HT: Seems like you have built up some exciting publicity for the new album, The Domino Effect, not the least of which is the “Pick the Single” campaign with Grooveshark where listeners can vote to pick the first single off the album. How did that idea and ultimately the execution of that campaign come to be?
MHB: Well, we already had a partnership going with Grooveshark for North Coast Music Fest and then one Saturday afternoon I was driving home from brunch and my label executive Timm Martin called me and had just seen the CEO of Grooveshark on the Bloomberg report and was impressed with his whole deal. We got to talking, brainstormed the idea with Alex Hoffman their head of artist development who spearheaded it from their end. The rest is history, well sort of cause it’s still currently live for a few weeks.
The campaign has been very successful and it was an interesting experiment to deal with releasing music after such a significant amount of time exclusively on one site/platform. We have gotten to check out some pretty cool stats/info about what other bands’ fans of our music are into, which is very cool for conceptualizing future touring partnerships. We also can read peoples’ notes and comments and it’s generally been super positive. The real album drops this fall though. We are recording two last songs the day after North Coast in Chicago with our producer Justin Niebank then setting a late fall release date to be determined. In the mean time, people can vote for our next single out of these four and get all four songs as a free download instantly. Once the contest ends or if they don’t want to vote, they get the four pack sampler as a free download by signing up for our email list.
HT: Based on those four songs up for consideration for the single, the new album sounds like a bit of a shift in direction toward a slightly more pop-oriented sound. Was this a band decision to move in this direction, or perhaps the result of working with a producer/engineer like Justin Niebank who brings that “radio hit” type of experience having worked with people like Taylor Swift and Keith Urban?
MHB: My writing style has always been very poppy by default and I embrace it if it goes in that direction. Whatever comes out is what is meant to. All my songs start with a chord progression or lyric and a melody. The most random things inspire me each day and I write them all into the note pad on my phone.
The thing about Justin’s impact on the band is clear, and we are so proud to be involved with him. He has million dollar ears and is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. We really look up to him. In addition to his poppy elements he also helps us get tighter and find better chemistry as musicians. The funny part is we are such a departure from what he usually works on that this lands us square in the middle of something unique and different for all of us.
HT: What does the routine – or lack thereof – of a typical Van Ghost rehearsal look like these days?
MHB: That depends on if we are doing a song writing session at my place with a few of us, a new song development session at our warehouse or prepping for a show or run and playing all new and old stuff. We have very productive and fun rehearsals either way you spin it.
HT: On your tour this past summer, I noticed you guys hit the road in a seriously badass bus. Got any good stories you can share from the tour? Did you name it?
MHB: That’s been incredible and definitely affects the vibe of the tour, and the presence of the band as we roll into a town or festy. You get better rest and eat healthier too. All of this affects the show positively. We’ve all traveled in a passenger van, or our cars and such and this was a gift from our label to get this type of tour support. There are no insane stories, or at least ones I want to talk about but we did name it the Ghost Vost. As it was a prevost bus. Cheesy? Maybe.
HT: One of the challenges I imagine you face routinely in working with established musicians like Jennifer is coordinating schedules and managing the gaps when members of the band are working on their other projects. What’s your approach to maintaining the flexibility and ensuring the band plows ahead no matter what speed bumps you encounter?
MHB: Well, that is much tougher now. In the past with the original line up, if someone wasn’t avail we’d just sub them out. But that has changed now. This line up is THE BAND. Period. If people can’t play, we don’t take a date. We just try and plan as far in advance as possible to avoid stuff like this. Every member is essential to our sound at this point. It feels good to finally have that sorted out after three years of the project being alive. It finally came at the perfect time too because this summer has been our most successful season to date.
HT: In terms of the album, could you elaborate on why you decided on the name The Domino Effect?
MHB: The first reason is it’s our second studio album so the first one knocked into this one and we hope to keep releasing material one after the next. Then love it or leave it, the message of the song (not the story) is about spreading love. That’s all were trying to do with our lives and music. On the real though, some days are easier than others to practice that and it always works better in theory. But anyways, the last reason is it was one of the songs written in the era that bridges the gap between the old version of the band and VG 2.0.
HT: Alright, before we go, I know you are a big Bears fan, and most importantly a fantasy football fan. So, let’s get down to some business; of the consensus first-round picks, who do think represents the biggest bust potential?
MHB: Chris Johnson. He kinda flopped last year. Who knows though he can come on again. My eyes are on the prize of a few others but if I told ya I’d have to kill you. I’m in four leagues this year with tons of friends and folks around the industry. They might be reading this very article when it goes live (pre-draft) and I can’t get caught up giving away my secrets or it could bite me in the ass later! Know this: the Van Giggity’s & the Big Ditkas – two of my squad names – always kill it in fantasy every season. Have ya hurrrrrd? Holler.