Album Premiere – Hymnal’s Self Titled Debut

Posted: by The Editor

Blake is no stranger to DIY, having been a part of the crew that kept the seminal Gasworks venue alive while holding down the New Mexico music scene in various punk and screamo bands. His label, Too Far Gone records, has been releasing stuff from his projects since the glory days of the emo revival (alongside records from Park Jefferson, The Exploration, and Our Sunday Affairs to name a few). But his latest foray is stepping into entirely new, albeit emo-tinged, territory – a country project.

Hymnal was born from a long-grown appreciation of the genre stemming from Blake’s youth, listening to artists his grandparents would play. Some of these songs have been manifesting in different forms for years, but it took Blake until this year for them to feel right. After seeing him try these out for the first time at a very lowkey basement gig (where he also covered multiple blink-182 songs in a wine-drunk post set celebration), I’ve been eagerly awaiting for this release to finally come to fruition.

While the record is heavily embedded in country roots, you can still hear the introspective and intimate propensities of artists like The Weakerthans, Oso Oso, and Death Cab For Cutie. Fans of emo can rejoice in the fact that old habits die hard, and even if you’re not normally a country fan you’ll find something familiar to latch onto.

The self-titled debut from Hymnal is out today, and available for preorder Here. Listen to it in full and check out an interview with Blake below!

So when we first met, you were playing in punk bands and had just released a screamo record with Saintly Rows. How did you end up as a solo artist writing country music?

Growing up in Texas and then rural Maryland, it was often just what was on the radio or what was around me. My great uncle was an up and coming country star in Texas for a time years and years ago, and in the shed at my grandparent’s place in Sweetwater, there’s a shrine with his old guitar and a bunch of cowboy memorabilia all around. In Maryland, driving miles between the store and siblings’ practices, you had a lot of time to sit with the radio and Froggy 100.7 was THE station that is still ingrained in my head. I have a huge soft spot for 90s pop country hits.

As an adult, it just seemed the natural progression for me to return to what I loved. When I discovered Townes Van Zandt as a teenager, my entire view on country as a genre changed, and I realized how seriously it could be used to convey some of the darkest subjects, and that’s what I was already used to in my previous work. The catharsis of screamo is still there for me, just in a new and unique way.

Tell us a little bit about some themes on the album

This album largely deals with love and death most often, as I’ve always been fascinated with both, and impacted by both constantly in various ways. Dale’s Blues is about the love I see between my grandparents and how I would love to experience something so permanent as what they have. There’s also a morbidity in love so deep, where you are resigning yourself to experiencing their death, no matter what, and the beautiful message and acceptance that brings with it. The last song on the album deals with family passing and anxieties and distance causing a breakdown of communication and things left unsaid.

How has living all over the country in different music scenes impacted your songwriting? Has Boston and its unfathomable music pedigree pushed you in any new direction since you started living here?

Living all over the country has really impacted my music in a huge way. Being involved in different music scenes, meeting so many talented people and learning from them over the last few years has largely changed my approach to music and made me take it more seriously as an art. My house in San Francisco alone shared roommates with Derek Ted Schultz, Kevin/Field Medic and Wayne/Windmills, three people I will always owe so much to in respects to my approach to music.

Then there’s Dallas, where there’s a bar that I adore with $2 Lone Stars and on certain days, people just show up with guitars and instruments. No one’s showboating, no one’s trying to get that spotlight for Wonderwall or whatever, it’s just people of all ages taking turns leading different tunes and country staples and everyone plays along. That was a key part in me deciding to pursue Hymnal as well because I wanted to tap into that universal feeling of music being a shared experience and not necessarily performative by default.

As far as Boston goes, it’s been intimidating being in venues that I recognize from shitty 240p YouTube videos from 2006, but at the same time so encouraging because virtually everyone I’ve talked to from the music scene here has been incredibly supportive. There’s so much interest in niche genres and a genuine appreciation of music in all forms, I’ve found a community that’s truly supportive. Not to mention, living near Billy, the mystical force behind Too Far Gone Records has been amazing. I owe a lot to him as well for helping me feel immediately included. Moving from New Mexico was scary, and he helped make it feel like I’ve always had a place here.

Do you think Hymnal will always be a solo act?

I think it will as far as writing is concerned. The music is extremely personal and I want something that I can look back at later on and say “this is me, this represents who I am artistically” and be proud to stand by it.

However live, I’m definitely open to having friends help make a larger sound, especially for some of the more layered work. There’s songs that aren’t on this release that would definitely benefit from one or two extra people on stage with me to perform and create a more textured experience. 

If you could play one show with any artists/bands past and present, what would the lineup look like?

Oh, man, that’s a big one to answer. I guess as far as Hymnal is concerned, resurrecting Townes and Guy Clark to open for them would be big. Or just investing in a bunch of tape loops and opening for Grouper and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I feel bad for anyone that’s been around for me gushing over those two. I’m constantly taking influence from both of their entire catalogs.

What’s next? 

No clue! I’m honestly blown away that this is already happening. I guess my plan now, with this out, is to just book more shows, maybe do a couple out of towners and see how that goes and start working on how I’m going to release the stuff not on this album, and start writing a follow-up that I’m okay with.

Christopher Thomas | @ChrisMustard

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