“Lake June” is a precious little highlight on Hovvdy’s radiant fourth album, True Love — a lightfooted shuffle of barely more than a few strummed chords and brushed drums, before Will Taylor sings “I love you so much” in falsetto. It’s only fair to ask these guys where Young Thug fits into all of this.
The duo of Taylor and Charlie Martin namedropped Thugger as a primary influence during the creative process of True Love, and they stayed true to their word. Sorta. Aside from the occasional smear of Autotune — and, befitting a band with two former drummers, the “slow bounce” — Hovvdy draws less from the unpredictable vocal modulations or linguistic invention of Young Thug than his uncanny creative energy.
As Martin clarifies, “I feel compelled to turn up to ‘Lake June’ the same way that I would to my favorite Thug song.”
To be clear, I don’t think Martin or Taylor or really anyone will physically react to True Love the way they might to, say, “Future Swag” or “Lifestyle” — it’s a fantastic soundtrack to taking in the first October weekend of the year, posted up in the backyard with a six-pack of Shiner and a couple of pals or reminiscing on the last time you did those sort of things on a weekday. Hovvdy are still absolutely useless as gym music, despite their last album, 2019’s Heavy Lifter, being “kind of a soft reference to our previous buff jock selves,” as both Martin and Taylor were high school athletes (Martin played baseball; Taylor was on the basketball team). “But now we’re frail artists,” Martin jokes.
But I do get the sense that Hovvdy aspire to a reception more emphatic than their usual word-of-mouth praise, which has accumulated as slowly and softly as their earlier music. As a colleague of mine observed upon the release of their latest single “Blindsided,” “many people on my Twitter TL going wild for this one” — this is what Martin was talking about.
Released on the last day of 2020, Hovvdy’s Covers 2 EP should’ve tipped everyone off to their newly populist ambitions — Charli XCX, Paramore and Coldplay songs proved adaptable to a downy production style that resulted in Hovvdy being dubbed “pillowcore.”
“We threw being cryptic out the window,” Martin boasts. And from the title on down, there is nothing keeping the listener at arm’s length. “That used to be very inspiring to us: to have some underwater-sounding shit, and the lyrics are super buried, and our moms are pissed-off that they can’t understand what we’re saying. Now it’s more straightforward and confident-sounding.”
Big Thief and Nick Hakim.
Taylor credits Sarlo for encouraging Hovvdy to reverse their typical M.O.: “The more ‘vibe’ songs got pushed to the back, and he really encouraged us to dig a little deeper, grab the heartfelt songs and focus on those,” he says.
Much of True Love is “heartfelt” in the sense that most people reflexively understand it — earnest tributes to friends, family and home, rendered with a Linklater-like nostalgia for their politically besieged Texas. The line-dancing video for 2019’s “Ruin (My Ride)” could have been adapted by Austin’s tourism bureau. But a unique challenge for Martin and Taylor was to commit to “heartfelt,” even when it meant risking an unflattering look at the past.
“GSM” takes its title from the initials of Martin’s brother, and the lyrics recast their fistfights, Martin’s asthma and being a “guinea pig for some drug / all the doctors’ favorite patient.” “This is the first record where I’ve had some songs like ‘dad, you might want to sit down for this one,’” Martin jokes. “But I would never put something out that I didn’t feel was honest and a positive step forward for me and my relationships.”
True Love isn’t necessarily pop — it certainly is relative to other Hovvdy music. But it does aspire to an “indie crossover” that’s at least pop-adjacent, the kind of thing that wins over people who maybe found their past work too muted or diffident. Taylor’s “Junior Day League” hits many of Hovvdy’s usual talking points — suburban Dallas reveries of fleeting youth and loves just out-of-focus (“and if I wasn’t so uptight / you’d probably be by my side”) — while evoking the propulsive, slightly scuffed pop songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
“Blindsided” sways with a three-beer buzz, edging close to the kind of on-the-nose reference points of a pop-country song: listening to Fresh Air, riding bikes to the Tom Thumb grocery store, drinking out of red solo cups and air-drumming to “Everlong.” What saves it from being cloying is Hovvdy’s eternally wholesome, best-buds energy that fills the void left by Japandroids in spirit, if not sound.
The duo is currently in Portland when we connect, taking a breather on a tour that allows them a unique opportunity to road-test their more streamlined and assertive music. Hovvdy are currently on the road with Dayglow, one of those bands with a self-explanatory name doing mind-blowing numbers on Spotify’s “Feel Good Indie” lists and whose most recent album has been reviewed or even mentioned by any sites where your typical fan might frequent. Dayglow currently have more monthly Spotify listeners than Phoebe Bridgers.
“A lot of these shows have younger kids where it’s their first concert, quite literally ever,” Taylor notes. “It’s been special to be a part of that — they’re down to have fun.” And while Martin admires Sloan Struble’s songcraft and stage presence, he recognizes how “Can I Call You Tonight?” and “Hot Rod” have racked up nine-figure streaming numbers — “Everyone wants a cool, breezy vibe.”
After spending any time in the trenches on Twitter, one would more likely assume that people really want the exact opposite — music that constantly reflects a state of panic and existential dread, that interrogates itself to ask, “What does this say about COVID or climate change or the infrastructure bill?” True Love doesn’t have anything to say about those things, and they recognize the privilege in that.
“My wife is super on it in terms of political awareness, knowing all of the shit that’s going wrong in the world,” Martin reveals. “I tend to be a little more in the present moment, what is happening in the backyard.” In the time since Heavy Lifter, both Taylor and Martin got married, with the former also having his first child. While there’s uncut joy coursing throughout True Love (not just on the actual song “Joy”), there’s also an unspoken consideration of a new kind of survivor’s guilt that’s arisen in the past two years — how do you celebrate the good things in life when there’s so much pressure to see what’s wrong with the world?
“It is a good thing to offer positivity and good vibes,” Taylor qualifies. “And also to remember not everyone can meet you there.”