Frontman Jacob Betts opened up about the Grand Rapids rock band for this week’s Local Spins on WYCE, which also debuted fresh tracks by May Erlewine, Steve Leaf, Pink Sky and more.
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It didn’t take long for The American Hotel System to jell as a band.
Formed for a “one-off” concert in December 2017 by college buddies at Grace Christian University in Grand Rapids, the alt-leaning rock band was asked right after that show by an enthusiastic fan to play an event the following April.
The band – lead vocalist/guitarist Jacob Betts, drummer Hailey Petty, bassist Jake LaMotte and guitarists Samuel Overman and C.T. McCallister – hasn’t stopped since, releasing live and studio recordings, and earning attention on college radio.
The American Hotel System released its full-length debut album, “The Sunken Truth,” in December 2019.
Even 2020’s pandemic has inspired Betts and company: While plans for a new studio album were delayed until 2021, The American Hotel System instead released its “Postcards” series of singles, recorded remotely in quarantine and now available as an EP.
And they’ve followed that with today’s official release of “Live at Dogtown” – a four-song EP recorded at Grand Rapids’ Dogtown Studio in October when the band could finally get back together again for the first time in months.
“It’s by far our favorite project to date,” said Betts, “and I feel it really captures who we are as a band at this moment in time.”
So for this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE, Betts unveiled a couple of live tracks from that project – “Loyalty” and “Talk, Inc.” – and opened up about the band and its music. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show podcast, and watch a video for “Loyalty” here.
VIDEO: The American Hotel System, “Loyalty” (Live at Dogtown Studio)
Raised in Houghton Lake in northern Michigan, Betts was surrounded by music, and when his grandmother bought him a guitar at age 8, “the rest was history,” he recalled. “I’ve always been attracted to the gear.”
Studying music at Grace Christian University, Betts and his bandmates were exposed to everything from jazz to classical music, and cite the likes of NEEDTOBREATHE, Switchfoot, Muse, Emorosa, Paramore, Evanescence, John Mayer and Garth Brooks as influences.
“I knew words to Garth Brooks songs before I could walk,” quipped Betts, who now lives in Wyoming where he also maintains a home studio.
These days, the American Hotel System has provided Betts an outlet for his emotions and his take on current events, so much so that the group once was introduced at a concert as a “sociopolitical” rock band.
“If my soul is feeling troubled, I pull out my notebook and write these emotions out into words in an attempt to process the things I’m overwhelmed by,” he offered.
“I feel that ‘The Sunken Truth’ and ‘Postcards’ are great examples of us responding to the conditions around us. … I want the music we make to be a reflection of who we are in that moment of time and work together to make a larger statement than just an individual song.”
That extends to the group’s live performances.
“I love the idea of going on stage and it being a service. I’m serving people when I go on stage and try to sing and communicate whatever message it might be,” he suggested.
“A recurring theme within the music we’ve released so far and the music that’s to come is community, and standing for one another and with one another. Music is all about community.”
After canceling more than two dozen 2020 shows – including a 12-date tour – due to the pandemic, the band is now back to work on its next studio album, with hopes of releasing it in February or March.
“We’re working on several studio projects in response to the issues near to our hearts,” Betts said.
“Our next LP dives heavily into themes of rhetoric and relationships, greatly influenced by the last two years of our lives. ‘Loyalty’ was the first single off the record and I’m really excited to share more off the project in early 2021.”
In addition to spotlighting The American Hotel System, the Dec. 11 edition of Local Spins on WYCE – which showcases Michigan music at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE (88.1 FM) and online at wyce.org – included the on-air debut of new holiday songs by May Erlewine and Steve Leaf, plus tracks by Sean Stynes, Wicker Basket, Brother Wolf, Pink Sky and Ryan Cassidy, along with music from The Hacky Turtles and Matt Gabriel (this week’s musician’s pick by Betts). Listen here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (12/11/20)
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