Home Body hail from the tiny town of Greenfield, in Western Massachusetts. From these small-town roots, they have forged a burgeoning reputation, not just around the Northeast, but across the United States. HomeBody is a true DIY band, consisting of real-life couple Eric Hnatow and Haley Morgan. And they work hard. This year alone, they have played gig in seventeen states, as well as release their second album, Spiritus.
Hnatow and Morgan run the band out of their flat in Greenfield. They met in 2006 and have been a couple ever since. They eventually formed Home Body in 2011. Morgan says it kind of came together naturally, as they had always talked about forming a band and ‘touring the world.’ Hnatow has been making electronic music for most of the past two decades, both with his brother and on his own. And when he went on a small tour as a solo artist, Morgan came along for the ride, and she became kind of jealous, seeing him on stage. She sees herself as ‘a ham, a performer,’ so for her, this seemed a natural step to take.
Since then, Home Body have slowly and steadily built a buzz, but now, in the wake of the release of the excellent Spiritus, earlier this year, there is a palpable sense that this is a band about to take off. So much so that Morgan needs to hire someone to help her run the business of the band.
On a scorching hot August afternoon, Morgan and Hnatow invited me into their kitchen to discuss HomeBody. We ended up having a wide-ranging discussion about everything from punk rock to class. Home Body are one of the two most famous Greenfield bands these days, the other being Sebadoh, as Lou Barlow lives here as well. Western Massachusetts has long been a hotbed of music and art, and Western Mass bands and artists have been making their mark both nationally and internationally for decades. This includes artists such as Sebadoh, and Pixies, Dinosaur, Jr., Killswitch, 4 Non-Blindes, Taj Mahal, Arlo Guthrie, and many more. And yet, Western Massachusetts is the forgotten part of the Commonwealth. We are underfunded compared to Boston (by a 12:1 ratio), even though we pay the same taxes. And anyone who is unfamiliar with this region just presumes we’re a suburb of Boston.
Hnatow and Morgan’s flat is comfortable and inviting, even on a blistering hot summer day; they’ve just finished lunch when I show up and, after clearing the table, we sit down at the kitchen table.
One thing that both Hnatow and Morgan insist upon is that they are a live band. While they play electronic music, it is all made with an eye on performance. Hnatow points out that they are performers and entertainers, and that they formed based on the idea of playing live, being on stage. Morgan knots her own background in public art, theatre, and directing, which she saw as inaccessible. She sought to infuse her life directly with creativity ‘in a way where I could actually connect with people’ directly. And thus, the music scene of Western Mass gave her impetus. The scene here allowed them to take risks, to be adventuresome, as audiences remained supportive as they forged their distinct sound of bone-crushing electronic beats and Morgan’s towering voice.
Performance, then, is the central component of Home Body, a band meant to be seen live more than anything. Hnatow talks about their incubation, which occurred down I-91 in Northampton, and creating an electric feeling with the audience, from their first show, and how that drove them to keep playing, to keep improving. Morgan also notes that their intimacy allows them to have their own vocabulary in making music, which she thinks is particularly important given that neither of them have formal training in music. Their music is feeling-based, Morgan says. The fact that she has no formal, real vocal training is crazy, given the power and strength of her voice, the way she modulates her pitch live.
For me, as a musician, a critic, and a fan of HomeBody, what defines their sound is both the structure of Hnatow’s beats and how Morgan gets into them. Hnatow says that ‘Haley has this amazing ability to find the note inside every melody and find different things in there that you would normally not hear.’ For her, being able to play around with her voice came from perhaps the most unlikely source: seeing jam-band extraordinaire Phish live, where she learned ‘…of improvisation and realizing that you can’t really do anything wrong, that you just commit yourself to thing. That was pretty revolutionary for me.’
Hnatow makes beautiful, bone-crushing, concussive music, though, as he notes, they are attempting to work more closely together to make the music. As Morgan says it’s not so much that Hnatow comes in with a beat, their music is made through improvisation. To this end, when they come together to practice, they start off with improvised jams, which grow organically out of a collaborative drawing they do together and pin to the wall (Last year, they curated and released some of these jams on as Forms, available on their Bandcamp). The music that comes out of these jams is entirely improvised, off-the-cuff, and serves to centre them as they start to play. This is a self-consciously curated process, and the music is recorded directly to their phones, whether or not they ever listen to them again, ‘but that’s been really helpful for us to just find confidence in whatever we’re about to do, to do it with intention.’ Hnatow jumps in here (they are constantly finishing off each other’s thoughts, though they also listen carefully and intentionally to each other), ‘It helps us to listen to each other. And, as Morgan says, oftentimes their songs are formed out of mixing parts of what they play in these jam sessions with something else they’ve played, especially now that she also works with a sampler. ‘When we can feel a vibe, and it makes us move, then we go for it.’
With Spiritus, they were both working different shifts (they both have day jobs, which are both very public in small town), and so Hnatow would make some music and present it to Morgan to see what she liked of the bits, and then they’d edit, and splice, and then work on them directly together, though some songs were borne out of jamming, most notably the track ‘White Hands,’ which Hnatow describes as ‘borne out of one of those jams. And so the way in which that album was written was through different equations and strategies.’
Morgan adds in that what she sees as integral is based in the fact that both of them have a background in improve and dance and ‘ways to think about physical movement and creation of shapes, and I think there are a lot of those sorts of rules that we apply, like taking up space and then letting someone else’ take up that space. Indeed, live, a lot of their movement on stage is of this ilk, where one of them will lean forward into a space, and then lean back, as the other leans in. Down in the crowd, they look like yin and yang.
And this is where the theory being Home Body’s music is really fascinating. It’s not just that Hnatow things about musical equations, and their improve dance, it’s the manifestation of this on stage and in their music, ‘of physical reactions and how to make them auditory.’ And due to their constant touring schedule, Hnatow notes that it’s currently impossible to make music without thinking about how to perform it live.
For me, this is the hardest thing about electronic music, replicating it on stage. I’ve seen countless electronic artists who have had difficulty translating their studio output to the stage, whether it’s Roni Size or The Orb or Amon Tobin, but with Home Body, all the music is made live on stage. Hnatow finds great amusement in the response to the beats, because people will come up to him after shows and ask him about them, ‘thinking someone else is actually making them, like I’m buying them from some place.’ And this is what they mean about being an actual band. Those bone-crunching, concussive, beautiful beats are all made live on stage at a HomeBody gig on Hnatow’s impressive decks, most of which are machines he’s been using for the past 15 years, both through a sense of familiarity and a lack of funds for upgrades.
We talked about the business of the music business, especially for an independent band in the United States. In most other Western democracies, bands can count on at least some support from the government in developing their craft, whether its Canada or Norway. It’s not like this means that bands there will all of the sudden ‘make it,’ they still need to work hard to build a brand, tour, and so on. But, I think as I see it, the business of being in a band is made harder in the US through a combination of just the sheer volume of bands and artists making their way around, combined with the lack of any real institutional support. This is something HomeBody are deeply aware of, Hnatow seeing this as a part of the larger class issues in this country.
Morgan does most of the business, and right now, based on a new album and consistent touring, but they also needed to create some balance in their lives. She notes that summer in Western Massachusetts is the best summer here (I don’t know if I’d agree, I’d vote for autumn, but whatever), so they resisted the urge to plan a big, long tour. So they’ve been doing weekend shows to allow to live their lives at home. And they want a sustainable future for themselves in HomeBody.
But the release of Spiritus and the overwhelmingly positive response it got, combined with the building word-of-mouth about their live show means that it is quite likely that their lives are about to get a lot busier. This is another reason for the series of conscious decisions to enforce a work/life balance this summer.
But this also means that Morgan can get occasionally stressed about the business side of things, and she adds they need to start thinking about ‘building their team,’ though they did just have someone come in and start to work with them, to help them out. They also need a booking agent, amongst other thing.
They also have freedom right now, says Morgan: ‘This is the thing, we don’t have a mortgage, we don’t have a baby,’ and Hnatow steps in, ‘Haley and I both come from incredibly working-class families, and we don’t have the support. Both of my parents have passed away, but neither of them were offering any financial support because they were working class….Class goes a long way. If you have the means to get things and be provided with the change to get your music further, whether it’s good or it’s not. But if it’s good and you’ve got money, that will get you pretty far.’ Morgan notes that ‘In order for us to maintain our life, we both need to work our part-time jobs. Hnatow, ‘Even in art, where people are trying to make things that are directly in response to class, at the same time it directly influences reach and success.’ He also notes that the struggle of being working class and the stresses that causes for them in their daily life, to say nothing about the band. ‘I mean, if we had the money, we’d fucking be doing this all the time!’
Catch Home Body on tour now:
Tomorrow night, 19 September: Kingston, NY, @ BSP
Thursday, 20 September: Albany, NY @ Albany Justice Center
Friday, 21 September: Holyoke, MA @ Rubblebucket’s Dream Picnic
Saturday, 28 September: New Haven, CT @ State House