Q&A: Hospitality's Amber Papini On Competing with NYC Noise-Rock, Signing with Merge, And The Red Hook Scene

As the Billyburg/Bushwick/Greenpoint underground overloads itself with crude art-noize slop, the clean-cut, pop-obsessive whizzes in the Red Hook-based Hospitality are quite the welcome anomaly. With an indiepop aesthetic as charming as their band name, singer/songwriter/guitarist Amber Papini, drummer Nathan Michel and bass-man Brian Betancourt jam-pack their heavenly tunes with a feathery array of hook-filled jangle, orchestral shimmers and catchy la-la's and ooh-ooh's. The chanteuse-like Papini is irresistible, slinging her axe and outlining her dreamy vision of New York in an unmistakable voice sure to inspire quite a few indie boy crushes, especially in the wake of her band's Merge debut coming out.

Sound of the City spoke to Papini on the phone from her beloved Red Hook to talk about all things Hospitality.

How did Hospitality come together?

I met Nathan at a party. I was trying to figure out how to get my songs out. I knew I wanted to be a songwriter, whether solo or in a band. Nathan and I met, and bonded over music in New Haven, Connecticut. I sang on his record [The Beast] and we toured a little bit. We moved to New York and I started playing my songs with my sister, Gia and Nathan. Later Brian started playing with us. We experimented with different arrangements, like all of us on guitars. Eventually, we just settled on the instrumentation that is on the record—Nathan on drums, Brian on bass, and me on guitar. Gia sang and played keyboard.

Did you kick your sister out of the band? Why didn't she stick around?

Gia got married and left the band. She was really important in the beginning. She helped a lot. She encouraged me to start playing out and booked our first shows in Brooklyn. We thanked her on the record.

You're from Kansas City.

Yeah. Brian's from New Jersey and Nathan's from Charleston, South Carolina.

How's the music scene in K.C.?

When I was there it was really thriving. I remember going to all-ages shows and seeing a lot of bands between Kansas City and Lawrence, which is an hour away. It's a college town and a great music and artist town.

When did you get into playing music?

I started writing songs when I was like 13. My dad is a pianist and he would play and practice all the time. We would sing Gershwin and Cole Porter songs at the piano. I had that in my ears when I was young and I started guitar at thirteen because my sister got one for her birthday. So, that brought the guitar into the house. I immediately stole it from her and started playing it. I was really active as a teenager, going to the record stores and buying records and going to shows.

What music did you grow up on?

I consumed a lot of indie rock that was out on Merge and Matador. I remember discovering Teenage Fanclub's first record, A Catholic Education—I really liked that and Liz Phair, Neutral Milk Hotel and Polvo.

In that case, it must have been mind-blowing that you signed with Merge.

It was like a dream come true and how crazy it was talking with Mac on the phone about putting our record out [on Merge]. I spent most of my teenage years listening to Superchunk and being obsessed with Merge bands. It was very surreal.

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