This Thanksgiving Eve, 10 middle-aged men will crowd onto the stage of the Brick and play a set together for the first time in two years. Half of the Hearers, as they are known, live in or around Kansas City; the other half live in Washington, California and Iowa.
This holiday gig has become something of a tradition, a chance to get everybody back in town, in the same room at the same time, to play some music. The show — the Hearers perform at the Replay the Friday after Thanksgiving as well — is also a celebration of In Dreamlife, the terrific art-folk record that the group released earlier this year.
About a week ago, I stopped by Midwestern Musical Co. to talk with core band members David Moore and Darren Welch. Moore records the band's albums at his home in Merriam. (He calls the studio Merriam Shoals.) Welch, one of the Hearers' founders and primary songwriters, co-owns Midwestern Musical Co. (Marc Tweed, an artist living in Seattle, is the other co-founder, and he is also showing and selling original drawings at the Brick.)
I arrived after hours and expected a quiet chat in the guitar shop. I was instead met with a room bustling with musicians. "They're rehearsing for Alejandro's show tonight. This was kind of unplanned," Moore said. I scanned the room for Alejandro Escovedo and found him adjusting a microphone. The Cody Wyoming Deal, a nearly Hearers-sized outfit, was set to play a few weekend shows in town as the Texas singer-songwriter's backing band. Moore and Welch led me to an adjacent space, where we talked about Wednesday's show and Hearers lore.
The Pitch: There are now 10 members of the Hearers? How did that happen?
Welch: Marc [Tweed] and I used to play in loud rock bands in Lawrence, back in 1994. And I was going through this anxiety thing where I didn't want to play onstage. I wanted to take it to the studio instead. We were friends with David [Moore], and he said, "Why don't I bring over my four-track and we can record?" So it was a trio thing for a while. But then we wanted to bring some guest musicians in, and those guest musicians just ended up becoming part of the whole ensemble. Around 2000 to 2001, I think the Hearers were an eight-piece. And we were having so much fun, we decided to make another album with all those players, and then we ended up bringing a few more guys in.
Who's the most recent addition?
Welch: Mike Walker. He's been around for about five years or so. I had this one song where I was just positive that there was nothing other than a trombone that could work for this particular solo. So we tracked Mike down, and he came over and pulled it off, amazingly — he's a hell of an arranger — and he dug the vibe and has stuck around ever since.
Because everybody in the band is so spread out, are these Thanksgiving shows typically the only show of the year?
Welch: We've actually been able to squeeze in some tours, relatively quick ones. We've done a seven-day West Coast tour, a kind of I-35 tour. We did South by Southwest. We get together when we can. But, you know, it's not — it's more like a brotherhood type of thing. Nobody's crunching numbers. It's more like a bunch of dudes going on a camping trip.
Do you all ride in the same van if you tour?
Moore: Yeah, we just pile in. There are a few guys who can't tour. But, yeah, eight people in a 15-passenger van.
Welch: And the equipment cube in the back is, like, dense. There's only one way to fit it all together. It's like a Rubik's cube.
Moore: Everyone in the band genuinely loves each other, which is nice. Finding people you can play with is one thing, but finding people you really like and also like to play with is much more rare.
Welch: Especially with so many people in the mix, too. You know, there's always an asshole, even in four- or five-person bands. So this is really good.
Will you record anything new while everyone's in town?
Welch: Not this time because the new album is so recent. But, yeah, we always try to shove in recording time whenever anybody's back in Kansas City. If somebody's in from out of town, they're usually enlisted to be at David's at some point in the trip, and we'll have a plan ready in advance for what song they're going to lay down.
I imagine there are some advantages to making live shows scarce.
Welch: Yeah, the fact that we only play, like, once a year, people do tend to come out for us. If we were playing once every month or two, like most Kansas City bands, I'm sure we wouldn't get the turnout we usually get at the Brick. It's cool, though, to have been doing something for 16 years now, and every year it seems like a few more people hear about us, a few more people show up to see us. It's been a gradual growth of a pretty solid fanbase. It feels good to know people like our music enough to support us.