On Deck: Hospital Ships


What began some years ago as a simple bedroom recording project has now blossomed out over the course of five years to include three albums, a 7″, and various time spent in service to other bands, including Shearwater, The Appleseed Cast, and the Minus Story.  Lawrence, Kansas’ Hospital Ships, led by main creative force Jordan Geiger, have never let that sense of wonder and unabashed love for music dull the edge that was conceived at the band’s inception.  Beginning with 2008’s Oh, Ramona, Geiger set out to create a rich, bedroom pop symphony drawing on influences such as John Lennon, The Zombies, and ELO to produce something meticulously crafted but thankfully free of any trendy contrivance or musical artifice.  Followed up by Lonely Twin in 2011 and Destruction In Yr Soul last month, this bedroom project bloomed and expanded to include a full band, and this new found freedom has allowed Geiger to take Hospital Ships into new and uncharted, for him at least, waters of indie rock melodicism.

And speaking of influences, Hospital Ships–whether Geiger alone or with the newly christened band–tread over and pay homage to many different artists over the course of their latest record.  We recently sat down with Geiger to talk about some of the records which he has been listening to lately and some which may have played a role in the development of the band’s sound.  Ranging from the gospel blues of 1920’s travelling singer Washington Phillips to more recent singer/songwriters like Damien Jurado and Chris Cohen, not to mention bands like Heartscape Landbreak and Y[our] Fri[end] which he has had a hand in helping to produce/record, the records which he chose to talk about are as varied as you might have imagined.  Read what he has to say about these albums and artists below in the latest installment of our On Deck series.

Heartscape Landbreak – Practitioners of Light

This record hasn’t been released yet, but I think of it as a blood-brother record of Destruction In Yr Soul. This is the work of two of my bandmates in Hospital Ships. The songwriter, Taylor Holenbeck, is my roommate, and hearing him work through these songs in our living room, either alone or with his band, while I was waking up, doing laundry, or cooking, surely had a big effect on me over the last year when I was working on Destruction In Yr Soul. I think I borrowed a few melodies and concepts and whatnot from these songs. Taylor has a unique, kaleidoscopic guitar style that finds its full expression here. I’ve always thought psychedelic music was supposed to be a place in which you could lose yourself, and find yourself changed by the process, and that is exactly what this record is for me. “…Fall away from the sorrow that is reeling in your bones. There is a storm in every sea, and in every sea there is a throne waiting to swallow you. You are a god, but you are alone, and you will sink to the bottom.”

Washington Phillips - The Key To the Kingdom
Washington Phillips – The Key To the Kingdom

I just found out about Washington Phillips a few years ago. He was a farmer in Texas who traveled around the area in the 1920’s playing gospel songs, mainly of his own devising. He recorded 18 songs, and I cannot overstate how beautiful, otherworldly, and brilliant they are. He played two zithers of some sort, which he either built himself or modified to suit his needs, I’m not sure anyone really knows exactly. I want to say the instrument sounds like dueling harps, but it really doesn’t sound like anything in particular but itself on closer inspection. His songs are hymns that deal for the most part with particular bible verses or moral issues. His voice is at times plaintive, strident, and good humored. Whenever I think about the music I and my friends make, which at some point was inspired by the idea of punk rock, I remind myself of the example of Washington Phillips, a poor black man in the South in the 20’s, creating his own world against so many odds, out of the materials given to him by circumstance. His is a truly independent spirit, reaching out over a century to inspire us.

Damien Jurado - Maraqopa
Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

This was the record we listened to every night at my house last summer, especially “Reel To Reel,” which has made it onto every mix I’ve made since I first heard it. Damien hasn’t made a record that’s less than great, but I think this is his best, and Saint Bartlett was his best before this one. Needless to say, I can’t wait to hear the new one. He has found a great collaborator in Richard Swift, whose production and playing are all over these records. It says a lot about their relationship that Damien’s voice and songwriting are never overwhelmed by the distinctive production, only enhanced and supported. Soulful, openhearted, and contemplative, this is a timeless record by an important and vital artist.

Chris Cohen - Overgrown Path
Chris Cohen – Overgrown Path

If Maraqopa was my summer jam last year, this is destined to soundtrack my life in the middle of 2013. Taylor heard this in Love Garden Sounds, our local record store, and brought it home. I previously knew Chris through his work with Deerhoof and Cryptacize, and this stands up to anything else he’s done. It’s hard for me to write about this record since I feel I’ve only recently gotten into it. I feel like I’ve entered the world of this record, but I’m just now learning the landscape. I wake up with these songs in my head nearly every day. I saw Chris and his band play live not too long ago, and spoke to them after the show. They were as humble, intelligent, and generous as this music. Amazing.

Y[our] Fri[end] – Jekkyl/Hyde

This is an album I’m recording for my friend Taryn. I’m sure she spent a good deal of time developing her talents, but to me, she sprung up with these songs fully formed, and they were immediately new favorites of mine. There’s something elemental about her songs, they are simple but not simplistic, evocative but not pretentious, and catchy but not cloying. I’m writing this piece in between working on mixes for her in the van. You will hear of Y[our] Fri[end] again soon, and you will discover your new favorite songs. They are already in there somewhere, and Taryn will remind you what they sound like.

Hospital Ships’ latest record Destruction In Yr Soul is out now on Graveface Records.