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Dear Havanah

March 21, 2009

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So on a Wednesday night a little while ago, I sat down and interviewed the guys of Dear Havanah before their set at Chums at Brandeis University. Their debut album, Chasing Butterflies, just dropped. They’re really chill, as is their music (check it out here, or here). We really just did a kind of hang out/talk, where occasionally I steered the conversation with potentially annoying questions.

I hope they’ll forgive me for being a little liberal with exactly what was said. I think the interview would take up like 4 pages if I just copied it straight out.

Technically, the band consists of 5 guys, but for the moment, it’s 4 permanent guys, and the returned original guitarist (for reasons that I would say seem to have an interesting history, but there were no details given, only looks and noises). Dan Htoo-Levine, who is the lead singer, and plays acoustic guitar, was definitely the starting force behind the band. He wrote the original versions of the songs on the debut album. While the other guys say that Dan was really the man behind the music, Dan insists that it was absolutely a collaberative effort, he was just the one who got the ball rolling. The new music is going to be more of a pool of their combined genius, because the guys have come to know each other, the band, and their music so well. 

Dan met Adam Ciminello in their hometown of Poughkeepsie, and all the other members of the band met up in various ways while studying at Berkelee. Adam was imported from Brandeis for his keyboarding skills.

The best part of being in a band isn’t the chicks, or the gigs, or the traveling, or even the music, it’s the band itself, says Dan. He gets to hang out with the people he’s closest with in the world all the time. He’s never been closer to anyone. Getting to make music with these friends is just icing on the cake, and great fun.

Mike Blong, the drummer, says everything just sort of fell into place. They’re getting to do what they love, and what they wanted to “do when they grew up.” Even though they’re already doing their dream job, they’re all going to graduate, and the other members of the band are going to make sure that happens. Dan says they’ll be a band with degrees. By May next year, they’ll all be done and they’ll really get to tour. They can’t wait to play outside of Boston. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Boston, but the band feels that there’s almost too much music happening in Boston. No matter how good the content is, people are bored because they’re having new stuff thrown at them all the time. Elsewhere, the guys feel, this doesn’t happen as much, particularly in parts of the south, and in places like New York, where live music is especially appreciated. They’re looking forward to touring Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Ohio in April, and the going on a more expansive tour in mid-to-late summer.

As to the excitement of the album finally coming out, the guys say that it’s great to have it out there, but at the same time, it’s not fresh and new like it is to their audiences, but instead, they’ve heard it a million times. More than anything, they’re looking forward to recording the next album. They have already begun playing some of their new songs at live gigs (like they’re CD release party at Chums), which they say helps them work out the kinks. This time however, they think the difference between the initial version of any given song, and the final version, will be significantly less than on the first album. Mike says he recently listened to the first versions of the songs that Dan sent him, and was amazed to realise how much the songs had evolved over time. Because each member of the band really imports their own voice, Colin Healy pointed out that it would have been difficult for the songs not to change. After all, the originals were written by Dan alone, whereas, over time, as the band members asserted themselves, but also as the band became more cohesive, the songs came to reflect the band as a whole. Also, Dan never intended the first versions to be what came out on the record, but hoped instead that his new band mates would help shape the final sound.

Overall, I would say the guys of Dear Havanah are super close, which is part of what makes their music so great. They really have a chemistry, and understand each other. It’s clear, onstage and off, that they care about each other, and enjoy each other’s company. Their CD Chasing Butterflies is an amazing first step towards what they, and I, hope will be an exciting new place in the music world.

More pictures after the break…

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