Six Questions with Annakarina‘s Craig Hodgkins
by Mrs. Valley of Steel
Have you ever been going to an event somewhere, where you don’t really expect things to be different — you figure it’s totally going to be a fun night, but nothing out of the norm — then suddenly after you’ve walked in the door, something begins and BAM!, you are completely blown away?
Yes? No? Doesn’t matter, that’s basically the exact scenario of how I first heard Annakarina: I was attending a punk show with the husband in Charleroi, PA, last December. This show was about five minutes from our house — quite a change from our normal hour-plus drive, so I was happy to be attending for that reason — but with the inclusion of the word “punk” I didn’t expect to be hearing something that he later described to me as “Post-Mathcore,” but we did. It was seriously gorgeous in its expression of angst and precision side-by-side.
So Annakarina and their music really never left my mind after the show. Soon afterwards, I found out that someone had taped their whole set and put it on Youtube, and I’ve probably watched it like five times since then — needless to say, I was a fan.
Anyway, last month we were attending another punk show at the same venue — where as it turns out, Annakarina was going to be making another appearance — and on this day I happened to decide that I needed to drink A LOT of tequila before the show (and during). Probably because we were so close to home I was feeling a little more rebellious, I don’t know. Drunk or not, I was extremely excited to see Annakarina again, but this time I decided that I needed to talk to those guys. In my drunken stupor, I basically poured my inner fandom out for them, sharing the fact that my husband was a blogger, that we attend shows at least once a week in Pittsburgh, all sorts of stuff.
[Editor’s note: at one point, I recall she had told bassist Kurtis Kelley about the description I made up the first time we’d seen them. He seemed a bit puzzled, but then said, “Well, I know what post-hardcore is, and I know what math rock is, and — yeah I guess I can see that.”]
I’m sure they were like, who’s this crazy lady, but even so they were all very kind. I got introduced to them all one by one, and in particular I felt drawn to [guitarist/vocalist] Craig. In between bands I talked casually to him (or as casually as I could manage — remember I was very drunk) about his music, his friendship with the drummer and other bandmates, and soon I realized this guy was special pretty special.
In a way, I was feeling sort of annoyed that no one else we knew really knew anything about this band — because I’ve never seen them at any shows in Pittsburgh, and (I mean this in the nicest way possible) honestly they’re better then a few bands that we’ve seen playing other shows in the past. So I decided I needed to introduce Craig and his music to more people — so there’s the core reason for this interview. I think you’ll agree he’s quite a special guy — that magical combination of intelligence, wit, weirdness, awkwardness, and sincerity that you couldn’t fake if you tried. So here he is, pouring his heart out to you, via my six questions; I hope you will find him as endearing as I do, and I hope you will venture out to the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg this Sunday to see his band playing a charity show benefiting PLEA. Trust me, Annakarina is a band you won’t want to miss, and this guy is one of the major reasons for that.
Can you describe who or what inspired you to play guitar, and do you have any particular musicians (guitarists or otherwise) that you feel have inspired your personal musical style and direction?
I’d say no one in particular inspired me to play guitar. I’ve always been into music ever since I was little. The first time I started searching for my own music was in 4th grade; I was nine years old and my tastes at the time were really immature. I thought stuff like Korn was cool, and I thought Coal Chamber was super tight — like, anything that was angry or heavy, I thought was awesome. I also took piano lesson and voice lessons then; my dad was a keyboard player and was always playing music. Around tenth grade is when I discovered guitar. A friend of mine had one and I started plucking around on it, trying to recreate some song, I don’t remember which one it was, but it had a really distinctive guitar line in the beginning that I was trying to figure out. And when I finally did figure it out, I felt this supreme feeling of success and accomplishment and that was very exciting to me because I was really searching for something at that time that could give me that feeling, something that I can I could feel proud of doing. Something I could do at my own pace, on my own time, my own way. Playing guitar and figuring that song out was the very first time that I had ever felt something like that. So I think that was the inspiration there, the feeling of success and accomplishment, and I think that’s why I still continue playing guitar and making art today. I still get that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of pride that I created something that I’m happy about and want to present to other people, and that I feel is great, and, you know, putting all this work into something. So that’s what inspired me.
For the second part of the question: was there anyone that influenced me? Absolutely. Everyone that I’ve met has influenced me in a particular way, almost everybody that I’ve met. A lot of my close friends have influenced me in a lot of different ways, in terms of who I am as a musician and certainly who I am as a person. I have a really strong opinion that who you are as a person is an amalgamation of everybody that you’ve met throughout your entire life. Since we’re all perpetual input/output machines, yeah, of course, lots of people have inspired who I am as a musician whether I know them personally or not. There are a lot of people.
One person was the first person who introduced me to harsh noise, a friend of mine named RJ who lives in Pittsburgh. He plays under the name RJ Myato. He was a good friend of mine for a long time. He and I used to always jam to just make nonsense sounds, and to us that was fucking awesome. But I think he was definitely the first person [between the two of us] to discover that it was an actual genre of music and people did stuff like this. It was purely DIY, and there was a whole crew of people who did music like this. And he was the one who introduced me to that scene and he would show me a bunch of shows and show me different bands. He showed me Merzbow, he showed me Prurient and that was mind-blowing to me. Truthfully, I was resistant to it at first because of my pride and sensibilities as a conventional musician and guitar player who wanted to be the best guitar player you can be, and wants to dissect every song in terms of structure and theory. To hear a style of music that rejected those principles was against my sensibilities and offended me and offended my pride and things like that. Eventually, I started to realize that it’s important to have a malleable sense of self, because that’s what avoids ego and helps you grow as a person. So as I started to grow up and really, truly start to see and feel, and apply that in my everyday life, I started to accept noise and I started to see it for the power in it and the freedom in it, and to really see that that’s kind of what attracted me to playing music in the first place, that freedom of being able to do whatever it is you want. But this harsh noise that I was seeing took it to the next level in terms of freedom. I started to meet people and hear things that were pretty mind-blowing. Being active in noise helped me meet a lot of my close friends who themselves are doing great things. A friend of mine Matt Boettke out of Richmond, Virginia, who I just toured with this past March, plays under the name Scant — he’s playing some next level stuff, I really look up to that dude musically. He’s like the epitome of control when it comes to playing a set, you know? Matt Goodrich of Buffalo, NY, who plays in a few different projects like Deceiver and Pacing, but who also is a part of a really cool grind band, Water Torture. A good friend of mine Brad Kline from here in Pittsburgh who is doing some really great cold minimal techno as LIABILITY, I ended up touring with him twice when he was doing noise under the Centrescape moniker.
So definitely what took me, in my opinion, to the next level was hearing harsh noise for the first time, and watching these guys play. Stuff like that is what brought me to a more unconventional sense of playing and writing music in a particular way. And as much sense as it may not make to someone else, to me it makes plenty of sense, but you can sort of see that influence coming through in my guitar playing; at least I like to think that.
What was one album or piece of music that was a pivotal turning point for you, either as a music fan or as a musician? Can you explain what age you were when you experienced this, and how has it affected the person you are today, again either as a fan or as a musician?
I think that album is definitely going to be, without a doubt, Pedestrian Deposit‘s Fatale. When I first heard that album, it opened my eyes to what music can be because of the textures that were created, because of the sounds, because of the composition that was there. It’s a masterful record and when I first heard it I was amazed by it. To hear the tracks with the piano, and then the harsh behind or on top of it, it really blew my mind and it was exciting for me, and it was an exciting time for me. From there I started to explore others and see what the possibilities are, and see the freedom that noise can give you as a musician — consequently, how that freedom can be translated and applied to more conventional kinds of music. When I would go to shows and see, as I mentioned, this freedom where these guys would come with these contraptions that they’ve built themselves, like, this metal contraption of thin wire that they’ve welded themselves and they have contact mics, one or two, on various portions, and they run it through different pedals and by hitting it harder or softer or by manipulating it in other ways, they can create this whole composition and this whole soundscape about it and be extremely entertaining and harsh and abstract, but at the same time still be palatable and still be a valid art form. Or you can see a guy playing a tape measure with that, too, being contact mic’d and run through distortion pedals and, depending on how he manipulates it — softly scraping it across the ground it creates one type of noise, or shaking the fuck out of it and it gets super harsh, super abrasive and really dynamic. There are so many things you can do. And then of course you see others that play feedback loops: sending the output of a mixer into the input of the mixer, or making a chain of pedals to manipulate that feedback loop which is something I do in my other project, Cincinnatus C. But doing stuff like that is amazing and it’s so vast and you see all these things. And this next person you see after that aggressive, harsh act, you see this guy playing this beautiful, hypnotic drone that’s just a couple different oscillations, or two tones playing at once that are a couple cents from one-another and making a natural oscillation, and he has the bass maxed-out so it creates this rumble that you can feel, physically. And it’s just an amazing thing, the freedom that can be attained.
And it was definitely Pedestrian Deposit‘s Fatale album that opened me up to that. And then from that album showing me the possibilities of music and validating so many different ways of playing, it turned me on to other forms of conventional music that I otherwise would have been too rigid to accept or too closed-minded to accept because of my preconceived notion of what music should or should not be. Like, there was actually a time where I thought that screaming vocals was not a valid vocal style. I didn’t feel that it was a valid form of art or a valid way to express yourself vocally in a band for whatever bullshit reason. But then seeing all this wildly abstract art and connecting with it and understanding that these people aren’t just doing it because it’s abstract and they want to be so avant-garde and what-have-you — no, it’s just because that’s what resonates with them and that’s what they want to do and that’s what they feel like is a great art form that they want to invest their time in, and that totally fucking rules.
But after finding and discovering that record and that paradigm shift within myself, I started to explore other forms conventional music that I normally would not have found intriguing or valid. In terms of the kind of music we play in Annakarina, it’s going to absolutely be Suis La Lune‘s Quiet, Pull the Strings!. Everything they have in the record is beautiful for me. That album was definitely something that I could relate to and was something that, when I heard it, I absolutely loved the guitar parts. I thought that they were genius; I thought they were very well done. The composition was just incredible to me. The juxtaposition that they used between the vocals and then that sort of angular sound. Then that started introducing me to other bands as well in that genre.
A friend of mine named Justin Lloyd who has a few projects, but specifically one of his older bands, Age Sixteen, has an album that I really like listening to because of the guitar work in there and the compositions, the intervals that he uses in his guitar. Stuff like that is really inspiring to me. I guess that’s where it comes from: Pedestrian Deposit‘s Fatale album. It may be strange for someone to hear that I’m influenced in Annakarina by harsh noise, I guess because they’re not directly connected, I guess that’s weird for some people and I know that it’s kind of a roundabout way that I’m going about calling harsh noise an influence to what I do, but it very much is an influence to everything that I make actually.
I know that you and your bandmates are all good friends, you and [drummer] Travis [Lamanna] especially. Can you describe how this relationship has lead to Annakarina‘s current musical direction? How long have you known each of your band’s members, and how much of the writing process are each of you ultimately responsible for?
Yeah, Travis and I are close friends and we have been for a long time. I’ve known Travis since Middle School and we’ve jammed together for a very long time and done a whole lot of that. How has this relationship led to Annakarina‘s current musical direction? Travis is a huge part of this band. Here’s the thing: Travis has been playing drums since as long as he can remember. I asked him one time how long he’s been playing drums and he said to me “I don’t remember not being a drummer.”
The reason for that is because when he was two years old, his dad was showing him basic drum beats, basic patterns and things. He’s been doing it all of his life, so to have somebody who’s that adept at what he does and who’s that proficient at drums, it’s really a pleasure and it’s really a privilege to have somebody like that playing with you. Because here’s the thing: when there’s somebody who’s been doing it for that long (since they were born), it’s different than somebody who learned how to play drums high school or something. Because when you were doing it since you were two years old, it’s like, in your bones, it’s second nature. It’s a part of who you are as opposed as what you do in a much more literal sense than somebody who just loves playing drums and who has been doing it since high school. I know I may be generalizing, but I think in a general sense, that’s normally how it goes.
So for that reason we tend to be a drum-first band, really. When we come up with things, I want Travis‘ drums to stand out in every section. I want his ability to really shine through because he is a really talented dude, and he does come up with a lot of really great things, and he does a lot of really exciting things. Every time we go to practice and every time I hear him play, it’s mind-blowing to me and he does it so effortlessly. So it’s really great.
But an important thing to note, though, is that even though we have been friends since high school and we have jammed together a lot, we actually come from wildly different backgrounds. As I explained before, I listen to harsh noise and to me that’s my ultimate music to listen to, but I also love (keeping it relevant to Annakarina) of course I love screamo and stuff, I love Welcome the Plague Year, I love Loma [Prieta], I love Ampere, Joshua Fit for a Battle, you know, whatever. So that sort of music is stuff that really gets me excited. For him though, he listens to a lot of metal. Like, he loves Dream Theater for example. He loves hearing precision in music and he loves hearing next-level songwriting, these virtuoso instruments and stuff like that; people who are really on top of the game. He loves Between the Buried and Me, — [BTBAM drummer] Blake Richardson is a huge influence on him. I don’t mean to speak for him, but I don’t think he’ll have any protest to what I’m saying.
But, like, those are two way different styles, but here’s the thing: on a really basic level, they’re still connected. I know that, like, somebody who’s educated (I mean educated in punk and hardcore and screamo and this kind of music), they would say “Welcome the Plague Year and Between the Buried and Me have nothing to do with each other.” But an outsider or a casual listener who doesn’t really know much about either genre, or even a non-musician would hear it and basically say it’s the same shit. Because it’s heavy guitar and a dude screaming and a guy playing drums fast, you know what I mean? So in that sense, even though they’re two vastly different kinds of music (super-technical metal, and super-fast hardcore), at the same time they’re able to mesh. And when Travis and I first started playing together, it didn’t mesh too well. But as we became more comfortable with one another in our playing styles and our certain nuances, it did start to mesh, it did come together and that was pretty exciting to hear.
And it actually came together pretty easily.
The first song we wrote together was “Five Dings and a Clack.” [EDITOR’S NOTE: This song appears on the band’s name-your-price-download EP Seeking Shelter — see below — and you can also see a live version in the video embedded above.] The way it came to be was, I was living in Philadelphia at the time, playing as Annakarina with another group of dudes — you may not know this, but this band actually started in Philadelphia with completely different band members. That’s actually where the majority of these songs were written. But anyway, I had written “Five Dings and a Clack,” which at the time was an untitled song, I had just wrote this really cool guitar part and I knew that Travis was a fantastic drummer and I was like “I really want to hear what Travis could do on this.” So, just for shits as well as giggles, I sent the audio clip to him. I recorded a little guitar clip, sent it to him and said “Travis, put some drums on this, it’ll be fun, it’ll be cool. Lets see what you could do.” I didn’t tell him anything at all about it, I didn’t tell him what to do, and I didn’t tell him what I wanted. I just sent him the guitar clip. I did have ideas in my head: where I wanted little blast beats here-and-there. I had little ideas and he nailed it. He got all of it, exactly what I was hearing in my head. That was so auspicious, I feel. To hear it come together so well like that, it was extremely exciting. Being in Philadelphia, I was like “Dammit, I really wish I could play music with this kid who’s all the way out in Pittsburgh — well, all the way out in Charleroi, PA — and I’m on the other goddamn side of the state.” As much I loved being in the band, playing with Travis, it’s another thing entirely.
If you were to go back and listen to Annakarina in 2011 versus in 2012 and 2013, it’s a night and day difference. I mean, Travis is, as I said before, an extraordinary player so he brings a lot out of me in terms of skill as a guitar player and a different way to think, he brings a lot out of me. But eventually when he and I got together and started playing, it didn’t work out too well. I mean, it worked out, but it wasn’t perfect. But we worked on it and it ended up being great and we recruited Kurtis [Kelley] to play bass for us. I had known Kurtis since high school. I had jammed with him just a few times and it was fun. But I knew Kurtis had a really good musical mind and he was very precise in the way he played and he had a really good ear for melody as well. However, I did have a concern about music background because, once again, he’s coming from another direction entirely. But it worked out really well, he came in and learned the songs pretty quickly, we ended up playing a show at Howlers with just the three of us, and then he eventually brought in his friend, Brian [Dellinger], to play guitar with us as well. That’s where we are right now, with the four of us.
To address the second part of the question: A lot of these songs were actually written by me and taught to the rest of the band. As I had mentioned before, it started in Philadelphia where over the course of 2010 and 2011, I wrote a lot of these songs, every single song that’s on Seeking Shelter as well as the other songs we play live like “Lemmy Kilmister‘s Mole” and “Nightmares.” There’s a bunch of songs that aren’t on there. But those songs were written by me, put together in Philadelphia with the other guys in the band and then when I moved over here, I taught them to Travis first. These guys learned these songs and we completely transformed all of it into something way different than what it originally was. It was really cool, personally, to see it all come together; to see this completely different personality in these songs and for it to be something way different that it was originally intended. It was really cool in terms of everything.
How much responsibility do each of the guys have? Well, they write their own parts for these songs. Like, the structure is already there, my guitar parts are already there, and the specific feel for each part is already there. Whether this guitar riff is supposed to have a driving beat behind it, or if it’s supposed to be kind of lax, you know, that’s already there. But in terms of the specifics, they write their own shit. Kurtis writes his own bass parts and he’s really good at what he does and he’s a perfectionist. We all are which is pretty cool. It takes a long time for us to write each part individually. We go note by note, Kurtis and I do, which is cool. Kurtis and I work well together because we go note by note. Travis sits patiently when we’re going over this — he doesn’t complain about “Come on guys, you’re taking forever,” or something like that, he doesn’t wank on the drums and make it hard for us to listen to each other, we work really well together.
But, their responsibility is their own. Sometimes we all give each other ideas and stuff just like any band, but they write their own stuff. And where we’re trying to get to right now, is now that we’re more comfortable with each other in terms of music styles, we want to be able to come into a room with a riff and all know the direction of the song, and where it’s going because we know the identity of Annakarina as a band, we know what the sound is. That’s where we’re getting to right now and I think we’re doing a pretty good job at getting there.
Where would you like to see yourself and your band musically in the next year or so? Any goals you are particularly working hard towards right now? Any local or professional bands that you look towards for inspiration for these goals?
Musically, in the next year or so where do I want to be? I don’t really care because, musically, we’re all changing, we’re all pretty malleable. We’re human beings, we evolve, and we change. That’s not really something I’m too concerned about. Wherever it is is wherever it is; wherever it goes is wherever it goes. When we start writing songs, the songs are going to change based on whatever we’re feeling at the time, whatever we’re into. That’s not really a big deal; I don’t want to put a linear path on where it’s going, that’s not a big deal to me.
Any goals that we’re working hard towards right now? I mean, really right now we just want to be a respectable band who’s doing a lot great things on our own under our own power, who’s just known as a band who plays good songs and stuff like that. Like, I don’t have any false aspirations for this band. We’re not going to get a Grammy or anything because this isn’t the kind of shit that gets Grammys; we’re not going to be on the radio, this isn’t the kind of stuff that gets on the radio. Like, Saetia was never on the radio or anything. But there is a degree of success to be found within this kind of music and it’s a very real kind of success and in my opinion it’s a much more valid form of success and one that’s much more desirable.
Any local or professional bands that I look towards for inspiration? Yeah, anyone who’s doing things on their own, anybody who’s built their own success, anybody who’s working with a community of musicians who book their own tours, who make their own artwork, who records their own shit. Those are people who inspire me.
I know that Annakarina has done quite a few shows locally, and I’ve seen you twice at the Charleroi VFW, but what band(s) would you like to do a show with that you haven’t been able to yet?
There are a lot of bands that we’d like to play with. I actually like to play with bands who are better than us, people who do things that are similar to what we’re doing, but who do it better. Like, to play a show with Loma Prieta — we do something similar, but in my opinion, they do it better than us. It’d be super cool to play with a band like them. But otherwise there are some bands around the country who are doing some pretty cool things. Like, Kilgore Trout, they’re a band from DC area. They’re doing some pretty cool stuff; it’d be pretty cool to play a show with them. That’d be a really sweet show for dudes that are into drums because John Crogan is a sick drummer; Travis Lamanna is a good drummer. It’d be super cool for dudes who are into drums.
But other than that, there’s another band from DC that I think is really sick. Thick Skin, they’re a hardcore band. In Pittsburgh there’s a lot of Twinkle and pop punk going on right now, which isn’t really my thing, but there are a lot of cool bands who are doing that stuff. Of course, there’s Relationships, they’re fantastic, it’d be cool to play a show with them. There’s a band called Us, they’re a two piece, it’d be super cool to play with them as well. There are a lot of cool bands that it would be a lot of fun to play with. Motörhead, that’d be sick, to play a show with Motörhead.
Can you describe your musical style in six words or less?
In December 2012, Annakarina released a five-song EP called Seeking Shelter, which you can hear or download here:
They have also stated that a limited number of physical copies of that EP will be given out at their show this Sunday (14 April 2013) at The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg — which will feature quite a few bands and support a worthy cause. See the full details on that show right here.