Closing the Distance is a new series in which we try to expose artists with desert roots who have since moved to other locales. Let’s bring this community a little closer together.
by Mark Anderson
How do I describe Garth Hockersmith?
When I went looking for someone to start our new Closing the Distance series, I wanted a talker. Someone who could keep the conversation going from a wealth of experience.
I caught up with Garth while he was traversing in northern California on tour with his band, The People Now. Rather than explain who Garth is, I’ll simply let his words do that for him. Welcome to Closing the Distance.
YabYum: Could you tell us who you are, what you do and where you do it?
Garth Hockersmith: My name’s Garth Hockersmith, I do a lot of things, but in the music world, my band let’s me sing and I’m also allowed to write some of the music for the group called The People Now. We are an alternative rock group music fiasco, if you wanna call it that, but also just a big sound in a small area. Some people have coined us to be arena rock in a microcosm as it were. And we try to do that big full melodic sound, lots of vocals. If you like guys like Foo Fighters you’ll like us. If you like Perfect Circle and Radiohead, of course, you’ll like us. If you like Black Bow from Argentina, you’d like us. One of the greatest compliments I think we get is that “nobody sounds like you guys,” which is great.
We do it in Seattle, but we’ve traveled to Europe, we traveled across the U.S. playing shows, and we work and collaborate with lots of people from inside and outside of our borders, in this country and the state, and in others. And that’s kinda of the fun, is to collaborate with other people and have them contribute to the projects and of course, influence it very heavily which is always nice.
What are your ties to Arizona? When was this?
GH: Well, when I was two years old my parents decided that the smartest thing they could do for their family of six was to drive from Iowa to Arizona.
So I grew up in Arizona, spent time as a young boy learning about the desert and what rocks not to turn over and what cactuses [sic] not to hug, and my Anglican-Germanic nature certainly learned a lot about the ferocity of the sun, of which Arizona is the anvil underneath it on a daily basis. And I grew up there. I attended college there. In my early twenties, decided to follow in the footsteps of my older brother Cliff – an amazing musician also from Arizona – who took his chance to go to Seattle and start working on his rock group that panned out in different directions. But I went up there as well and so that’s how that went.
What was your involvement with the scene then? Were you in a band?
GH: I was a late bloomer, well, AM a late bloomer in just about everything. But in the realm of music, I think it took time for me to sort of find where I fit and where I belong and when it came to the Arizona music scene I didn’t really know too much about it. I was more into my own life as most people are in middle school and high school and, you know, music was kind of just something that was in the house all the time. My mother played piano, my brother, obviously a phenomenally talented musician, played guitar and sang so that’s what I had to look up and I just sort of dabbled in it. But [I] loved classical music and classical guitar and started writing arrangements there.
My involvement in the Arizona music scene? Very slim. I think I played the last show at the Big Fish Pub with my brother Cliff and my brother John and another gentleman named Tony Grimes. We were in a little group called Doubleplusgood. We played a couple shows, won a battle of the bands or two, recorded at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences and that was it. I didn’t really know too much about it, it seemed that there really wasn’t much of a music scene in Arizona. Of course, it could have been my head being up my ass which is the reason why I miss a lot of things in the world.
What drew you out Seattle way? What kept you there? How would you describe the Seattle scene in 2016?
GH: What drew me to Seattle was a change. I had somewhat thought that Phoenix was a little bit of a cultural desert as much as it was a geographical one and that it wasn’t a very old city. I didn’t feel like the city had enough time to gain its character and know who it was. Particularly in the music scene. But what kept me in Seattle though was studying. I went to the University of Washington to study neurobiology and anatomy and still kept up the music thing. And, like most people, life kind of, I won’t say got in the way, but certainly was the way. I found relationships and tried to start bands and continued going to school and had a lot of red tape and bureaucracy there [transferring up from Arizona].
The music scene in 2016 now is very similar to a lot of large metropolitan areas that were saturated with art, and followed quickly by technology and money. Seattle is home to the headquarters for Amazon and Microsoft as well as Boeing and these large employers have [not the same type of] tamber of art and music contribution. And so the employees they attract aren’t the same type of people that created the music scene in those cities, like, for example San Francisco or, you know, Queens in New York or even some of Nashville. What you hear across the board, and I’ve discovered in my travels in talking to people – artists and musicians and people in the music industry – certainly as an affect of the degradation of the music industry itself, but, these cities are… drying up. There aren’t a lot of musicians that are successful anymore, at least, financially speaking. “Gentrification” is a buzzword you’ll hear quite a bit, is happening all over.
Even just recently, I’ve been on tour in northern California and I was in San Fran and talking to locals and they’re like, “Yeah man, it is just not the same as it was 10 years ago, rent is, you know, ten times what it used to be and the people that are creating the art simply can’t afford to live here.” And, what happens, of course, is the urban recycling where they’ll take the buildings, the houses, and gathering places for which these artists created their work and retrofit them and update them, “For Condo Living.” And not to say that it’s a bad thing, I personally have a different opinion of it but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There’s a change that inevitably happens and that’s where the money is pushing people in, like a high pressure system in weather, it just pushes everything out that can’t hack it and that is the music scene, I think, in Seattle today. People have this idea there is this still great rockin’ grunge scene and it’s just simply not the case. People don’t go to shows. Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle is no longer boppin’. There are more homeless people and bars do more DJ stuff and karaoke nights so that’s kind of what it’s like.
Please describe “Cause-Rock”. Is The People Now a Non-profit organization?
GH: This question is about one of our trademarks. The People Now touts ourself as a “cause-rock” band. We got a few trademarks and one of them is “Do Good. Rock Music.” So one of our elevator pitches is that we’d attempt to use music, that we create, to raise funds and awareness for various charitable or educational organizations and, if you go to our website, you’ll see all the people we’ve partnered with. We’ve done big projects and small projects, we’ve done music projects and non-music projects. We’ve done international projects and we’ve done local projects and we’ve done, you know, all kinds of stuff to, hopefully, utilize that energy that binds people together, particularly in rock music. That “high energy, lot of fun, shake your fist or shake your ass or both” feeling you get when you’re at a rock show and use that energy to, as an audience member, take with you into the world with new information that we can hopefully provide by shedding some sonic light on it.
And, as it comes to the non-profit, yes, we are a registered non-profit and, while we make very little money to give to these organizations, we do so very proudly and transparently and that’s all listed and video-documented too.
Who is in the current line-up of the band? Could you provide a one-sentence explanation of them? Who are others you’ve played with?
GH: The current line-up is a lot of different people. The core group is the founding members: myself and Tim Karman. Timothy is a fucking, well, here’s the one line, because again, you said to describe the line-up and if you could do it in one sentence what would it be. The line-up is and always will be, at least so far, myself and Tim. Tim in one sentence would be: That card in Cards Against Humanity that you turn over and it says, “Being a mother-fucking sorcerer.” ‘Cause this guy, as a drummer, as a producer, as a mixing-engineer, as a light designer, as a fucking everything, this guy helped put on the show that is The People Now.
We’ve had the pleasure of playing with tons of different musicians and they are all still involved with the project in one way or another in, you know, most of them. And there’s a pride in that. For example, one of our bass players Reid Strange, lives in Guadalajara, Mexico and he’s got his own studio there. He’s helping us produce and mix our next album that’s coming up in early 2016.
Our current bass player, Dagna, she’s Polish and is extremely famous. Everywhere we go people are like, “Hey Dagna!”, like everyone knows this girl. She’s lived in Sweden, she’s a luthier, she owns her own guitar shop and [is] extremely, extremely talented. Played with Warrel Dane of Nevermore and is working on a bunch of projects herself.
We’ve worked with a gentleman named Jonny Smokes, a one-man loop master that tours the world, and live records everything that’s looped. Some people think, “OK, that’s gotta be a karaoke machine.” Nope, it’s him.
We’ve played with a gentleman name Kyle Wimbish, probably the sexiest singer that I have ever encountered. His ability to, you know, go between the worlds of R&B and rock is second to none and he was singing with us for a while. Just so, so talented.
We had a gentleman who was a lead singer for a while named Paul Florin Gardescu who flew here from Romania – Bucharest, Romania – to be with us, who was trained in classical and pop.
We’ve had the bass player for Aaliyah play with us. The cool thing about The People Now is that while there’s a constant element of me, I guess, in the group, but like, the influences and contributions of all these people for so long have shaped and formed this music so it can be that thing that people always say, “Gosh, nobody sounds like you.” So, the first-person plurality of The People Now, really, I think, is appropriate as a moniker.
What are some benefits TPN has been a part of recently or what are upcoming?
GH: Well, for example, recently I got the opportunity to help produce a non-profit golf tournament – and this is in Mission Viejo – it’s called “Duffing For Dollars” and benefits work with an organization called MusiCares and they are the charitable arm of the Grammy Foundation providing support and a safety-net for people in the music industry as well as musicians when they are down on their luck and are in a really bad situation. Whether they provide affordable medical or dental care or maybe they help relocation in a natural disaster, or, shit, like, last year – there was a band on the East Coast doing their tour right? And the whole like, “Our van blew up and, you know, it was a really shitty thing, we had to get it replaced and get on tour” – no like literally the van blew up, like it exploded and caught fire and MusiCares within <snaps> days was able to provide that support to get them back on the road, get their equipment returned to them. TPN was a part of that support process for things that were already in motion, which is what we do anyway. Again, we use music to raise funds and awareness, we let people know, and we contribute however we can. Whether that be doing a benefit concert and raising money or whether that be, you know, shit, wading into the river and picking up cans that are floating by, that’s kind of what we do.
Being in a world-traveled band, please relate a favorite place to play that you have experienced. What made it so special?
GH: Fuckin’ Lake Como in Switzerland, holy shit, that place was bangin’. And it was tiny, and it was super awesome because before we even started playing they provided dinner. And while we got a lot of this also in Italy as well where people would just show up, or we would show up and bar owners would be like, “Hey, you guys are awesome. You’re from Seattle right?”
Seems to be a little bit more of a challenge to connect with people in the States, they just kind of, at least, at shows, they’ll just kind of stand there and listen to the music and that’s cool, that’s their way of getting with it but people in Switzerland and Italy were jumping around and having a good time and talking to you. even though they didn’t really speak your language, there was a measure of enjoyment and engagement that I really, really enjoy. I don’t care how many people there are, you know, it’s about “who’s there” not “where is there?” And I guess that’s what made it so special.
You guys are on tour right now! How has audience reaction been? Are these places you’ve played before? Coming to Phoenix?
GH: Audience reaction is usually the same for us unless, you’re playing in a place where you just obviously don’t belong. Where you show up at, like, <southern drawl> “a whiskey bar,” and you’re like, “Alright, here’s a metal song.” Right? <laughs> Uh, and people kind of look up from their pool tables and their deep pints and they go like <slide whistle going up noise indicating necks craning towards band>… So you don’t want to, like, offend anybody by just like, “this is my music and fuck you.”
But, I got to say, pretty much 9 out of 10 times we play, people come up to us – no matter how many people in the crowd – and they’ll say, “Holy shit, what are you guys doing here? You guys are a fantastic band.” Which is great to hear because we work really, really hard on our product. We spend hours programming lights and designing videos and, you know, we craft our music – we probably spend way too much time fucking thinking about it. There’s something to be said for just playing it and that’s the end of it. That’s a beautiful way to express art.
For us it’s like, we refine and we refine and we refine and we refine, you know, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours, and so when you play for 47 minutes and someone comes up in 40 seconds and says, “Holy shit, you guys are awesome!” You’re like, “YES, thank God!”, you know, because we really, really try and give people a great show. We know that there’s a lot of musicians out there, and everybody’s a fucking DJ, and everybody’s a radio producer with their MacBook in their apartment and, you know, there’s tons of music on Spotify, tons of music on iTunes, and it’s always everywhere on YouTube so we just want to be able to – when we go and play in front of somebody – we want to earn their respect.
We won’t be coming to Phoenix this time. At least not in any established sense.
What is in the works for the band? More music videos? Singles? Parts of the world to visit?
GH: It’s been a little bit of a challenge I have to admit. Most of 2015 we were put on hold – a very special, dear person to me got cancer at a very young age and is still struggling with it. I kind of tried to put my life on hold to learn everything I could – in action mode – about, you know, what cancer does to people. So that, unfortunately, stopped a lot of the progress of the band. The album that we’re trying to put out this year in 2016 was supposed to be out last year at this time in 2015. And that year has been, you know, in search of a cure and, at least, a quality of life. And certainly, for the band, that has given me – as one of the contributing writers – an opportunity to learn more about myself and about humans and about compassion and sacrifice and courage and these great notions that we write songs about. So rest assured, there will be more music after this album and the other album that we have waiting to do after that. After all that, there will be more music about the struggle of people and so that is definitely in the future. So keep your eyes and ears open for lots of music comin’ down the pipes of TPN and it’ll be “bang, bang, bang.” ‘Cause it’s gonna come out in droves, just like tears and just like laughter, it comes out and it just dumptrucks, man.
Music videos? Yeah, I still want to do a bunch of different music videos. And, moving more towards audio/visual with a lot of different things. Making sure that every song has got this, you know, heavy, appropriate, video component to it that tells that story. With the advent, and proliferation of YouTube, it’s so important to give viewers and fans, you know, that visceral experience through both audio and visual mediums. And, it’s kind of fun too, you know? Music videos are not just sorta something that you would have to have, but it’s like, alright if you have to have it, how can we make it fucking rad. So, yeah, definitely music videos coming up. I’m definitely looking forward to that.
Parts of the world to visit? We’re always open so we are booking nationally and internationally, whatever we can kinda get our hands on will be cool. Right now we’re looking forward to playing Hempfest, a big cannabis festival in the Pacific Northwest that has hundreds of thousands of people over the course of several days so I”m definitely excited to do that.
What is something you would like our audience to know that I failed to ask?
GH: This is probably one of the most important pieces of information for, I think, most of the listening world to, maybe not understand, but just to be aware of. You can understand in your own way, but I think it’s important for people to know it because, you know, often people have this idea that musicians have a beautiful lifestyle – and in a lot of ways we do – and that sex, drugs and rocknoll kind of all seem to come together, you make a lot of money… But, in reality, in the last 15 years the music industry has all but dried up and gone. And that is 100% true from the top to the bottom. Musicians are making no money. Most people sell records these days in the tens of thousands not in the millions of units. Vinyl is starting to come back, but again, that’s laborious and expensive and you have to have, you know, a boutique following to sort of be involved with that.
Well, how can people help?
Here’s an interesting way that you can help, it’s free and it’s extremely effective and everybody wins. The only ones that don’t win are the people that have an extremely mighty grip on the music industry. So go to a band’s Facebook, or go to their YouTube, or go to their Spotify, or go to their wherever you can find their music streaming online. Add that music to a playlist of any kind – this is especially poignant for things like iTunes and Spotify – add it to your playlist. Say, create the playlist, called like, “I Feed Musicians”, call the playlist that. “Feed The People” if you guys are gonna do The People Now. Put it on your computer, put it on your smartphone, put it on your whatever, laptop, and then go down to the “Repeat” button and hit “Repeat”. And hit “Play” and turn your speakers off, and turn your monitor off, and then go to bed. If we could get a 1000 people to do that every single night, we would be able to have enough money to buy gasoline to stay on the road. And it would be wonderful. It would be so wonderful. And if you guys feel so inclined, at some point turn that volume up and rock out to that music, again, do this with any of your favorite artists, help them out.
If you don’t like the idea of stealing from the rich, via musical Robin Hood to give to the poor, then go directly to the source: support artists on their Bandcamp, donate [to] them directly [through] PayPal, go to a show and buy their merchandise, these are the only ways in which musicians can, literally, survive. It is a drying up lake. Just like the drought in California and people need to, I think, really realize how much wonderful power they have to help. It is so awesome. And everyone’s got problems, and everyone’s got calendars, and things to deal with, and things come up so yeah, we get it, you can’t come to a show. But, you can share that music online. You can, with your thumbs, pass this and forward it along to somebody else. You can, with a couple of clicks, recommend this group, write a great review, you know?
And I’ll tell you what else you can do. You can go to places like YabYum, these newsmedia publications that are talking about all this great music that is still being created and you can support them. Find your music through the people that are searching for music. Get some opinions on what good music is out there from people that are listening to it. And that are talking about it. And that are creating that buzz. And I’ll tell you what, that is going to make – even the desert of Arizona – an opportunity for the flower of music to thrive. Right? So that’d be my closing statement. Do it for, you know, shit do it for my band for christsake, but then also do it any of your favorite musicians. Help them out. So again, stream that music online, repeat it with the volume off or buy directly from the artist. That is how to do it.
One of our favorite sayings around The People Now is, “After all, only with you is there we.”
I got more than I bargained for when I asked Garth if he wanted to answer my questions. Listen to the audio below for the complete, unabridged interview. For more on The People Now, visit their website.