The Happy Hollows are an enchanting indie rock outfit based in L.A. This summer they will release their sophomore album, Amethyst (Pesky Fruit Music), a synth-drenched, textured record of driving, dark pop anchored by frontwoman Sarah Negahdari’s powerful voice and guitar skills. Negarhdari is an incredibly enthusiastic musician whether performing or having a chat—full of energy, gratitude and dynamism. Boxx Magazine contributor Eleanor Whitney caught up with Negarhdari over the phone about her experience as the temporary touring bassist for L.A. alterna rockers Silversun Pickups, how she learned to play the guitar and the process of making Amethyst.
Eleanor Whitney: You recently finished up a year playing bass on tour with the Silversun Pickups while bassist Nikki Monninger was on maternity leave. What did you learn while you were on tour with them that you were able to bring back to the Happy Hollows?
Sarah Negahdari: Nearly every night for a year we were performing to anywhere from 3,000 to 30,000 people and after that I no longer have jitters about getting up on stage. Also, after watching [Silversun Pickups guitarist and singer] Brian Aubert, I have a better sense of what it is to be a bandleader, both on- and off-stage.
It’s funny because we had just finished recording Amethyst three days before Silversun Pickups asked me to join the tour, but we hadn’t mixed and mastered our album yet. I said yes to Silversun Pickups and then we were able to finish the album throughout the year.
EW: When people recommend checking out the Happy Hollows, they always mention that you really shred on guitar, which is totally true. When did you start playing guitar and how did you learn?
SN: I started playing guitar in high school when I was 15. It came as a surprise because at first I wanted to be a drummer. My mom brought home a guitar from a garage sale. When I put my hands on it it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I could sing, play and write songs at the same time. I thought,“Hey, maybe there’s something to this.”
I watched videos of guitarists like Pete Townshend and Kurt Cobain, as well as female guitar players like Bonnie Raitt. I would dream about playing my guitar for hours and hours. I wasn’t into playing in any kind of conventional way and found that lessons made it harder for me to write my own music, so I’m mostly self-taught.
EW: Do you have any wisdom you’d like to pass along to aspiring guitarists?
SN: It takes hours and hours of practice. It’s about staying in your room for a long time and playing things over and over. I also suggest that you check out free videos on YouTube—there will be some weird guy in Kentucky teaching you something really amazing, and then you can invent your own way to play. Do it your own way that feels really good on your fingers.
EW: Now that we’ve talked about you as a guitarist, can you tell me a little bit about the story behind your new record, Amethyst?
SN: Our drummer had left the band in 2011 and at that point, instead of auditioning a new drummer, we started using beatboxes and keyboards. We would make beats and loops, and I would play over it. We spent about six months just playing like that and we ended up creating an entire record with beatboxes and synths.
EW: How has your sound evolved since your first record, 2010’s Spells?
SN: Now we have a poppier sound. Amethyst is lush, but also experimental. I felt that we were able to go back to the craft of songwriting in order to create more sonic layers. On Amethyst I was able to focus more on my voice. On the first record I cared more about the guitar and expressing myself with it. I just ran through each vocal track once. On this record I wanted to focus on my voice and express myself passionately, and I’m proud of that.
We worked with producer Lewis Pesacov, who did the first Best Coast record [Crazy for You], and he made me get the best vocal takes. For each song in the studio I would lose my voice. It would heal and then I’d go back to the studio and then couldn’t talk again for three days.
EW: What is your relationship like with the L.A. indie scene? When you played at the Satellite in February, for example, it was really noticeable how warm the L.A. crowd was and how excited everyone was about the Happy Hollows.
SN: I think we have incredible support here. We have people who have been with us for years who are the most amazing fans and supporters. Honestly, it’s my saving grace. I also think radio stations like KROQ and KCRW have played a big role in building support. It’s so important to have DJs that believe in us and all the local bands. L.A. is really a beautiful community of local artists.