With a lineup including alumnus from such noted Milwaukee rock bands as Death Dream, Red Knife Lottery, Invade Rome, and Farewell To Twilight, it’d be easy—and even acceptable—for the cast of Hot Coffin to hastily throw something together for the sake of satiating the lingering itch to take the stage again. But some 15 months after his Red Knife Lottery played its last show at the inaugural Riverwest Fest, guitarist Christian Hansen feels the time is finally right to get back on stage. With Hot Coffin preparing to make its debut at Riverwest Fest II this weekend, founding member Hansen spoke to Music Notes about his new band, his new found approach to straightforward songwriting, and Hot Coffin’s strange connection to a Grammy nominee.
Could you explain the origin of the band, the way everything sort of came together?
Basically, Red Knife Lottery ended and I just went into my zone of just writing on my own, not thinking that big of it, just trying to write songs. I started with probably like five skeletons. Then, while working on those at my apartment and figuring out parts, I decided it would be a great idea to show Joe Kanack [ex-Red Knife Lottery] what I had been working on. Obviously, since him and I have been playing together since I ever started playing music, I decided to ask him if he was interested in playing bass for this project to happen.
We started thinking about a drummer, and Justin [Krol, drums] had messaged us through a friend saying that he had interest in being part of it. I always kept that in mind and also I’d met him randomly at Palm Tavern one night and—super good dude—I just thought he’d be a good fit, let’s see what he’s got. I asked him to be part of it and he was stoked. It was the three of us since last February, and it wasn’t until the very end of August that I figured out that Sean [Williamson] would probably be a great fit vocally.
You mentioned you went to Joe first. Would you explain the dynamic you guys have?
Joe and I, coming from our first band together—a Metallica cover band, when you know somebody for that long musically, you just really have the method of how you go about writing figured out. If I have an idea, Joe can just take it and Kanack it up, just make it 10 times better than I can think on bass, but gets what I’m thinking all the time. So having that chemistry makes it very easy to figure out the parts.
What are the ways this band differs from other ones you’ve been involved with?
I would say this is the most mature band. I can’t say the song structure wasn’t figured out in the past, but now it’s a new way of looking at music in the dynamic realm. I’m constantly thinking of how a part can be different. Not as far as if it’s complex, but if it’s loud, if it’s thick—how it hits you more than if it’s crazy fingers on the guitar.
In this band, parts get quieter, louder and you hear that throughout a song. It almost gives it more of a cinematic feel than any past band has had. When a part needs to feel big, it does. You hear that difference per part and all four of us are in tune with that, more so than in the past.
Since no one has heard you guys yet, how would you describe the band in terms of sound or bands you could put Hot Coffin next to?
One band that really blew my mind right after I stared writing the beginning stuff, as far as how amazing you can make a song if it’s just simplistic, was The Black Angels. That band blew me away because it's tons of straightforward, constantly repeated stuff that never bores me. To me, I was just like “Yeah, you don’t need to write eight parts for a song to be a song. If you have two, three really good parts and can make it tasteful enough to for someone to be into that for three to four minutes, then it’s good in itself.” I like that. That changed my way of thinking, thinking more simplistic. That’s definitely a difference with this band.
The band name. There’s an interesting story behind that, right? Could you elaborate on it?
Hot Coffin came from John Congleton [Grammy-nominated producer and front man/founding member of The Paper Chase], who Red Knife recorded with in Dallas. Him and I would joke about if we started a side project. We were throwing names back and fourth and Hot Coffin got brought up from his side of the table. I just always liked that, and when it came time to think of a name for this band—which sucks, it’s the worst part of a band because who...cares?—I thought about it and Hot Coffin was always there with a couple other random ideas. And I kept thinking, “Can you see it on a poster? If you saw it on a movie marquee, would you be interested to go in and see whatever that is?” Who cares? There is no meaning. A good friend from the past had this as a joke. It stuck with me. That’s cool enough.
Did you mention to John that you’re using the name?
Yeah, I did. He was trying to tell me that somebody else in Dallas already took it. He’s just jealous that now it’s become a reality [laughs].
Why did you choose Riverwest Fest as your first show?
It naturally happened. In October, we were getting near 10 songs and at that point where we felt like we needed to start making goals. I thought it would be a great time to get in the studio and start making a record. While we were planning to record, Kelsey Kaufmann got at us about being a part of Riverwest Fest, seeing if we were ready to go yet. I realized that if we’re recording an actual record, there’s no reason we couldn’t play our first show. Especially, when she told me the lineup we’d be playing with. And, ironically, the fact that Red Knife’s very last show was at Riverwest Fest I, it just felt right to start up the new project at the second one. Kind of like the death and the re-birth of playing.
Beyond finishing and putting out your record, are there any other aspirations for the band? Hitting the road?
I think all four of us are really excited right now. The coolest think about all of it is how fun it’s been. As soon as this band started it’s literally been writing parts and not over-thinking it. Write parts, done, move on to the next song. We all want to do shows and we already talked about touring, but that’s so far away. Right now we’re just psyched to get this record out. But, yeah, I’d love to tour. I miss it.
Hot Coffin precedes Group Of The Altos, Centipedes, and Moon Curse at Riverwest Public House at 10 p.m. Friday. For a complete Riverwest Fest II schedule, consult the festival’s Tumblr page. After its debut this weekend, Hot Coffin will next play January 25 at Hotel Foster alongside Call Me Lightning. The band plans to release a 12-song LP (with digital download) no later than March.