Last week I had a chat with Olivia and Matthew of Night Hikes. The dreampop two piece out of Seattle have released two albums since 2017, the first, The Blue Hour and their second, Chalice was released in November of 2019. Talking to them I got a lot of insight into their song writing process and their chemistry on stage. They frequently switch roles writing and playing instruments while performing which was really interesting. We also discussed recording in cathedrals, music videos and their top-notch production. Read the full interview below.


NIght Hikes: From Notre Dame to Seattle


Big Sonic Heaven:
You formed in 2016 at Notre Dame, where you recorded your first album, The Blue Hour. Then you moved on to Seattle where you released Chalice in November of 2019. Are you both originally from Indiana? Why did you choose to move to Seattle? Was it for the band or was it just something you both needed, different scenery?

Olivia:
I’m originally from Sacramento, so I’m actually from the West Coast.

Matthew:
I’m from Tennessee, from Memphis, grew up there. And we both met at school, but I think we knew we didn’t want to stay in the Midwest, especially because of Olivia’s family being on the West Coast. We wanted to head back this way.

Olivia:
We were looking at some options of cities and there’s not too many huge cities on the West coast. I’m personally not a huge fan of LA, but I understand it’s draw, so that wasn’t really an option for us. The Bay area, I was just like, who can afford to live there? Seattle was the place that I visited recently, and I know Matthew had some friends here, and it’s just a really beautiful spot.

Matthew:
You’ll have to come out some time. It’s really, really beautiful here. The music scene is really wonderful in Seattle too. They’ve been very welcoming to us and there’s a lot of opportunities to be supportive of each other. So we’ve really loved being a part of the scene.

Big Sonic Heaven:
What’s radio like in Seattle? Are you fans of KEXP? 

Olivia:
Yeah, that’s actually probably my favorite thing about Seattle, the fact that KEXP is here. I’m constantly listening to them whenever I’m in the car or just on my computer. But that’s a radio station that I’ve loved since high school. They do these really wonderful in-studio performances and they put them on YouTube. So, I used to watch artists that I really liked do live videos with them. When we got here we realized it’s really one of the best radio stations in the country. They play such a diverse mix. It’s really not something where you get tired of all the songs that they’re playing, because they’re rotating so frequently and their DJs are great. I feel like I know them personally, even though I’ve never met any of them.

Matthew:
We’ve been very fortunate to get in their rotation a little bit with our new music. It’s been really nice to have their support so far, even at such a young stage for us. So we’ve been very lucky.

Big Sonic Heaven:
When you get that radio airplay like that are you feeling it and getting a reaction online?

Matthew:
Totally. Yeah. We’ve had people reach out and say they’ve heard us on there. We’ve seen our streaming numbers go up as a result. I’m always tracking that kind of stuff because I’m very interested to see where our momentum is at. People have been shazamming us or using an app like that to check and see who we are. They have a really cool feature where they tweet every song that is on the air there. So we’ve been able to see when our songs are played and then go back and listen to the archived version. And that’s always a really surreal experience. Hearing us played after an artist like Tame Impala or something. It was really good. Some good deals.

Olivia:
The first time we got played on KEXP, it’s always been a goal of ours, even prior to moving to Seattle and we actually were on tour and a random friend, in another band texted us and was like, “Hey, did you guys, did you guys know you were on KEXP?” We were like, “no, we’re not even in town. Cool!”

Songwriting and Production


Big Sonic Heaven:
One of the things that I always look for in music is really great production, melodic value and a great hook. The production on Chalice is really impressive, very rich and clean. Your hooks and chorus’ are done subtly, which I don’t think is easy to pull off.  Is that subtlety in your work a deliberate choice?

Olivia:
It just seems to be the way that we write songs. I guess it’s not something that we’re trying for too much.

Matthew:
We appreciate that same thing that you’re talking about, we love that too. A lot of our favorite bands are really good at that subtlety. So. I would say, whether we’re thinking about or not, we’re definitely aiming for that a little bit, while still maintaining that kind of warm pop chorus sensibility.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Belltown, right out of the gate has this really great guitar hook going on. Iona, is also such a rich song. Are you guys both involved in production? Is it challenging to reproduce that live?

Matthew:
For those two songs that you mentioned, for example, Olivia wrote the song and the melody. Then together flushed out the drums and structure, the little flourishes here and there, the opening guitar. It’s really cool to be able to collaborate in that way. Then sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes I’ll kind of start with the words and the melody and then bring it to Olivia and she’ll put in pieces that are missing. So that’s our favorite way to write, when we both have something to go off of, and then we’ll bring it to the other and let the other use their strengths to compliment them and bring it together.

Big Sonic Heaven:
So sometimes you guys flip the roles?

Olivia:
Pretty much. Yeah. We tend to flip roles frequently, which is a lot of fun. We both play the same instruments, so we were able to switch off depending on the song.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Do the melody, lyrics, and production come to you guys naturally, or do you guys sit down specifically to make music?

Olivia:
I think that’s probably different for each of us. In terms of both of those songs that you mentioned (Belltown & Iona), those are songs that I feel just happened, if that makes sense. I just sort of sat with my guitar one day when I had nothing to do and I ended up with a song and that doesn’t always happen. I would say that happens with one out of every 25 times that I sit down with a guitar. Both of those songs pretty much wrote themselves and that’s how I know that a song is going to be good and worth saving, if I don’t have to labor over it too much. I’ll come back to it and it’ll get stuck in my head and I’ll go back to different parts. But for the most part, Belltown was almost all the way there, in the first half an hour, in terms of the basic structure and then we added a bunch of stuff later.

Matthew:
Mostly in the guitar part, we were there right away.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Going back to The Blue Hour, Rusty Santos mixed and engineered the album. He’s done work with Beach House and Animal Collective. As I mentioned, I really enjoy your production on Chalice. Was he a part of the production on Chalice?

Matthew:
No, Not, part of Chalice. The way we did Blue Hour was we recorded it ourselves in a house and were super new to the game. We passed along all the recorded stuff to him and he did really some magical stuff with it in our opinion, just to be able to pull what we had into the songs. It was really nice to have his help on The Blue Hour. Then for Chalice, we actually went to a studio for the first time. It’s this fantastic old church that’s converted into a studio and it’s in Anacortes, Washington, which is an hour North of Seattle. I worked with an engineer there named Nich Wilber. He was really fantastic at capturing a very live type of feel with our sound and in this church it just sounds huge. So that’s where we did Chalice.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Yeah. I was going to ask you about that. How do you go about reserving a church to record an album?

Olivia:
It’s actually been converted into a studio full time. We just reached out to him and blocked off about two weeks.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Gotcha. I’m envisioning you guys, “Mass is over now. You guys can move in with your equipment in the middle of the chapel.”

Olivia:
Oh my god yeah that’s kind of what we did at some of the chapels. We tried to work some stuff out. We would like sneak in and try not to interrupt any of the many, many church services.

Matthew:
It’s really nice in a church or chapel. It’s got that big sound. So sure. We’ve always wanted to get into this.

Olivia:
Yeah. Especially the guitars. That’s probably my favorite thing to record in there because they just sound huge.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Going back to the Blue Hour, tracking through the album, it seems like Olivia’s vocals are a little bit more prominent on Chalice. Was it a conscious choice to sing a little bit more on Chalice?

Olivia:
Yeah, I would agree with that. I think a lot happened in-between the recording of The Blue Hour and Chalice, and one of them was just kind of singing differently. I learned more about vocal production and had some better ideas about what I wanted it to sound like. So I think that is definitely reflected in Chalice, but I don’t know if it was necessarily a decision like, I’m going to sing more on this one. I think it happened as a result of natural growth.

Performing Live


Big Sonic Heaven:
So as far as your live shows go, how are you guys reproducing your songs on stage? Do you get nervous? Do you like being on stage?

Matthew:
I think it is pretty difficult to translate all those parts on stage when there’s just two of us. So the way that we’ve done it is to have the drums sampled and then a couple of background parts here and there, sampled as well. But we’re playing the guitar part and the synth parts all live and all live singing. It’s a little challenging to get that balance right in every venue, especially in some of the venues that we are starting out in. It’s just difficult when you don’t have a sound check sometimes or you’re kind of rushed to get everything up on stage. But we’ve managed to get into a pretty good flow with it. A lot of times on stage we’ll switch off and just trade the instruments. Olivia play keys for a while and I’ll go to the guitar and then we’ll switch back. So that’s a lot of fun to be able to do that. People really seem to like when we do that.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Yeah. That’s neat actually. I don’t feel that you see that very often.

Olivia:
Yeah. We both been playing keys for our whole lives, pretty much. So that comes really naturally to both of us.

Matthew:
Yeah. It usually corresponds, interestingly to whoever wrote the song, like if I wrote a song on guitar, I’ll usually play the guitar for that one. If Olivia wrote it on the piano, so she’ll play the keys for that song and vice versa. So, I guess it all depends on where the song idea originated from.

Big Sonic Heaven:
It sounds like you guys have good chemistry going on, not just in the studio, but on stage too.

Olivia:
Yeah. We’ve, we’ve been told that, despite if we feel nervous. I would say the main thing that makes us feel nervous is not being sure of what it’s going to sound like because every venue is really different. And like we said, especially if we didn’t get a full sound check, sometimes just the way our setup works, it can be a little bit more complicated to dial it in correctly. So that is probably something that makes us sweat a little more than we would want to, being on stage. It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.

Music Videos and Getting Kicked Out of Chapels


Big Sonic Heaven:
I read a funny story that you guys got kicked out of a Chapel at Notre Dame for recording a music video instead of praying.

Olivia:
Oh, yeah. Well, there’s 57 chapels on Notre Dame’s campus, it’s extremely Catholic. I had somebody once ask me if there were any churches at Notre Dame, and I was like, I can’t even explain to you how many churches there are at Notre Dame. We had gone in to work on recording a music video. Originally we had gone into a girl’s dorm. There’s single sex dorms there, and girls dorms tend to be much stricter. It’s kind of just patriarchal bullshit. But anyway, the girl’s dorms were stricter, so we got kicked out of that one real fast. So we went to a boys dorm. We were able to record it there, but the girls we weren’t. They were like, “the ladies in here would love to use this time for praying” and it was like, “11:00 PM?” We were like, “fuck, whatever. Fine. We’ll just go to the boys dorm next door.”

Big Sonic Heaven:
Sure. Do you enjoy making videos? Do you have any for the Chalice singles?

Matthew:
We do. We have a video for Belltown and for Vera. I think that’s it.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Do you guys produce those yourself?

Matthew:
We did not for the Belltown video. We worked with a good friend of mine who’s in LA. He’s a filmmaker who had this great concept for it. Then for Vera, we had an Irish student filmmaker reach out to us. He proposed doing a music video for us as a project for one of his film classes. And we were like, heck yeah. That sounds great! One of them was in Cork, Ireland. It was really cool to have somebody reach out to us from Ireland and say, hey, I heard your music and I’d love to make a video for you.

Influences and Future Tours Plans


Big Sonic Heaven:
You guys cited Slowdive in your bio, which I’m a huge fan of. Who else do you guys like?

Olivia:
So many bands. We obviously love Beach House, Tame Impala, really big fan of The War On Drugs, Dire Straits and Talking Heads.

Matthew:
In terms of bands that I think really influenced, this record, I would say, there’s an L.A. band called Winter that I really love. Their music is this really beautiful kind of dream pop and Kevin Krauter, I’m not sure if you’ve heard his music. I feel like when I was trying to figure out some of the drums or the production side of things before we even went in to the studio, just in demos, that’s a lot of what I was listening to and aiming for some similar sounds.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Once the dark Covid-19 cloud lifts, are you guys planning on touring?

Olivia:
Yes, ideally, we actually had a tour scheduled for right now. it would have started about two weeks ago, and then we basically had to cancel that.
So I’ve been working on rescheduling it, but it’s been a little bit challenging admittedly, because venues are still not sure when they’re going to have the capacity to open. And it’s really sad because some venues just don’t even know if they will be able to open again. So, I think it might be a ways out before we can start touring again, but I would love to. It’s so much fun. Our first tour was a great experience, so I’m really looking forward to getting back on the road.

Matthew:
We were just going to go down the coast all the way to San Diego, but now that we have a little bit more extra time to plan it, maybe we can go a little bit to the East.

Big Sonic Heaven:
I’ve got one other question here for you. Anything you’re listening to right now that you really love?

Olivia:
I’ve been really into Angel Olsen’s newest album. I think she’s brilliant. She’s definitely a musical idol of mine, so I’ve been listening to her.

Matthew:
Also, another LA Band called Todavía. Their music’s fantastic. I’ve really, really been loving them lately. A band called Night Tapes from London too. I’ve really been listening to them a lot lately. Those would be two that I think would be a really great fit for Big Sonic Heaven.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Cool. I’ll check them out. Thank you. Anything you guys wanted to add?

Olivia:
We’re doing a live stream Friday, May 1st in collaboration with the Sacramento Bee, so we can send you the link.

Big Sonic Heaven:
Absolutely, Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate you speaking with me.


You can also watch Night Hikes perform live today on the Sacramento Bee’s website (5/1/20) at 6pm PT. For more info check out The Sacramento Bee’s Facebook page.

Darren Revell
Big Sonic Heaven Radio 

Big Sonic Heaven is a 24/7 Internet radio station dedicated to the ethereal sounds of shoegaze, dream pop, post-punk, trip-hop, etc. Listen to the artists featured on the blog and discover more by downloading the app for iPhone and Android or listen at  bigsonicheaven.com.