If you ask a successful Nashville band how they all ended up together, you’re likely to get a beautiful coming-of-age story. This is just too interesting of a city not to expect some drama behind the music you hear onstage. American Hotel is no exception, however they do have a more eclectic history than most.
Partially the love child of singer-songwriter Jeremy Lister and ex-Bear Cub Jesse Hall, the group officially got together in the fall of 2014 to record their self-titled debut album at the East Side Manor. Hall hails from Pittsburgh, where he first focused his musical abilities with the folk-rock band Bear Cub. After some local success, the band looked to extend their fan-base to the southern region, eventually relocating to Nashville and establishing new Bear Cub territory. Several years went by, and, as happens sometimes, the group started to fizzle out as everyone went their separate ways. However, the musical drive still fueled Hall’s heart, because in no time at all he was writing songs with good friend Jeremy Lister.
Lister, who you may know from NBC’s hit show The Sing-Off, was still juggling the fame he achieved as a second-place contestant on the show, and the success of his 2011 album The Bed You Made, when the two started writing. He had also been writing with fellow American Hotel member Justin Loucks, who had been drinking beers with Jesse Hall for years. It was only a matter of time.
With the addition of Adam Binder (bass), Anthony Fiacco (guitar), and Vince Gard (drums), the folk-rock sextet has created a powerhouse sound reminiscent of all their musical histories combined. It’s sensitive; it’s grungy; it’s honest; it’s Nashville.
The East Nashvillian’s Luke Levenson sat down with American Hotel recently at East Side Manor studio for the following Q&A.
This is a very young project, how have you been able to book great gigs like East Side Social and Bonnaroo?
We’re old, you know? We’ve been around the block. Most of us have been here for 11-12 years. We’ve also played together in the past. This band came together more organically then most bands come together, or at least the shows were booked more organically. We just knew the people, and that’s how we got the gigs. We never really actively booked anything.
Has recording your self-titled debut album changed your expectations for the future of the band?
It’s given me a deeper respect for the songs. It’s a little more difficult to execute properly, especially when you have to sit back and listen to the songs playback what you’ve been doing live in the studio, and you’re like: “Oh, we’re not very good.” So that’s changed the expectations for the attitude we now have to take to shows and stuff.
We’ve outlawed alcohol at the practices. When we used to drink 40 Millers between all of us and a bottle of bourbon, we thought we were killing it, but we probably weren’t. This band approaches practice like a high school band might. We get together no matter what, practice on the back porch, and everyone just writes with one another. All of these rehearsals have been for the purpose of going into a studio like this, and getting it done as best we can.
The moment that really changed the way I felt about the future of the band was onstage at Mercy Lounge. It just felt right. We were all looking at each other smiling, and all our friends were there from past bands and stuff. It was like a reunion show for a band that never existed.
Jeremy, you have a phenomenal archive of tunes in your back pocket from your personal music career. In the first year of your record deal with Warner Brothers, you wrote over 200 songs. Will we ever see American Hotel play any of those songs?
Probably not — we have so many new ideas. I mean, every now and again someone will be like, “Well this song I wrote a year ago is pretty cool,” but in reality we know we’re writing much cooler stuff than we were last year. It keeps us in the moment, too. It’s fresh. Plus, this is a completely collaborative project. I don’t think it should matter to the people listening, like, who’s in the band or what they’ve done in the past. It’s just a band! Just listen to it.
What aspect of this project distinguishes it from the projects you all have had in the past?
I feel like, for the first time, everything I do in the studio — I’m very unattached to. I want everyone else to like it. I’ll do something else if they want me too. Not to say that these guys are better than other guys I’ve worked with, but everyone is just so perfect for everyone else. That has to be the guy who plays that instrument. Again, it all came together very naturally. I really don’t care if someone outside of the room digs the music; I’m just watching the other band members’ faces as they listen to me!
Also, most other artists seem to book gigs for some higher purpose, like for some bigger plans in the future. We’re just booking gigs to — have a gig. The expectations are a little bit different for this band, too. All of us would be super happy if we put out a couple records and they sold successfully, but we’d feel the same amount of joy whether we sold any or not. I mean if we were a young band, like in our early twenties, our ego might get in the way. But we’re a little bit run-down now! We’re more relaxed. We don’t have that ego problem.
Come down to East Side Social on June 20 to hear what American Hotel has to offer!