If you’ve ever found yourself at a Hooten Hallers show, you know you’re in for a wild ride. The band, known for their eclectic blend of blues, rock, and roots music, has been captivating audiences since their inception in 2007. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Andy Rehm, the band’s drummer and one of their vocalists, to discuss their musical journey, the evolution of their sound, and what fans can expect in the near future.
When the Hooten Hallers first started out in 2007, it was just Rehm and John Randall. “Back then, the emphasis was on wild, rough, and rowdy experimentation,” Rehm reminisced. Over the years, the focus has shifted towards more intricate arrangements. The addition of Kellie Everett in 2014 further shaped the band’s sound, with her extremely large woodwind instruments. She had made several guest appearances on their album Chillicothe Fireball, and her influence has been palpable ever since.
The title of their latest album, Back in Business Again, came about in an interesting way. “We were toying with the idea of calling it that during recording,” Rehm said. “We were done with the tracking right at the beginning of 2020, and then COVID happened.” The pandemic made them realize how drastically things were going to change, especially as they got off the road in February 2020.
On this album, Rehm approached vocals a bit differently. “In the early days, I would do a few songs on lead, and we cut that after a while. But on this record, it seemed like it was the right thing to do,” he explained. The band will be back in the studio in a couple of weeks, working on what Rehm describes as their most ambitious project yet — a concept album.
Recording Back in Business Again was a unique experience for the band. “It was the easiest recording session we’ve ever had,” Rehm said. “We’ve worked with a lot of great engineers, but it was the first time there was ease between the band, the engineer, and the producer.” The album was recorded at Native Sound in St. Louis, with Dominic Davis producing.
When it comes to their individual musical influences, the band members bring a lot to the table. John leans towards rock and roll and psychedelic influences, Ryan loves classic soul and blues as well as early punk rock, and Kellie brings in a jazz influence. “We don’t force it,” Rehm said about balancing these genres. “When there is an idea, we set the expectation.”
The band has faced its share of challenges, including a car accident that severely affected them emotionally. “It was hard on everyone,” Rehm shared. “Kellie started doing a lot more writing than previously.” Despite the hardships, their live performances remain high-energy affairs. “We’re not a band that rehearses much, but over the last 10 years, we’d play 100-200 shows a year,” Rehm said. “[That’s] a lot of onstage rehearsing.”
The Hooten Hallers have a special connection with Champaign-Urbana. “Last Folk & Roots was our best yet,” Rehm recalled. “The most valuable thing is that everyone in the area has been so nice.” They’ve also had some memorable performances in unexpected places. “All-time favorite shows have been in places where other musicians wouldn’t even recognize when the audience is grateful for you being there,” Rehm said.
The band has been to Europe seven times, sometimes just hitting mainland UK, and other times just mainland Europe. “One of my most memorable moments was in Belgrade, Serbia,” Rehm said. “It was so hot in the venue that the stage was wet with sweat. The next band wondered if there was something wrong with the air conditioner, but John told them it was our sweat.”
Their favorite places to play, anywhere, are the little towns that don’t usually get touring acts. “You get to meet real people,” Rehm said. “Those have been our all-time favorite shows, in places where other musicians wouldn’t even recognize, when the audience is grateful for you being there.”
Their European tours hold a special place in their hearts. Rehm fondly recalled their first European tour in 2015, which was a culture shock for the band. “Getting off the ferry into Norway, the border guard was asking us if we had any ‘hash-heesh, or merry-wana,'” Rehm chuckled. “We said no, and he asked again several times. Then he said, ‘Are you sure? We have dog!’ We told him to go get the dog,” recalled Rehm, laughing at the memory.
But that wasn’t the only memorable encounter they had with law enforcement on that tour. “On the same tour, some German cops at a gas station put their hands all the way down my pants,” Rehm said, still incredulous. “I thought to myself, ‘I look the least threatening here, except maybe Kellie.'”
When asked about the evolution of the Americana and blues rock scenes, Rehm had a straightforward answer. “We’ve always been a band that hasn’t been enough of something for the somethings,” he said. “We don’t cater to any particular audience or genre.”
So, what can fans expect from The Hooten Hallers in the near future? ” new record being recorded,” Rehm revealed. “More of the same Hooten Hallers you love but different because it’s now.” They might even have a few tricks up their sleeve for the upcoming Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival.
Rehm and his bandmates are genuine and enthusiastic about their art. We reminisced over a gig I happened to attend of theirs in Appleton, Wisconsin at the Mile of Music Festival. “It looked like the employees were rattled about how rowdy it got that night”, recalls Rehm. My recollection was music and flesh bouncing off the walls and ceiling of the Martini Bar in downtown Appleton, and I’m looking forward to more of the same this Friday at Rose Bowl Tavern where they will be playing their C-U Folk & Roots Festival set.
Hooten Hallers at C-U Folk and Roots Festival
106 N Race St.
Fr, October 13th, 9 p.m.
$40 for festival access