Between 10,000 to 20,000 are expected to turn out for First Night, Tacoma's all-ages New Year's Eve celebration, which will bring an army of bands, “the World's Shortest Parade” and other spectacle to downtown starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31.
Among the buzz-worthy musical acts on display will be Rabbit Wilde, a Bellingham and now partly Tacoma-based outfit that will play the Pantages Theater at 7:45 p.m. The band – comprised of brothers Nathan and Zach Hamer, Miranda Zickler and Jillian Walker – plays an infectious, foot-stompin' brand of indie-folk that's sure to appeal to fans of the Lumineers or the Cave Singers.
Recently, Tacoma Weekly caught up with Nathan Hamer to discuss his band's sophomore disc, “The Heartland,” moving to Tacoma, and that time he thought he was about to die during a gig on New Year's Eve.
Tacoma Weekly: People think of you as a Bellingham band, but I hear the Hamer brothers have moved down here.
Hamer: I moved here at the end of the summer, actually. It's a beautiful city, and I'm lovin' it so far. We're on tour so much that we actually don't get to spend much time in our home base, in general. Last year, we played over 35 festivals across the country, so we were gone most of the summer. Just for touring purposes, Tacoma is a little more central as opposed to Bellingham, which is nice and secluded. But it's way up there in the corner, so we have two hours to drive to wherever we're done on tour.
TW: While we're talking about geography, the formation of the band sounds a little complicated from that standpoint. I've read that you all grew up in Mount Vernon. You were based in Bellingham, but you didn't actually form until you met in New York.
Hamer: We've all lived in New York at various times in our lives. Zach was out there for a film internship when he was younger. I was out there for school. I went to Pace University in lower Manhattan, and Miranda was out there for musical theater. We hadn't ever met Miranda, even though we were from the same small town. ... We met Miranda the day she was flying back to Washington from New York.
TW: What year was this?
Hamer: This is 2012, probably. We literally just met in a diner in Union Square. We recognized each other from being from the same small town. So I came back for a semester break, and we all met up and played some music together. We liked what we heard, and we were having fun. So we said, “Hey, we'll do this over my summer break.” It's been going good, so we haven't stopped.
TW: Your new record is called the “The Heartland,” and from what I understand the name and the songs themselves are influenced by all the traveling you alluded to doing earlier.
Hamer: “The Heartland” was written mainly on the road. Some relatives in my family own this secluded cabin out in Iowa on this farm. You've gotta drive like 200 miles to find some vegetables to eat. (He laughs.) It's in the middle of nowhere. So we kind of hunkered down there. This was in the middle of a tour. We were there for a week and a half, I think, just writing music and exploring different sounds. So that's where “The Heartland” came out of, just being on the road and just writing as we're traveling.
TW: Many of the lyrics and at least one of the song titles allude to specific places. Are the songs based on specific experiences? Or should we take them as impressions of different places you visited on the road?
Hamer: I wouldn't take the song titles too (literally.) We have a song called “Jackson, WY,” but that's not necessarily about any experience. The song is about marriage and stuff like that, and none of us have actually been married in Jackson, Wyoming. At the same time, we (explore) the highs and lows of being in transit for most of your life. That's sort of the theme that is kind of overarching in “The Heartland.”
TW: How would you say your music has evolved between your debut, “The Wild North,” and “The Heartland?”
Hamer: We're actually working on four new singles now. So there's even been another, I guess, evolutionary step. But between “The Wild North” and “The Heartland,” I guess we sort of found ourselves as a four piece. … Jillian had just joined the group, specifically just to play cello on “The Wild North.” So we became more cohesive as a four-piece between those two records and sort of found how to construct a song all together as a group rather than bringing a completed song to the band.
TW: Well tell me about those. Give me some song titles, and compare and contrast.
Hamer: We each brought a song to the group. We have saxophone and clarinets, and we have synths on some of the new songs. It's been a really fun process for us to sort of take that driving sound that we've been working on the last two years and then add more toys to play with in the mix.
TW: I've seen a couple of videos you've submitted to NPR for their Tiny Desk concert series. Have those opened any doors for you?
Hamer: It's just a fun thing to do because all our friends in the music community, in bands across the country, normally do it. .. It's just sort of a fun, yearly thing to do. The first year we did it, I think they used a portion of our song as an advertisement for the contest at one point. There's definitely people seeing it (but) it's more of a friendly competition.
TW: Since you're coming here for First Night, tell me about your most memorable New Year's Eve experience.
Hamer: I think it was two ago. We were playing on a steam ship in Seattle, on the water; and during one of our songs, there was a huge boat wake that came by that tilted the whole ship. I thought the boat was sinking for a moment. But yeah, we all sort of fell over mid-song, but somehow managed to continue playing.
TW: So you were kind of like the band playing on the Titanic as it was sinking.
Hamer: Yeah, and we kept playing even if the ship was sinking – just to soothe everyone as they danced their way to safety.