Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan once said that Kill Hannah is "the future of Chicago rock." The band has built quite a stable of loyal fans through great music, killer live performances and tireless grassroots promoting and marketing. Their sound is one of refreshing individuality, caustic melodies and bristling power.
Livewire's Karen Bondowski caught up with vocalist Mat Devine and talked about what makes Kill Hannah really tick.
Livewire: So, are you guys driving right now?
Mat: No, we just arrived at this venue. We're doing a radio show here in Dallas today.
Livewire: What inspired you to start making music?
Mat: My parents both play piano and my mom was actually the music teacher at this tiny school that I went to. So, I think from an early age, I was encouraged in that direction.. You know like when you get to junior high or high school, you start to realize that the people you look up to are all in bands. I was able to talk my parents into letting me quit piano and when I picked up the guitar, they let me take lessons and I had this great teacher who after teaching me just the basics, allowed me to learn my favorite songs. So every week I'd learn a new song by like the Sex Pistols or Faith No More or like you know... Whoever I was listening to at the time. It made it so much fun. I started learning some U2 songs.
Livewire: So, what was your first actual instrument?
Mat: I actually learned how to play trumpet. But that's not going to help me get any girls any time soon.
Livewire: Oh, come on!
Livewire: I know a really hot trumpet player.
Mat: (laughs) No. People who try to take classical instruments into the alternative realm just end up looking like idiots.
Livewire: Hrm... Possibly... Do you know who Bright Eyes is? Or Cursive even?
Mat: Oh, auk. You got me. Strike that comment from the record. I guess I'm thinking more along the lines of... I'm thinking about people with instruments like sax and thinking of them being less Bright Eyes more Patrick Swayze.
Livewire: So for the most famous question, how did everyone come together?
Mat: It was just over years, you know? I started the band and I began it with my roommates from college. My best friends. Over the years I started to take it more and more seriously and needed to assemble like-minded people who also like were as suicidally bent, you know? Making a career out of it and all the risks that come with that. So the criteria for the people I was looking for became more and more specific and harder to find and so over from like.. '96 to 2000, I was just constantly searching and meeting with and talking to thousands of musicians around Chicago. It wasn't uncommon of me at all to just approach someone at a party or at a bar and ask them if they played guitar or knew someone who did. That's exactly how I met Johnny and Greg. Johnny, I approached at a Nine Inch Nails signing and it was a private thing for like 50 people and I just approached him as a stranger and asked him if he played guitar and he said yeah. Likewise, I was at a nightclub called The Dragon Room and Greg was a bar-back and I just asked him if he played bass and he said yeah.
Livewire: That's such a cool and interesting way of meeting them.
Mat: (laughs) It's desperate actually. I would never do it now but I was just so bent, so maniacally focused, you know? I had no problem at all just publicly humiliating myself.
Livewire: It's so hard to find people who would be just as dedicated as you.
Mat: Yeah. You may find someone whose dedicated the first year but maybe not the second, you know? Maybe someone gets offered a good job or maybe someone falls in love or maybe someone moves away or goes to grad school. The odds of keeping a band of qualified people together for the same... You know fighting a ridiculous fight for the right reasons. The odds are astronomical.
Livewire: And are you --
Mat: Dude! I just found myself by wandering around-.. I'm now in a closet filled with wine! Boxes and boxes of wine.
Livewire: Oh boy.
Mat: This is the good shit. Wow. Champagne too. This is a good thing.
Livewire: Are you still doing most of the song writing?
Livewire: And how do you approach everyone with your ideas?
Mat: Well, it's not all me. Not anymore. On this record, everybody came with song ideas. Traditionally, the way it's been, I'd come up with a song and record it at my house like a very rudimentary demo of it. I have a lot of songs at that stage. Sometimes Greg will drop by and say that's awful or that's awesome. If it's something that keeps the interest of the band, then we'll all sit down together as a band and flush it out more and eventually it comes to life.
Livewire: What's the strangest thing that's inspired you to write a song?
Mat: The song "New Heart For Christmas" that's on our last record was inspired by at night on like Christmas weekend when I was completely alone and went down to this amusement park that had been shut down. I wandered around by myself all night. It was just totally trippy because it was just me and in this setting that's supposed to be so joyous and so like celebratory and it's just a place for fraternity and unity and it was just me. It was totally bizarre and that's what inspired the song "A New Heart For Christmas".
Livewire: Do you feel that Until There's Nothing Left Of Us is your best work to date?
Mat: Yeah, I think so. In a lot of different ways, yeah. Someone... A songwriter who I respect a lot just emailed me and said that our song, "Believer" is a top quality song. Mastery of the like 3 1/2 minute formula, you know? I thought that was just a huge compliment. Maybe it just shows that we are still growing and still learning and still kind of honing the craft of song-writing.
Livewire: You guys recorded that in Chicago, right?
Livewire: Do you think it helped more? Being at "home"?
Mat: Yeah. Writing in the Chicago winter was definitely... Chicago was definitely the muse for that because it just has so much to offer. In terms of like the scale of the city and just the romance of it. I mean, they filmed Batman there because it looked like Gotham. So, it's definitely.. It can be artistically inspiring. But the recording of the album we did there and that was cool cause we were so close to our beds every night! It was different. The first one we made was in L.A. just like most bands do. It was just that whole Los Angeles experience. Palm trees, nightclubs and sunset strip... That was.. I don't know. It's not that interesting I guess. We're happy to be in Chicago just because that's like what the songs are about and that's what we're proud of. Now more so than ever, it's getting attention now. It's great. We've just always been loyal.
Livewire: How would you like a new fan to be introduced to your music? By a live show? Listening to the record first?
Mat: Probably like... If they're at like a summer party or something with a group of friends. Maybe one of them happens to have a convertible... A jaguar and decides to go drive at night like really fast and listen to the CD. That'd be a great way to be introduced to us.
Livewire: Only reason I ask is cause your live shows are so much different than the albums.
Mat: Yeah. Well, there's definitely a lot more energy at a live show.
Livewire: I was personally blown away at your performance at Lollapalooza.
Mat: Oh, thanks!
Livewire: Yeah, out of all the bands that were there, I thought you guys were the best.
Mat: Thanks. You should print that!
Livewire: We did actually!
Mat: Awesome. That's cool. We were surprised when we came out. We did a lot of competing stages that day. I had no idea what to expect when we came out, you know? There were people as far as I could see. It was a great surprise.
Livewire: How does it feel to have none other than Billy Corgan call you guys "the future of Chicago rock?"
Mat: It feels good. It feels better to consider him like a friend, too. But, we've definitely gotten a lot of mileage out of that quote. It'll probably be carved into my tombstone. "This guy sung in a band that Billy Corgan once thought was cool."
Livewire: What bands are you listening to now?
Mat: It's funny you ask that. I'm actually listening to Bright Eyes.
Livewire: Are there other bands that you have on rotation?
Mat: Umm... Clear Static, Shiny Toy Guns, 30 Seconds to Mars.
Livewire: Do you see an evolution with Kill Hannah's music or something more linear?
Mat: Yeah, completely. The trickiest thing of all, is to evolve without compromising. I feel that's what we've achieved. Bands that don't evolve... I don't know. I just watched this special and Judas Priest had like 15 albums and they were all heavy metal. It's like.. I don't understand why. Wouldn't have 3 have been enough?
Livewire: If you could compare yourselves to any band, who would it be?
Mat: Hmm... I don't know. I'd like to compare ourselves to the Smashing Pumpkins or the Cure just in the sense that we have a real diverse catalog of songs and we can come out with heavy stuff or more ballads or you know electronic stuff. We have that kind of versatility. Definitely not nearly the success as those bands.
Livewire: What's your favorite venue and city to play in?
Mat: In Chicago?
Mat: Oh umm... We've played like... Last week we played to 13,000 people in Florida. In Tampa and next week we might play in front of 200 people in Seattle. So, it doesn't.. I don't know. I don't know where my favorite place to play at is. In general, I love the House of Blues. Cause at the very least, I know I'm going to get like Spanish rice or something.
Livewire: Is that any House of Blues? Or Chicago's House of Blues?
Mat: We've played at probably 10 House of Blues and Chicago is my favorite.
Livewire: So, you'd say that's the best place to perform at then?
Mat: That and Metro in Chicago.
Livewire: What are some of the pros and cons of being on tour?
Mat: Well, the pros are, we're getting exposure for the band, we're meeting new people, we're seeing new places, we're performing. You get to pretend that it's an alternate reality and you get to put your whole entire life on hold back home. Which is a luxury. You know what you're doing for the next month which is something.. It's a kind of security I've never had. The cons are you're away from your friends, your girlfriend, your eating fast food, you might not have time to shower, you're wearing the same stage clothes everyday and you're inhaling smoke every night. And sometimes you're in a van for 12 hours a day. And my greatest fear of all time is being in a car crash.
Livewire: Oh really?
Mat: Yeah. So, that's like... If a shark attack was your greatest fear and being put in a shark tank everyday.
Livewire: So, who does most of the driving then?
Mat: We do it. Dan does.
Livewire: Wouldn't you feel a bit more secure if you were?
Mat: No, I just take Xanax and Ambien.
Livewire: I could see how that would help. Ok, take all your band members and individually describe them in one word.
Mat: Ooh. That's good. Umm... Greg the freshman. Johnny the hare. Dan the machine.
Livewire: And what about you?
Mat: Umm...One word to describe myself? I don't know. This is a great question. I hate evaluating myself. One of the greatest exercises in class that I had to do was to write an obituary which is like... It's very mind-blowing because you really have to think about what your life means and what you want to accomplish and why. It's something I could never do now. I just take it hour by hour. So, I don't know. I wish I had something moniker... Paul McCartney is like "I'm the Walrus". I don't know. I wish I had something cool to say like "I'm the Octopus" but I don't know.
Livewire: It's cool. Almost every person I ask that has a hard time saying something about themselves.
Mat: Yeah, especially in one word. Not like I'm a complicated person or anything.
Livewire: If you had the chance to form your own super-group, excluding your current band members, who would you choose?
Mat: I'd probably say... I'd have Peter Gabriel sing, David Bowie on piano and I'd work on loops and samples and beg them not to be kicked out everyday.
Livewire: Who is your favorite all time criminal?
Mat: That's a great question.. I like the romanticized criminals. I like the depression era. Like Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. I like modern day criminals too like Frank Abagnale. I don't know. I love them all.
Livewire: One day you wake up and your president of the United States, what are the first 3 things that you would do?
Mat: Ok. Number 1, I would take over Canada.
Livewire: Why Canada?
Mat: Cause it's there! It's right next to us and it freaks me out! 2, I would probably go down to Area 51 and find out the truth about that nonsense. Then 3... I would probably throw myself the biggest party in american history and then make a holiday called "I'm the fucking president".
Livewire: If it were 9/11, would you have done anything differently?
Mat: I probably would have panicked. I probably would have been a little more visibly flustered. I don't know. I would have probably have called my mom.
Livewire: In college, you were making short films to your music, do you still dabble in that?
Mat: No. But, I'd love to again. There's just no time when I'm touring.
Livewire: How about photography?
Mat: No fine arts time for Villi! It's tragic to say that because I'll always have a passion for visual art. There's just not enough time in our schedule right now.
Livewire: Do you have any ideas for a new video?
Mat: Yeah! I have a crazy idea for a million dollar budget video for Believer. All I can say is it involves us in like the 1920's, playing football.
Livewire: If you died tomorrow, what would you want your tombstone to say?
Mat: Ha! Here lies lead singer, Matt Devine who tried to sing in key and uhh... I don't know. What rhymes with key? (laughs) I don't know. Here lies Matt Devine. He welcomes you to sit here and smoke and ditch class anytime you want.
More Kill Hannah
Concert review - Lollapalooza 2006