Even when they’re a thousand miles apart, songwriters Charlie Martin and Will Taylor of indie pop duo Hovvdy always seem to come together in a surreal, coherent bond on their albums. The pair essentially work independently, writing full songs alone before bringing them to each other. This was still the case even when they both lived in Austin, TX—where the duo was formed around eight years ago—while recording their fourth LP, 2021’s True Love; but now it’s even more present with Martin recently having moved to St. Louis. Even so, a Hovvdy record or song feels like it was written in one sitting with both parties at the songwriting helm.
“That could just be because me and Will come from pretty similar backgrounds and life is kind of moving at a similar pace for both of us in a lot of ways,” says Martin. “We both came from being drummers in different bands and both have similar approaches to songwriting: kind of a minimalistic layering.”
That layering is at the root of every Hovvdy song, often manifesting itself in a simple musical idea that shifts and morphs, hitting you like a wave of nostalgia. They call it “pillowcore,” both well-produced and polished but also sounding like it could have been made in a bedroom. Discovering what became the band’s trademark techniques didn’t happen overnight though. Martin admits that a lot of Hovvdy’s older material is “hiding behind a lot of effects,” due to a lack of confidence. “When we started the project we were really into music with super quiet vocals and really fucked up underwater sounding arrangements, and we sincerely thought that kind of murky type music was really cool. And then over the years we gained confidence and more of an interest in telling more vivid stories.”
This is true for the group’s two most recent singles, “Everything” and “Town,” which feel like flipping through a stranger’s life in a dusty photo book found on the side of the road. “We definitely get the nostalgia thing a lot,” Martin says. “Personally, I write from the ‘looking back perspective.’ I feel like a lot of my songs will kind of jump from places in time and not really draw a line between the present and the past.”
The band’s lyrical content adds to this sense of nostalgia, but the guitar work, primarily written in open tunings, completes the picture with a beautifully simplistic sound, has become instantly recognizable for Hovvdy’s brand of storytelling. The story behind this particular Hovvdy quirk actually comes from an earlier time as Martin was being introduced to the guitar.
During his college years, Martin took a job caring for and watching over a child with special needs—sort of like a live-in babysitter. He was away from home for two weeks, without an instrument, but saw that the kid he was babysitting had a toy Fisher-Price guitar. “I just tuned it to a chord and started messing around. You never knew what would work in terms of calming down the kid, but I would just start strumming and he was transfixed,” Martin says. “So it became like a necessary ingredient for all of our lives. And it was cool too, because I could teach him since it was so simple in that tuning. It’s so satisfying to just hand someone a guitar that they can play and it sounds good.”
Those open tunings never left Martin’s playbook, and he says it’s now a primary element for Hovvdy’s sound. “It’s really just the resonance and I feel it sounds best with my voice, even though I’m using a capo for most songs,” he says.
Hovvdy are currently on tour in the United States with a Toronto date on May 1 at The Baby G. Martin says he’s euphoric that Hovvdy can play shows again. “I feel like True Love is the type of record that doesn’t necessarily hit you over the head,” Martin says. “It’s nice people have had some time with it before they see us live. I don’t think that relationship with our music would have grown as organically if people didn’t have the time to really dive in.”