Nora Murphy Hughes is the singer/songwriter and driving force behind Portland’s post-punk/garage-psych outfit Hollow Sidewalks. Beyond that, she’s a champion of Portland’s underground music community as the founder and head of local DIY label High School Records. On Wednesday, 1/18, Hughes and Hollow Sidewalks will perform at Holocene, kicking off a tour and celebrating their sophomore release, Year Of The Field Mouse, along with newly minted HSR label-mates Slutty Hearts and Shadowhouse. Ahead of the show, we chatted with Hughes about breadth of talent that makes up Hollow Sidewalks, the changes that lead to the group’s new sound, starting and running her own label, and what music she’s currently listening to on repeat.
Hollow Sidewalks is made up of a formidable group of musicians with backgrounds in various other great local bands. How did you all come together?
I’ve been really lucky to play with some very talented individuals, and this current line up is no exception. I asked Nicholas to join the band thinking he was someone else our drummer at the time had met. I asked a completely different guy than intended, but it fit so well he’s been with us ever since. I’ve always been fond of the Dandelyons, so when we were short a bass player, Mori was a no brainer. Most recently when we found ourselves without a drummer in September of last year. We were bummed out lamenting at Hungry Tiger and asked Chad Davis if he knew any available percussionists. He pointed us towards Doug, who was a stranger at that point. He took to the music fantastically, and there you have it. Hollow Sidewalks in it’s current form.
The Year Of The Field Mouse bio mentions cutting back on booze and harder drugs and smoking more weed, and as a result the new album departs from the darker, heavier vibes of your 2014 debut, Ain’t No Way. Was that an intentional shift or more organic?
It was a fairly organic transition. Years of partying had taken its toll. I got pretty sick after a tour, and it just made sense to cleanse my body a bit. I had a lot more free time feeling well, so the songs came. Sure, I was worried my creativity might be challenged without the booze, so I over compensated. I put everything into ‘Year of the Field Mouse” because I was a lot less distracted. It was one of my few key focuses to stay relatively sober.
You also run your own label, High School Records. How did that get started?
Again, I wasn’t drinking and had a lot of pent up energy, so I took my bar tab I wasn’t spending and started a label. For now, it’s simply been a vehicle to put out Hollow Sidewalks’ music on vinyl, but now I’m trying to be an artist advocate and release others’ works. I feel like bands have to sign away so much of their life’s work just to get it pressed. That shouldn’t be. High School School records is going to be a community of musicians helping one another out to make it work in this over saturated world of DIY/indie rock.
HSR has just added the local swoony dark-pop quartet, Slutty Hearts (who are also performing at your album release show on 1/18), to your label’s roster. How did you get connected with them, and more generally, how do you typically decide which groups the label works with?
It’s difficult starting out. You want to put out all your friends stuff, and then all the other great stuff you get submitted, but one has to be business smart, too. I’ve known Marty for nearly a decade, and seeing the evolution of Slutty Hearts is endorsement alone to bring them aboard. Upon hearing their new EP they just recorded with Daniel John Riddle of King Black Acid at Mazinga Studio, I was sold.
What is the first album you ever owned?
The first two CDs I ever bought were “Midnite Vultures” by Beck and “Hello Nasty” by the Beastie Boys, I was 8-years-old. As for vinyl, I inherited a bunch of great stuff from my parents in one big lump, so no one album comes to mind.
What are some artists that you’re currently listening to on rotation?
I can’t stop listening to “Darkel” the solo project of Jean Benoit Dunkel of AIR. Besides that in heavy rotation, I’ve been listening to The Cure, Stephen Malkmus, Serge Gainsbourg, Morrissey, Bowie, Brian Glaze, Blondie, Suede, the list could go on.