In the years following the release of Hem’s last album, Funnel Cloud, the Brooklyn band’s
future was anything but certain. With several band mates not on speaking terms, the
likelihood of a new record’s completion was low, to say the least. Now, having undergone
a long healing process, Hem is set to release their new album, Departure and Farewell, on
April 2 through Waveland records.
The album has been in the works for quite some time now, with tracking sessions starting
at Sear Sound back in 2008. Compared to Funnel Cloud, which featured an elaborate 21-
piece orchestra, Departure and Farewell is certainly Hem’s most ambitious album to date.
The new record features a 35-piece orchestra and integrates new styles for Hem such
as gospel, New Orleans jazz, and playful time signatures. Despite the addition of more
instruments and styles, these songs are highly refined and deliver the same tenderness that
Hem has made their name on. For what may be the best sounding record Hem have ever
produced, Departure and Farewell is surely worth the wait.
We recently sat down with Hem’s own Gary Maurer to learn a little more about the new album.
Can you describe your involvement on the album other than writing and performing?
Gary: On this record I was the producer, main engineer, and mixing engineer. The whole record
was mixed at Sear Sound in the Neve Room—with Chris Allen assisting.
Can you tell me about the recording process?
Gary: The basic tracks for the whole record, besides “Tourniquet” and “So long,” were all done in about 12 days at Sear Sound in 2008. We also had 10 more tracks that didn’t end up making it on the record. We used the Studer C37 that was used on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album. We tried to
do everything on tape. I think tape tends to add a little bit of performance anxiety, but
it’s a good added pressure. Recording straight to Pro Tools and doing things like copying the harmony vocals from one chorus to the others just doesn’t work for us. We track live as a seven-
piece but we don’t use click tracks or have codified parts—we purposefully try to have
different nuances in all of our takes.
How much of this album, if any, was written or recorded at Saltlands?
Gary: I think everyone at Saltlands has probably worked on this record at some point in time.
All of the harmony vocals and overdubs were recorded at Saltlands, as well as all of the
odds and ends recordings.
Hem’s last album, Funnel Cloud, featured an elaborate 21-piece orchestra. Should Hem fans expect another highly ambitious record?
Gary: I think this is the most ambitious record we’ve ever done. This record has many more
players; some tracks have up to 35 players, but this record is much more refined and
classic sounding. Songs like “Walking Past the Graveyard” and “So Long” have killer brass
arrangements—all arranged by Greg Pliska, who did all the arrangements for the album.
This album is full of very exciting, very dynamic, and very classic sounds—classic in the
sense of Frank Sinatra or Etta James.
Do you feel that Hem explored new territory on this record?
Gary: I think there is plenty of what Hem has represented in the past, but there are a lot of things
that we’ve never tried before. The song “So Long” is a very gospel track and “Walking Past
the Graveyard” has a very New Orleans jazz vibe. There’s also a lot more guitar on this
record, and a lot of fingerpicking and flatpicking which we’ve never done. In some songs,
we mixed time signatures of certain parts, which we’ve also never done.
What does the future look like for Hem? Is the album title a literal message to fans?
Gary: It was when we started, but now it’s more up in the air; I’m pretty sure we’ll be making
music together in the future though. As for touring, our days of being on the road for five to
eight weeks are over unless Bruce Springsteen calls and wants us to open for his next tour.
-- Article by Jesse O’Connor February 28, 2013
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