Joe Hertler - Interview
A few weeks ago we traveled up to East Lansing to see Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers perform. Before the show I hadn’t heard too much about this energetic group of guys, but since the show I can’t stop listening to their music.
Oddly enough, the show was in Michigan State University’s Union ballroom. Not the easiest venue to play in, but that didn’t slow anyone down. The energy on stage was incredible; each band member was feeding off of the other with such passion. Before the band went on we had the opportunity to sit down with lead singer and guitarist, Joe Hertler, to talk about rivalries, Detroit, and their upcoming album. Check out what he had to say!
MTTM: How’s it going Joe? We’re really excited to see you play tonight. To start off, what do you guys think of the crowd here at Michigan State? Different to other crowds you typically see?
Joe: It’s like a Michigan crowd at this point. We get a lot of similar crowds here in MIchigan, but they’re diverse. The main places we play now are, here, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, even Marquette. They’re less defined by the city, and more by Michigan at this point.
When was the last time you played in Ann Arbor, and where was it?
We played in Ann Arbor a lot over the summer. The last time was at the Blind Pig, the day before the MSU football game. That was a fun show. It was the least attended out of a series of 3, but the most fun. That’s Ann Arbor, every single time we’re there. I think thats the Ann Arbor spirit; people just love live music there.
Do you ever have any preference between Ann Arbor and East Lansing?
(laughing) My honest answer? Two of my favorite headlining shows were in Ann Arbor and Lansing. They’re not different, they really aren’t. Those are the two rowdiest crowds, with Kalamazoo just a little bit behind. I can’t say (laughs). My dad would kill me if I said Lansing, and Lansing would kill me if i said AA. I can’t pick sides! I will say U of M was first though.
What do you think is unique about your performance style? What makes your show special and why should someone come and see Joe Hertler live?
It’s a great experience! Live music is an emotion being communicated; there’s a message behind it and a feeling. Regardless of who you are, or what time you exist in, there is music, and it’s something that is indicative of a strong community. I want people to walk away from our show knowing they had a good time and that they didn’t think of all the problems they’re having. I want to make it a connective experience, whether it be with the crowd or with us on stage. I’m just looking to connect with people, that’s why i enjoy doing this, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve. I want these to be inviting experiences, that anyone can show up to and feel comfortable in the shoes that they’re in.
Do you have a favorite song to play live?
Right now there’s this song called “Lonely”. It’s not even on our new record; we just wrote it and started playing around with it in the summer. It’ll probably be one of the last songs on tonights set. It’s just a fun disco anthem kinda song that is so fun to play. We jam a bit too when we’re playing these Michigan shows. There’s also a song called “Here Be Dragons”, and another one, “Hometown”. Thats a song I’ve never not gotten into. It’s one of those songs that feels like it’s performing me.
I love all those songs on the live recording you did in Detroit, The Russell Sessions. Can’t wait to hear some of those.
Thank you! Yeah our buddy offered us some studio space and we were like ‘Hell Yeah!’ And the theme of all those songs is in permanence, and Detroit’s a fitting metaphor for that.
What was your first musical experience? Marching band? Spice Girls Concert?
Oh wow, well the earliest I can remember is singing as a kid. I would sing all the time. I was in choir for two weeks and I hated it. It was a church choir, but I wanted no part of it [laughs]. It wasn’t really my style, wasn’t really having the all boys choir thing. Then when I was playing the bass and cello and violin in orchestra I was like, ‘Wow I really like music, this is something I don’t completely suck at!’
Then how did Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers start?
It started here in Lansing, a place called El Oasis a little down the way. Kevin, the bassist, had a house there. I didn’t really know the rest of the guys. Me and Ryan met in Mt. Pleasant actually. I worked in IT and fixed his computer, and he was in this really popular Rock and Roll Band. They were really popular at the bars in Mt. Pleasant and he said ‘You should open for us’ and I was like ‘Hell Yeah!’ We started hanging out and became really close friends. We started playing together, it was some real acoustic sounding stuff. Then we got invited to be a part of this Michigan based singer songwriter collective. It was kinda just a ton of friends. They organized these sessions called The Quilted Attic Sessions that took place right down the road. They were just these live, stripped down recordings, and we all just met there really. Those videos turned out well and they were the first to be released, and we just bonded over this goofy little experience; we’ve been friends ever since. What really fused it was when we got booked for Mittenfest. They were in this band called Loune at the time and we were both booked for the event, staying in the same hotel. They ended up playing for me and we ended up putting the set together in the hotel. We just partied for 3 or 4 days together and really bonded.
We’re really interested in your songwriting process, how do you guys come together to write your music?
For the most part I tend to write the songs. I’m pretty bad at instruments [laughs], so I usually structure the songs and give them to the band. I may have some vague vision for the song, but normally it’s just like here’s a song, go for it.
How excited are you for Terra Incognita? What details can we hear about it?
(laughing) It’s finally here! It’s weird because about a year and a half ago we were finishing up the record, thinking we were going to release it in the next 6 months, and then universal came about and said they were interested. Of course, they wait and wait and wait, so there was this huge lull where I thought it was falling apart, we didn’t really know what was going on. Then out at SXSW they took us to dinner and kind of laid out what the plan was. They’re forming this new label based around a system run by these college reps that are scattered around the country, so it took a while to get that started. But they finally got their stuff together, and it seems like it’s working. We’re sorta the test band for it, so we’re excited, it seems like a cool idea. I feel like no one in the record industry is trying to figure out how to actually make money. They’re just like pushing the whole motto of ‘buy records, buy records, buy records’. That sentiments still there but there’s a lot of young people who are thinking forward with this weird promotional model that they have. And we’ll see if it works! I’m just excited to be in a band that exists in a time where there’s room for trying something new.
We’re really interested in your influences. Can you tell us some of your favorite musicians? Have any Detroit artists helped shape your sound?
The biggest that really unifies the band is D’Angelo, not that we sound like him in any way (laughs). Huge Macy Gray fan. Tycho is also a huge band favorite. We don’t sound like that really, but we draw upon it in weird ways. It’s like the soul that’s thrown into it.
Sticking with Detroit, what are your favorite venues to see shows and to play at?
I’ll always love The Ark in Ann Arbor. For what it is, there’s something cool about that place. One of my favorite shows of all time was played there. Mac’s Bar in Lansing too. You can only fit like 200 people in there but it’s so fun. It’s like those venues where you started out at, there’s something special about those places. There are just so many emotions and experiences wrapped up into those places, they don’t leave your conscience.
Other than the new album, you guys are going on tour right? Headed way out West, are you looking forward to it? Have you been out there before?
We haven’t been out there before really. I won a contest once to play music in L.A. for a week but that didn’t really count. This is the first time, we’re really trying to go for it.
And to end on a funnier note, what do you think a whale’s concept of land is?
A place where their bone structure cannot support their body weight. They’re definitely like ‘Shit I probably shouldn’t be here’. Unless they’re a killer whale and trying to go after some seals. But I wouldn’t want to beach myself unless I was real bummed out, that’s just a bummer way to die, I can’t move and I can’t breath. Have you ever woken up in night and you can’t move? I feel like it’s probably like that, except they can move and can make noises. Except I imagine there communicative muscles don’t work well in the atmosphere. They’re also very smart creatures, right behind us. (Makes whale noise) That’s kind of what a whale would sound like I imagine.
(laughs) I’d say that’s a pretty solid answer! Thanks for your time Joe, super excited to see you guys on stage
Thank you guys too!
Make sure you check out Michigan’s next big band. Terra Incognita, the new album, comes out this Tuesday (2/17/15) and you can pre-order it here. Make sure you look out for any shows in the area; Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers are definitely a band to see live.
By Ben Lowden