“You’ll be back in a year,” someone told Curt Apwisch. And with a stimulant like that to prove him wrong, Apwisch (lead vocals/bass), Justin Nash (guitar), and Brandon Fisher (drums/percussion) packed up their equipment and belongings and moved in the middle of the night to Nashville, Tennessee. The three Dayton, Ohio natives, better known as the rock collective, Hotel War, brought with them a debut EP and a kind of hard-hitting sound that sometimes seems hard to find amidst our Americana cityscape. Today marks their three-year anniversary of their move to the South, and what better way to commemorate the anniversary than with a sophomore EP, Nashville Nights, a five-song declaration of existence.
Their first show as a collective was opening up for Sleigh Bells after being together for a matter of weeks on Halloween night in 2009. “We got the green room for our first show, and a bunch of free PBR for the next three years,” Apwisch joked. As I sat with the band’s frontman and drummer, their distinctly Midwestern energy radiated in the East Nashville coffee shop, something they also said was apparent in their sound. “We moved down here on one record, and that basically got us on the road for the first year.” Having defied the magnetism of returning home, the three settled on this side of the river and began to piece together fragments of words and bars of music into songs that would later be split into two EPs, the first of which is Nashville Nights.
For those curious as to why a band that had an EP debut, Rebels Out Of Time, would be producing yet another one, there’s a reason behind not offering a full-length. Hotel War just decided that instead of letting us listeners pick our favorite tracks, they would go ahead and give us the best five tracks, saving another EP for an anticipated release next year. Unlike Rebels Out Of Time, which begins with “Wild and Amazing,” the first song the band ever wrote together and a wall of sound that hits you with a punk fist, Nashville Nights opens with a crescendo into the upbeat opener, “Penthouse.” “Devil’s Breath,” one of the band’s favorites to play, pays tribute to their 70s rock conspirators with a nitty-gritty sound and raw form. And maybe it’s my native disposition or maybe it’s that special mastering touch of Brian Lucey (Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys), but “Illuminate” has a twinge of Southern rock in the opening riff that compliments the album’s impetus—an arrival in Nashville and a settled in sound that will remain a part of our audible arena.
With it being undeniably inspired by a punk scene, one that usually enjoys the same chord for three minutes straight, this new EP is significantly more musical than their debut. “We are always going to be a heavy riff-based rock-n-roll. But it has more dynamic; we know when not to play,” Apwisch affirmed. “Everything complicates each other a little bit more, instead of crawling all over each other.” The three-piece aims to create beautiful melodies that are still heavy and weighted with a sound that makes you drink your whiskey straight from the brown-bagged bottle, but the sound is elemental and a coalesced experience. The songwriting process is “extremely democratic,” always subjecting itself to a “two versus one” ruling. “The limitations of our instruments are the best thing about our songwriting,” said Fisher. “We vote it in or out,” and they challenge each other to finalize songs that reflect what Hotel War is all about: capturing rock in a Southern state with a callous and still sensual sound through “honest storytelling that’s trying to paint a picture through song.”
“We let go of some preconceived notion of who we were or who we are. We let go of red light syndrome. Confidence in the song and us has allowed us to have a freer recording. We capture us now,” commented Apwisch. And to celebrate the Nashville Nights release, Hotel War will be playing a show tomorrow night at the 5 Spot with Diamond Carter and Blackfoot Gypsies. The dynamic bill will be starting around 9:30pm, and as always, support your locals and buy the album.