Have you checked out S Hotel’s new album yet? 'Still, Always', their new record, has confidently brought this Cleveland based group beyond comparision with their self-conscious music and has renewed the spirit of the 40’s and 50’s which lightly flavours their sound. This is, however, only the very recent past in the story of S Hotel. The beginning, if there is any real point of it, dates back to somewhere in 1997 when Matthew Mohr, guitarist and songwriter, formed the band.

“The genesis started 4 years ago.” Matthew explains speaking to Pennyblackmusic on the phone from New York. “The entire original line-up was formed within two or three weeks based on friends knowing friends and one well placed ad in the paper. The initial idea or ideal was to use the inspiration of songbook era melodies, update the song structure and draw emotions from within ourselves. It sounds academic but really it was all about music we loved and the circumstances we were in.”

The history of S Hotel’s line-up is also quite colourful. The current S Hotel line-up, which has recently been extended to incorporate additional musicians who breathe in further originality and creativity, features Matthew on guitar and backing vocals, Lisa V. Edwards on vocals, Timskii playing wallpapers guitars, Sherry Luchette on bass and finally Olivia Sci on drums.

When you fall for S Hotel, there is no way to avoid asking yourself what the letter S in its name stands for and what meaning the word Hotel has for Matthew. “The Hotel, I suppose that represents a person" ponders Matthew "Say, you’re at your friend’s house so that represents your friend.” The suggestion, therefore, is that it can be whatever you want at a certain time. “ It’s like a hotel..." he continues. "You don’t live in a hotel. You sort of visit it for a while.” With regards to the S, there is no certain explanation given to its meaning and so you can, therefore, build up your own idea of a hotel in a style that is comfortable to you.

If you wonder what lies beneath S Hotel music, what source of influence set Matthew to make such kind of, as he describes it, “strange ”, music, then the major influence was the writer and photographer Cecil Beaton. “I wandered into the local library when I was 13 and found one of his books, ‘Face of the World” at random. Beautiful pictures and really flowery, fun musings. He was a big fan of alliteration. He freed me up to experiment with language beyond my surroundings.“ Matthew was inspired by Beaton’s production so much that, as he admits, he even used some of the writer’s expressions when he wrote the lyrics for S Hotel.

Back to the story now. Once the band was formed the musicians started rehearsing and recording together. The product of their collaboration was then released on a self-titled album in 1998, which was released on the Cleveland jazz label Goblin Bee. The album was only released in limited edition and features many of songs that later appeared on. The first album also features another singer Natalia on vocals.

After the 'S Hotel' album was released the band played a few gigs. “There were some shows regionally, most notably at The Euclid Tavern. A Japanese Kimono Dancer opened the show as well as a band from New York, I can’t remember their name.”

Above all, however, the musicians kept on polishing their music. Lisa Edwards also joined the band after Natalia left. This line-up change shuffled S Hotel’s appearance significantly and there were further changes still when additional musicians, playing the harp, flute, percussion and singing backing vocals, joined the band at work on their second album and helped to reshape the music further.

All this hard work turned to S Hotel's credit when in October 2000 they put out their second album 'Still Always', which was released on the the Cleveland independent label Milque-Chilidog.

Lyrically, the album is very much about feelings. “What we try to do is to abstract them to some degree," says Matthew. “I know they’re pretty dramatic. I’m not sure I’m that dramatic in real life. I pushed it towards poetry and … Yeah, I suppose they come across quite dramatic but I did experience all these things."

"I think if I hadn’t put that out there" he adds honestly."And I hadn’t really said what I said in those lyrics then I would be kind of cheating myself.”

The band also moved between albums from Cleveland to New York, and this is another change that has scarred the album.

“Moving to a new city really causes one to evaluate one’s situation.” Matthew muses, “Still, Always represents moving toward an ideal, the culmination of taking care of some dedicated musicians and friends. I can say with all honesty that this CD came squarely from both the heart and mind. The whole idea behind the record was not only to express myself but to meet cool people and talk to people all over the world who have similar taste of music and have, you know, similar ideas.”

One of many original things about S Hotel is the drawings that appear on the cover of ‘Still, Always’ and also on their web site (www.s-hotel.com).. They all come from the workshop of an artist Abigail Freedman. “She was an employee of mine for a few years,” says Matthew. “Her drawings seem to go with the music very well because they are simple and they are very poignant and… kind of sweet."

Abigail's animations also appear on the band's first video, 'Vesuvia'. (http://www.s-hotel.com/aVesuVid.htm). If you enjoy the video you will be pleased to learn that Matthew is already working on another one for 'Willow Switch'. a metaphoric song inspired by memories from his childhood.

While taking care of the band and all that it includes and at the same time working on a graduate degree, Matthew has already begun putting together in his mind a follow up to 'Stilll, Always'.

“I think the next record will have a little more electronica” he explains. “Those instruments offer so much. We intend to incorporate them to a degree but not at the sacrifice of the song or the overall sound. Then again there is so much ground to be covered. I wonder what would happen if we deconstructed the idea of songbook melody?”

Well, running 4 years, having released 2 albums, featuring all those talented musicians, is this a good guarantee that S Hotel are on the way to a promising future ? “Who knows what the future holds for S Hotel?” Matthew says. “I certainly have ideas, passions as I’m sure you do as well. I’d like to hope that when it’s all said and done, we’ll be standing tall with something good to look back on and listen to.”

What we will be looking back on in the future is up in the stars yet but listening to 'Still, Always' I can say with all my honesty that S Hotel has already grown tall. Let’s wait and see what the future will bring.

More information about S Hotel can be found at the band's website www.s-hotel.com.

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