If you're like most Penn students -- make that people in general -- you have no clue who Hem is. The band, however, believes that their debut album, Rabbit Songs, and most recent effort, Eveningland, have what it takes to garner some recognition.
Since their label, Dreamworks, 'imploded,' Dan Messe -- Hem's songwriter, piano player and general multi-instrumentalist -- says that now the band is pretty much floating on its own. Even though they no longer have the same advertising and marketing connections as some untalented-yet-better-known pop princesses, Messe believes "that if people find [the album], they'll love it." At least he hopes so.The life of a band member, Messe notes, doesn't seem nearly as glamorous when you're "counting on [Eveningland] selling enough to make the next record."
While the business situation may be stressful, you'd never know it from listening to Hem's music. It possesses a slow and hypnotizing style, perfect for relaxing and drifting away. Messe admits that his songs are "lyrically inhabited by this real innocence ... without fear. It makes things a little less dark and I'm able to get away with more as a songwriter."
Even Hem's name seems warm and comforting. Originally, however, the band didn't even have a moniker -- they just wanted to do a project for themselves. They meshed together so well, though, that one project wasn't enough. Given the situation, lead singer Sally Ellyson decided that Hem was the perfect name for the quartet -- "soft, feminine and old fashioned. Hem is literally an ending and many of the songs are about endings and starting over," Messe says.
Hem members had to start over when they traveled to the Slovak Republic to record Eveningland. Although they had an orchestra of "incredible musicians who were isolated from the West for the last four years," they realized that their beautiful vision faced a significant challenge. The Slovak Republic was in a "process of rebuilding" and when Hem came in to record, Messe says, they realized that "there's no way to record it. [The studio workers] were like 'it's not a problem, we just don't have it right now.'" So Hem had to "build a studio from scratch from old Soviet ancient recording equipment." Despite the crazy situation, the only feeling coming out of the studio was pure bliss.
Slovak fiasco behind him, Messe still argues that although he "loves playing live ... there's something special about being in the studio and making something that you know is going to last a long time."
Hopefully Hem will be around long enough to sign to a 'real' label and garner some fame. In the meantime, its two albums will forever provide the comforting feeling on which the band members pride themselves.
Catch Hem at the Tin Angel (20 S. 2nd St.) on Wednesday, Nov. 10, and Thursday, Nov. 11. 8:30 p.m. Both nights, $16.