Underground: Gentlemen Hall Steps Up, Gets Down
Not every band can boast MTV appearances, a VMA under their belts for Best Breakout Boston Artist, a smoothie named after them by an international ice cream conglomerate and a flute -- yes, you read correctly: a flute.
But Gentlemen Hall isn't "every band." After all, the Boston six-piece pulled all that off in under a year -- and without a full-length album to its name.
Meeting within the last six years at Berklee College of Music, Gentlemen Hall only started toying with the idea of forming a band in the past two. "We had an idea of the kind of music we wanted to make," singer Gavin McDevitt tells Billboard.com -- referring to their danceable fusion of '70s funk and pure pop hooks with a taste of hip-hop, rock 'n' roll and of course, that flute. But the group was still coming into its own. The process, however, was an accelerated one.
"We'd been doing this a while and we didn't have a solid release out," bassist Rory Given explains. "People wanted to hear our music. They could come to our shows, but they couldn't walk away with a CD in their hands."
To fill those empty hands, Gentlemen Hall released its self-titled debut EP in September 2009. "We didn't rush [recording] or anything," Given adds. "But it kind of had to be done in a certain amount of time."
The EP, which the band released on its own, was recorded in the basement of the house some of the group's members share. "Recording in a basement's fun, but it has a lot of limitations," singer and guitarist Jacob Michael says. With less-than-ideal acoustics and limited equipment, the band was forced to record one track at a time and without live drums on any of the disc's six cuts.
Still, they say, it was a positive experience. "The EP was exciting because that was…just six songs that we loved and wanted to put out to our fans and get out there," flutist Seth Hachen says.
Getting songs out there meant a healthy amount of buzz for Gentlemen Hall. In August 2009, nearing the EP's release date, the band was entered into a competition on OurStage.com and invited to perform on the New England stop of the MTV VMA Tour. Judges there, including All Time Low, deemed the group the Best Breakout Boston Artist of 2009. Like other regional winners, the band was featured on local cable during the live VMA broadcast and received coverage on MTV and MTV2.
And things only got sweeter from there. Ben & Jerry's retail chain soon took notice and honored the band with a smoothie (appropriately named "The Gentlemen Hall") at its Boston locations. Proceeds from each sale went to the Community Music Center of Boston, a non-profit school dedicated to music education.
Although the EP release marked a rise for Gentlemen Hall, the band hesitates to name its debut as the reason for all the hype. "I'd say the live show is where people really do react to our band," Hachen insists. "A lot of people that have contacted us have not seen us live, so it is reassuring to know that a few basement demos have really gotten us a step further, but I think it's been the live show that's really gotten us to where we are."
Jacob Michael agrees, adding, "[It's] just the sheer energy of the band. We just have such a strong, creative energy that can't be stopped by anything or anybody."
If anything, people are willing to encourage it. Recently Gentlemen Hall stepped into the studio with producer Earl Cohen, who has worked with the likes of Lady Gaga, The Temptations, and Anita Baker. The results of these sessions could make it onto the band's full-length -- and then some.
"We're just writing a lot of songs right now," Hachen says. "We're sort of starting on what is going to be an album… Basically, from now until the end of April, we're going to have a combination of what will be an album…and maybe even an EP."
But their ambitions don't just lie in creating a lot of music. The band plans to take full advantage of collaborations with Cohen and David Adam Monroe and an upcoming stint with award-winning producer Michael Seifert (Tori Amos, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Regina Spektor) to create bigger -- and in their opinions, better -- music.
"We've realized who we can capture and the capabilities of what we can create," McDevitt says. "We've sort of perfected our art. Well, not perfected, but we've come a long way as far as songwriting [and] as far as structure."
Part of that is getting their recordings on par with their live shows. "I think the goal is really to try to make those the same," Jacob Michael explains. "I mean, it can never be the same, but [the goal is] to get some of the bigger sounds that were lacking for our EP." With more tools at the group's disposal this time around, he expects "people will be able to go to a show and…buy our album, and they'll see the energy in both."
And with claims that the band will be bettering their best inside the studio, it's clear that there's no stopping these Gentlemen.