Vocalist/guitarist Drew Auscherman, bassist Kevin Krauter, keyboardist Keagan Beresford and original drummer James Harris came together organically six years ago when they were all high school juniors. Auscherman was recording Ambient loop tracks under the name Hoops — inspired by the hoop houses at his plant nursery job — and posting them on Bandcamp. Eventually he recruited Krauter and Harris to form an actual band for basement shows and regional club gigs, which morphed into recording. Although none of them took the band seriously, they continued to play through senior year, before shuttering the band when they started college classes.
“The summer after freshman year, Drew wrote like 10 or 12 songs and put them on Bandcamp and was like, ‘I want to make more Hoops songs and play more shows,’ ” Krauter says. “So we got back together and our friend Keagan, who plays keys now, jumped in on second guitar; he’s another homie, we’ve known each other since sixth grade. We weren’t going too hard at it, but every time we got together, we were pretty focused on it. It just went from there.”
The musicians’ influences — and original presentation model — date back even farther. Even a cursory listen to Routines reveals a band steeped in early ’80s Psych and Synth Pop, from the crisp melodies and smooth guitar lines of Prefab Sprout to the expansive moodiness of Echo & the Bunnymen. Hoops’ first releases after their formation in 2011 were on cassettes, which only added to the sound’s high-tech-meets-lo-fi atmosphere. Appropriately titled Tape #1, Tape #2 and Tape #3, the early Hoops recordings showed a band with mature musical ideas and inventive ways of realizing those concepts through bedroom recordings. In many respects, the way Hoops has made music is almost as important as the music itself.
“We all came together in high school listening to a lot of lo-fi Indie stuff like Real Estate and Radio Department, which is probably our biggest influence as a band, next in line to Prefab, and we bonded over that,” Krauter says. “When we were first making music, we were using the tape machine — and there are limited capabilities there, obviously — but there’s a way to creatively move through those limitations, and that’s something we wanted to keep when we were working with digital recording and producing. It was a charm we wanted to add to the music.”
Unlike Hoops’ initial Tape recordings and their 2015 Fat Possum debut, EP, the title of the band’s latest release doesn’t reflect the finished product; Routines is anything but routine.
“We went into the whole process trying to do something different,” Krauter says. “Our label really wanted us to go into the studio to work on this one, so we booked time at Thump Studios in Brooklyn with Jarvis Taveniere; he’s in the band Woods and he’s worked with Quilt and Widowspeak and stuff like that. We liked what he did and how he worked on things.”
Hoops’ original plan was to take the results of their sessions with Taveniere to someone else for mixing, but Fat Possum wanted the band members to mix the album themselves (which they did with Harris, who recently left the band to build a studio in Michigan; he was replaced by Mark Edlin). The label didn’t want them to steer too far afield from the sonic identity of their early recordings.
“There was some deliberation after we were at the studio about how we wanted to go forward, and the label ultimately wanted us to go back to the sound of our first EP and the original Tapes, because we did all those ourselves,” Krauter says. “So we took what we had from the studio, redid a little of it, but mostly just mixed it. We got drunk at my parents’ house and just kind of fucked around. We started with ‘Sun’s Out,’ and we got it to a point where it was like, ‘Holy shit, this is so tight. We’ll save this and come back in the morning when we’re sober and see if it still sounds good.’ The next day, it sounded really great and from that point on we just hit a stride with how we wanted the whole thing to sound. It was a recipe we applied to each song.”
In addition to the revelation that their drunk ears are extremely reliable, the musicians also landed on the characteristic sonic thread that runs through Hoops’ catalog to this point. At the same time, Krauter has a ready answer for the question of what exactly distinguishes Routines from the band’s previous output.
“I’d say it’s probably the production, because I don’t think the songs themselves are too crazy or out there, as opposed to our older stuff,” he says. “Our older tapes were all over the place anyway. Even though they have a similar sound across the board. To an outside ear, it probably sounds very continuous, but to us it feels all over the place.”
The other amazing quality that Routines possesses is the incredible consistency of the songs themselves across the breadth of the album. Due to Hoops’ truncated schedule going into the studio, the band members drew on material they’d had for a while (including songs from the Tapes), as well as the new songs that were in active development. That could have given Routines a patchy and disconnected atmosphere but, as there is in the whole Hoops discography, there is a distinct (and not entirely unintentional) cohesion within the album.
“A lot of the songs (on Routines) are a little thrown together,” Krauter says. “We tried to give it a continuous sound and feel, even though the songs are kind of all over the place, as far as where they came from, who wrote them and when they about.”
HOOPS plays Friday at Urban Artifact. Click here for ticket info.