For the last 11 years, Lindsay Holler has lived in a Rutledge Avenue apartment marked with the letter "Z." Delivery drivers have a hell of a time finding it, she says, as she fusses with the squat cardboard package that holds the stickers for her latest project, Oh Ginger, an acoustic folk-country-pop partnership with Michael Hanf.
Holler struggles a bit with the box, and it's possible she's just a little bit tense. Just the weekend before, she had to drive all the way up to New York, where Hanf lives, to pick up her bandmate and his signature, massive vibraphone. Then they immediately drove back down to Charleston, the "check engine" light illuminating just as they reached South of the Border. But they've made it home, or technically to Hanf's old home, at least for a little while, before they leave again for a week of dates on the road. Even though Holler handled all the booking for Oh Ginger's first, and possibly only, tour, she says it still managed to sneak up on her, as these jaunts tend to do.
When Hanf comes inside the apartment after smoking a cigarette, he admits he's buzzed on about eight cups of coffee, but he's still less spazzy than Holler's cat George, who nibbles on a houseplant while the pair talks about their long-distance musical relationship. Both are veterans of local band the Dirty Kids and well known for other projects, like Holler's Western Polaroids and Hanf's solo work. They agree that they clicked musically from the beginning of their friendship, but it takes them a moment to remember exactly when that began. Holler thinks it was when they were working together on the Dirty Kids, but Hanf is quick to correct her.
"Before that," he says.
"Huh?" she replies.
"Me and you and Nick [Jenkins] were together."
"That wasn't the Dirty Kids?"
"No, and once we brought Ben and Dave in, then it became the Dirty Kids, with some infighting over the name for a while, because we were the Hollerettes, then the Dirty Kids."
It's been five or six years, so they can't be blamed for not remembering all the specifics.
Back then, Hanf was a college sophomore. When he first met Holler, he was still finding his musical footing, and she played a big part in that development. "Once we started working together, suddenly this whole new musical thing opened up to me and it took a few years and I finally was like 'You know, I listen to this shit all the time now. Why haven't we worked together and put out an album of this music that I enjoy listening to so much, but that I've never written in that context before?" he says.
At the same time, the Dirty Kids provided a lot of firsts for Holler too. The band rehearsed regularly and even put out a record, and she'd never been on tour before it. There was a lot of equality in the group, even though Holler was writing all the songs. The rest of the band would "fuck with" the tracks, as Hanf says, and that kind of process transferred over into Oh Ginger, despite the fact that the duo lives 800 or so miles away from each other. When Holler and Hanf demoed the music for Oh Ginger last year, they'd both approach it in different ways from their different parts of the country. Their individual takes on the music come out in each track, as they espouse each other's emotions, despite maybe not knowing why someone wrote a certain song. Take "On the Inside," for example. Holler e-mailed Hanf a verse and a chorus, and told him she was going for a Whiskeytown/Pneumonia-type sound. So he fiddled around with it, not too much, adding a verse, and sent it back to her. Then she recorded it and sent it back to him.
"That was the song with the weird flange on it, too," he recalls. "It was weird, it was like pan effect."
"I was learning how to use Garage Band," Holler admits.
Friends have told each of them that they can listen to Oh Ginger's music and know exactly which one wrote which songs — but that's something Hanf isn't especially happy with. "I wish it was more of like, wow, this is only something that they could put across together," he says.
The pair officially recorded the bulk of the project when Hanf came to Charleston last December for a month stay. Instruments were tracked at his parents' house in Mt. Pleasant, while the vocals were done in the Z apartment. They also recorded one song, written and produced in about a 24-hour period, with Josh Kaler (Slow Runner) at his Hello Telescope studios. While the distance presents its own unique challenges, as Hanf points out, it's stressful any time you make an album. "I like doing it, but it's funny because you always convince yourself it's a great idea, and then two weeks into it, you're just like, oh my god, this was a mistake," he says.
"Is it like birthing a baby?" Holler asks.
"I think it's more like raising a kid," he says. "When you're raising a kid, you're always faced with this doubt of, am I doing it right? Is this kid going to turn out OK? There's always this self-doubt involved with it the entire time." But after a certain point, and after stressing over it, you just have to let it go. They released a first EP, Oh! Ginger, in April, and the second, [ohginger], in July. The next will be out in September. Eventually all three will be released in a triptych LP form, but for now listeners can study them as individual pieces. "They used to do this a lot back in the day," Hanf says. "F. Scott Fitzgerald would write a book, but it would be released in installments in the New Yorker. I kind of liked that process."
As for their live show, since it's their first tour with this band — and really, their first shows, since they've only previously played at the Tattooed Moose for friends — they're still figuring out the dynamic, especially in regards to Hanf's vibraphone. It's a tricky instrument to accommodate. "It's not the best thing to walk into the club ready to play as far as the sound guy goes," Holler says. She wasn't even a fan of the thing at first, a fact that surprises Hanf on this afternoon. It's because it was a pretty-sounding instrument when she was in a really harsh-sounding mood, so she kept trying to talk him into playing more percussion. Eventually, Holler got on board. "It's a certain instrument where Mike has a great skill set specifically for that instrument, a rhythmic background, a harmonic background, a dramatic background, and that's the trifecta to sell it," she says. "It's worth the hassle."
"The two things that we have going for us are Lindsay's voice and the vibraphone," Hanf adds.
Regardless of the vibraphonic beast, this is an acoustic act. Oh Ginger is laying it bare and letting things happen right in front of their audience. For the tour, Holler made sure to avoid bars and choose more listener-friendly venues. They're not going to be hiding behind huge guitar tones or crazy rhythms or screaming, as awesome as they think that stuff can be. Both admit it can be a little scary to be so vulnerable. "There's nothing protecting us up there," Hanf says. "If we fuck up, it's going to be pretty obvious. And honestly, to some extent I'm not against that. If we fuck up, that'll just hopefully humanize us."
But one thing they hope to get across, as George lounges in the center of Holler's living room floor, is for people not to miss this show. Because Holler lives in Charleston and Hanf lives in New York, and right now there are no plans to play for the rest of the year. This might be it.