunes from that, and I really like that. Oh I just got the new Caribou record, which is also really good. The new Books record is really good.

CMG: How do you feel about that they’re doing the vocals on it now?
HH: I think it’s great. I feel like if they just put out another record that was just like one of the first two, it wouldn’t be as interesting to me because they’ve already taken that idea and done it really well. I think you have to sort of end up moving somewhere. Artists, songwriters, whatever, they need to have a progression. Sometimes you take a misstep, but sometimes that ends up leading you to doing something even better than what you’d ever done before. I really like it, I think his voice is really nice and I think some of the songs, when he sings with the samples, it’s really beautiful, so I’m really glad that they did that.

CMG: One last question, how did the split with Ted Leo come about?
HH: It was way early on, from when I was first starting. I was playing some shows and I played a show in Connecticut and I opened for Ted Leo. I talked to Ted a little bit and after the show, he asked me if I had anything that he could take, any kind of CDs or anything for sale, and I didn’t. I had like a CD of a band that I played drums in, but I hadn’t recorded anything yet myself. He said, “Well, that’s a shame and you should have something recorded, and if you want, I would be happy to record you in Boston,” where he’s living now. I was in school at the time, so over spring break I went there and recorded two songs on his four-track. He had just come out with his first solo record, so I asked if he had any tracks that hadn’t made it onto the record, or anything that he was willing to do sort of separate from that, if he wanted to do the recordings that I did and make a split 7” --- which I really didn’t expect him to say yes to, but he did, which was really cool.