not in kansas anymore
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: July 28, 2004
Papers, The Glad Version
1322 So. Saddle Creek Rd.
How can you not like a guy
who names his music project after his sister?
that's part of the appeal of Topeka's thesistermaria, a confusing band name that
conjures images of nuns and West Side Story. The brother of the sister in question
is one Marty Hillard, a singer-songwriter whose influences include everything
from Pedro the Lion to Starflyer 59 to Trent Reznor to, most obviously, Radiohead.
his second album, the self-released Topekamericana, Hillard brings his
Thom Yorke vocal stylings to songs like "Townspapre" and "The Bells
of St. John," which have that same lilting, end-of-the-world stare that Radiohead
emotes on their catalog of downlow numbers. But instead of Radiohead's electronics,
Hillard gets acoustic, with piano, guitar, handclaps and bells, playing all the
instruments himself. There is the occasional compulsion to add electronic sound
effects, maybe to make it even more Radiohead-like, but I doubt it.
has a knack for finding simple, splendid, laidback pop melodies. The Beatlesque
(in a Paul sort of way) "Looking for a Dinner Date" is Hillard pounding
out a 4/4 on a piano for five and a half minutes while a synthesizer plays in
the background (in an OK Computer sort of way). When he stretches out over
eight minutes, he manages to find his groove.
There is something rustic
and relevant in everything he does, as if the Topeka dust has gotten into his
veins. He's the first to admit that it has. The youngest of six children, Hillard
grew up with the nomadic lifestyle that comes from being in a military family.
It wasn't until his family moved to Topeka 10 years ago that he was able to put
"I consider it my hometown," Hillard said from Kansas
home where he lives with his parents. "It's what I write about -- growing
up in this town and the people here."
realized you could be a solo artist like Trent Reznor and still realize the full
scope at what you want to do musically."
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biggest goal is to be able to make the kind of record that a label would really
want to get behind."
Just turned 21, Hillard's music career began on a hip-hop beat,
rapping in a band when he was just 11. His musical style took a turn when he began
hanging out with Jared Bowes of the band Student Union, which would become Northern
Records recording artist The Billions. "Their music was a blueprint for me
to say that I don't have to be afraid to take risks," Hillard said, adding
that at the same time, he began discovering acts like Radiohead, The Flaming Lips
and Elliott Smith. When he heard Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile he discovered
the power of multi-tracking. "I realized you could be a solo artist like
Trent Reznor and still realize the full scope at what you want to do musically."
His first sistermaria EP, The Apart Meant, was a rather spare affair
that featured Hillard recorded on a four-track playing all the instruments. That
was followed in 2003 with the more elaborate Topekamericana, which took
advantage of better recording equipment and a more thorough multi-tracking style.
It also reaped more attention in the Topeka / Lawrence / Kansas City area. Live
gigs followed, including dates in Chicago, Omaha and Lincoln, as well has his
Kansas stomping ground.
Hillard is now putting the finishing touches on
an upcoming full-length, Let Go of | Hold Onto the Gold, an even more ambitious
album that he hopes to release later this year.
"My biggest goal is
to be able to make the kind of record that a label would really want to get behind,"
he said. "Anything can happen. Even in Topeka."
in The Omaha Reader July 28, 2004. Copyright © 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.