Hotel Books are an ambient spoken word duo consisting of lyricist and vocalist Cam Smith and Kevin Glaudel on guitar. Their songs consist of dreamy guitar riffs with emotively-driven vocals. The band has recently toured across the east coast of Australia and are currently playing in Europe. OurVinyl spoke to the vocalist from San Diego, California about the growth of the genre, people who enjoy the songs but don’t like the song titles and what influences his song writing.
Q: How and when did you get in to poetry?
Cam Smith: When I was in sixth grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Holly, offered extra credit to students who wrote a weekly poem. I ended up writing a poem each week. As far as spoken word goes, I remember getting into Bradley Hathaway who was a poet who toured with hardcore bands quite a bit. He was really the first I knew. I was in junior high when he first came out, I believe. The band mewithoutYou always had a lot of poetry in their music as well, which was a big part of what made me fall in love with poetry.
Q: Why did you make the decision to add music and start a spoken word band?
A: Well, I started doing spoken word as a filler while I waited to find what would be my new band. I was playing in a folk band at the time and when they broke up, I figured spoken word would be something to do for a couple months until finding a new band. I had a friend, Matthew Walker, who I asked to play guitar behind me, and then after the first official tour, we recorded our album with Tom Zanutto up in Lodi, CA, and he and I recorded all of the other instruments. We primarily tour as a two-piece (vocals and guitar) but do have plans to possibly do a small full-band tour. After the release of the album, I felt that Hotel Books was what I wanted to focus on musically, so I guess it just stuck.
Hotel Books’ “Church of Vices”
Q: What draws you to spoken word? What are its advantages over singing?
A: I love spoken word because it gives me the opportunity to pour all of my creative energy into lyrics. I don’t have to worry about melodies (and I don’t even really worry too much about delivery). I think the main advantage is that the vocalist cannot hide behind a catchy chorus or a pretty sound, he or she is forced to push out their words regardless of what sound is in and what sound is popular. There are definitely disadvantages, but that is the main advantage I see and it’s very important to me.
Q: Why do you think there is a growing popularity in the genre?
A: I think it’s growing because of it’s acceptance in fringe music. As we tour, I see more and more kids in hardcore bands or in the hardcore music culture who are starting to write and perform poems. I think it’s still a young genre and has a long way to go, but it has been extremely encouraging to see it rise up and become recognized in the hardcore community as a genre. When I began, Levi the Poet was growing on YouTube, Listener was slowly transforming from rap to spoken word, and Bradley Hathaway was doing folk music, so it was difficult to book shows when people did not fully understand what spoken word was. Now that Levi and Listener are both really gaining some awesome fans, the genre has become more accessible to fans. I’ve also seen some other poets online who are doing awesome work such as Trey the Ruler.
Q: Where do your lyrics come from? What influences your song writing?
A: I write about my life and the struggles I have faced. More importantly, I write about the solution I have found in Love. I believe in God, and a lot of my inspiration comes from my beliefs, but I try my best to write music that relates to everyone who has ever felt hurt or ever felt let down. I guess my main influence is the people in my life. I want to experience authenticity with them, so I write to them.
Q: On your website you talk about recording your vocals in one or two takes. How important do you feel it is in spoken word to record everything at once?
A: I like to record everything in one take because I feel like it’s more organic. I feel like when I rehearse something and I try it over and over, it loses it’s emotion and starts to sound more and more rehearsed. I want each Hotel Books song to have the appropriate emotion behind it, and I feel like it’s more organic when I just let loose and go for it rather than trying to ‘force’ emotion after many attempts. For me, it is the most realistic way to listen to a record. Most people do not realize that when Kevin and I are recording, we are often teary-eyed, trying to keep it together, because our hearts truly do break when we record this material. (Sorry if that sounded pretentious, I’m bad at explaining myself sometimes.)
Q: How important do you feel an emotive delivery is in this genre to match the lyrics?
A: For what we write, I feel it is vital because I want others to connect to us emotionally, and I feel that it is only possible if we display true strong emotions. For some poets, it is extremely important and for others it is not, it all just comes down to what they are going for. I’ve seen some poets who roll around the floor and scream every word and it is really heart-wrenching to watch, but then I have seen calm and collected poets who let their deep intellect do all of the talking, and that is equally amazing for me. I write very simple lyrics, and I try to let my emotion convey the rest of the story. But like I said, either method can be good or bad, it just depends on the heart of the poet.
Q: All your songs seem very personal and deep, for example “I Used to Dream, Now I Just Sleep”, how do these names and ideas come about?
A: To be honest, most of my poems, including “I Used to Dream, Now I Just Sleep,” come from reading my past journal entries and trying to take the narratives from my past experiences and turning them into relevant ideas for today. We have a lot of people who like our band but hate our song titles because of how “weird or confusing” they tend to be, but I always try to think of a title that will make people want to know what exactly the poem is about. I want to spark interest with the song title.
Q: Are you the typical type of person who writes poetry?
A: I’m not entirely sure. I do not know too many people who write poetry, and to be honest, I do not listen to spoken word very much at all. I love the genre and the artists within it, but I am more of an indie dude when it comes to my listening preference. I mentioned some poets about, who are all extremely talented, and I am sure I draw some similarities to them, as far as who I am as a person, but I really do not know. Slam poets and spoken word competition poets are mainly college students like myself, but I do not really touch that aspect of poetry at all. Not a competitive person, too insecure, I guess.
Q: Tell us about your most recent single: “Finding Home for the First Time”, how did it come about?
A: “Finding Home for the First Time” is a split project that we did with Brave Coast. We both offered up three tracks for this record. We tracked this professionally, which was an absolute first for us. Elmo Arteaga tracked the vocals in this really cool studio in National City and Kevin tracked the guitars. Elmo did all of the mixing and mastering and got the best sound we have ever had. Our three songs were written to be played one after the other. The track listing is actually a poem in itself: “Sometimes I Feel Like Nothing”, “Nothing Ever Changes”, “Changes Consume Me”. We had a blast recording this album and doing a three week release tour with Brave Coast to promote it.
Q: Do you have any more releases upcoming or shows coming up?
A: We are recording two new songs for a split with Endure from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, followed by a short intermission. We will be taking a break as a band for a few months (we believe) to focus on other project and to begin the blueprints for a possible full-length. We are booking a Canada tour for later this year, and then possible a Midwest tour early next year, but we plan to do nothing for September, October and November. We just need a few months to rest and figure out the next step. We might do a San Diego show in September, but even that is still just an idea.
Written by Jack Ryan
OurVinyl | Contributor