After touring for years as a part of Portland’s iconic touring band The Lower 48, cousins Ben Braden and Nick Sadler formed their indie-electro duo Strange Hotels in early 2018, and within weeks of forming the duo, they had the opportunity to open for Billie Eilish and Finneas at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Their songs have also been featured in several TV shows including Shameless, Viceʼs King Of The Road, and Conan O’Brien’s Needs a Friend. They have described Strange Hotels as the most collaborative project they have been a part of and are a sonic blend of dance, R&B, vintage pop, and indie rock. They have taken a very DIY approach to recording their songs, recording and producing their music solely on iPads. This allowed them to record in air-bnb’s and apartment studios on the road and, as a result they released their debut and well-received EP Mixtape in January of 2018. They moved to Los Angles in 2019 and booked a residency at their favorite club , booked other gigs, and wrote a new batch of songs, releasing their second EP, Mixtape II, at the end of 2019. Going through some hard times during the pandemic and shutdowns in the music industry, with things having opened back up, they have been staying busy! They recently released their latest single “Teen Dream Fantasy”, a dreamy hit that strikes a chord of nostalgia with uplifting and energetic production, captivating synth work, and a stellar groove, produced by The Strokes’ producer Gordon Raphael. With weekly residencies at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica, Harvard and Stone, and Good Times At Davey Wayne’s in LA, and plans to release their third EP, Mixtape III, in the coming months, make sure to catch a residency show and connect with Strange Hotels via the following links for all up-to-date touring and music news via the following links:
You guys have been friends since high school, playing together for years as a part of Portland’s iconic touring band ‘The Lower 48’ and have released solo albums, as well. What can you tell me about your childhoods and discovering your love for music and being a part of the Portland music scene?
We are cousins and have always loved playing music together, mostly in Ben’s parents basement. We would write songs driving around in Nicks 89’ Camry just making up melodies and lyrics. Most of it was probably trash, but you gotta start somewhere lol. Moving to Portland was an interesting move to say the least. We worked and lived for many years there and made many great friends, but we are very glad to live in California now.
What led you to want to form Strange Hotels in 2018, which you have said is the most collaborative project you’ve both ever been a part of? A departure from the harmony-driven rock of The Lower 48, what can you tell me about the sound of Strange Hotels and the bands/artists that have influenced the sound?
It was definitely a natural progression. The sound of Strange Hotels started forming when we got this recording app on our phones. It was super basic, 24 tracks, reverb, EQ and compression. At first we were making demos using the iPhone mic, starting ideas with guitar and vocals in our apartments and mixing them in the car. But it ended up sounding better than we thought which made us wonder what would happen if we actually took a professional approach to the process. So we got an interface that allowed us to hook up a couple good mics which substantially improved the fidelity. The songs were happening before we realized this was our new project. Once we had 10 or 12, we picked the best 7 and called them Mixtape I. We made the first two Mixtapes in that program on iPads and phones. It was really fun because we could bring our entire recording set up anywhere, so we would track stuff on tour in Airbnb’s. At the time I think we were listening to a lot of Anderson Paak, Jungle, Menahan Street Band, Django Reinhardt, Dylan and a whole lot of other stuff.
Within weeks of forming, you had the opportunity to open for Billie Eilish and Finneas at The Crystal Ballroom in Portland. How did that opportunity come about and what was that experience like?
When we started the band, we hit up a local booking agent that we had met at previous shows who was representing some bands we liked and had played with over the years. We showed him our first batch of songs and he was down to pick us up. He ended up submitting us for main support and they went for it. It was definitely a special night. I’ve never heard a crowd scream that loud!
In January of 2018, you released your debut album Mixtape I, which you have talked about recording and producing on you iPad Air. Ben, you have said that “musicians are poorer than ever but can do more with basic equipment and that this is a really interesting time for insired artists.” Can you all talk a bit about that and about the ever-changing musical landscape that allows for artists to more easily make music and be creative in the ways they do so?
It just is a crazy time to be a musician. Recorded music is easy and cheap to make but it’s also completely free to listen to. Also, instead of listening to the same 3-4 CDs in your car for a month, we all listen to music on an app that has literally like every other song ever made on it, so recorded music has become a cheapened commodity. This leads to the artistic pendulum swinging back towards live music. Live performance is truly a unique experience, never to be truly duplicated ever again. It’s there once, then it’s gone.
Two years ago, you guys moved to LA. What inspired that decision for you and what can you tell me about what living in LA has been like for you, especially being there through the height of the pandemic and shutdowns?
After playing in LA for many years on tour, it felt obvious. Every time we did a show here, the response was just different. Our dream has always been to make a living off our own band and playing our own music and LA was the place for us to do that. The first 6 months was a dream, as we landed a weekly residency at our favorite club and booked several other gigs in the area along with recording a big batch of new songs. As for the pandemic…The first week we stayed up all night every night drinking beer at our kitchen table and talking about the end of the world. Talk about a trauma response. The next few months were pretty much slightly different versions of this. From there we sort of accepted the situation a bit more and just did what needed to survive and help who we could in our lives. It’s hard to put down a short form account of the next year and a half and frankly, it’s a bit of a blur, but it was tough to say the least. We coped (and are coping) by getting along as friends better than we ever had before in our lives, which is quite a feat because we really do get along and always have. Thankfully LA is back to a place where we can work again, and I feel really fortunate to say we are the busiest we’ve ever been.
You have done a number of residencies in LA, namely at Harvelles and Harvard & Stone. What do you enjoy about doing weekly residencies? Do you feel it gives you a deeper connection with your fans?
For starters, regular income. LA is definitely expensive, and running a band is an immense amount of work. Having that security makes it possible for us to focus on the music, and continue to grow as artists. Also yes, it’s super cool to play clubs and see people who have come back 2-3 weeks in a row. Sometimes we end up forming a friendship or working together on videos, pictures, etc.
You recently released your latest single “Teen Dream Fantasy”, produced by The Strokes’ producer Gordon Raphael. How did you meet and come to work with Gordon and what was that experience like for you?
We met Gordon through a dear mutual friend who thought we would enjoy working together. We did.
You have said that “Teen Dream Fantasy” is the kind of music you always wanted to play as kids and that the lyrics reflect on continuing to live out a crazy teen dream of performing as a touring band together. What has that reality been like for you?
It’s been a trip. Period.
In November of 2019, you released Mixtape II. What can you tell me about the album and how it compares to Mixtape I? Do you see it as a continuation of I with connecting themes?
Mixtape I was more of a musical experiment and transition out of our old band and I’d say Mixtape II was us finding our sound.
You have worked a lot with Jon Higgins (@jontheillustratoron IG) for your albums/singles cover art. How did you meet and come to work with him and what can you tell me about the art that graces your albums’ and singles’ covers? Do you guys have an artistic vision that you collaborate with him on or does he have creative control over the artwork?
We met Jon at one of our resident shows. He really liked the music and we really liked his vibe. Sometimes we have ideas as a starting point and sometimes he listens to the song and draws how it makes him feel.
What’s next for the band?
We have a new project coming out soon called Mixtape III, which is our story of moving to LA, covid, the lockdown, the uprisings, and some truths we’ve discovered along the way. We are also playing weekly shows at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica, Harvard and Stone, and Good Times At Davey Wayne’s in LA, and look forward to many more!