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thesistermaria: not in kansas anymore

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: July 28, 2004

Thesistermaria
w/Shelter Belt,
Papers, The Glad Version
Friday, July 30
O'Leaver's
1322 So. Saddle Creek Rd.
8:30 p.m.





How can you not like a guy who names his music project after his sister?

At least 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.

 

 

 


On 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.

Hillard 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 down roots.

"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."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



"I realized you could be a solo artist like Trent Reznor and still realize the full scope at what you want to do musically."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
"My 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."


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Published in The Omaha Reader July 28, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.