Hillary Chillton isn’t your typical southern California band. The independent music scene in the southern portion of the state has been pretty duo-directional, streamlined either towards emulating the twanging surf of the late ’60s or the nostalgic, grunge melodies of the ’90s, but Hillary Chillton — also know as ‘Hill Chill,’ as demonstrated by one of their member’s tattoos — is not tethered to a single ilk.
The five-piece group seem to weave in and out of each member’s musical interests and abilities. At worst this could seem directionless, but fortunately, their sound is remarkably cohesive — possibly due to the communal ability of the members to respect and understand their bandmates’ deviations. Most of the crew play multiple instruments and will often switch mid-set. In their live performances, they create a sort of wall-of-sound that would be more aptly described as a wall-of-solos (without the pretentiousness of an actual solo). In line with their music’s inconstant progressions and unanchored instrumentation, many of the band members also have side projects that are worth giving a listen to.
After a house-show in SF, opening for Bay-Area locals Void Boys (whom they have recorded a split EP with), we got the pleasure of speaking with the band; upon which, they, cutely and unsurprisingly, displayed a propensity to finish one another’s sentences:
Hey guys, so who is Hilary Chillton?
Nina: Hi, I’m Nina Anyayahan and I play guitar and sing.
Matt: I’m Matt Sturgis and I play hard to get — and drums.
Tanner: I’m Tanner Duffy, I play guitar, bass and vocals.
Jeremy: I’m Jeremy Scott, I play keyboards and background vocals.
Travis: …and I’m Travis Wheeler, I play guitar and bass
All: And we’re Hilary Chillton — we’re here to hangout with you!
Where are you guys from?
Tanner: Upland, Clairemont.
M: Inland Empire.
Tanner: It’s Pomana — it’s Pomona-ish
How did you guys all meet?
M: Nina and I were on acid at a ’90s-themed party when we first met.
N: No we met before that — we met at that same place but you had a beer box on your head. I was like ‘you look like someone I went to Jr. High with and — are you their [sic] brother?’ —
M: And yeah, I was — she went to Jr. High with my brother.
N: Jeremy and I met at a cafe —
J: Ck’s Cafe! In Claremont, California.
Tanner: And I met Matt at a FIDLAR show —
M: In Santa Barbara. We hung out, got drunk together, and he invited me to [Nina’s] birthday party — a party I was supposed to play but fell asleep in the street.
Tanner: So I had my guitar and was just going to play some covers at this party.
N: I was like ‘who is this guy hogging the mic, what is he doing?’ then I was like ‘whatever, do what you want’ —
Tanner: Then later I invited everyone to jam together [where] I worked at this venue called The Wire. It’s now over. It was a terrible venue. So, it was shutting down and we all wanted to play a last show there. It was a decent and they had a good sound.
N: Then Jeremy came to one of our practices —
J: No, I met you guys at VLHS!
N: Oh that’s right!
J: I had never been to VLHS before that day either. I showed up — to watch you guys.
M: VLHS is a DIY-punk venue in Orange County. It’s my church and steeple; those people are my people. They have supported us through everything they have been there since we started and pretty much the only reason we’re been able to do what we do now — Marty especially.
Marty Ploy [one of the organizers for Awesome Fest in San Diego]?
Tanner: Yeah! And Tim Burkert is the owner of the space. They are very welcoming and very open. Big ups to them. They are the reason we are doing anything. We obviously put in a lot of work as well — we record all our own music. Matt and Jeremy make sure everything sounds hella dope.
M: ‘Hella’ because we are in San Francisco.
N: Stop, stop.
Tanner: Gotta’ fit in with the locals. But seriously, it’s been cool, VLHS is a sweet space — go there if you’re ever down there.
M: But yeah Jeremy joined when we were at VLHS —
N: We were covering El Scorcho — really badly.
M: Tanner’s ex-girlfriend was there and fucking everything up.
Tanner: [She] tried to unplug my guitar.
N: She fell into my amp.
Tanner: The song “Lola” was about her. It was like High School Musical. It was a bad ABC Family movie. Anyways that was the show he was at and he started playing keyboard for us. He’s amazing, he’s behind Bear Gatsby.
N: Bear Gatsby is very, very good. I have a (temporary) tattoo of them.
M: But yeah his side project is phenomenal, all of us have other side projects we are doing.
Tanner: It’s great to have a group of people that are all super down to make music. We all come from different places and we all listen to different music. We all are into different genres, but we have this happy-medium where all of our styles just mesh.
J: Yeah, I think we just really enjoy playing together. It’s hard to even identity a (single) place that we’ve met.
N: Travis is just magic.
M: Travis is the glue on so many songs. Travis and I have been in bands since like 6th grade. Let’s just say Travis has the magic fingers. Take that to the bank; quote me on that.
You guys said you have diverse tastes, who are your personal favorite bands?
Tanner: I have a couple, so there’s this band called The M’s. They’re awesome, I think they’re from Canada. Another band called The Golden Dogs that Jeremy showed me. Benny and the Jet Rodrizguez —
N: Tanner is in that band now.
Tanner: They asked me to play bass. What about you Matt, what bands do you like?
M: Oh shit, um, lately I’ve been digging Broken Social Scene. My favorite band is Menomena. I have a tattoo and it’s a logo the drummer drew. I also really like Sparkle Horse. Every local band that plays VLHS, Struckout, Tomber Lever —
J: You’re just repping now.
N: Okay, starting off, I have a tattoo of Circa Survive so that is a thing. Umm… I don’t really have that many favorite bands, but at the moment The Weakerthans and a lot of hardcore bands. I have a Touche Amore tattoo also. I love Cold World. I love LCD Soundsystem. I love Backtrack —
M: Nina is the gritty aggressive one according to a review from PunkNews.
N: A terribly written review about us. I like mellow and like simple, and then I love really lyrically super aggressive tracks at times.
Travis: I really like everything that everyone else just said. And I really like The Dear Hunter. Much different scene than the other Deerhunter. And Weezer.
How did you feel about the new album?
Jeremy: Oh, I don’t listen to new Weezer.
Did you stop at Pinkerton (1996) or something?
J: Yeah, once it gets to the Green Album we are just talking about pop nonsense. It’s not like nerd garage rock, it’s gone.
N: But, our unifying band is definitely Weezer or Modest Mouse. Once we formed a supergroup called Chillout —
M: With eight people —
N: And we did a Modest Mouse cover set —
M: There were two drummers and like everyone on guitar.
N: We opened with ‘World at Large.’ We had a trumpet player and everything.
M: They sound like they’re just trying to emulate the ’90s as much as possible.
Tanner: I have a theory that if you put five surf bands in one room and have them all play at once the music will synchronize and the universe opens into a blackhole that leads to Burger Records.
How do you feel about Burger Records? What if they wanted to sign you?
J: We would take anything anyone gave us.
M: They have a lot of publicity but 90 percent of their bands are talentless.
N: It’s just a close to home story. One time the head of Burger Records came to VLHS and —
Tanner: Let’s just say they left a bad taste in our mouth.
J: Personally, I just think we should always record our own records.
Do you produce all your own stuff?
J: We are the primary engineers on everything.
Tanner: It’s great being at home and just recording with your friends. We don’t pigeonhole ourselves. We don’t go for a single sound or genre, we just do whatever we want to. We get to learn everything as we do it, just have fun and dance about our emotions.
M: ‘Dance about our emotions’?
J: Sometimes I think we are a band of solo artists, but we don’t play like a band of solo artists. We compliment each other.
Like a good blended scotch?
J: I don’t know a lot of bands whose members have such different tastes musically, but we all blend together pretty well. It’s nice — it’s really nice. I’ve done music alone for most of my life and coming across a group of individuals who can play together like this is refreshing — it’s something else. Most of the time you have a ‘band leader’ and that’s really difficult to deal with all of the time.
M: We play songs that we each work on. Everyone has an input.
Tanner: We make music the way we want to and it’s nice exploring all of the thought in your head and getting it all out there.
J: My favorite thing to do in this band is live vicariously through his emotions or through her emotions, instead of being a solo musician. It’s way more fun to be supportive and learn how to fill the gaps.
Tanner: It’s like making your own covers.
J: We all play different parts but they all sync up very well. It’s nice to role-play through their [songs] and let them be who they are and help them make something epic. It’s great.
Tanner: Sometimes it feels like a supergroup.
M: It’s the most fun band I’ve ever been in.
What was the inspiration for the illustrations on your merch?
Tanner: One of the shirts has a nightstand and a bottle of whiskey —
M: We really like images of home. Frames, wood furniture —
Tanner: We do everything in our own house so it’s in our own comfort zone.
M: We want to make things comfortable.
Tanner: If you come to our show and ask for a beer, let’s just say we’ll give you one —
N: Or I’ll make you crepes.
M: Nina makes the best crepes.
What’s your set up for recording?
J: Well, our house is our recording studio and it’s called The Palisades — not like the Palisades in New York. It’s where we assemble our albums.
Tanner: Judcody Limon also lives with us and he has a great solo band —
J: And we accept anyone, recording wise.
Tanner: Yeah, if you want to record an album come to The Palisades.
M: Last year we started really heavily recording. Technically, the first album we ever released was Jeremy’s Bear Gatsby album around Janurary 2014. Then we did about ten albums for other bands throughout the year. We did Tomber Lever’s album. We recorded Mammoth’s EP —
J: We recorded Mechanical Beast, Horror Squad —
M: Copper Wizard we just recorded. Fourth-wave Ska band Unifier. Some members of Hill Chill are also in this band Eagle Rock that has recorded there.
That’s a lot of name-dropping — I’m going to have to do [some Googling]. Anything you guys would like to add?
Tanner: I’d like to give a shout out to a friend up in Berkeley. Sandra — fucking high school homies dawg.
M: We’re Hillary Chillton and we are here to drink whiskey and pet your dogs!
All: Wooooo! Stuff.
Listen to Hillary Chillton’s EP Bourbon Breath below and definitely check them out at one of their live performances.
Article by Penelope Leggett
Photos by Austin Cave and Penelope Leggett