From the title to the lyrics to the furious scream she repeatedly lets loose with, singer/songwriter/guitarist Amelia Taylor Hall is clearly working through some pain on large chunks of Do You Know Who Your Friends Are? the new album from Hall’s band, Horrible Girl & The Hot Mess.
Hall’s targets are internal and external. One minute she’s raging at some creep who won’t stop bothering her while she’s trying to enjoy a concert (“Cute”), then she’s digging into her own frustration and alienation about her place in the world (“Graduation”), then exploring her struggles with substance abuse (“Making Out With Strangers”) and venting her grief after losing a close friend (“Stay Wavy”).
There are happy moments, too, like the goofy love song “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” and an ode to being in a band called “Crucial Hangs,” but regardless, Hall is a lyrical open book on the new album, as she’s essentially been since starting this project.
“The record is loosely biographical,” Hall says, “My best friend from growing up passed away a few years ago, so that very much inspired a kind of ‘coming of age’ feeling. I’ve struggled with a complicated, often toxic relationship with alcohol and that crawled its way into song, and there have been a lot of friendships that ended on bad terms.”
The music that surrounds Hall has gone through some changes, as well. Horrible Girl began as a propulsive punkish trio with bassist Wayne “Wayno Radeeo” Swayze and drummer Shelby Miller, but on last year’s single “Hot Topic Friends,” the band debuted an expanded lineup, adding guitarist Daniel Neely and keyboardist Jake Xingu. This has taken the band’s music in two different directions simultaneously.
Xingu’s throwback synth style gives the songs an enjoyable gleam, and it pairs well with Hall’s occasional reversion to a beguilingly childlike vocal style. At the same time, the band is heavier and more on edge than they’ve ever been, thanks to Hall and Neely’s dual guitar attack and Miller’s relentless drumming.
Speaking of Miller, she says that this version of Horrible Girl is the culmination of three years’ worth of development as a band since their last album.
“2016 was a good year for the ol’ HG camp,” she says. “We cemented how and why we wanted to make music. Then over the following two years, we threw in some added ingredients like better musicians, tighter riffs and fills, longer songs with more substance, and trimmed the fat, and all of that is evidenced in these new songs.”
“The biggest change, and one we’re still experimenting with, is to the dynamics of the songs,” Neely adds. “Who’s playing what and when, and really trying to pull back in places. That way, when we all turn it to 11, it sounds that much bigger and more anthemic.”
Working with producer and engineer Mark Hartwell Jones, Horrible Girl & The Hot Mess have created an emotional open wound of an album that is alternately furious and soothing, unbelievably hard and appealingly sweet, joyful and despairing. But above all else, it’s a cohesive work, which is kind of surprising given the album’s bumpy recording path.
“We recorded all over the place,” Hall says, “with the bulk of the work being done in the back room of a church, and at Concrete Castle (a DIY concert space in Greenville).”
It was a slow process, but Mark Hartwell Jones says that the informal atmosphere allowed him and the band to be more patient with the music.
“I was able to work with the band all day and night on multiple takes until we nailed it,” he says. “When you’re paying a studio by the hour, you run the risk of having to settle for a take you’re less than stoked about.”
Do You Know Who Your Friends Are? by Horrible Girl & The Hot Mess will be released on May 25th.
If you go
What: Horrible Girl & The Hot Mess, w/ Hugger Mugger and Apricot Blush (benefit for Mental Health America of Greenville County)
When: Saturday, May 25th, 8 p.m.
Where: Radio Room. 110 Poinsett Hwy., Greenville
Info: 864-609-4441, http://www.