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Interview: Hitting Subset hit their stride on debut full-length

Stricken with windswept desires to bridge the gap between the pop and punk scenes of Austin, Texas, Hitting Subset, a disruptive and daredevilish four-piece, painted the town red last year with a pair of extended plays. Hikari and Yami are two sides of the same coin: signifying light and dark, good and bad, peace and war. And they both come together to create the group’s first full-length (out this August) with this lineup, comprised of frontman Caleb Behm, drummer Abram Ulve, guitarist Emilio Rendon and bassist Zane Leblanc. Hikari Yami meshes together their vast reserve of influences, from Nirvana to Paul McCartney and Avenge Sevenfold. “The truth is we all get what we deserve,”  Behm heaves on the final line of “Inertia,” a standout deep cut relaying life’s reliable cause and effect.

The group dances brazenly with starry-eyed convictions and ideals, entrenched in their approach to provide an alternative to the harsher, more severe art being pedaled to the masses. “We counted stars while others were counting heads,” Behm wails over blustery guitar on “Mercury,” a sampling ripped from the Hikari side. The troupe of musicians, who came together at the close of 2011, entrusted each other to carry the message, and coming off a slew of previous projects with other bands (whose members were unreliable, at best), it became their safe place to create. Their loyalty to each other and the music runs deep. “Emelio, the guitarist, and I go way back. We’ve known each other for years and played in different bands together in the past. We knew Caleb; he was a friend of ours and got him in with us,”Ulve tells B-Sides & Badlands over a recent phone chat. “Then, we actually played with Zane’s old band in Houston and kept the connection over the years. Whenever he decided it was his time to leave that project, it was good timing–our bass player was leaving, too.”

The connection was immediate. “We had already established a little bit of what we were going for, so everyone knew the approach already. It wasn’t so much left-field stuff as it was in the beginning,” he adds.

From the spellbinding twist of “Swim” and the raw dazzle of “Lifeline” to the restraint of “Danza,” the band’s style is nameless but soaked in definable terms like rock and grunge. “We’re not really trying to go for one style, in particular. It’s really whatever we’re feeling at the moment. We’re not trying to say ‘alright, we’re writing in this box of music.’ We all come from very wide influences, so we’re letting that all shine through,” Ulve says. The alternative sphere can be an enormous beast to conquer; understanding where they belong can be even harder to crack. “I think we’re still trying to figure out where we fit. Whenever we first started out, we were playing with a lot of heavier bands and being the weird guys. We were the only guys singing clean on the bills for a long time, but now, since we’re playing with more alternative bands, we’ve become one of the heavier bands. Musically, we’re a little aggressive.”

Hakari Yami is not yet released, and the outfit have another album already waiting in the wings. “Once it’s prepped and ready, we’ll show some new stuff,” Ulve teases. “I would definitely say it shows progression. It’s more alternative.” Leblanc adds, “I guess you could relate it to the ‘Yami’ side a little bit more. A much wider range of people will be able to grasp it and feel it in different ways.”

Ulve and LeBlanc talk, at length, about their songwriting capabilities, backgrounds and the meaning behind their name in our exclusive Q&A session. Dig in below.

What does Hitting Subset mean?

Ulve: Since we all came from other bands, it means “a subset of all of that.” It’s about getting the better members of those bands and making a subset. Also, hitting your subset can mean hitting your quota or achieving your goals.

What is the songwriting process like with four people?

Leblanc: Well, all of us have been songwriters for years before we came together. How it usually works is Emelio comes up with songs worth of guitar parts and gives them to Abram, who has recorded and produced every song. He does the drums, usually within a couple days, and then, he sends it to me. I record bass. Once that process is done, then, we send it to Caleb, and he listens to it overnight or for a few days and thinks of different lyrics to plot out against the tone of the instruments.

Is it typical to record the parts separately?

Leblanc: Yes. Most of everything we’ve done is that way. Every now and then, we’ll all be together. But usually, Caleb prefers to be secluded for his lyrics.

Do you feel that approach allows you to reach the same level of creativity as you would if you were together working face-to-face?

Leblanc: It’s pretty much everyone’s little bit of their own feeling. All of us definitely were writing songs before this in a way. Everyone puts down their own flavor, and Caleb puts the icing on the cake.

How did you set about expanding after your two EPs?

Leblanc: Well, we wanted everyone to get a good taste of it. We released them without the title tracks, knowing eventually we wouldn’t have any more hard copies of the EPs–and it would be just one full-length. It all started about a year ago. The album includes all the songs from the EPs, plus the title tracks.

What bands were you involved with previously, and what did you learn in those experiences?

Ulve: The first band was with Emilio called Beyond the Skyline. That was a really good learning process in finding dedicated members and figuring out the type of people we wanted in the band, in the long term. Whenever that fell apart, that was the next mindset. All the players were pretty decent, but they didn’t care to have a future in music like the rest of us did. We went on to start another little project called 30-Foot Dinosaur, which, surprisingly, got some footing and attention. That was just me and one other person. I did the drums and guitar, and he did other instruments. It turned out to be a similar situation where we thought we had a direction and goals. We ended up not quite seeing eye-to-eye.

How did Hikari Yami start?

Ulve: I would say the album probably started as a concept. Caleb presented the idea of “hey, I kind of want to do a light/dark, ying versus yang feel.” From that point on, Emilio really attacked the songwriting with that approach.

Through writing and recording this album, what did you learn about yourself and each other?

Ulve: I think I really learned to listen to what Emilio had written and figure out what I could add to it. Sometimes, in the past, in the voicing of things, it was “oh, it’s gotta be awesome drumming.” On these, it was more about listening and natural playing.

Leblanc: A lot of the time, on the first ‘Hikari,’ it was just me going in not having anything previously written down and doing what we felt was right.

Who are musicians you try to emulate in your music?

Ulve: I would definitely say The Rev from Avenge Sevenfold–and the edgier side of playing. Travis Barker, too, is always in the pocket. I really love Jon Bono’s fake-out technique. It sounds like he’s playing double-bass but he’s only doing single bass. I try to emulate that. I only ever play single-bass, too.

Leblanc: I’m really influenced by Paul McCartney’s playing and singing. He’s all over the place, while still being very on-key. I’m very big into Flea. I like how he’s always in the pocket but also leading every now and then. No matter what, he’s always tight with the kick drums. I’d also say Mark Hoppus from Blink-182, whose singing and playing was really big when I was in a punk band with my brother.

How would you rate your own playing?

Ulve: I would say…honestly, probably a five. I have so much to learn. You can never stop learning and progressing as a musician. I really would advise anybody to come see us live. We really do take pride in our live shows. We’re really not just a studio band. We’re not trying to toot our own horns or anything. You have these bands that are absolutely insane.

Leblanc: It’s humbling in a way. We see where we want to go. Even though people around us credit us for how we do perform live, we still know we have so much more we want to do and grow.

What is the hardest thing you’ve learned about playing?

Ulve: I would say maintaining a constant practice routine and always being hungry to get better.

Did the live shows come easily to you, as well?

Ulve: Yeah, for the most part. We started out practicing all the time and always jamming. It is really naturally to play live.

Leblanc: Over the last couple years, we’ve played between 100 and 150 shows. In May, our van broke down, so we’re being more strategic about only playing one local show a month. The next one isn’t until July 29. Normally, we’re used to playing every weekend. It’s really helped us structure our band to be able to do this stuff more often.

What is your favorite song to perform live?

Ulve: Probably “Yami.” It’s got some very aggressive and fast drum parts.

Leblanc: I’d probably say “Sunday,” because I’m addicted to those bass lines and those harmonies. It’s always fulfilling.

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Jason Scott

Editor-in-Chief of the Badlands, spinning those B-Sides. Love Parks & Rec. Addicted to high-priced coffee drinks, alt-country and synth-pop, and never know when to quit. Got a cat named Jake--and she doesn't like you very much.