Interview: Get Tall

Words by Maddy Howell

Michigan emo-pop duo Get Tall have been gradually making a name for themselves since the release of their debut EP, 'A Little Less Bored', earlier in the year. With their bubbly riffs, painfully catchy hooks and heart-on-sleeve songwriting, the two-piece have settled in perfectly to their home at Atlanta-based label Chatterbot Records. 

Now setting to work on their debut full-length release, and with a series of exciting live shows in the forecast, we caught up with frontman Ryan Hahka to chat about the struggles of song-writing, Isaac Brock and the issues facing the current punk scene.

Burn After Writing: Who are Get Tall’s biggest musical influences?

Ryan Hahka: I think when we first talked about starting a band we were trying to combine The Front Bottoms and The Wiggles and we were only half joking. Now it’s definitely just like Weezer, Built To Spill, The Mountain Goats, and Rozwell Kid. If it sounds like we’re trying to emulate a band you listen to, we probably are.

BAW: What’s it like operating within the Michigan scene? Are there any up-and-coming bands right now who people should be checking out?

RH: Michigan rules. There’s a lot of good bands coming up right now who are getting a good amount of attention like Dogleg or Mover Shaker, but there’s a lot of great bands who aren’t getting as much coverage who definitely deserve it. Welman is a really cool surfy pop-punk band, and COMPs has some of the catchiest pop songs I’ve ever heard in my life, so everyone should definitely check those two out.

BAW: You recorded your EP, 'A Little Less Bored', with Nick Diener of The Swellers fame. How was the recording process alongside him?

RH: Nick is incredible and very good at just about anything music related. I think recording with someone who is so versatile and music-minded, he contributed a lot to the record and helped a lot of the ideas in my head come to life and made our songs sound huge and full. The recording process overall is just cool because it’s in the basement of his house, so it doesn’t feel like a stressful recording environment but something welcoming and friendly, it makes the whole process so much more fun and easy.

BAW: On 'A Little Less Bored', your lyrics are incredibly personal at times, does it ever feel unnatural to share that much of your thought process with listeners?

RH: At first it did, for sure. Originally it was just a way of me trying to put thoughts or feelings I was having into words and forcing them to rhyme, that unintentionally forced me to organise my thoughts and helped me a lot to calm down. Thrash Bandicoot was written in like 10 minutes in a really quick and random burst of emotion and when we first played it live it felt like something I had never done before in my life. Expressing so much emotion to a group of strangers or friends who I haven’t really talked to much about my feelings in a non-song fashion was strange, but I liked it a lot and I try to capture moments like that first time in every song I write now and I think it’s been really helpful.

BAW: In Thrash Bandicoot you make a pretty sweet reference to Isaac Brock, what’s your go-to Modest Mouse album when you’re feeling down and why?

RH: My favorite album for sure is 'The Lonesome Crowded West', it’s such a weird and unique album even to this day and to think that it came out 20+ years ago makes it even more impressive. A lot of things that Isaac Brock was saying on that record are so advanced and raw for someone who was essentially a senior in high school and that’s a big inspiration to me as someone who’s around that age. I think their EP, 'No One's First, and You’re Next', is really underrated and has some of their best songs too, but that’s just a side note.

BAW: Before this interview, we had a brief chat about the struggles of lyrics never quite feeling good enough and how we constantly compare ourselves to our past work. Do you think as a songwriter you often put too much pressure on yourself to get things perfect or is that a necessary part of the creative process?

RH: Totally, especially recently. I’ve kind of been contradicting myself because I don’t really believe in any set rules for creating a song yet I am definitely setting these boundaries for myself to create the perfect pop song with a catchy riff and great chorus, etc. I feel kind of nervous when I see the word “process” because I think it’s gone differently every single time I’ve written a song. I really want to top the last thing and write a record that people are obsessed with in the way I have been with my favorite records, yet I don’t rush the process. As one of my biggest idols, John Darnielle said: “There is a mythos that you have your whole life to write your first album and nine months to write your second” and I’m trying to make sure I don’t fall into that.

BAW: 'A Little Less Bored' was released through Atlanta label, Chatterbot Records. From an outsider's perspective, the label seems to operate on an incredibly supportive and community-driven platform. How does being in this atmosphere affect your work as a band?

RH: Chatterbot wasn’t our original plan but I don't think I would have it any other way. We originally really wanted to go all out with the release of 'A Little Less Bored' and try to go for a label like Counter Intuitive or Take This To Heart, but before we even began to record it, Alex reached out to us.

He expressed that he was a big fan and eventually it just felt like the right choice to go with someone who’s already passionate about our music over trying to convince a bigger label that we’re worth their time and effort. Alex is a really supportive and open person and that’s made the whole process of “being a band with physical media and actual responsibilities” a whole lot better and Chatterbot is the best label in the whole world

BAW: Through your band’s Twitter account you have made your stance on playing alongside bands who hold allegations of abuse against them very clear, stating that you will drop off the shows immediately. Do you think the wider punk community is handling these issues well or does more need to be done?

RH: I think that the scene which I’m personally involved in has done a pretty good job overall of eliminating the presence of dangerous people at our shows, but the general “scene” has a slight bit of headway to make, I think.

I’m not trying to say that people I know are not guilty of this but there’s been a lot of good intentions and bad executions with people trying to expose the bad in decent people instead of just exposing the bad people, leaving no room for those people to grow or learn and be accepted back into their scene. Of course, this doesn’t go for people accused of sexual assault or threatening behavior, but there’s definitely always more to be done when it comes to creating the safe and understanding, non-toxic environment we all would like to claim we’re a part of.

BAW: What are Get Tall’s plans for the rest of 2018?

RH: Right now, we’re working on writing our first full record called 'Happily', we’re going to be doing as much touring as possible but we're dedicating most of our time to polishing up songs and making this album the best it can be. We’re also playing a festival in Indianapolis called Briends Fest in May and we’re going to be a part of some cool things that our label Chatterbot is doing throughout this year that we are very excited for!