“If you’re in a band you should always be in your favorite band” Hotline TNT on bringing shoegaze to a new generation
Will Anderson nearly gave up on Hotline TNT, then they signed with Third Man Records and are busy bringing their dense, shoegaze-y brand of alternative rock to the masses – all while he’s learning to love the band he’s made.
Hotline TNT performing live. Image: Jade Amey
Before he formed Hotline TNT, Will Anderson had briefly considered going into rock ‘n’ roll retirement. Throughout his twenties, he had played in a half-dozen or so indie rock bands with fuzzy guitars and infectious melodies, including Crazy Bugs and Happy Diving, as well as the driving noise rock band Weed, to date his longest-running project, from 2008 to 2017. In that span of time, he’s pulled up stakes and moved several times, leaving Vancouver for Minneapolis in his late twenties, and a few years later, making another relocation to New York City.
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He’s started over a few times, fallen in love and had his heart broken, and however briefly, thought that maybe his years of making noisy rock records were behind him. But every time he began to entertain such an idea, he found that there was always something pulling him back in. “I thought I was kind of done making music like this,” Anderson says. “But I thought ‘maybe I have a few riffs left in me,’ and I wrote four songs and released them as a seven-inch. There’s been plenty of moments where I’ve been like, ‘Okay, it’s time to focus on my career, something else in my life.’ But then, maybe there’s one more tour we can do. So the goalpost just keeps on moving.”
Sticking it out just a little bit longer proved fortuitous for the group. Last year, while on tour with Island of Love in the UK, Hotline TNT ended up meeting a representative from Third Man Records, the label founded by Jack White, who expressed interest in releasing their music. Cartwheel, their follow-up to 2021’s blissfully grungy Nineteen in Love, is the band’s first for the label, an album that feels as much like an artistic leveling up as it does a step forward in visibility for the group.
Preceded by the singles Protocol and I Thought You’d Change – the former a heady and atmospheric shoegaze song and the latter a soaring alt-rock anthem a la Sugar or Dinosaur Jr – Cartwheel is the kind of big, raucous indie rock record that nods to alternative radio singles from the 90s while maintaining its own scruffy, DIY charm.
Songs like BMX traffic in big, chunky distortion and mesmerizing vocal harmonies, juxtaposed against more tender moments such as Maxine, which is ostensibly a ballad, but slathered under a heavy layer of fuzz.
The songs on Cartwheel are also reflective of Anderson’s own travelogs and personal experiences of falling in and out of love. There’s an undeniable romanticism to its vulnerable, heart-on-sleeve narratives, whether longing for connection on Protocol (“After the fall/I pretend that it’s all/My fault/But I need you to call”) or nursing a fresh wound in I Thought You’d Change: “Tried to make things clear/I had to leave and shed my tears.”
Every song is also more or less a true story, Anderson’s own constantly-moving lifestyle as an artist contributing to the difficulty in finding the kind of stability he seems to be seeking throughout the album.
“I consider myself a romantic,” he says. “Being a touring musician lends itself to finding yourself in lots of long distance relationships, romantic or otherwise. I have such a scattered social life. Good art is usually pretty emotional and vulnerable, and I think that probably comes through in my songwriting.”
Go Fast, Break Stuff
Anderson describes Hotline TNT as a “fast-moving project,” having released at least one EP or album every year since it began back in 2018. Its lineup has rotated since its founding, with Anderson being the only permanent member, but Hotline TNT is a proper band, whose lineup now includes guitarist August Beetschen, drummer Mike Ralston and bassist Olivia Garner.
Anderson did, however, most of the parts on Cartwheel, but he worked with a team of different engineers in recording the album, including Drew Auscherman, Aron Kobayashi Ritch, and Ian Teeple, also of Nashville punk group Snõõper. Anderson credits Teeple for being instrumental in helping to shape the sound of it, from offering constructive feedback to contributing keyboards on Protocol.
“Ian was a pretty hands-on producer,” he says. “He wasn’t shy about telling me what he thought. I had skeletons when I came to him, but they weren’t completed songs. So he was great about pushing me to try certain things. He was a producer in the true sense of the word.”
The finished product is dense and rich in detail and layers of sound, the kind of record made for deeper headphone listening and summer drives alike – as the best shoegaze albums often are. Yet Anderson says that his setup, both in recording and as a live performer, is deceptively simple. He confesses that he’s not a “gearhead,” and his outlook on the tools he uses to make music – including a guitar that’s been his go-to for years – stems from the DIY ethos he’s adopted as an underground musician over the past 15 years. In other words: Make the most of what you have.
“I have a Yamaha guitar, it’s Japanese, and it looks like a Fender Jaguar. I’ve had it for a long time, it’s never failed me, put it through a lot of abuse and it’s still holding up pretty well,” Anderson says. “I use a tuning pedal, if I have my own amp I use the onboard distortion, otherwise I use a RAT pedal or a Big Muff sometimes, but it’s pretty much switched on the whole time.”
“The policy in this band is to use whatever’s around,” he continues. “And with the songs, we kind of have a philosophy that the music should come out no matter what gear’s available. As a DIY band on tour, we drive whatever minivan we can borrow or rent for as cheap as possible.”
That DIY spirit has driven Anderson in every project he’s done so far, from handmade cassette and flier designs to the basketball zine he prints, Association Update (as well as its website, which serves as a makeshift Hotline TNT outpost and webstore). Over the past half-decade, that independence has served the group well, and in the past year they’ve played a number of high profile shows, opening for heavy-hitters in indie rock and post-hardcore, including Soccer Mommy, Sheer Mag, Fiddlehead and Quicksand. Teaming up with Third Man only adds a little more acceleration to their already building momentum, but Anderson notes that he doesn’t see it changing much for the group in the scheme of things.
“Signing with Third Man was definitely a leveling up, but to be honest, it hasn’t really changed how I approach things too much,” he says. “There’s extra sets of hands helping us promote the band and get records into more hands. But I’m still approaching everything with the kind of attitude. It’s changing as I get more successful and get older. It’s weirder to have the same attitudes when you’re not really in the same place as you used to be. I’m not punching up as much as I used to, because I’m moving up.”
“This is probably the most success I’ve had so far, and I’m 34 right now, so I’ve had a lot of time not being very successful,” he adds. “And I’m still learning. But I’ve appreciated every step I’ve had so far.”
As Hotline TNT continues to grow, Anderson holds onto the ideals that guided him early on in his career. And those extend beyond the Minutemen-style jamming econo that keeps the project both humble and manageable. But reaching this stage has been about a lot more than keeping costs under budget and making the most of what’s available.
What drives it is a vision, and by extension the thrill of making the music that he does because it’s the music that he wants to make. In essence, the music Anderson writes and records with Hotline TNT is the music he wants to hear.
“I have some guiding principles that are essentially catchphrases at this point,” he says. “I believe that if you’re in a band you should always be in your favourite band. That’s how I feel about Hotline TNT. And that’s how I feel about all the art I make, whether it’s music or otherwise. I want to make art that I would want to read, or listen to or look at. If it doesn’t sound how I want it to, I have to keep working on it, and it’s an ongoing process. And I’m getting closer all the time. The guiding principle is to create what you want to consume.”
He pauses to reflect on his word choice.
“That’s kind of a gross word to use, but you know what I mean.”
Hotline TNT’s Cartwheel is out 3 November on Third Man Records.