Three years after releasing a debut which took 15 years to fully gestate, the Easthills are back and ready to win over a wider audience with an album that rapidly expands their musical footprint.
The emphasis on their sophomore effort Fear and Temptation is a collaborative energy that brings songwriters Hank Campbell and Will Barada in touch with several of their biggest songwriting influences. In particular, their work with Doug Gillard, of legendary Dayton indie-rock band Guided by Voices, impresses. Gillard worked personally on six of the songs on the new album, which the band will be releasing this week at a sold-out White Rabbit Cabaret show.
“I hear a drastic difference between albums,” says Campbell. “You still hear that sound that Will and I have when we sing together, which to me is the secret magic ingredient. But we've managed to build more dynamics into what's going on within that sound. Certainly putting Doug Gillard into that mix, that was a blessing that to me is just outstanding. I can't tell you how thrilled we were to hear these tracks where our hero did what he does … does as well as almost anyone in the business … on top of our music.”
Campbell says that collaboration came about almost by chance, a friend's introduction on Facebook leading Gillard to ask if he could hear any of the new Easthills songs in progress. As crazy as that sounds, Gillard backs it up.
“It doesn't happen much at all in that medium,” he says of the social media encounter. “Hank was very gracious, and approached as someone intimately familiar with my work and particular style. He sent two or three initial tracks, with lots of room in each to do things and add textures. I listened and got some ideas immediately.”
Freed to add to the music as he saw fit, Gillard expanded on the songs, particularly early favorite “Snake in My Gut,” in ways that surprised Campbell in particular.
“It's amazing because he played that part [on “Snake in My Gut”] while hearing a pretty rough track of the demo,” he explains. “It'd be hard to imagine that song now without that part, but what he was able to do with so little, he's definitely a master of his craft.”
Though Gillard plays his role on a large portion of the album's tracks, the band also worked with Frank Hannon (Tesla) and Neal Doughty (REO Speedwagon), both artists the Easthills have opened for while building their touring reputation.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to create relationships with some of the bands we've been lucky enough to open for,” says Barada. “All of those guys gave us classic examples of what they are known for, writing parts that added to the songs rather than trying to upstage them.”
“Frank Hannon was very cool when we opened for Tesla at the Egyptian Room, and we'd opened for REO Speedwagon a few times and they'd been really responsive,” adds Campbell. “It's funny, because I don't liken us to classic rock, but the reality is we've played a lot of shows with that kind of thing, we've done a lot of that and their fans have always responded very well to us. So we certainly embrace that.”
The band plans to play a marathon set for the release show, including the entire new album and much of their older material, making it a chance for fans new and old alike to really acquaint themselves with the sound of the Easthills. This should serve them well in their goal to really get fans excited to spread the new songs to a wider audience.
“We're really going to try and put a big push behind this thing and really work to get it heard,” says Campbell. “We've never had a bad response to a live show, or anyone really listening to us. But I feel even stronger about this new album. We've really tried to put our best foot forward.”
As for collaborating with artists like Gillard, who they've admired for years, one thing stands out in Campbell's experience that he hopes to emulate as the band develops.
“We've noticed that the guys who really make it in this business, they're really talented but they also tend to be genuinely nice people too,” he laughs. “There are definitely reasons for why they stick around.”
If you go:
The Easthills Album Release Party
Saturday, February 27, 8 p.m.
White Rabbit Cabaret, 1116 Prospect St.
$8 - $10 (sold out), 21+