Morgantown's Hello June on the Joys of Bummer Rock
Since the show began almost two years ago, A Change of Tune has highlighted some of the best up-and-coming artists out of these West Virginia hills with podcast-y chats ranging from Rozwell Kid to Beach House drummer Graham Hill, Goodwolf to Teammate's Scott Simons and beyond.
But those interviews have been a bit infrequent, and since West Virginia Day is coming up (not to mention A Change of Tune’s second birthday), we thought we’d do something special: 30 days, 30 brand new #WVmusic interviews that range from Morgantown alt-rockers and Parkersburg singer-songwriters to West Virginia music venues and regional artist management and beyond, all of which contribute to this state’s wild and wonderful music scene.
And today, we are chatting with Hello June, an indie rock four-piece that was started just a few years back by Morgantown native Sarah Rudy. The band has now grown to include Summersville's Nate Snyder and Charleston buds Whit Alexander and Chad Brown. We sat down with the band to talk about their new release and what it's like being a rock'n group of twenty-somethings in northern West Virginia.
How did Hello June come together?
Nate Snyder (bassist): Sarah started the band in 2013 with Whit. It started as a little project, mostly recording songs that Sarah was writing. And that’s how Hello June’s EP came out around that time. it kind of took off from there. Eventually, everything went on a little break. Sarah ran into me, randomly, through another band practice that never worked out. We hit it off, and she asked me to play in Hello June. So I came up, and Chad moved in with us around the same time. Me, Sarah and Chad actually live together. So we all started playing, and Whit rejoined as the drummer as he was the guitarist previously.
Sarah Rudy (vocalist & guitarist): Hello June was my first official project. But Chad, Whit and I had a little project when we lived in the same apartment building around 2008 or 2009. So we had a history of playing together. And the reason why things are coming together so quickly with Hello June is because Chad and White grew up learning how to play together, so it’s really awesome to have them in the same room.
Nate: I literally just joined in February of this year [laughing]. It’s only been this formation since mid-March.
Are you all from West Virginia originally?
Sarah: Whit and Chad are from Charleston. I’m from Morgantown.
Nate: I’m from Summersville.
How did you get into music?
Nate: Well, I started playing bass originally than switched to guitars and then drums, because in Summersville, nobody ever seemed to have a drummer. When I was about 15, I was sneaking into bars to play a 30-minute set with bands who were in their 40’s, and then I would have to sneak out really quickly. That was my first taste of playing music, and then it kind of just kept going from there.
Sarah: I grew up playing. My grandfather played guitar, so he taught me how to play. Music is just integral to my family.
Chad Brown (guitarist): I started playing drums when I was 5, then switching to guitars at around 11. Everyone in my family plays music, so I’ve been around the Appalachian music scene since I could walk.
Whit Alexander (drummer & percussionist): My dad and uncle both played guitar, so I grew up around that. And when Chad had a band in high school, they were in need of a drummer, so I starting drumming on tables and then starting drumming with real percussion instruments.
When you were growing up in West Virginia, did you look up to any bands playing in the state?
Nate: Growing up, no. If you count college growing up, then I eventually found Daniel Johnston. He became a very big influence on me, and it was pleasure to find out that he was from West Virginia. When I was younger, I never got into the country music thing. I was always idolizing classic rock, and then I find indie and went in that direction very quickly.
Sarah: I always appreciated Jason Molina. He lived here for a little bit. He’s one of my favorite artists, so the fact that he had any ties to West Virginia was exciting to me.
Chad: For me, growing up in Charleston and being around Mountain Stage, Michael Lipton has been one of my favorite guitar players for a long time.
Whit: I had the opportunity to work with Larry Groce for a little bit on Mountain Stage about eight years ago, and he’s somebody that I’ve always idolized in the West Virginia music scene. But also, Bud Carroll had a band called American Minor that, when I was in high school, a band that I got really into. Their sound was really cool.
Nate: And we love William Matheny!
It’s interesting you all brought up Jason Molina and Daniel Johnston. Of the #WVmusic interviews I’ve done so far, no one has cited those artists for inspiration.
Sarah: I’m not surprised. We’re a little bit weird [laughing]. I know William Matheny loves Jason Molina…
Nate: …he just won’t admit it [laughing].
Sarah: [Laughing] He just doesn’t love Jason as much as I do.
When you were growing up in West Virginia, was it hard trying to make music that was less country and more indie rock?
Nate: Absolutely. For me it was, at least. I grew up listening to Garth Brooks, and I can literally remember the day I first heard The Beatles. And I thought, “Oh ok. That’s cooler than everything else.” I started down that path, which lead to classic rock and indie music eventually. But when I would hang out with my friends, and they would want to listen to the new Jay Z or Kanye West or Toby Keith album at the time, I would say, “That’s cool… but Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (which is another band from West Virginia that I should mention)!” And my friends would say, “Yeah… nobody cares. Go away. Go listen to your weird music.”
The lead singer from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is actually from the Morgantown area, if I’m not mistaken. I got to meet Surfer Blood when they played up here at 123 Pleasant Street, and the first question they asked me was, “Does everyone here love Clap Your Hands Say Yeah because of West Virginia?” And I was like, “I don’t think anybody else besides me knows that they’re from West Virginia.” [Laughing] The lead singer is from here, but he eventually moved to New York. There’s actually a line “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth” that says, “Far, far away from West Virginia / I will try on New York City,” and that’s literally what he did. It’s kind of an autobiographical song.
And Katy Goodman from La Sera (who recently played here at 123 Pleasant Street) and Vivan Girls said that her family was from the Lewisburg area.
Chad: I came up on a lot more traditional Appalachian music. There was a lot of acoustic string music and a lot of Southern rock in my house. We played a lot of juke joints and dive bars, so it was a lot more normal for me to deal with that than to go out and fight to play a surf punk song or a metal song.
Sarah: I honestly don’t know if I ever thought about. I think I just do whatever I feel like doing [laughing]. I grew up listening to a bunch of different stuff like Neil Young and Elton John and some crazy things my mother would bring to the table. I never really thought about where we were in West Virginia or where I was even in the world. I just did whatever I felt was right at the time [laughing].
I’ve tried to find bands that have made good music, regardless of where they’re from or who’s in the band, but I would say that only a small portion of those bands involved women. What are your thoughts on that, Sarah?
Sarah: I think that’s pretty accurate. Haley Slagle is around Morgantown, and she’s one of the first women artists in West Virginia I noticed when I moved back here. The music scene around here is very male-dominated, and I don’t think that’s unique to Morgantown; I think it’s across the state. I definitely think that’s a good observation [laughing].
I really don’t know why we don’t see more women playing around the state. If you go to a show any given night, it’s extremely rare to see a female up there. So I don’t know if it’s because it’s expected because it’s the norm as of now or something else. I do think it’s changing in a different direction. Recently, I’ve come into contact with different females in our music. Tonight, we’re playing a show with The Furr, which has a female drummer, and that’s pretty cool. But in general, the female presence is lacking in my humble female opinion [laughing].
Nate: I will say that I have no experience in being a female member of a band [laughing], but pretty much every band I’ve been in has had a female in at some point, either permanently or is led by a female. It’s always been great. When I was younger, I heard somebody say, “Well, that band would be a lot better if that girl wasn’t on stage.” That really irked me at a young age, and even though I don’t necessarily seek it out, I always enjoy whenever there’s a female in a band. So when Sarah asked me play up here, it was even better because I knew how strong of a lead she was and how her work would be a good push for young girls and older women to just get out there and step up on stage, stand in the spotlight and do their thing.
Sarah: Thanks, man. Appreciate it.
Where does the name Hello June come from?
Sarah: I loved Johnny Cash growing up. I actually thought my grandfather was Johnny Cash probably until the year 2000. And I also looked up to June Carter Cash and her presence, probably because she was female and I felt connected to her. So Hello June stemmed from that. It sounds silly, but whenever Johnny Cash would get up on stage and say, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” putting those concepts together is how I came up with that band name.
How would you describe Hello June’s sound?
Nate: That’s actually been a really difficult question for us. We describe our sound as indie rock in general. Some people describe us as bummer rock, which…
Sarah: I don’t agree with that.
Nate: We don’t agree with it. There’s a mellow feel to what we do, even though we do get intense from time to time in our live shows. I always tell people that it’s a little bit of rock, a little bit of indie and it’s also got a country tinge to it.
Sarah: Honestly, it’s really hard for me to categorize it. Hopefully one day I will be able to articulate that to you [laughing].
What are some of the influences on the band and the music?
Nate: The National is really big for me, I think for Sarah also. For me, I look up to bands like Frightened Rabbit and Death Cab for Cutie. Those all are really depressing bands, which I realize…
Sarah: Yeah about that “bummer rock” description… [laughing]
Nate: I’m the bummer, and they’re the rock [laughing]. But those bands have been big to me. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Lady Lamb recently, because I’ve been trying to get more into the mindset of Sarah’s style of playing. I’m producing the new Hello June record, so I wanted to make sure I understood how female vocals sat into the mixes and how they should be presented. And going to newer bands like Lady Lamb, La Sera and Alvvays, I paid a lot of attention to those sounds and used those influences on how we recorded.
It doesn’t seem like you’ve released much since your 2013 self-titled EP. Is there a reason for that?
Sarah: We just took a very long break. Whit and I released that EP, and we desperately tried to get a band together at that point, but it just wasn’t happening. We both went back to school (Whit studies computer science, I was studying biology), and we finished our degrees. We just weren’t focusing on music at all. Just recently, I decided to pull it back up and see what we could do with it.
Now you have the band back together and a new single out titled “Handshakes.” Can you talk about this new release a little bit?
Sarah: I wrote the bones of it a couple years ago, and I always wanted to do something with it. I brought it to these guys, and it started coming together. When we started playing together, that’s when things really started coming together, and we started figuring out different arrangements that we appreciated. And then we started recording it.
Nate: When Sarah first asked me to play, I was already a huge fan of the self-titled EP. So when she said she was working on a full-length, I thought that was incredible and jumped on the opportunity as quickly as possible. I didn’t know what my part was going to be. I fell into playing the bass after trying several different instruments including a very small synthesizer [laughing] which is funny because I’m 6’4’’ and giant. So a little tiny synthesizer was an interesting choice for me.
But whenever we started restructuring the songs that Sarah had written three or four years ago, it was originally just me, Sarah and Chad with headphone practice and ran everything through the computer in our apartment because we couldn’t play loud. For a little while, Whit was even playing drums in the keyboards, which was hilarious and awesome at the same time [laughing]. He was actually really good at it. We finally got a space, and as soon as we got into the space, we could finally play how we wanted to…
Sarah: Like real people [laughing].
Nate: We could make as much noise as wanted to, and we definitely did. I think it took two or three practices when we began feeling really tight as a band and how to react to each other doing things. Sarah did the self-titled EP pretty much by herself with Whit on it as well (she had a drummer at the time who also did some tracks), but she handed the reins over for me for most of “Handshakes.” Between the four of us, we’ve all been jumping in and attacking the recording process on our own, taking things one step at a time. We all had enough experience to know how it would go, but not enough to see how it would turn out…
Sarah: We still don’t know how it’s going to turn out [laughing].
Nate: [Laughing] Yeah. But so far, we’re pretty pleased with what we’ve done. We’re anticipating eight to ten songs on the new full-length, and the original three songs from the EP will be recorded the way we play them now for the upcoming full-length release. Because they still get a lot of attention and good response from the shows, so we thought it was time to rerecord them and put them back out.
Let’s talk about you all playing in Morgantown. How welcoming has the city been to your music?
Sarah: Very welcoming. The response we’ve gotten has always been positive.
Nate: I was recently talking to U92 FM’s Aaron New about Moose Fest, which was our first full-band show. We were playing the upper bar of 123 Pleasant Street and the tiny area in front of the window. He said that from what he heard, other than Rozwell Kid playing the fest (who has been an established band for a long time), and he said that people were really excited to see us and the bar was full when we played. A lot of people did respond really strongly to Hello June’s first EP, and I think everybody was excited to hear that something new was coming out.
We picked a weird time to start being a band and playing out more since all the college students leave, so the audiences are cut in half in Morgantown, but a lot of the locals have come out and are being receptive to our music.
Sarah: When I came back from Baltimore around 2011, I was not super into playing shows at that point. I felt like the Morgantown music scene was harsher at that point. But more recently, there’s been some really, really quality bands that have popped up, and the audiences have helped with that.
What have your experiences been playing music in West Virginia?
Nate: Having played in West Virginia most of my life, it’s definitely been a lot of positives and a lot of negatives, especially being an indie band. Morgantown is really the only place you can fit in, for the most part. Maybe Charleston (sometimes). It’s hard to book shows if you’re not playing modern country songs, not even classic country. We’re lucky to have 123 Pleasant Street, and Mainstage Morgantown is starting to get a little more indie. And Gene's is starting to put on shows. The fact that they’re opening the doors to alternative and indie bands, not just your typical metal and country and bluegrass, that’s just amazing. Don’t get me wrong, there are downfalls for playing in the same spot. But you just have to keep pushing through that and look at the positives.
#thestruggletostay has been a big topic of conversation in West Virginia. Do you all expect this band to stay in West Virginia much longer?
Chad: If we got the opportunity, I don’t think anyone would think, “No, we can’t move. This is not an option.” It’s so cheap, and we’re all here. Whit is married. There’s no need for us to go anywhere now. It’s easy here.
Sarah: I like it here. I wasn’t expecting to stay much longer after moving back from Baltimore. I was just finishing up some school stuff, but I now appreciate the mix of things going on in Morgantown.
Nate: For the longest time, my life’s goal was to leave West Virginia. But I realize now that it’s not a terrible place, and I can accept where I am for right now.
When people walk away from this interview, what is the one thing they should know about Hello June?
Chad: We have fun [laughing]. We do.
Sarah: We’re all really good friends. We have a strong connection.
Hello June’s newest single is “Handshakes,” available now on their Bandcamp. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds!