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The Hotline TNT Interview

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Hotline TNT: best rock band in America? My favorite anyway.

Cartwheel (2023) is their pinnacle to date, and with that album in regular rotation still in 2024, I sat down on my stoop and talked to Will Anderson on speakerphone about his 15 year old musical project (if you count his earlier band Weed, which I do, since it's pretty much the same rock ideas). We also touched on how he makes his Hotline guitars sound so cool (open G tuning, Weed was open E), and the difficulties of maintaining a steady lineup EVEN when you're signed to Jack White's label, critically adored, and getting booked for nonstop tours and festivals (his four piece band is playing Gov Ball (smallest font on the flier) and Pitchfork this summer).

Not everyone is built for the lifestyle. But Will is. He makes and sells his own merch, makes and sells his own zine, and does everything that he can DIY even though he's "part of the music industry" now. He's a few credits away from a school counseling degree and could easily just hang it up and pursue a different career. And yet, album after album, show after show, t shirt after t shirt, he keeps doing it and getting better and finding reasons to hang on.

I cut some interview at the end about making merch inspired by stuff Michael Jordan used to wear, and the subscriber list of Assn' Up (Association Update), his zine, because I liked ending on the stuff about playing shows, sick with lightweight meningitis. Hardcore, not exactly advisable, and deeply appreciated by fans. Seemed like a good note to go out on.

Finals: Earlier today I was playing one of my Weed 45s, the “With Drug” and “Eighty” 7”...

Will Anderson: That’s the earliest one of all. FIrst thing I ever recorded.

First thing you ever recorded?

Well, there was a tape or two. But first vinyl.

Wow. I remember seeing you at this place in Seattle called Cairo back in that time.

Yeah, that’s where it all started.

Can you talk a little about that time and that place? What do you mean, ‘that’s where it all started’?

That’s where I got my first taste of being part of any DIY community. We were a Vancouver band, but we recorded that 7” in Seattle with Jose Diaz. Do you remember him? He was in a band called Neighbors. He helped run a place called Heartland, too, maybe?

Oh yeah Heartland was in the U District.

Yeah. And somehow I got it in my head that we should record in Seattle, with Jose, who actually I haven’t seen since until a month ago, because he lives in Berlin, and we were passing through Berlin on tour, and he hit me up and we reconnected. But anyway, I was on tour with another band when I was 19 year old. And we played Healthy Times Fun Club. Did you ever go there?

Definitely saw a few people there. It was in a basement in Capitol Hill. People lived there, and you could get vegan beans there.

Yeah. So I was in my first ever tour, tour managing this band, and they played a show at Healthy Times Fun Club and I was like whoa, I have no idea what the fuck this place is. It was my first taste of that. So eventually I move to Vancouver and I’m in Weed and I’m like we gotta play this place in Seattle, it’s underground, there are vegan beans.

Ha ha.

And we did, and five people were there.

phone cuts out

Did you lose anything?

No you were talking about Cairo, Heartland, and Healthy Times, and what the scene was like.

We played Healthy Times to five people. We were an unknown band from Vancouver. There was a couple guys who lived there who we met, who we hung out with. And they were like next time you come back, you gotta play this place Cairo. And I was like, I don’t know what that is but cool. This was all being coordinated on Facebook messenger. And we came down, and this guy Ian Judd set up a show for us. I’m sure you know that name.

Yeah I wrote a story about Cairo at the time for Seattle Times and they actually photographed him.

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Photo by Erika Schultz

Yeah. We pulled up to Cairo, and Ian opened the door, and the rest is history. It changed everything. Started playing at Cairo, and I would drive down to see shows at Cairo all the time. It was a magical place, at the time.

Can you describe the magic a little bit?

I don’t want to give Ian too much credit, but he was a really special curator of the vibe. For some reason him, and Travis from Naomi Punk, gave Weed the stamp of approval. I think they probably saw I was of the same feather, and cared deeply about DIY music, and not waiting for the music industry to give you the allowance to do things when you can do things for yourself. We became the Vancouver tentacle of this octopus that the Cairo people were creating. They showed me the way. I don’t think they knew they showed me. I was new to making a band, and going on tour, and probably didn’t let on how new I was. But i don’t know, it was a cool place, with a lot of interesting bands coming out of that storefront on Capitol Hill.

If I ever meet you in real life I’ll give you some artifacts of that time.

What do you got?

I got a Stephanie 45, handwritten Sharpie…

Stephanie was a band that, I knew everyone in the band, but never saw them live. I don’t think I ever even heard the records. But I’m still tight with Matt Lawson. We talk all the time. He came to our show in Austin.

No way, from Stephanie and Secret Colors.

Yeah we played video games a lot during the Covid lockdowns. And I see Ian Judd all the time, too. I don’t know if you see him.

I saw him recently at a fish narc show, and he tried explaining to me what he’s doing with Nina Protocol but I don’t know what blockchain is, really, and I don’t get it.

He’s explained it to me three or four times and I don’t understand it. He’s more involved in the electronic music world now, and has hooked Hotline up with some people who are remixing us. Like DJ Python, are you into that?

I like Python.

Downstairs J is doing one, Physical Therapy is doing one. I know we got off track a little there.

It’s trippy thinking about that Weed 7” as being your first recorded music because, you have five people in your band, now, or some big amount of people, but the sound has not changed, really. The style of rock music.

Well to be fair, the recordings are all me, still.

Cartwheel’s all you?

Cartwheel’s all me.

You’ve had several iterations, right?

Yeah. The touring’s pretty intense, and people that think they might wanna do it, don’t end up liking it as much as they thought. I would love to have the same people in the whole time, but it hasn’t worked out. It started as a three-piece. I think five is my max. Right now we’re actually at four. That could change any time.

Have all your recordings been all you?

Both full length albums were all me, and the last 7” was all me. The first 7” there was other people playing on it, when it started as a three-piece in Minneapolis.

What’s that like, starting all over again with new people all the time? Do you feel like the head chef of a restaurant?

That’s a good way to put it. It’s very frustrating, and very stressful at times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, this is it, I found the lineup, and then something happens, or some turmoil. It’s been hard. But for some reason I keep dragging the corpse around, and it seems like it’s getting better. But it’s difficult.

You’ve been doing it for 15 years.

Well including Weed, yeah.

Which I see as, again I hear Weed as similar, so this is your project, and it’s been going on for a long time.

The only thing I’ll say about Weed, is that after “With Drug”/”Eighty” it was me and my friend Kevin, it was a duo. But I was the one saying, we gotta go on tour, we gotta make connections with the people at Cairo, that was all me.

So how do you stay knowing people who will join the band? Because they’re younger than you, right?

There was some younger people in Hotline, but that was a grave mistake. And now everyone’s in their early thirties like me.

A grave mistake, huh? Why’s that?

Playing all-ages shows is really important to me. With Weed, we never played an age-restricted show. I think young people are really important for creating music and spaces. But I’m 35 now and it’s just different having people in the band who are a decade older than me. I don’t fault anyone for having different priorities, but at this stage, I just need to take it more seriously. Unfortunately, I’m part of the music industry now. I won’t go into all the gory details, but I just want to take it more seriously than some of the people had been.

Do you prefer a certain amount of people in the band? You have such a heavy guitar tone, maybe it’s better with more people in the band?

That is true. I would prefer to have three guitars. But four people is workable. Two guitars.

The main characteristic of Weed and Hotline TNT is the guitar. Can you talk a little bit about writing riffs? Certain things on a guitar, are go-to rockstar moves that everyone can get behind. And you do that, but also play with time signature a little, or throw in some left turns. But you keep it really accessible. Does that ring true?

Yeah. Not all of it is conscious but some of it is. I”m trying to write catchy pop songs at the end of the day, I don’t have a ton of interest in writing stuff that’s hard to listen to. But sometimes we do stuff that, where I want to string people along and surprise them a little bit. It’s hard to articulate what those things are. But I listen to mostly pop music. I like catchy songs.

What’s a catchy or perfect song to you?

A recent example is “360” by Charli XCX. I love her music. That’s on my recent plays on my Apple music library.

What’s it like writing a song like “BMX.” It’s so huge. And you’re doing it all yourself, and it’s for the stadium, the arena or something.

Actually it’s funny you bring up that riff. That’s the one riff in this whole band that I didn’t write. But this guy Jack Kraus wrote that, and he’d been in the band for a while, and he played it and I was like, what is that riff? He was playing it in the Hotline tuning, and he was like you can use it for the band if you want.

What’s the Hotline tuning?

It’s like open G, but it’s not open G. I don’t know if it has a name. I may have stumbled across it. It’s like if you were playing a G chord. 3-2-0-0-3-3. It’s like if you tune a guitar to that, open. So far been two tunings. Open E, which is what Weed did, whole thing open E. But now it’s open G. It provides a lot of the power pop, jangly, ringing out at all times, quality.

Just more strings playing a complimentary sound?

Yeah, you can pretty much always leave strings open and it’ll sound good.

What about “I Thought You’d Change” do you want to talk about it at all? I know it’s pretty popular. It’s so good.

It’s definitely out poppiest song. Let me think of what I can say about it. It’s like the peak, if I can be so bold, of my lyrics. I think it’s a catchy phrase. It’s so ubiquitous, changing your mind. I take a lot of…I’m trying to think of…ok take Hotline Bling by Drake. The fact that he says call me on my cell phone is so, weirdly the earworm of the lyrics. Nobody uses that phrase any more but it gets stuck in your head that he says cell phone. I get latched on to simple turns of phrase. I thought you’d change your mind…

Text when you’re outside.

Exactly. But it’s very easy to be corny. Especially when you’re talking about technology. I feel like talking about texting in your songs, it’s hard to do. But i think I pulled it off on that particular song.

When I heard it last year, I was like damn this sounds like Weed. And I didn’t know it was you. And I was like this is what I have been waiting for. Now I see it has almost a million plays on Spotify. This is what a lot of people want to hear.

I think so too. It’s funny I brought up Matt Lawson because he’s been following my career this whole time, and been a great supporter, and he said when Cartwheel came out that he was really glad I kept it going. He said there’s always one more thing keeping your project going. One more tour. One more record. And people were connecting with it a little bit more, a little bit more. Seems like with this album, it’s so far the peak of that.

And “Out of Town” is so fucking good. And the way “Spot Me 100” turns into another song is so good.

Thank you. People are begging us to play that live. I think Mike, our drummer, could pull it off. We have a large catalog, and a lot of turmoil, and we’ve gotten through about half Cartwheel for performing new songs and that one hasn’t made the cut yet. But I would like it to.

Yeah that tumultuousness must take a toll.

I hate it. Most annoying part of this whole band. Number one thing I hate about it.

Well if you start doing bigger numbers and bigger tours, do you think it would be easier to get people to commit?

I would have thought we were there. We’re making more money than I ever made. Shows are better than ever. And we had someone quit the band last week. I don’t know what else i can do. We all get along really well, too. I’m not trying to make it sound bad, but it is a lot of work to be on tour this much, be away from your girlfriend, or whatever. That’s what it comes down to. The lifestyle is hard for people to commit too.

Do you think, if it was more collaborative, than people wouldn’t quit so much?

Well, I would like it to be. Every time someone drops out after six months, someone else says, well the last guy quit after six months. It’s just Will’s project, so I can quit too. It’s a self sustaining cycle. I would love to open it up to people, but I don’t trust that people are going to be around that long anyway.

Well I guess a song like BMX is proof of what you’re saying, that you are willing.

Exactly. Yeah the door’s open for the people that stay in the band. Have you heard the story of the little red hen? My mom read it to me all the time. Who’s gonna help me collect the wheat? Who’s going to help me make the bread? And everyone wants to eat the bread. It’s like, everyone wants to be a body builder but nobody wants to lift heavy weights. That’s the way I see it, and I’m not trying to be jaded. This last spring was a grind. And I got really sick on tour.

I wanted to talk about that. Did you get exhaustion?

I think I got, no one gave me a definitive answer, but I think it was a viral infection. Meningitis, maybe. There’s two types and one is much more severe, and I think I got the more mild one. Maybe. For 75% of the American tour I would be on my back. 23 hours a day on my back. Get up, and play a show. Then go back to being on my back.

You got sick, and put your body on the line.

Yeah and there’s four people plus my tour manager, and I didn’t feel like I could stop. And we didn’t. And I couldn’t help with loading gear, or selling merch. It’s hard to ask people to do stuff like that.

Probably especially for you.

Yes, I pride myself on doing it all DIY. I didn’t fully recover until I got home. But now I’m ready to go back out. And not everybody is wired that way.

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