December 7, 2016

Interview: The Unlovables

Catching up with The Unlovables' Hallie Bulleit after a long hiatus.

The Unlovables, who have been around since 2003, might have had a revolving cast of members, but lead singer Hallie Bulleit has stuck around since the beginning. Her infectious, energetic personality and bouncy, poppy hooks make the band’s songs impossible NOT to dance along to. Their latest release, a split with Dirt Bike Annie titled Reunion Show, was a triumphant comeback after the band’s eight year hiatus. The Unlovables’ half of the split contains all their recognizable bright chord progressions and tight harmonies that remind listeners of the cheerful bliss of young love and simpler times. After a ridiculously fun and uplifting living room show in Tallahassee, I was able to ask Bulleit some questions about her music, memories, and life. Her responses were optimistic, honest, and personal, just like the sweet lyrics in The Unlovables’ lively pop punk songs.

The Le Sigh: You recently played FEST in Gainesville! What was your favorite moment from FEST this year? 

Hallie Bulleit: Can I tell you.... I love FEST, and I've been going down there for years. It's incredible to see all my favorite bands and so many friends all in one spot. It's, like, truly magical. But, over the course of those three days, sometimes you just need a little break from music... and this year FEST WRESTLING provided me with that break! No, seriously, they've added a professional wrestling portion of the festival, and it's the dumbest, funniest, most punk rock shit I've ever seen. Think, like, the stuff you see on WWE, but the wrestlers at FEST are from a smaller, more DIY league - like the indie rock of wrestling. Plus, they had women wrestling men, which I had never seen, and I thought it was radically feminist and amazing. I screamed my head off. It cleansed my palate and allowed me to go back to watching music with more enthusiasm. Seeing Lauren from Worriers sing in a Minor Threat tribute band was also completely incredible.

TLS: What other projects have you been a part of in the past? How do they compare to The Unlovables? 

HB: I've done so much crazy crap. I performed on Broadway in RENT, I was in the New York production of Stomp, I worked as an aerialist for about 10 years, I was a professional mermaid (long story for another time), I was in an all-girl band called the Hissyfits, I currently perform in the house band on a TV show called The Chris Gethard Show, and I have a new band called Hiccup. I love making art with other people, and collaborating, and discovering what happens when different artistic ideas collide. But The Unlovables has always had a special place in my heart, because it's really the most "me" project I've ever done. I write all the songs, I sing all the songs, and I don't have to wear a costume that someone else picked for me or do anything I don't want to do. Everything in this band has always sprung from my brain and been done on my own terms. Of course, my bandmates contribute so much of their creativity and energy - I wouldn't ever want to devalue that - but The Unlovables' is really my heart, my mind, my thoughts, my ideas. I have so much pride in it. 

LS: At the Tallahassee show, you wore a pug mask on top of your head for the entire set, and it was bad ass. Is a pug your spirit animal, or is it something else? 

HB: That night was so crazy. I really love touring, and I've spent a lot of time on tour over the course of my career. But some days you just aren't in the mood, and that was one of those days for me. I wanted to be home, I was in kind of a dark place. I put that pug mask on just as a way to get outside my own brain, to feel like a different person for a hopes that that would get me in the mood to play music. It totally worked; and then it was just the most fun show, with the most fun people singing along! So energizing. It happened just at the moment when I really needed a reminder of why I love touring. So, yeah, that night a pug was definitely my spirit animal. Although, in general, I like water so much that my true spirit animal is probably a fish.

TLS: What's your process for writing songs? And how do you make your hooks so damn catchy? 

HB: I normally have a melody pop into my head first. There are hundreds and hundreds of voice memos on my phone of melodies that I've thought of while walking down the street or riding the subway (before smartphones, I used to have to call myself and leave a voicemail, haha). Then I sit down with my bass and figure out the roots notes of the chords, so that I can teach the song to the rest of the band. Lyrics normally come last. As for how I come up with hooks, I dunno... that's just how my brain works. I formed my idea of what a hook should be back in the '80s when everything was really, really poppy. So that's just programmed into me from when I was a kid.

TLS: Who are some of your musical inspirations? 

HB: With Unlovables songs, my inspirations are definitely the Ramones, Blondie, the Go-Go's, and a mishmash of other pop punk stuff. With my new band Hiccup, I try to pay homage to other stuff I grew up listening to... everything from the Breeders, to the Smiths, to older Tom Petty stuff.

TLS: A song on your newest split is titled "1996", and is about how your significant other reminds you of that year. What's your favorite memory from 1996? 

HB: 1996 was a magical year to me... I was going to all-ages punk shows and making new friends all the time. Those shows transformed me, transformed what I wanted to do. I went from wanting to be a musical theater performer to wanting to be a punk and a performance artist. As I saw more and more women playing in bands like The Prissteens, The Muffs, Cub, Mildred Pierce, That Dog, and Sleater-Kinney, it became more feasible to me that I could be in a band. And it became more important to make art that had a strong, feminine voice, whether in music or theater or dance. What was my one best memory from that year? I SAW THE FUCKING RAMONES AT CONEY ISLAND HIGH ON ST. MARK'S PLACE. The best punk band of all time, in one of the best punk clubs at all time. My friend's older brother got us all tickets. I still can't hear as well out of my left ear because of that show, and it was completely worth it.

Listen to The Unlovables on bandcamp

Brianna Peterson plays awkward pop punk country in a band called Cooper!, loves everything outdoors and Twin Peaks, and is painfully torn between being a dog or a cat person.