In rather quick succession, Kansas three-piece Hembree wrapped up a North American tour supporting JR JR, kicked off their own headlining swing through the U.S./Canadian east coast (including back-to-back New York City gigs on November 7 and 8) and released a powerful new EP, Had It All.
Hembree — comprised of Isaac Flynn (lead vocals, guitar), Eric Davis (keyboards, synths) and Garrett Childers (vocals, guitar) — are an easy act to like even without hearing a note. Established in 2014, the band toiled away at home and fly-by-night studios honing their poppy, nostalgic brand of indie rock. Then, after catching a break catching the attention of a local radio DJ, they built up their reputation and fan base the old-fashioned way: relentless touring, including gigs with the likes of Elvis Costello, Cold War Kids and the aforementioned JR JR.
Then in 2016 something amazing happened: Hembree’s second single, “Holy Water,” caught fire — racking up nearly a million streams and charting on the Billboard Alt Radio chart. Both are unheard of for a band who — at the time — lacked label backing. It just doesn’t happen, but like I said earlier: Hembree is easy to like.
The five-track Had It All, which includes a re-released “Holy Water,” came out Friday via Ribbon Music and certainly is worthy of the hype that surrounds it.
It’s now Monday, November 6. The tour is five-days-old and the EP’s been out for three. Despite having every excuse not to, Hembree’s lead vocalist and songwriter Isaac Flynn generously took time to field questions on the new record, the band’s live shows and more in SOMETHINGGOOD’s latest GOODQUESTIONS Q&A. Keep scrolling…
SOMETHINGGOOD: There are some recurring themes throughout your new EP Had It All. Is there a message you’re trying to convey?
Isaac Flynn: It’s interesting that you point that out because I think some of those recurring themes were buried somewhere in my subconscious. I’m not certain I completely realized I was writing with a theme until the entire EP was finished, and I listened to the tracks as a whole.
The songs are very reflective and redemptive… making mistakes and figuring out how to mend those mistakes. I want people to realize that sometimes you’ll find yourself in a valley, but there’s hope to climb your way out and find some resolution. One of my favorite things about making this is EP is that I feel like I found my voice as a songwriter.
SG: Your song “Holy Water” broke through last year, charted on Billboard and racked up more than one million streams. Why do you think the song resonated with so many? And what did you take away from the experience? Did it impact your creative process for Had It All?
IF: It definitely impacted my creative process. That song came together so quickly. Almost like a stream of consciousness type of thing. The song sort of just poured out of me, and the demo was done in about four hours. Since then I have let things happen more naturally, and I try not to overthink things as much.
As far as why I think it resonated so well with people, I’d say it’s because people can feel that authentic energy. It feels sincere, and people can tell when someone is passionate about the message they’re trying to convey.
SG: As a trio, how do you develop your songs? Is there a tried-and-true process you tend to follow, or does it simply depend on the song?
IF: We’ve got a pretty cool system down that we’ve found to work really well for us. I write and demo the songs, and then I bring it to Eric and Garrett to get their ears on it. This allows for a really fresh perspective on the song. From there we finish the song together. Finally, we take it to our producer, Eric Hillman. Eric is a brilliant musician, and he always helps us take the songs to the next level. We’re all really comfortable with our roles in the band, and we all have a mutual respect for each other that makes for a really fun creative process.
SG: Are you happy with how Had It All came out? And were there any takeaways that you’ll carry over to future recordings?
IF: I’m thrilled with the final result. We put so much energy into all of these songs, and I’m really excited to share them with people. There are definitely things I’ll do differently on our full-length record, but I’m so thankful for this experience. We grew so much as a band during this process, and I think we really found our identity. We learned to stay true to our vision as a band and to trust our instincts.
SG: You’ve just kicked off your headlining North American tour. How do you make these shows your own? Is there a different approach than when you open for other artists?
IF: On the headline shows, we play with more patience. We let the songs breathe, and we improvise more. When we open for bigger acts, it’s usually a thirty minute set, so we try to hit the audience hard for thirty minutes straight. When we’re headlining we still strive for a fun and high energy show, but there are more spontaneous moments in the set, and I’ve grown to love those moments.
SG: While on the topic of touring — how do you pass the time on road trip after road trip? Any travel tips?
IF: If I’m being completely honest, we’re at the stage in the band where we all still work other jobs. We’re usually working in the day and playing shows at night. I know a lot of artists get bored on tour, so one positive aspect of working and touring is there’s never a dull moment. Travel tip: always trust the locals. In every city, we go out of our way to ask people what the best coffee shops, breweries, restaurants etc. are. They’ve yet to steer us wrong.
SG: SOMETHINGGOOD is a music discovery blog, so the final question is always the same — what are you listening to?
IF: We’ve been into a lot of music with some serious groove as of late. We’ve been listening to Parcels, Wild Beasts, Tops, Flying Lotus and Blood Orange. I know this won’t serve as a discovery for many people, but I just saw the Arcade Fire – Infinite Content tour, and it was mind-blowingly good.
Hembree are playing back-to-back dates in New York City: November 7 at Rockwood Music Hall (with the amazing Jachary, who we profiled two months ago) and November 8 at Piano’s. Check out the full tour schedule here. Listen to/buy Had It All in all the usual places.