“I think, at least for me, at least for our live shows, we’re constantly trying to connect with the audience. I’d like to think we’re not very different if you were to meet us on the street than we are on stage. And I think that comes through in our banter and how we talk on stage and it’s more of a dialogue. We have a sing-along at the end of the set often and we like to talk to people afterwards. In terms of the music, I think we’re pretty earnest and everything we’re singing is something someone has felt or experienced in their lives and if other people can relate to that, that’s the most ideal situation.”
From the moment I met them, I could tell forming connections was something The Novel Ideas prided themselves on, both in their music and in how they interact with people as a band. I arrived early to their recent show in Washington, D.C. so I could interview them (which you can read down below). Our interview was super casual, as they let me ask questions while they set up equipment. In this way, it was different from any other interview I had conducted. Our conversation was just that: a conversation. There was laughter and jokes told, but they answered every question I threw at them.
The country-folk quartet of Sarah Grella (vocals), Danny Hoshino (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), James Parkington (bass, vocals) and Daniel Radin (guitar, vocals) called The Corner Store, a little brick house-turned-music venue in Southeast D.C., their stage for the night. As soon as I arrived, I knew it could not be a more perfect space for the band to perform. It was cozy, but exuded feelings of warmth and familiarity, all things I felt the band would play off later that night.
But I have to be honest and say I felt a tad out of place, despite the welcoming venue, once the crowd arrived a few hours later. For the most part, the attendees, which filled the small house, were people at least twenty years my senior. I was surprised by the age gap, considering that The Novel Ideas aren’t an “older” band. Later I overheard many of them say they weren’t familiar with the group, but they loved the venue so they decided on a whim to check them out. While I definitely consider myself a newer fan of The Novel Ideas, at least I was familiar with all the music they had put out prior to this new, self-titled album being dropped that same day. Fortunately, all of my fears about losing the connection I had felt with the band earlier that evening went away as soon as they started playing. Their 14-song set very much embodied what Daniel told me he hoped their music conveyed to the people who listened to it. In tracks like, “I’m Not Waiting” and “I Was Not Around,” I could definitely tell the lyrics were about something someone in the band had either felt or experienced in their lives. Personally, I related to these songs theme of how easily love and people can come in and out of your life.
The band began their set with “I’ll Try” and ended with “Old Ways,” the two singles that had been out for a couple of weeks to promote the new album. For “Old Ways,” the band made one request: sing along to the chorus every time it came around. After they taught the words, one more small request was made: “sing it with over-confidence.” Not only is “Old Ways” one of my personal favorite songs off the new album, but I feel its message about never holding on too tightly to the past is adaptable to many different facets of life. The sing-along was one of my favorite parts of the night and probably the coolest thing I have ever seen done at a live performance.
After non-stop applause, the band did one more song for an encore. Had I not already been convinced all night of how vocally talented this band is, this encore alone would have convinced me. Four of them, minus Pat, the drummer who’s joined them for this tour and had just finished his second live performance ever with the band, came out amongst the crowd for an acapella version of “Lizard in the Spring.” Not only was this surprise a great way to show the audience that they care about connecting with people, they really got to show off what I believe is their strength: their harmonies. I’m a sucker for a beautiful harmony and when Sarah, Daniel, Danny and James harmonize together, you can actually feel it in your soul, as cliche as that might sound.
I highly recommend checking out The Novel Ideas if they travel to your area. From their harmonies to their penchant for earnest songwriting, this band definitely has the kind of talent that shouldn’t be missed.
For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what it is now?
Daniel: So the band kind of formed around an album that came out in 2012 and, in terms of band members, it started with just Danny and myself. Then James joined on bass. Sarah came, initially, to sing harmonies, but we soon realized that she should be singing lead because she’s better than us [laughs]. So she sings lead a lot more now, which you’ll hear on the new album.
How would you describe your sound without using genre names?
James: Ooh, that’s hard.
Sarah: Harmony-driven, emotional —
Daniel: Wait, are we looking for a sentence or just words?
Whatever you want.
Daniel: Harmony-driven, emotional, earnest, sadness.
Who are some of your musical influences, either personally or as a group?
Danny: James Brown.
Daniel: Yeah, our tastes run the gambit a bit. It’s like James Brown, James is named after James Taylor.
James: It’s true.
Daniel: All of Emmylou Harris and Bruce Springsteen and Sarah’s number one and two are Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand.
Danny: 1a and 1b [laughs].
James: We grew up listening to a lot of it because of our parents. And we cover a lot of their music now too.
Daniel: Except Barbara Streisand [laughs].
James: Except 1a and 1b, because they can’t be covered. They’re too good.
Talk about the writing process. Who does most of the writing? Is it just one person or does the band write most of the songs together?
Danny: It’s a mixture. Some songs one of us will write almost entirely and then present it to the band and the band figures out the arrangement together. Sometimes we’ve written songs that started as just a chord progression that turned into a melody that turns into a song. And then a lot of times, one of us will write a verse or something and can’t come up with a chorus and another person’s like, I have this chorus but I don’t have a verse, why don’t we just try mashing them together and see if they work.
Daniel: Sometimes they do not.
James: Yeah, sometimes they do not.
Daniel: But sometimes they do.
When you’re working on new songs, who or what inspires you?
Sarah: Well, I like to joke that Daniel’s songs are about a few different girls, Danny’s songs are mostly about one girl and my songs are about me [laughs].
Daniel: So, also one girl.
Sarah: Yeah. So I think it’s just different for everyone. It’s mostly personal, the stuff that I tend to write about.
James: It seems that whenever one of you sets off to write something that isn’t personal, it ends up becoming about something that is personal, so I think it’s hard to avoid having something from your life influencing where the song goes.
Daniel: I say, generally speaking, most of the songs are sad and are due to some sort of strife, emotional or —
Danny: I wouldn’t say that’s what we set out to do though [write sad songs]. It’s more just that’s what inspired us.
If you had the opportunity to do a collaboration with any artist or band/group, who would it be and why?
Sarah: Like anyone?
Sarah: Celine Dion [laughs].
Daniel: Can we collaborate with her?
Daniel: Hmmm. That’s a good question. I’ve never actually thought about it.
James: It’d be cool to have something orchestral —
Danny: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.
James: I mean, we’re a pretty straight forward rock instrumentation, except for Danny playing pedal steel, so it’d be cool to add a lot of string elements. Even some of the older songs,Daniel produced and composed string parts for a lot of them. So it’d be cool to bring back that skill of his.
Your new album dropped today. Congratulations.
Daniel: Thank you so much.
But before that, you guys released two singles, “I’ll Try” and “Old Ways.” Can you guys talk a bit about the stories behind these two songs? Why were they picked as the singles?
Daniel: I think part of the reason we picked those two is because we have never released any version of either one on any previous album or live session or anything like that. So it was like new songs that people may have heard live, but aren’t really on the Internet, more or less. So that’s part of the reason. They’re probably two of the most… I don’t know. Why did we pick those two?
James: I think the other thing to note is we had a third single that was only part of the pre-order and that was “Broken Glass” and part of the idea was that we wanted to make sure that we were showcasing the fact that we have three different prominent singers in the band. So “I’ll Try” is a lot of Daniel, but also Sarah is part of the duet for the lead, “Old Ways” features Sarah and then “Broken Glass” features Danny. Although all three have different song-writing processes and different tambours of voice, it’s cool to showcase how we’re able to create this unique sound despite the three different elements they bring to the table.
Is there a track, whether it’s an older song or one from the new album, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?
James: I want to say “I Was Not Around.”
Daniel: Yeah, I would agree.
Daniel: Well the last track on the record [“I Was Not Around”] was one of the first songs that we arranged as a band together and ended up contributing a lot of the harmony parts together. It’s the first song Sarah shared with us.
Danny: It was the first song she sang lead on and wrote that she showed us. And I think that was kind of a turning point for us, where we went from the first album, Home, that was really just me and Daniel who had written it and recorded it together, to what this is like the band is going to be.
Sarah: I also think it was the song that we’ve worked the most on the last couple of years.
Daniel: For sure.
Sarah: It has the most re-iterations.
Danny: But the first time we worked on it, we really did gel together and within the course of the one session working on it, that definitely felt like a good, nice moment in the band’s history.
What do you hope your music conveys to people when they find it?
Daniel: I think, at least for me, at least for our live shows, we’re constantly trying to connect with the audience. I’d like to think we’re not very different if you were to meet us on the street than we are on stage. And I think that comes through in our banter and how we talk on stage and it’s more of a dialogue. We have a sing-along at the end of the set, often, and we like to talk to people afterwards. In terms of the music, I think we’re pretty earnest and everything we’re singing is something someone has felt or experienced in their lives and if other people can relate to that, that’s the most ideal situation.
Moving on to some more “fun” questions if that’s okay with you guys.
James: Sure, we love fun.
You guys are currently on tour, promoting the new album. What are some of your favorite cities to play?
Daniel: Most of the cities that we love to play in are based off the food we’ve eaten there.
Daniel: Austin. We’re not going to Austin on this tour, but we’ve played there quite a few times and it’s always easy to find a great place to eat…. Lancaster, PA. We’ve played in Lancaster like four times and that’s always been fun.
Danny: Lincoln, Nebraska.
Danny: Well [laughs], we had a really good show there and then the next, when we were leaving, we had an even better sandwich. And literally, another time when we were driving across the country, we took almost a major detour —
Daniel: Like four and a half hours
Danny: Just to go back and get the sandwich. And we were like, “this probably isn’t a good idea.” But we were really close.
Daniel: I’m really looking forward to playing Asheville [North Carolina].
One of my favorite places.
Daniel: We never played there, but we’ve stopped for lunch. It’s a cool little town.
Danny: Actually this tour, and then we’re going to be touring more in October and November, and I think both of them are about playing in new places for us too, so that’s what I’m excited about.
Is there one place in particular that you’re really excited about going to for the first time?
James: Walla Walla, Washington.
Daniel: [repeats] Walla Walla ,Washington.
James: In honor of Mike Birbiglia [laughs].
Daniel: Well, we’ve played in Berklee, but this will be the first time we’ve played in San Fransisco proper.
James: Or Portland.
Daniel: Or Portland, Oregon. Yeah, the west coast is exciting for us because we’ve only been there a couple of times, so that’ll be nice.
On an off day, what would I find you guys doing?
James: The rest of them will be creaming me at mini-golf [laughs].
Daniel: Yeah, we like to go find antiques and thrift stores.
James: I like drinking multiple coffees, although that happens on show days too.
Are you guys Starbucks people or do you try to find independent, local coffee shops wherever you go?
James: Yeah, Dunks [Dunkin Donuts].
Daniel: I like finding the local place, I think it’s kind of fun. I think we all do.
Sarah: I like finding the local Dunkin Donuts [laughs].
Daniel: Dunkin Donuts is my favorite too. It’s consistent.
Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us and we love talking about what gets people excited and passionate. What is something you guys nerd out over?
Daniel: Ooh, this is a long list.
Danny: Well, very straight forward nerdy is I’m a huge Trekkie. My whole family is.
Daniel: Lord of the Rings, that’s pretty big.
Danny: Yeah, a couple of our songs have Lord of the Rings, pretty vague references.
Sarah: Game of Thrones, for me.
Daniel: I feel like that’s pretty mainstream at this point.
Sarah: Yeah, but they don’t nerd out over it. I read all the message boards.
Daniel: Okay. That’s pretty nerdy.
James: I’ve been getting really nerdy about beer recently. Yeah, craft beers, microbreweries.
Daniel: Yeah, James takes a picture of every beer.
James: Yeah, I do. I take a picture of every beer I drink on tour just to remember. Like how they use food to remember locations, it’s beer for me.
Pat: Comedy. Comedy is a big source of nerdom for me.
Who’s your favorite comedian?
Pat: Norm Macdonald. Easy.
Very cool. And my last question is: what can fans expect from The Novel Ideas for the rest of 2017?
Daniel: A lot of touring. We’ve been working on this album for a long time and so we’re just trying to get it connected with as many people as we can. We’ve been not touring for two and a half years so it’s exciting to be playing a lot of shows again. We’re still getting used to the long hours in the car.
So you guys are driving everywhere you go?
Daniel: Yes, we’re not Taylor Swift level yet. She gets drove around on a UPS truck I heard.
Daniel: You didn’t see the UPS-Taylor Swift sponsorship?
James: No, I completely missed that.
Daniel: Like only UPS is delivering her albums and they have her face on the side of UPS trucks.
Daniel: It’s really weird.
That is the weirdest sponsorship I’ve ever heard. Like why would that even matter, whether it’s UPS or FedEx? That is so random. Do you like Taylor Swift’s music even?
Daniel: Not her new album, not into it so far. But her old stuff, for sure.
So going back and off of something you said earlier, if you guys have been working on this album for two years, was that just mostly refining it and getting it to where you guys wanted it to be?
Daniel: Yeah, that’s exactly it. We recorded it and just, we had played the songs live so much that it was hard to get them to point where if you saw us live, it would sound comparable to the album. So getting to that point was a learning process for us for sure.
Danny: It was a bit agonizing to have to wait so long to put it out, but it was worth the wait. We’re very happy with what we’re putting out.