Range: Hotspit’s got it.
The Richmond-based rock band can turn on a dime dynamically, letting a muted, ethereal exploration explode at a moment’s notice, or building from quiet to full-tilt catharsis during songs that unfold with great deliberation. The patience and the payoff are rewarding in equal measure.
Hotspit also has geographical range. “I think we all feel like our best when we’re doing that,” singer and guitarist Avery Fogarty says of touring. The quartet, rounded out by fellow founding member guitarist Kevin Ganley, bassist Grant Tolber, and drummer Kurt Bailey, made it as far north as Saratoga Springs, New York during a late-2021 string of dates, and west to Chicago earlier in the year. The Audiotree Session they taped there yielded six live tracks that are available now on streaming services, and the video of the Audiotree performance has accumulated nearly 8,000 views on YouTube to date.
Rarely does a band’s rise to prominence resemble a single, linear crescendo. Hotspit’s ongoing ascent has seen its share of obstacles, from pandemic-related show cancellations to technical difficulties that required them to restart their Audiotree session. Nevertheless, Hotspit has steadily built a following, releasing a standout 2021 EP entitled CC, which was reissued on cassette within the year by Citrus City Records and gaining enviable momentum heading into 2022.
I FaceTimed with Hotspit recently to talk about their trajectory – how the group formed initially, what their 2021 touring experience was like, and where they’re hoping their 2022 is headed.
When and how did Hotspit form?
Avery Fogarty: Kevin and I lived together, and we were just kind of running the open mic circuit for a really long time. I don’t know really when we decided we wanted to do a project together, but I think we were just tired of playing cover songs every weekend.
Kevin Ganley: I think it was probably right around the time we moved in together, or maybe we had that intention before we even moved in. So that would have been December of 2017, probably. We had an idea, and I think we started working on stuff early February 2018.
Where were you living at the time?
KG: The museum district. I grew up in Mechanicsville and Avery grew up in Midlo[thian], just outside the city. We’d been playing the same open mics, and we were like, “Let’s move to the city and focus on music.” So we did that.
What were you covering?
AF: When Hotspit first started, we definitely did Hole covers. But when me and Kevin would do acoustic stuff, we did Big Star covers and Leonard Cohen. I think we did some Elliott Smith too.
Grant and Kurt, how did you end up joining Hotspit?
Grant Tolber: I had moved to Richmond, was living in the house that I’m still living in, and myself and my friend Cole Roberts were trying to get some recording gigs in our house, calling it Rosewood Recordings. Erica [Lashley], who used to be the bassist in Hotspit, lived with us at the time. Avery, Kevin, and Ethan Dunn, the old drummer for Hotspit, came over to spend a day recording three songs to apply for MACROCK in Harrisonburg… I was very impressed with their musicianship, and was just stoked to meet a Richmond band. As time went on, I would go to their shows around town, always super-impressed. I ended up having to fill in for them on a couple shows. Avery asked me to cover for bass, so I was just doing the basics, listening to what the root notes of chords were. I wasn’t very much of a bassist. My main instrument is regular guitar. As time went on, my schedule was just working out better, and there was some internal stuff, and it swapped out to my playing bass for Hotspit.
Kurt Bailey: I play drums in another band called addy. The pandemic made that band slow down, and Adam, the songwriter, moved to Philadelphia. So I was not doing anything creatively, and it just happened to work out [that] Hotspit was looking for a drummer, and Avery reached out to me at just the right time. I was able to join up, and this is what I do now here in Richmond.
Your 2021 EP, CC, was recorded with Danny Gibney from Dogwood Tales, correct? How did you and Danny connect?
AF: I think Danny Gibney actually recorded [Harrisonburg-based band] Lobby Boy, and they were saying really good things about him, so we hit him up. He has a reel-to-reel in his basement, and we did the whole thing live, pretty much. [We] did a couple overdubs here and there, but we just needed the cheapest possible option, so we found a guy who would record us in his basement [laughs]. It was really good. He’s incredible. He’s a great musician, and just really nice to work with. We actually went in to record a full-length, and a few of the songs didn’t make it. They came out a little too slow for us, so we ended up with the EP. We sat on it for a really long time. I think we recorded that album in 2019, and we didn’t know if we wanted to release it, and then we worked with Bryan [Walthall], who is a friend of mine, to mix, and it ended up not half bad. But Danny Gibney is amazing.
It’s interesting to hear that some songs were too slow, given how powerful the downtempo tracks on CC are. Did you find audiences responded to that quality when you were touring in 2021?
AF: We try to keep in mind what other bands are on the bill. If we’re playing with a more hardcore band, maybe we’ll throw in a heavier song. But I think what we found out with the Audiotree set is opening with “CC,” our eight-minute drone song, quiets the room really nicely, because they have to listen if they want to. So that’s a great way to get the crowd to pay attention. We’ve played really loud rooms, and that can be frustrating, because some of the nuance is gone, but I think if we do the set order correctly, we can usually rein them in.
Are there any relationships that came out of touring last year that felt especially meaningful?
AF: We went on sort of a split tour with [New York band] Raavi. I can’t remember how long we’ve been friends with them, but they’re slowly blowing up, and it feels like a nice combo when we’re on a bill together, because they’re a little bit more upbeat, and we bring that slower vibe. I’d say that’s a really nice relationship that we have. They’re all just amazing musicians. Really sweet. Also Alex Farrar over at [Asheville studio] Drop of Sun. We made friends with him because he’s Kevin’s very old friend from middle school. He recorded our [next] single, and he’s just such a sweet guy, and we hope that relationship sustains because we want to go back over there soon.
What moments stood out from the touring you got to do in 2021?
KB: There are all these little, memorable moments. I remember traveling to New York and getting caught in this crazy storm, and we barely made the gig. It was a great night, though, once we got there, but we didn’t know there was this whole storm system on the highway. We drove in pouring rain and lightning. It felt like it was on top of us the whole way.
AF: This last tour was really special because we got to see a lot of band members’ family. Grant’s family lives in Charlottesville, Kurt’s family lives in Connecticut, and after a year of being in a pandemic, we got to play music and see some folks that I don’t think anyone had seen in a long time.
I saw an Instagram picture of the back-of-the-van instrument Tetris. Did you have time to perfect the packing pattern on that tour?
KG: Oh yeah.
AF: That was all Kevin.
KG: As the tour went on, I think I got better and better. And by the end of it, we could kind of see through the back window a little bit.
AF: That was Kevin’s personal project on tour.
KG: I enjoy things like that.
What kind of van is it?
KG: It’s a Honda Odyssey, so a lot of trunk space. We had plenty of room. We fit our three amps, the three guitars, bass guitar, and the drum kit. All of our sleeping stuff, air mattresses – we got everything in there. Made it work. A little tricky, but we got it.
Who was picking the music in the van?
AF: I feel like we did a good amount of splitting, depending on who was driving.
KB: Kevin was on a big Fugazi kick – those two playlists.
KG: Oh yeah, I had a playlist of just the Guy Picciotto Fugazi songs, and another one with the [Ian] MacKaye songs, so we were splitting them up.
GT: Avery and Kevin drive.
KG: Yeah, we did the driving, the two of us.
AF: Kevin needs really old emo to stay awake if he’s driving at night. If you’re falling asleep in the back, you might wake up to City of Caterpillar just blaring, and there’s nothing you can say, because he’s driving and it’s 2 a.m.
KG: Really tunneled in when that’s happening [laughs].
What does it mean to have a release out on the Citrus City label?
AF: Manny’s just so good at keeping all the artists that he has on there in mind. When he asked us to release the tape with him, he then was like, “Oh yeah, we’re also doing a Hopscotch [Music Festival] day show in North Carolina, if you guys want to come.” And we were like, “Yeah, for sure.” So he has all these connections across the East Coast… He knows so many bands that we respect, and if we want to open up for them, and if they’re coming through Richmond, you can just text Manny. It’s really nice to be friends with him and work with him professionally.
You recorded an Audiotree Session in August of last year. What was that experience like?
KG: It was nerve-wracking. When we drove up there, we wanted to stop and play shows along the way, but that didn’t pan out. All the cities we wanted to go to – they weren’t really hosting shows. So it was just a really long drive from here to Chicago, and the whole time we were trying to prepare ourselves mentally, because we were like, “This is going to be on the Internet forever.”
KB: Grant came through and secured us a place to practice, like in the car, on the fly. We were going into Chicago, and Grant was like, “I’ll make some calls,” and he found a practice space that was so clutch. We were able to practice for a couple of hours the night before the show, and I think that made a big difference.
GT: I don’t even remember what it was called… I just looked up “Practice studio Chicago” online.
What was the response to the Audiotree Session like?
AF: I feel like I’m happiest with just having those recordings of those songs. I think they came out really nicely. But there was definitely a period of time where I was obsessively clicking on the YouTube video to see how many views we were at, and maybe it wasn’t the best for my mental health. We got a lot of PR emails, but I was hoping we’d just get that Matador [message saying], “Hey, you guys, we saw this Audiotree, do you want a four-album record deal?” That never happened, but we’re happy to have the exposure. It was a really great experience.
KB: We had a false start on it. We had sound issues at the top. They went live, and we had an XLR cable [problem], or something related to the vocal microphone, I think, and it started to feed back really, really bad on our live stream. They had to go dark and reset it, and that was, as far as a vibe goes, that’s very memorable. Once we got that fixed, it was fun.
How long were you playing before you could tell something was amiss?
AF: It was like 30 seconds in. We started with “CC,” [and it happened when] Kurt finally hit a big drum part… We couldn’t tell if they could hear what we were hearing, and the cameras are right in front of you, so I was looking around like, “I guess we’re just going to have to do the set like this. We’re just going to have to not hear ourselves.” And then finally someone was talking into your ear [saying], “Are you guys hearing that?”
You’ve captured such strong live recordings, but I’ve also enjoyed the solo recordings you’ve done, Avery, which incorporate layering and sound collages. Are you looking to incorporate more of those techniques in future recordings?
AF: Yeah. Even the single that’s coming out will probably be the most pristine-sounding thing we’ve ever released, and there are layers that we don’t play live. But I think what I would need to incorporate the solo stuff that I do into Hotspit is time to sit in the studio, and I don’t think we’ve ever really had that. We’re booking a day, because that’s all we can afford, and we’re getting the song done. I’m hoping to add those layers and get weirder with some of the stuff that we put out, because the stuff I write for Hotspit is to play live. I never really write it to think about what we can accomplish in the studio. But we always come up with fun little things once we’re actually there, so who knows.
Despite the difficulty in making plans these days, is there anything you’re looking forward to doing in 2022?
AF: We’d love to go tour again… I do like being able to shift our focus if we need to. If shows are getting shut down again, maybe we talk about how to get in the studio, not worry about playing around too much. I think it’d be one or the other – touring more or getting in the studio, if we can. How can we build our audience without actually physically seeing our audience?