Whenever a musician puts a record out, on some level they’re inviting us into a world they built only for themselves. Certain records, like Hotline TNT’s ‘Cartwheel’, for example, are just more obvious about it. “This has always been an outlet when I didn’t have another one,” offers singer-songwriter Will Anderson, mulling over the circumstances that led him down this particular rabbit hole, which is populated by shagpile-fuzz guitars and heart-on-sleeve ideas of romance.
A little more than a decade on from his emergence with Weed, a Vancouver noise-pop band whose blend of Metz-esque grind and dead-eyed refrains now appears ahead of its time, it feels like Anderson is still searching for the final piece in a puzzle of his own making. On ‘Cartwheel’, he mainlines the giddiness of that chase: for love, for friendship, for belonging.
Now based in New York after a late twenties spell in Minneapolis that put him in the outer orbit of his parents’ divorce 100 miles away in Wisconsin, Anderson observes that while Hotline TNT might have lived in these cities over the past six years, first and foremost the band exists inside his skull.
“I felt connected to Minneapolis, but also very alone there,” he tells NME. “I had a hard time in the social scene, I just hunkered down and made the band. That’s all I focused on. That’s not to say I didn’t have any friends, but I was surprised that I didn’t have a more active sense of community. I moved to New York two months before COVID, so I was isolated through practicality. That’s when the first record started.”
‘Nineteen In Love’ was released in October of 2020, but you had to put in the effort to break through the barreling noise and discover its soft centre. Anderson kept the LP off streaming services, making it available only through physical copies and on YouTube (a note beneath the video read: “We have no choice – we have to keep going. Cancel your Spotify subscription.”) ‘Cartwheel’ is different from that perspective. Hotline TNT are now signed to Third Man, the label owned by Jack White. “It’s transforming from a bedroom activity to a career,” Anderson says. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
For someone who came up in hardcore, and who believes deeply in the importance of a DIY ethic, down to Xeroxing copies of his strictly-offline basketball zine Association Update, these developments are thorny. Anderson is figuring out how to see a return on the time and cash he’s invested in the band while staying the course with his own beliefs on what’s cool and what’s corny. “I think about that stuff all the time,” he admits.
“I’m trying to navigate this new world while making the band fun for people to engage with,” he continues. “That’s what it’s about. I think a lot of bands that sell out, move to a career, lose the plot [in terms of] making the band and art engaging and accessible. I run a fanzine, I plaster my phone number all over the merchandise. I want to be doing things beyond just making music, putting it out, and calling it a day.”
If inviting people in is the goal, then ‘Cartwheel’ is a great starting point. Its washes of guitar are all-encompassing, rebounding off programmed drums that skitter and crunch. But where a straight-up shoegaze band might call it a day here, Anderson introduces intuitive hooks, spotlighting his vocals in a manner he hasn’t before. Songs such as the magnificent ‘I Know You’ are compelling on two emotional fronts, delivering melodic hits while keeping the gut-level riffs coming. “I never heard a guitar track I didn’t like,” Anderson smiles.
While we talk, he sits in a van outside an AirBnB in Astoria, Oregon, where Hotline TNT have spent a couple of days off during a West Coast tour with groups including Enumclaw and Sword II. Live, they are a three-guitar beast with a human drummer (Anderson pines for a settled lineup but is currently calling on “a pretty robust network of people.”) On ‘Cartwheel’, though, it’s still just him. And yet, it’s also the most collaborative record he’s ever made thanks to input from a couple of engineer-producers in Ian Teeple and Aron Kobayashi Ritch, whose approaches pushed Anderson in different directions.
Teeple, who plays in Colorado-based “power-goth” duo Snõõper and recently released his latest mind-altering weirdo jangle-pop record with Silicone Prairie, pushed concentration and the pursuit of every creative spark. Kobayashi Ritch, meanwhile, wanted to cut and run whenever something felt done. The remarkable thing is that the tension between these two styles resulted in a clear-eyed vision of Hotline TNT’s sound. “I’ve been trying to do it the whole time but I think it’s the best it’s been so far,” Anderson says.
“It’s a balance. I do have a vision, and I know how I want it to sound, but I wanted another cook in the kitchen,” he adds. “I had to beg Ian to do it. He’s busy with his own work and he doesn’t do this often, especially because I don’t live in Kansas City. I basically showed up at his house like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna make a record.’”
Obviously, ‘Hey, we’re gonna make a record’ became ‘Hey, we made a record’, and it’s really something. The questions about authenticity that needle Anderson aren’t going away – Hotline TNT certainly have the chops to bust out of their current noisy niche – but that just gives him another ideal to chase. “I do want to have money to pay the bills and live a life but I never want to forget where this project came from,” he says.
“I hope it’s possible to do both. On this tour we did the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco for 450 people. It’s a beautiful venue. Two nights later we played a generator show in an abandoned shanty town in upstate California. Both were awesome. I hope we can do that as long as possible.”
Hotline TNT’s new album ‘Cartwheel’ will be released on November 4 via Third Man Records