The post-rock instrumental quartet drop this new song and discuss their progression into synthier grooves.
Four years ago I was unemployed with no job prospects and I’d just finished a hellish full time unpaid internship on a broadcast television production in New York City. So I did what any millennial staring down the barrel of tremendous student loan debt and a bleak job market would do: I took the few dollars I had to my name and flew West to Northern California to do absolutely nothing for as long as I could afford. Prior to my flight I made an arbitrary social media post asking for recommendations from friends for good, relaxing music for my trip.
Enter LA’s Signal Hill, a post rock instrumental quartet whose catalogue spans nearly a decade, and a lineup that geographically reaches halfway across the globe (LA, NY, London). Their first full length, More After We’re Gone, became the soundtrack for that memorable trip which in the most literal sense paved the way for me to be writing this article and also every job I’ve ever held post-college. Percussionist Tim Cooper and bassist Brian Vasallo churn out a consistently hypnotic groove that allowed guitarists Rishi Arora and Dave Masters to perform breathtaking and expressive harmonies that float beneath you and lift you up. They help you glide through your day.
Their upcoming release, Alturas, (out September 23rd) follows their tradition of exceedingly blissful and moving compositions. Below is the premiere of the first track from the album “Metropolis,” plus track down the band to find out what’s up.
Noisey: Signal Hill is spread across three major cities. How was this album written between such great distances?
Signal Hill: Luckily we had a solid four plus years together in LA before Rishi and David ended up moving. Our time spent together in LA really helped solidify our lifelong friendships. This is the glue that holds us together still to this day. The writing for Alturas started back in 2013-2014 when Rishi was still in NYC. By the time he ended up moving to London, we already had pretty solid sketches for a few of the songs. We continued to bounce ideas back and forth virtually, and then had a couple of dedicated writing sessions in both LA and NYC. Since we all have busy personal lives, it was definitely tough to get the time to plan these trips. Which is why the songwriting took so long.
Do you think this writing approach had a significant impact on the music?Definitely. Given the circumstances, Rish started doing a lot more piano and synth this go around, which made transferring files and ideas back and forth much easier. Most of our previous work was based on melodies between guitars. So because of the additional piano/synth work, Alturas is inherently different sonically. We also spent a ton of time demoing ideas. We weren't in any hurry to complete the record. It was only until right before going into the studio when we felt the pressure to fine-tune parts. David had a baby on the way, and that forced us on picking a studio date. We decided to prioritize the tunes we were working on and found a window that worked for everyone, about month before the baby’s due date.
Signal Hill spans a relatively large period in time with each of the members moving towards the married-with-children lifestyle. Why / How does Signal Hill overcome these usually band killing life events?
We started Signal Hill as just some friends who liked making music. We’re super grateful that we've been able to continue making music together, in an albeit updated version of the band (older, wiser, with families, etc). It has been fun the whole time, and even though we are getting older and our lives are evolving, making records is always great time and always very fulfilling, especially since we’re able to do so as such close friends. While writing new music and recording new records takes longer than it did when we were in the same city, we've learned to adapt, and allowed our process to adapt as well.
How does this album stand apart from your previous releases?
It feels like our most cohesive effort to date, from the song selection to the album art. It was also the longest time between releases. We took our time refining the songs and parts. Most of the songs we had never played live, outside of a rehearsal space. One of the songs, “OMS Burn,” as it is on the album, was literally played for the first time in the recording studio. The song was written in pieces, and we essentially wrote the structure without even being in the same room together. So we didn’t play it as it is on the record until we entered the studio. Now that I think about it, the version you hear on the record is probably only the second or third time we played that song haha.
Plans for the future? Touring? Collaborations?
We have a couple shows lined up in November. We’re playing at the Silver Lake Lounge in LA on Friday, November 4th. And a week later at Bar Matchless in Brooklyn on Friday, November 11th. We’re trying to see about doing something in London next year. It’s in the works. It would be awesome to play a show in all of our home cities as part of the Alturas release.