Indie duo Love? Said the Commander on recording in a courthouse, bridging the PA-NJ divide and rolling with the punches

"I would come home with black eye from being in the pit, and my parents would be like ‘You paid money to go to this?” and I would be like, 'Yeah, it’s awesome.' If I wasn’t so old now I would still be doing it.”

It’s hard to conceive of two musical experiences further apart in terms of energy and atmosphere than a symphony and a hardcore show. But for Kate Hall, of the indie rock duo Love? Said the Commander, both were instrumental in her musical upbringing.

“My dad took me to see the Trenton Symphony Orchestra play when I was in third grade,” recalls Hall. “I was immediately hooked and enamored by it all and next year I saw someone in the orchestra play violin and that was it.”

When she grew older, Hall was attracted to the pulse and energy of hardcore shows at Mill Hill basement bar in Trenton, her home town. While her folks obviously signed off the trip to the symphony, let’s just say her parents had some questions about Mill Hill.

“I was obsessed with getting my ass beat at hardcore shows,” says Hall. “I would get my aggression out at these shows and my parents always thought I was insane, and I would come home with black eye from being in the pit, and my parents would be like ‘You paid money to go to this?’ and I would be like, ‘Yeah, it’s awesome.’ If I wasn’t so old now I would still be doing it.”

Now, Hall’s focused her musical experiences into Love? Said the Commander, which falls somewhere on the spectrum—like almost everything else—between classical and hardcore. But the journey from then to now hasn’t been without turbulence, and Hall considered calling it quits before meeting her future bandmate, Chris Bishop, on Craigslist.

“I had just had my heart broken from my last band, and I was devastated about it,” remembers Hall. “I thought I was done playing music, and I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna try it one more time.’ I don’t know why, but I went to Craigslist for it, and it was my final hoorah. If I connect with someone awesome, if not I’ll move on and become a painter. I was looking for an all-girl band, and I found Chris. It was an immediate connection and we clicked.”

Both for Bishop (bass and guitar) and Hall (vocals, violin, guitar, percussion), it was their first time being in a duo, but they seem to enjoy it so far.  

“I still feel like I’m adjusting to it even after four years,” says Hall. “More so live, because there’s only two of us and you have to be on your A game every single gig. There’s nothing to cover up any mistakes. But on the bright side when it comes to getting paid, instead of splitting it five ways, we split it 50/50, and nowadays it’s important.”

“One thing that we heard a lot over the years is, ‘You guys are great, but all you need is a bassist or a drummer,’ and at one point we tried to find a bass player and it didn’t work out,” recalls Bishop. “But by now we have embraced that it’s the two of us, and we should do as much as we can as the two of us. And I think we are making some interesting music.”

Love? Said the Commander is making that music in some pretty interesting places—Their latest EP Bones was recorded live in Wayne County, PA a rural county outside of Scranton in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The duo recorded the EP in the Wayne County Courthouse in Bishop’s hometown of Honesdale, a town where going to the Walmart was the thing to do.

“My friends and I would go to Walmart to hang out since it was open 24/7; either that or hang out at Dunkin Donuts,” explains Bishop. “Everything else closes at 6 or 7 at night and we were too young to hang out at the bars. It was either hang out at Dunkin Donuts or play video games at someone’s house.”

The process of recording an album in a place other than a studio was a different experience, but one that they ultimately welcomed. 

“We wanted to do something different,” says Bishop. “There’s so much stuff competing for people’s time these days. Not just music, but social media, TV and everything else. We wanted to do something that would stand out, and we thought about recording this new EP in different places.”

“I really wanted to record it in the morgue,” says Hall. 

“My dad worked at Wayne County Courthouse for 37 years, and still knew people who worked there,” says Bishop. “Right away he was excited when he told us about the idea. We made it happen.”

Bishop and Hall have been dismayed by previous experiences at the recording studio, so although the Courthouse represented a stark venue change from previous endeavors, they welcomed it.

“I felt less pressure recording this EP,” says Bishop. “When you’re in the studio, you are on the clock, and you want to get it done faster so you don’t have to pay as much money. We knew we wanted to do it live so we practiced so much. Two of the songs we did in a single take, and the other two songs we didn’t do more than three takes. We were ready to go.”

“I was stoked about doing it live,” says Hall. “Normally you have to track things out individually and you can’t play everything together. For the first time we were able to sit together and play together and you got our true sound.”

They also expanded on their sound during Bones and recorded their first instrumental song, “Autopilot.”

“I was messing around with alternate tuning, and that song came out of me real smoothly,” says Bishop. “It was an instance of me recording it and sending it to Kate, and then the next day she sends it back with all these beautiful violin parts.”

“I knew immediately that I wouldn’t be singing on this one for some reason,” says Hall. “I listened to it one time, and I had a gut feeling that it had to be instrumental. We have never done an instrumental before, and one day we would love to score movies or TV shows. I figured we would keep the instrumental and have it be our example to have people hire us.”

Another song on the record is “Sylvia,” which is about riding a motorcycle, something that has helped Hall’s mental health immensely.

“Being on a motorcycle is the one thing that can shut my brain off,” explains Hall. “My brain constantly goes all the time, and being on a motorcycle just gives me a crazy amount of Zen. … Chris sent me the music, and I immediately thought of my motorcycle Sylvia.”

Along with composing music for TV and movies, Love? Said the Commander would love to make music their full-time gig, and they have a couple shows lined up at the Asbury Hotel on June 24, and a show in Woodbury on July 8 at Lot 323.

But for now, the duo has a more important goal in mind: to prove to the world that people from Philly/Pennsylvania and New Jersey can get along. (Sorry about giving y’all Dr. Oz, by the way.)

“We are trying to prove to the world that Jersey and Philly can get along and be positive,” says Hall. “I’m a proud New Jerseyan and I get booed by Flyers fans when I’m walking my dog wearing my Martin Brodeur jersey. You’ll hang out with people from Philly and at least one time in a conversation someone will bring up negative stuff about Jersey. Chris isn’t like that and we’re trying to make a statement that we can get along and make something nice out of it.”

“None of us holds it against each other,” says Bishop. “My mom specifically doesn’t like people from New Jersey, but luckily that dislike didn’t pass down to me and I don’t share those feelings.”

“He doesn’t even get mad when I boast about how much the Flyers suck,” says Hall.

Love? Said the Commander will be playing at the Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park on June 24 with Renee Maskin & SonofDov, More information can be found here. They’ll also be playing the Earth Fair in Burlington on June 26 from 1-2 p.m.

They’ll also be playing in Woodbury on July 8 at Lot 323. Information can be found here.