The Boston natives discuss their upcoming performance at Boston Calling, and share tips on how to navigate the city’s independent music scene
As legend goes, Boston band Gentlemen Hall took its name from an encounter with actor Mark Wahlberg. Folklore has it that several members of the band, then Berklee students, were sitting in a North End diner when Wahlberg entered the scene. Having just broken up with his girlfriend, he was visibly upset and took kindly to a short interaction with the young strangers. The chance meeting ended with Wahlberg declaring, “You guys are gentlemen, all”—a phrase misunderstood and later adopted by the then-nameless band.
This story is ostensibly untrue. When I asked Gavin Merlot, lead guitarist of Gentlemen Hall, and Rory Given, the band’s bass guitarist, about the name, they could not remember who first said it. Still, the Wahlberg story continues to circulate around the interwebs, with several reputable news sources still quoting the band on it.
It’s a lie that fits Gentlemen Hall quite nicely, as their real story’s just as deeply entangled with Boston mythology. Initially meeting at Berklee College of music, Gentlemen Hall came up through Allston’s house party scene, working its way through Boston clubs, and eventually emerging as a nationally recognized act with hits “Sail Into the Sun” and “All Our Love.” Theirs is a path hundreds of young artists in Boston’s music scene hope to follow.
Gentlemen Hall is slated to play this Sunday at the Boston Calling musical festival in the City Hall Plaza, alongside acts including Nas, the Roots, Spoon, and The 1975. The Heights spoke with Gentlemen Hall about performing at Boston Calling, as well as the band’s forthcoming major label debut with Island Records.
Heights: For those who have never seen you perform live before, what should they expect at Boston Calling?
Given: Even for those who have seen us live, it’s pretty much all going to be brand-new material. We’ve been in the studio all summer, and we’re really excited to get all these new songs out. You can expect an emotional roller coaster—a lot of really extreme highs, also some contemplative lows, a chance to examine your soul a little bit.
Merlot: It’ll be really cool. It’s going to be like our new stuff. We’re trying to be a bit more dynamic, a little bit more interesting. We always have a lot of fun, we bring as much energy as we can, and this new stuff will definitely be a mix of high energy moments and more like—I don’t want to say ballads—but we’re trying to do a powerful, slow thing as well. It’ll be a dynamic show, for sure.
Heights: Do you have a favorite act that’s playing at the show with you?
Given: Definitely a couple. I’m really excited to see The 1975. We’re big fans of them and have seen them a couple times. They put on a great show. Nas, definitely—a lot of respect for Nas’ career—and Future Islands. A lot of us are really psyched about Future Islands. I’ve gotten into them over the past couple of months.
Merlot: We actually fell in love with that band after their performance on Letterman. Have you seen it? It was like the famous performance of the year.
Heights: I’ve heard about it. Didn’t get the chance to see it just yet.
Merlot: The singer did this crazy, crazy dance that Letterman ended up making a meme out of—he kind of made a joke out of it—but it really made the band talked about all year, so yeah, we’re excited to see them, too.
Heights: So, moving the conversation away from Boston Calling for now, who would you say is worth paying attention to right now in Boston’s music scene?
Merlot: There are three bands out of Boston that I’m really, really excited about, and the first is called Clifflight, and my favorite part about this band is that the lead singer has one of the most characteristic, smoky old-soul vocals I’ve ever heard, and the songwriting is really great, too. Absolutely check them out.
Another one is called Magic Man, and the band is friends of ours that we play with at loft parties and house party-kind of environments. They signed a pretty big record deal, and are getting pushed pretty hard right now, and are doing a lot of pretty big tours with bands we love. So, they’re doing it—they were at Boston Calling last year.
Another band is called RIBS, and they’re this real rock and roll band. You don’t hear a lot of stuff like that, but I think they are a rock and roll band that can be relevant in a time where Lorde is winning the best rock and roll music video, and she’s not rocking at all.
Heights: Let’s talk about your deal with Island Records. What can you tell us right now about the new album?
Merlot: This is the most excited we’ve ever been as a band. We finally feel like we’ve come to the point where we’re making our best material ever—like really big, arena, anthemic material. We’ve always been really focused on songwriting, but now there’s something more happening here: a bit of a hip-hop aesthetic in the production, the melodies are strong, the lyrics are stronger, and we’ve gotten to the point where we thinks it’s really going to be a bold statement to the world. But personally, I’m most excited about lyrical concepts. We’ve dived into some really deep poetry, which is sort of new for us.
Heights: What advice would you have for young musicians that are looking to get into the business, that are going to school in Boston like you were?
Given: First, the most important thing is your material. If you’re a songwriter, you just gotta write the best songs you can. You gotta be writing all the time.
You have to be willing to recognize that 90 to 95 percent of the time, the stuff you write is not up to your best material, so you have to be willing to let that stuff go, and aside from that, you just gotta figure out how to make yourself unique. What can you do that no one else can? Find that and really hone in on that.
Thirdly, go out and see as much as you can. Find music and absorb it, meet as many musicians as you can, trade stories, put shows together with other bands you get to know. Really immerse yourself in the scene. Especially in Boston, you’ve got a great music scene, a lot of cool clubs, definitely the house parties. It’s a really great place to start getting your name out.
Heights: I’m interested in how you, as a band, have been handling all national attention you got when “Sail Into the Sun” appeared in commercials for both Target and Samsung. How did you handle Gentlemen Hall suddenly becoming a national name?
Given: It’s incredible to get recognition on a larger scale anytime it happens. The trick is taking a moment and turning that into something even bigger. It’s really cool, you start getting recognized more and more, you know: “Oh, I heard you here, I heard you there, I heard you on a radio station now.” It’s super exciting. It’s encouraging. It motivates you even more to get out there and make new stuff. It’s really cool. Sometimes we turn on the TV and see it playing. We’ll hear all the time, “We heard you here.” It’s great. It’s just another step—something you hope eventually will happen—and we’re hoping more opportunities arise like that.
Featured Image Courtesy of 44-Communications