Born Hataałiinez Wheeler in Window Rock, Arizona, which is a part of the Navajo Nation, Hataałiifirst began playing bass when he was a teenager, eventually moving on to guitar and teaching himself how to play while listening to songs from Jack Johnson and U2. He soon discovered and gravitated toward the works of Mac DeMarco and Paul Westerberg, letting the latter shape the way he approached his own emerging lyricism.
In his junior year of high school, he set out to write and record one song a day, gathering a vast collection of songs which would go on form the basis of his debut album, 2019’s Banana Boy. A collection of garage ballads, it showcased his burgeoning talents as both storyteller and musical auteur. He released his sophomore record, Painting Portraits, the following year, recorded during various COVID lockdowns and emerging from the confines of a brutally hot family shed. His musical palette began to expand, veering between surf-pop, shoegaze, ambient, and sounds layered with hues of bossa nova rhythms. These melodic explorations found resolutions on his 2021 self-titled album, a sprawling and ambitious collection of tracks that owed as much to Dylan’s Nashville Skyline period as it did to Vampire Weekend’s Contra.
Earlier this year, Hataałii decamped to Los Angeles to work with folk-singer/producer Joel Jerome on some new material, his first time working with a producer — he also signed to Dangerbird Records. His latest single, “Land of Poor Chance” was drawn from those sessions and is part of Dangerbird Records’ ongoing Microdose Singles Series. Cinematic and emotionally resonant, the song offers an unfiltered look at the strange things we’ve all experienced in young adulthood, including how personal dynamics are never as simple or as clearly navigable as they appear. Built around a mercurial melody that unspools without regard for our expectation, the song is equal parts fuzz-pop enchantment and ambient folk iridescence — it’s all slow reveals, atmospheric echoes, and gorgeous rhythmic expanses.
“The song is called ‘Land of Poor Chance’ because when I made the first demo it contained different lyrics, and ‘land of poor chance’ was one of them,” explains Wheeler. “The structure of the song was kind of all over the place too. But when I re-recorded it with Joel in LA I gave the song the standard “verse, chorus, verse, chorus” layout, and the old lyrics didn’t fit anymore so I just wrote new ones. But I kept the title because I think it still holds that same kind of despairing weight about it. I wrote the first version in school when I was failing all my classes, and so I’d just roam around with a lot of regret and stuff. Carrying all that gets pretty heavy but I think it might be good for making songs.
Directed by Wade Adakai, the video for the song finds Hataałii wandering around Thoreau, New Mexico as he plays guitar and sings of youthful memories and the struggles felt as we examine those decisions and the subsequent consequences that have shaped us in unimagined ways.
“Me and Wade Adakai tried to plan the video a few weeks in advance before we shot it, but I couldn’t settle on any idea that I thought would go well with the song,” Hataałii reveals. “I used to make a shit load of music videos when I was in high school, but at some point I began to feel like most music videos being made didn’t compliment the songs themselves well enough (or at least the artist’s visions for them). So I laid back on filming stuff for a while and began to really hone in on the music itself. And when Dangerbird wanted a video I thought it’d probably be interesting to switch it up and get someone else in on it. Me and Wade could never really come up with a real plan for it, mainly because I was just being indecisive about the whole thing all the way up until it was time to go. We just cruised over to Thoreau and I walked around for a couple of minutes and thought up a little story and Wade did his magic with the cameras. I think it took us around 30 minutes or something. And then we went back to Wade’s place and edited it.”
He continues: “I didn’t know he threw in that thing of me fucking around with the guitar in the end until I saw it for the last time. I think we were waiting for the rain to die down and I just started being a doofus jumping around and stuff. Cars were honking at us the whole time. It was fun.”