Texas Forever: A breakdown of ‘Cranberry’ with Hovvdy

The combined artistry of Texas-based songwriters Charlie Martin and Will Taylor meld so well you can’t tell where the seams are. If 2016’s Taster (released by Sports Day Records) was an icebreaker, sophomore full-length Cranberry is settling in. The twelve worn songs explore long-learned lessons while easing into established relationships. Separated by space in childhood homes and new digs, the pair wrote and recorded much of the album remotely, all the while linked by the project’s familiar tether. In the tug, there’s tension, but also reassurance.

Now, with the added color of time and public airing, Hovvdy offer their own track-by-track annotations of Cranberry.

Rachel Rascoe

Stream / buy Hovvdy’s Cranberry via Double Double Whammy

Brave

Charlie:

It’s interesting how certain songs take a long time and some don’t. This one came together really quickly, probably because it’s so simple; about having a moment of clarity and deciding to do something good, like be a better friend or partner. The last lyric (“be my brave self more often”) always feels like a reasonable goal. The acoustic and vocal were done in one take I think, and Andrew Stevens played drums. He did two takes and we used both of them, layered. I went home to Dallas and recorded the upright piano at my mom’s house, a very special instrument for me and one we used throughout the record.

Will:

“Brave” is played without a metronome, therefore finds a uniqueness in its push-and-pull. It always felt like an appropriate first song. Important to me for its honest feeling.

In the Sun

Will:

A song about attraction to simplicity. never feels complete without the tape flute. I borrowed a banjo from Andrew, and first experimented with it on this song. The bass ended up being an important part to it all, performed by Ben Littlejohn. Vocally, it was written and initially recorded in the octave down because I couldn’t sing high enough in my quiet bedroom. I realized it was only possible the octave up, so I screamed into a t-shirt until I was pumped up enough to make it happen.

Charlie:

I was so excited when I heard this one from Will. Anytime either of us brings a slightly upbeat song to the table, I’m always surprised and impressed lol.

Thru

Charlie:

Poor song has been through a lot. It started as a real soft, somber acoustic demo. I didn’t intend to change it too much until I started recording and considering drums. I made the beat on my volca and layered a few tracks to create the polyrhythm. I kept layering and layering (synth and guitar mostly) kinda losing my mind to be honest. But it ended up being okay. My favorite part is the tape-string lead that runs the hole time. It’s so spastic and demanding, but always stays in the background. I never could recreate that.

Petal

Will:

I wrote “Petal” while in habit of listening to long, patient rock songs (David Kilgour, Mazzy Star, Happyness), so the original demo of this song ended up being about two minutes longer than the album version. We trimmed the quiet instrumental moments and brought the chorus down in loudness to fill that need. There are two coinciding electric guitar parts at the end that are subtly audible, but very loud when soloed which always made me laugh. The first Hovvdy song my mom connected to. Which is a good thing?

Charlie:

This song always brings back nice memories of the day we shot the music vid. One of my best friends Riley filmed it and my dear partner Johnna helped out. Hannah Read (Lomelda) and Andrew  and Layla (Will’s dog) were there too, it was a sweet day

Cranberry

Charlie:

A rare one where I wrote and recorded it all in one day. We were far along in the process of making the record, and had just come up with the title. For some reason I thought “Colorful” needed an instrumental outro, so I was working on that when I came up with this simple guitar pattern, and when the vocal melody came along it became its own song. the lyrics are real simple and plainspoken, about working on being a better listener. We were able to make a nice warm texture with the acoustic guitar and tape flute, and there’s some room noise I like.

Will:

Charlie moved into the house that I had lived in and we had recorded in for years, and I remember hearing this song through the wall we shared. It feels like marching and floating at the same time.

Late

Charlie:

The rhythm elements are most important I think. Before recording “Late” we had never layered electronic and acoustic drums, but for this one it was fun. Lyrically it’s about working through patterns of fear or anxiety that are in hindsight irrational. Also the circular ways in which we form more thoughtful understandings.

Will:

Charlie recorded and engineered just about the entirety of this song on his own. Being distant from the recording process makes me feel free when I listen to it which is a rare occurrence while listening to my band.

Tub

Charlie:

I remember we were sitting around and Will did that off-kilter chord progression and I made up some keys, and there was some interesting contrast between the 2 parts. For the record version I recorded this harpsichord sound, which is one of my least favorite instruments.

Will:

I wanted “Tub” to have a danceability, and we found a balance between that and the original demo, which is very bare. I was encouraged by Hannah. That song is special.

Float

Will:

This recording features a number of redo’s and a slew of muting that creates multiple versions within itself. It ended up being driven by acoustic guitars. Written about someone to lean on in a difficult situation. The only true wurlitzer keyboard on Cranberry was used at the end of the song. The recording is more hushed in nature than even intended. But I think that’s our inclination?

Charlie:

Probably my favorite sounding song on the record. Every time I hear it I feel warm. The way the acoustic guitars and the keyboards mesh reminds me of a flowerbed.

Truck

Will:

I was just meeting my now partner Mal, and the truck I borrowed from my brother would continue to run after the keys were out of the ignition. It stressed me terribly and ultimately led to a bad time. Mal sings on the chorus of this recording. It fell naturally into its current form, despite the demo being a bit more pointed and distorted. Andrew helped with drumming, and Ben contributed the bass and pedal steel. One of my favorite songs to play live.

Charlie:

Maybe the softest country song we could make. I don’t think I performed anything on the record version, but it’s sure nice to play live, and I feel close to it because I know Mal and I know the truck Will sings about.

Quitter

Will:

This song may date back earlier than any on Cranberry. We played it at house shows in New Orleans and Texas in 2015. The arrangement came together very nicely during a tour we did in spring of 2016 with Hannah on bass. So it was the only the right decision to have Hannah perform on the album too. The chillest bass solo at the end .

Charlie:

I kinda struggled a lot making this recording. After awhile, when Hannah recorded her bass part, I finally felt like the song had the right chemistry. Lyrically it deals with wanting to help out but not knowing how.

Colorful

Charlie:

The original was called “Color”, which we released on a split called ‘Stay Warm’. This rarely happens, but I genuinely felt like I needed to make a longer version. So I added a couple parts and recorded a demo which we ended up using for the record. “Colorful” is a real emotional one for me. I recorded it while my dad was in hospital after having a stroke, and I was there in Mississippi seeing him and staying at my grandparents house. The vocals and guitar are so quiet because I recorded them on my phone while my grandparents were asleep. Will was back in Texas and I sent him the track and he added some drums. The opening line brings me back to my old place in Austin. Every house on the street was small and colorful, and I’d go for walks a lot.

Will:

This recording is a highlight of Cranberry to me.

Swing

Will:

A short bop to make sure the vibe is okay. Also serves as a decent intro to “Brave” (track 1). A fairly minimal recording, the percussion comes from a 90’s yamaha keyboard. It was one of the first songs I recorded for Cranberry. I enjoy this song lyrically for its lightness. It reminds me of Patterson Park in Austin, which is a great place to shoot hoops and swim during the summer.

Charlie:

A breezy, strange, very brief pop song to close the record. I love how this song functions on the album. Everything closes with a sense of relief and good pace.

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Photography by Hayden Sitomer