Episode 90: Hem
Air date: 9.18.2013
Brooklyn, New York-based Hem arrived on the music scene not with a bang, but with a whisper. Composer Dan Messé, along with guitarists Steve Curtis and Gary Maurer, had begun working on a new band, but they needed a singer. An ad placed in the Village Voice got them a large number of responses, but none of them quite fit the hushed, gentle and melodic music they were creating. Weeks later, a self-professed non-professional singer named Sally Ellyson responded to the ad almost apologetically, sending Messé a tape of herself singing a capella lullabies that she had recorded for the newborn son of a friend. Her natural and unadorned voice fit the music perfectly, and Hem was born. The band’s 2000 debut, Rabbit Songs, featured timeless string arrangements alongside traditional folk instrumentation, and their beautiful whisper caught the ear of NPR and Entertainment Weekly, as well as earning them scores of new fans. Their profile received another big boost when Liberty Mutual used a track from Rabbit Songs in a national advertising campaign. Eveningland followed a few years later and it expanded the lushness of their sound with a full symphony recorded in Slovakia. 2006s Funnel Cloud found them exploring a more “countrypolitan” sound that featured a bit more drum set. They scored a 2009 production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in Central Park and eventually began work on their most recent album, 2013s Departure and Farewell. The stark beauty of Hem’s music is unparalleled in today’s music scene, and we can only hope that the band doesn’t make good on the title of their new album.