Hembree: On Tour and Heating Up the Charts with House on Fire
By Quin McIntosh
The big record deal just happened, one of their songs was used in a Super Bowl ad, and they’re starting to get national radio play. But for Hembree, the real task at hand is winning over fans—a few hundred people at a time—who’ve yet to hear their music.
We’re one song into Hembree’s set at Atomic Cowboy, and front man and guitarist Isaac Flynn asks the crowd how they're doing. No one seems to quite know; the fans are maybe too buzzed or not quite buzzed enough for a Sunday evening, and they aren’t sure what to think of these jumpsuit-wearing indie rockers.
Forty minutes later there is no doubt about how anyone feels. The band has somehow managed, like very few can, to turn this crowd of strangers into best friends for the night.
By the second and third song, people are dancing and lost in the music; any doubt about talent or passion is gone, and any potential fan is now just a fan.
With the release of their first full length album, House on Fire, and their new contract with Nashville-based record label Thirty Tigers, Hembree is taking leaps—rather than steps—forward.
I was able to hang out with the band (Flynn; Garrett Childers, bass and backup vocals; Eric Davis, keyboards and synthesizer; Alex Ward, guitar; and Austin Ward, drums) for an interview after the show.
Love the new album. “Heart” is probably my favorite song right now. What was the writing process for this new album?
Isaac Flynn: We tracked the record in about three weeks, after about three years of writing. We ended up writing 40 songs that we had to cut down to 10, which is just kind of how your first record goes. You have a lot of time to mold it and craft it. We thought we were gonna call the record Greatest Hits.
You said on stage that it’s complicated getting your song played all over the country. Can you explain that to people?
Flynn: You have a lot of people working on your record and they're reaching out to stations all over the country, and it takes other stations getting on board to playing it to get your song played. Say in St. Louis, the program director is checking to see what is being played in Kansas City or L.A.
There’s a big committee involved in a song actually going all the way up the charts. This is the stuff that people probably don’t know about, and we definitely didn’t know about it either.
Things kind of rapidly took off for Hembree…us putting this record together happened to coincide with finding a really supportive label. We also wanted to bring on some record people to help us out. Everyday we’re getting updates about what’s going on behind the scenes, and it’s all been very eye-opening for us.
The people behind the scenes will be like, “Hey, we played this song for someone in New Jersey and they played it for someone in Connecticut,” and then somehow it ends up on a station in St. Louis. It’s just wild how it kind of spreads, and you don’t really know the process until you are in it. It’s been very rewarding and maybe more difficult than you maybe anticipate. Ultimately, it comes down to people really responding well to the music and people being willing to take a risk and share it.
Have you guys just had the radio on and heard a Hembree song yet?
Alex Ward: Yes, it must have been two weeks ago (circa April 2019). We were driving back to Kansas City from Chicago listening to whatever local rock station was on air, and the song “Culture” came on. It was a bit emotional, and of course we pulled over and called our mom. Our mom (Alex and Austin are brothers) calls us every time she hears us on the radio.
It’s pretty damn cool driving into town today—Alt 104.9 in St Louis was playing it and that was really cool.
Talk About Thirty Tigers and signing with them.
They are the most artist-friendly label that you could ever imagine working with. We proposed the idea of doing a record, and they kind of just let us do whatever we want. They are the most artist-friendly people.
They gave us free reign as far as who we wanted to produce the record and record it, and they excel at pushing the record out there and doing some of the things we aren't so good at ourselves.
One of the first things Thirty Tigers said was that they wanted us to put out a full record. Most of the labels we’ve been talking to wanted us to put out singles or another EP, but Thirty Tigers said, “you guys are ready to put out a full album,” which was so exciting for us.
We don’t just listen to singles, we listen to the album, and maybe that’s an outdated way to do things, but I think there are still lots of people who listen to full albums.
We worked with Rose Bronsteen. She was at SXSW to see a different Thirty Tigers artist who conveniently played right after us, which allowed her to watch us play. She texted us in the morning asking about our label situation. Rose signed us and became a dear friend. These people really, really care about the artists.
If you could work with any artist, musician, or anyone not in music who would it be?
Alex Ward: Hugh Jackman comes to mind for sure. He has a coffee line, and I think if we worked together we’d love to do banana chips…just imagine: Hugh Jackman and Hembree present BANANA CHIPS! If Hugh isn’t available, we’d love to go with Mark Wahlberg as a second option.
Musically, Trent Reznor would be high up on the list.
Flynn: Number one, Donald Glover, and that could be in any capacity; he’s brilliant.
Danielle Haim from the band HAIM. Third would be Kevin Parker from the band Tame Impala. He’s a genius and has been so influential.
Tell us about some cool experiences that we can’t read about on the Internet.
One of the coolest things was sitting next to Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine; it was just happenstance, but he leaned over to us at one point and said, “Sounds like you guys have a pretty good thing going,” so that was pretty cool.
Last year at SXSW we shared a green room with Hanson. You probably can’t find that on the internet.
It’s a dream of ours to be on the Time Crisis 2000 radio show. We are big TC Heads.
Can you tell me the Dave Navarro story?
Flynn: Me and one of my bandmates were standing out in a hallway at a festival, and Dave Navarro comes out of a room wearing only leather pants, a boa and a woman on each arm. I was kind of chuckling a little bit, and as he walked away I said, “Have a good show man.”
Dave stopped and turned around, and in the ultimate grungy Dave Navarro way he pointed at us and said, “You too, dude.”
It’s been a pleasure, guys. Do you want to give a shout-out to anyone before we go?
Big shout-outs to all our parents. We owe them so many vans.