By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Artistic creation is like a sausage factory: Something unpalatable goes in and something savory comes out. For a musician, ugly emotions like alienation, pain, or self-loathing can inspire works of transcendent anger, idyllic beauty, or sincere self-examination. But how well artists weather their torments is an individual matter. For every rock star suicide like Kurt Cobain there's an Alex Chilton, who has climbed from the mid-'70s despair of Big Star's bleaker-than-bleak Third/Sister Lovers album to churn out nearly a dozen more records.
At first, Her Space Holiday's new two-disc offering, Home Is Where You Hang Yourself, seems a smooth ride, the sort of gentle-sounding bedroom pop that you don't so much listen to as tuck into at night. But listen to the lyrics and you'll discover the potholes in the road. Take the Hurtful Kid mix of "Famous to Me." Over foreboding piano and string loops, San Mateo native Marc Bianchi barrages the listener with samples of his voice calling himself "stupid" and a "hurtful kid." The words bear the sting of self-accusation; indeed, Bianchi's lyrics lay out the difficulties he's had, both as a child and as an adult.
"That particular remix was done at a time when I was just thinking about mistakes that I made and the repetitive nature of saying, "You need to take responsibility,'" Bianchi, 27, offers from behind his geek-chic glasses.
Other songs dig deeply into the flawed moments of Bianchi's relationship with his girlfriend, Keely Chanteloup. On Home's title track, Bianchi laments, "You tell me you love me but there's hate in your eyes," and then through the course of the disc tells why. Other numbers are filled with suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, sleeping pills, and stiff drinks.
To make matters even pricklier, Chanteloup accompanies Bianchi onstage during live HSH performances. Sitting in the cafe of a chain bookstore in his strip-malled hometown, not far from the house where he recorded the new album on eight-track, Bianchi tries to explain the reason for the record's beautiful misery. "[The album] was something I needed to do to just get out every subject that I had problems with in my past or my life."
Bianchi began the HSH project in 1996 after playing guitar in the hardcore punk bands Calm, Mohinder, and Indian Summer. (Two ex-bandmates in Calm and Mohinder -- Ewing Parton and Canaan Amber -- went on to form Duster, a band Bianchi remixes on Home's second disc.) Even in those days, Bianchi says, he was impatient to pursue more contemplative solo work. "When we were in the latter end of Indian Summer, we didn't even listen to hardcore. We listened to [mellow indie bands] Seam and Palace and Bedhead. Gradually I just got more and more out of hardcore."
With titles like "Ceilingstars" and "The Astronauts Are Sleeping," Bianchi's earlier work as HSH radiated an outer-spacey vibe. And, around the same time Bianchi began recording as Her Space Holiday, he and Chanteloup started a label, AudioInformationPhenomena Records, that released music by space rock bands like the Asteroid #4 and Cerberus Shoal, as well as San Francisco's more down-to-earth group Half Film. (Work on the label is now on hold -- possibly permanently -- while Bianchi concentrates on his own music.)
Since Bianchi gave up rocking out in the punk scene for rocking introspective as HSH, he's released two full-length CDs and a handful of singles and EPs on a number of tiny indie labels. But with Home, HSH moves from the periphery to center stage. "As far as everyone in the media's concerned," he says, "this is the first record."
More than a mere cataloging of weaknesses and insecurities, Home is the sound of a talented songsmith exploring the bounda- ries of home-recording. Whether on the first disc's originals or on the second's remixes of bands like Bright Eyes and Aspera Ad Astra, Bianchi crafts loping melodies and warm, sleepwalking shuffles, seasoning the music with electronic bloops and pings as spongy as an infant's toys. He sings in a boyish voice a short step from a whisper, a style that gives his frank lyrics that much more power. Explaining why he isn't afraid to beat himself up in public, Bianchi says he found songs easier to write than apologies.
In the States, Home was released on Tiger Style, the label of online indie shopping site Insound. In the U.K., it's been licensed to Wichita Recordings, the newly launched label of former executives from '80s Britpop standard-bearer Creation Records. The deal has earned HSH the attention of scene-defining British rock periodicals like NME, Melody Maker, and Mojo; unfortunately, not all the press has been positive.
"Her Space Holiday's excesses make you wonder how Mark Bianchi managed to program a drum machine while nailed to a cross," James McNair wrote in Mojo. "There's treasure here if you can bear the gloom, but book someone else for the office party."
That Mojo review vexes Bianchi. "When I get criticism saying I chose to do this style of music, that's when it feels like an attack," he says. "I wasn't purposely trying to make a sad record, just an honest one. Unfortunately, the majority of experiences I was going through at the time weren't that lighthearted."