1/30/2005 - Hem


The genesis of the New York outfit Hem goes back to 1999, when songwriter Dan Messe teamed up with producer/engineer Gary Maurer (who had worked with artists such as Jon Spencer, Luna, Fountains of Wayne, and James Iha). The two wanted to make a record that would explore their interests in traditional American music while draping it in contemporary stylings. They enlisted friend Steve Curtis (guitar, mandolin) and, needing a singer, placed an ad in The Village Voice. After receiving numerous demos, the ad was pulled. Then Sally Ellyson called Messe about the spot, though she claimed that she wasn't really a singer. Not expecting much, Messe asked for a demo. The tape, a cassette of lullabies she'd recorded for a friend's child, was exactly what Messe was looking for. The collaboration had started out low-budget, but as the project grew and as the band's faith in their work increased, Messe ended up selling off personal possessions in order to afford, for example, an 18-piece orchestra. The album, 2001's Rabbit Songs, was recorded without any contemporary recording luxuries, such as samples, computer mixing, or digital wizardry. The effort features lush, traditional instrumentation (accents of mandolin, pedal steel, piano, and stand-up bass) and Ellyson's sweet, mysterious vocals. DreamWorks inked the band a deal in early 2003 and Rabbit Songs was reissued in July. Stateside club shows with Leona Naess followed. ~ Erik Hage, All Music Guide