- Words Notion Staff
Texas outfit HOAX walk us through the creative process of their debut concept album 'b?’ and their plans for the future.
A bedroom-pop outfit hailing from Houston, Texas, HOAX have been crafting a vintage sound, of moody bangers since 2016. Made up of vocalist Michael Raj, and Frantz Cesar (bassist), together the pair create a sonic wave of, self-described “empathy pop”. Drawing influence from 60’s pop, 70’s Motown, and alternative R&B, HOAX amplify their sound through a melting-pot of genres.
This August saw the band officially drop their full-length debut studio album, ‘b?’, consisting of an impressive 17 tracks. Presenting an inward project that questions life, solidarity and self-care, frontman Michael describes the meaning behind the project in his own words: “As the album developed, it became clear to me that ‘being’ is synonymous with ‘peace.’ And that peace looks different in everyone’s mirror. It starts with self-reflection, and never ends with anything other than life devotion to your truest form. I’ve said it so many times throughout our career, but if there is anything you take away from listening to HOAX and this album, it’s to please prioritize your peace.”
To celebrate their return with their newest full length project, HOAX walk us through some of the recording process, future plans and more. Dive in!
Congratulations on the release of your album ‘b?’, how does it feel to have the project out in its entirety?
Thank you. We spent the majority of the last 4 years creating all the songs that made it onto this project. I guess the closest relatable feeling is probably graduating college (haha). But yeah, honestly, creating this album has been very much like going to college. Spending 4 years working towards an end goal, where there are constant moments of uncertainty, but also this strong underlying feeling of clarity, as if you know exactly what you are supposed to do. And now, to be done, we have been mostly celebrating and also super proud of how everything came together. This album is very much our creative baby, and we are overprotective parents, but at the same time, we are ready for the next chapters to begin to unfold with it being finally out.
This album has been a long time coming. Can you talk us through your creative process?
Lyrics have always been the most important aspect of any HOAX song. So for us, the songwriting process always begins with me sitting either with a guitar or piano and writing the lyrics. Oftentimes, I’ll know the overarching theme or story we are trying to tell, and then it just becomes a puzzle of expressing the idea the right way. I think with this album, I ran into writer’s block a lot especially – during the pandemic – because I was creatively drained and sorely lacking any inspiration. I think having to sit with myself for long periods of time created this quiet reckoning that made it easier for me to pull from within than from outside, just like I was used to doing with previous HOAX projects. With an album like ‘b?’, where it is very hyper focused in the messaging and the thoughts we are trying to explore, it becomes much simpler to write the lyrics once you are able to have that free flowing open dialogue with your inner writer’s voice. Once I solidify the lyrics and melody, I bring the bare bones song to Frantz and we begin to iron out the feeling and groove. One thing I still find humorous about the creative process for this album was that it spanned over 4 years, so you can hear the difference in how we evolved and matured as artists almost in real-playtime through the albums progression. I think in our earlier production, we wanted to prove that we were real musicians with abstract chords, tempo changes, and time signature changes, but as we began to grow as musicians and producers, we came to realize that there is an undoubtable beauty in simplicity, and that feeling and groove almost always are more relatable than technical prowess and complexity. I am very proud of where we are now and very excited for where we are going, and looking back on the creative process, it is very cool to see that both the lyrical creation and music production were simultaneously growing in their own ways.
The album was conceptualized after a period of grief. What are the core themes and messages of the project and how does this notion of grief come into play?
Early on in our career, a mentor told Frantz and I that “a true artist is just a filter for all the inspirations and artists that came before us”. I’ve always been fascinated by that sentiment, and I do believe that it has helped inform the subject matter we like to focus on. The core themes and messages in ‘b?’ are not new; in fact, I feel like artists, scientists, philosophers, and poets have been fixating on them as old as time. From Plato’s “Republic”, Descartes’ utterance “I Think, Therefore I Am”, Maslow’s “Hierarchy (or Pyramid) of Needs”, to Shakespeare’s “All the Worlds a Stage” monologue – people of every generation have been trying to figure out why we are here. ‘b?’ fits right into that vain. I think grief is something so unique to every human because of the way we all find ways to deal with it. It is almost as if humans have this idea that we were meant to live forever, so when faced with death and our own mortality, we all have to process it our own way. ‘b?’ is not meant to be an answer to any of these big life questions, but more so the challenge to question yourself. And through that questioning, you can find how you respond to everything life will inevitably throw at you. The real reason I even wanted to pen ‘b?’ was to explore if we are really similar at all, to which I have found the answer to be a resounding: YES. However, the beauty of existence is that we synchronously are also aware of our quirks, insecurities, and differences. The heart of ‘b?’ is firstly showing kindness to yourself, and then to others because we are all extremely unique and exactly the same, both at the same time. We are “everything, everywhere, all at once” – if that makes any sense.
The album spans an impressive 17 tracks. What made each track fundamental to the story you are trying to tell? And how important was a specific structure and order to the tracks in the album?
You should hear the extended versions (haha) it was like 25 tracks or something… The structure is everything with how the tracks are ordered. I played with the track order for years – tweaking where each song was, and creating new songs to fill in the blanks as well. The album is centered around the title track, with “b?” being the exact centerpiece of the album (Track 8). The first half of the album (Tracks 1-7) is meant to be the journey into understanding what true being (or peace) is, and the following half (Tracks 9-17) is meant to be how your life shifts when you start operating under that new perspective. Track 8 is meant to be that moment of irreversible change that takes place when you then begin to operate life as a human be-ing, not a human do-er.
What is the song you are most excited for fans to hear?
My favorite song as of recent has been “5” – something about existential dread scored by a chill dance pop instrumental just does it for me (haha).
You have discussed how the album explores the dichotomy between “being” and “doing”. The album’s namesake track “b?” functions as a starting point as well as being (we’re getting a hang of this now) positioned at the core of the album. Why, in your eyes, does “b?” encapsulate the difference between “being” and “doing” so well?
To start, sonically, “b?” has two parts. The first half of the track has this indie surf pop feeling that represents the rat-race exhausting, and usually competitive, routine that you must buy into if you approach life from a quantitative and goal-oriented DOING lifestyle. There is always a better job. There is always more money to make. There is always a bigger house. The grass is always fucking greener. We chase, we buy; we chase, we cry; and then we get up to do it all again – 24/7, “8 days a week”. All the while, the most scarce commodity begins to elude us: time. You can shape your whole life around DOING and have 5, 10, or 20 years pass before you even have a chance to wake up and smell the roses. The hook is:
“And honestly, this life moves
Like a daydream, caught between
How the way it goes
Ain’t always the way it seems”
This is the DO-er’s first insight into the idea that maybe, the grass isn’t always greener. Maybe the hamster wheel is exhausting. Maybe I want to spend more time on relationships than working. Maybe I want to take that vacation and travel without having to feel guilty of being a bad worker. Once these thoughts begin to start spreading in the DO-er’s mindset, they kind of begin having these existential epiphanies in the song around three minutes in. The middle part of the song is when a DO-er transitions into BE-ing, where they begin to have the internal conversations that refocus what they find important in life. And, my favorite part about becoming a BE-ing over a DO-er is that the hook remains the same:
“And honestly, this life moves
Like a daydream, caught between
How the way it goes
Ain’t always the way it seems”
But this time, it is not a complaint or a sad realization. It is gratitude that this life is short and precious, and sometimes even feels like a daydream or cinematic in a way that you can not explain – and that is what makes it special. That is what makes it worth it, especially when you center it around the relationships you cultivate around you.
You create music that you have self-proclaimed as “empathy pop”. Can you dive into this concept further?
Early on when creating HOAX, Frantz and I talked about purpose. Does art have purpose, or absolute meaning? We would go back and forth on this idea. And even to this day, we don’t have a definite answer, but we always agreed that HOAX’s music should only be created in the pursuit of influencing more empathy in the universe. “Empathy pop” probably sounds head-assy or even pretentious at first utterance, but for us, we want our music to insight more kindness, which has to start internally first and then work outward. Maybe it’s lofty, and maybe it’s unachievable, but I really do not see any possible outcome where us being kinder to one another has a negative outcome.
I saw you mention how the book One Hundred Years of Solitude’s opening line really stuck with you and inspired you to choose “Trees” as a striking starting point to the album. To what extent did literature and other forms of art inform the album? What other things outside of music inspire you?
Words are everything to me. Literature has a huge impact on how I approach writing, not even from a lyrical standpoint but in the way we approach structuring songs. I once read in Lorde’s bio a quote she borrowed from Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem:
“The themes are always the same. A return to innocence. The invocation of an earlier authority and control. The mysteries of the blood. An itch for the transcendental, for purification…”
Is humanity that simple? Can it always be boiled down like that? Literature is often borrowed. Lorde’s bio is Joan Didion’s work from which she borrowed her title from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming”. Though a century separates Yeats from Lorde, here we are. HOAX is just another artist in the tapestry of understanding, trying to put the puzzle together. And ‘b?’ is just another work like One Hundred Years of Solitude making sense of this human condition.
Literature and music is an obvious inspiration for us, but traveling is another huge inspiration. During the pandemic, when we were locked indoors, I realized just how important going to other places was. Not being able to travel literally sucked the creative juices out of me so much that I was the least productive in my whole entire life during those two years. Outside of travel, I would say that film is probably the next biggest inspiration to us.
If you could describe your sound in three words, what would they be?
Sonically: Indie, Alternative, Pop
Thematically: Existential, Romantic, Introspective
Aesthetically: Vintage, Modern, Dramatic
As a feeling: Nostalgic, Longing, Familiar
As Described by a Friend: Beautiful Sound of Sadness
After the completion of such a mammoth project, what’s next on the horizon for HOAX?
There were a bunch of tracks that did not make it onto ‘b?’ that we still want to see the light of day, so we are putting the finishing touches on an EP called ‘b? Sides’, which is a supplementary work to the album. Outside of that, we are planning shows in New York, LA, Chicago, and some other major cities, so be on the lookout for that. We’ll see you there.