Q&A with Ben Hendricks of Annabel

Growing up is scary. While some run away to college to delay the transition into being a grown-ass adult for a few years, the four young Americans in Annabel went a different route. While their peers were off writing term papers, the Ohio band used their sophomore LP, Youth In Youth, as a dissertation on how to write earnest, melodic indie rock.

From the stadium-emo stomp of the opening track to the delicate balladry of “Our Days Were Numbered,” it’s impossible not to be swept up by the album’s punchy drums and anthemic gang vocals. Ben Hendicks’ anxiety-ridden, introspective lyrics perfectly capture the transition that every suburbanite goes through when bridging the gap between adolescence and adulthood. It’s that rare sort of record that captures a moment in time so well, that it feels instantly timeless.

We talked with singer/guitarist Ben Hendricks about the band’s origins, his thoughts on the “emo revival” and the inspiration behind Youth In Youth.

Die Angry: First off, who am I talking to and what do you play in Annabel?

Ben Hendricks: My name is Ben, I sing and play guitar

DA: How did you guys start playing together?

BH: Early in life, everyone always told my brother and I that we would play in a band together, but I always just sort of laughed it off.  The idea of Annabel started after I graduated high school.  Andy and I were both in bands that had just broken up and doing something together just sort of made sense.  We started with a lot of songs I had written as solo-songs and Andy was either going to play guitar or drums.  We settled on drums though because we figured it would be harder to find a good drummer.  It took a long time to get going and to find the right group of people.

We had a few other guys that we played with for a little while, but it was short-lived.  We played a few shows as a 2-piece and then we found Scotty.  Once Scotty came on board we started to feel like a real band.  A few years later we brought his friend Corey on a tour with us and realized he should actually be in the band.

DA: What was the first band that you all bonded over?

BH: Growing up as a big brother I didn’t like when Andy liked the same bands as me.  Haha!  But then I realized it was actually awesome that we had pretty much the exact same taste in music. We went to so many shows together and a lot of local bands had a big impact on us.

With Scotty we were stoked how much he was into bands like American Analog Set and those same local bands like Six Parts Seven and Starcrossed.  But I’ll be honest, the first time Scotty and I really talked about music, we listened to Sade at his parent’s house and that’s how I knew we could be in a band together.

DA: What is the scene like in Ohio?

BH: The scene in Ohio is really something special.  There are so many talented bands and there is big sense of community in a lot of different areas.  There is a strong scene in both Columbus and the Northeast Ohio area, and even though [they’re] sometimes separate there is a lot of connection between the two.

Up in the Cleveland/Akron/Kent area shows are mainly just hanging out with a big group of friends. All of us in bands go to each other’s shows. There are lots of long-running house show spaces that probably wouldn’t be able to last as long in other places. The house Scotty lives at called It’s A Kling Thing has been going strong for almost seven years and there are tons of new DIY/punk houses popping up too.

The bands themselves are actually pretty diverse.  There aren’t a whole lot of similar sounding bands and lots of bands are trying new things which I think is awesome. I will say that more than any other area, Ohio bands have an unrivaled sense of melody and songwriting.  And that is something that can be proven. If you hear something that’s constantly stuck in your head, it’s probably from Ohio.

DA: How did you hook up with Count Your Lucky Stars?

BH: Keith from CYLS got a hold of us about doing a show with his band Empire! Empire! in fall of 2008.  Us and Empire were the first two bands Will Miller (of Tiny Engines) was working with for Beartrap PR and we were fans of the Year Of The Rabbit 7” so we were stoked to set something up for them.

Immediately after we finished playing our set, Keith asked if he could release our next record on his label.  After the show we played a couple games of Uno at a friend’s house and were able to bond a little.  We finished recording and mixing Each and Everyone a few weeks later and then decided releasing it with CYLS would be the best way to go. The label only had a few bands at the time, so we weren’t sure what we were getting into, but we feel so fortunate how it worked out and to be a part of it.

DA: What’s your favorite album released on CYLS?

BH: There are so many I love and nearly every release is made by people I call good friends so it’s hard to pick a favorite.  I will single out “Full Health” by The Reptilian, “We’re All Better Than This” by Joie De Vivre, and the Snowing record as some of my favorites though.  Can’t not give love to Football Etc, Dowsing and Mountains For Clouds as well.  Gosh. I’ll stop there.

DA: There’s a lot of suburban imagery running through Youth In Youth. What inspired the songs?

BH: I guess it was just inspired by a lot of changes going on in my life at the time and the anxieties of feeling like you have to be a certain thing as an adult.  Moving from a place I had lived my entire life, buying a house, maintaing a long-term relationship, being content where you are.

One thing my girlfriend said to me during that time was “you could be living better” which I used as the title to one of the songs.  It just kind of made me think about what is better and why change is important.  Some of it was inspired by an article I read about the modern state of adulthood that had me questioning the concept of age itself.  A song like “Home” definitely has some suburban imagery in it and I think that song really displays my conflicted feelings about it.

DA: What is the best and worst part about living in the Midwest suburbs?

BH: If we’re comparing the midwest suburbs to bigger cities, it’s way less expensive and the cost of living is much more manageable.  I think there is a little more freedom involved.  Big cities tend to leave me feeling a little claustrophobic.  I guess I’m naturally more of an introvert so having my own house feels more comfortable to me than living in a heavily populated area.  Being in Akron, you’re aren’t far from Cleveland and it’s also right in the middle between Chicago and Philadelphia for quick weekend road trips.

The worst part is just there’s not a whole lot going on.  If you want to do something exciting you usually have to go somewhere else to do it.  To me, living in college town is the best balance because it still has the small town vibe with a few fun things to do for young-ish type people.

DA: What are your thoughts on the “emo revival?” Is the mainstream press finally noticing the hard work all these bands have been doing for years or is emo just something for them to write trend pieces on?

BH: I think of it more as an emo renaissance than a revival.  Nothing was really revived but there are certainly more bands involved now and the quality of the bands are at an all-time high. So many kids care deeply about this music and I think it’s really easy for it to resonate with people because of its sincerity.

The scene just got to a point where mainstream media couldn’t ignore it any longer.  It’s something that’s been building for years and it is great to see lots of bands hard work finally getting recognized.  I feel some outlets are just writing trend pieces, but I think most importantly music fans at large are realizing that emo doesn’t have to have the negative connotation it used to have. It’s a genre that’s always been pretty misunderstood and people are starting to understand it a little more.

DA: What do you guys have planned for 2014? Are you working on any new music? Do you have any tours lined up?

BH: We fully intend to make 2014 our best year yet.  We are deep in the middle of writing and plan on entering the studio late spring to work on our third full-length record.

We also just approved masters for a split 7” coming out in the next 2 months.  We’ll be touring down to SXSW, to Pouzza Fest in Montreal and also planning another overseas trip for later in the year.  We’re also really stoked to be playing Skeletal Lightning Fest in Urbana, IL in April.

DA: Any last minute shout outs?

BH: Shout out to coffee for helping me live and also potentially ruining me.

You can stream/buy Youth In Youth here!

Also, be sure to go see Annabel play with Best Witches and Options at Arby’s this weekend.

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