"With their swooshing swathes of rainbow rock, The Hugs are further proof that someone’s certainly putting something in the water in Portland, Oregon. Like The Lemonheads but with more primal yelping, the moment when their retro-referencing tunes seem to be veering too much in a pleasant, palatable garage-punk direction, their teeny weeny singer Danny Delegato – the lovechild of Noel Fielding and one of The Monkees – lets go a grave-spinning, throat-slashing screech before indulging in some energetic and muscle-tearing mic-robatics. It’s still early days for the festive shebang, so sadly only a few punters catch the sight of Delegato half-heartedly trashing his guitar at the end of the set. You can almost pinpoint the exact second where he realizes he’s going to have to dive into the band’s emergency tour fund to buy a new one. It’s not a pretty sight.
The Hugs are a four-piece rock ’n’ roll band from Portland, Oregon, who recorded their debut album in England. This makes sense because their music sounds British—not “Greensleeves” British, but rather the brand of British that became popular when groups like The Kinks and The Yardbirds invaded America in the mid-’60s with their ramshackle lyrics and bluesy riffs. The Hugs’s music, though, is also very Oregonian, owing an equal debt to home-state forerunners like “Louie Louie” auteurs The Kingsmen and the late-’70s pre-grunge grunge outfit the Wipers. Our woman in Portland, Paige Powell, met up with The Hugs after a practice session, crowding into a beat-up tour van with singer-guitarist Danny Delegato.
“Over their four-year history the Hugs have often been compared to the Dandy Warhols. It
makes sense: Both were young Portland groups who effectively channeled (or shamelessly
aped, choose your verb) popular bands of yesteryear, garnering them buzz everywhere but their
hometown, where they were mostly met with sometimes hostile indifference. If the comparison
continues to be apt in another three years, Danny Delegato and crew will have their "Bohemian
Like You" moment and have the opportunity to give Stumptown the finger for good, and I
wouldn't completely blame them. I suspect that part of what has always put fans off of the Hugs
(and, in part, the Dandys) has been the way they sprung out the forehead of Cleveland High
pre-formed, hooky and cuddly as hell.”
Your New Favorite Band?
The Making of the Hugs (2007)
A few months back, two of the biggest and most respected names in the British music industry boarded a flight at Heathrow Airport and headed to Portland. The sole intention of this nearly 5,000-mile journey was to witness D&K (now known as the Hugs), a teenage band, the majority of which was fresh off winter break from Cleveland High. What followed were three shows: One at a coffee shop, an early evening "real" show at the Tonic Lounge (with the band's family in attendance), and a final performance at the unfortunately named "Butt Club," a house in Southeast.
By the time these two men returned to London a few days later, one was prepared to manage the band, the other hell bent on signing them to a record deal.
Not too long ago, Roger Sargent—one of the two British music industry legends in question—was advised to set up a MySpace page in order to "reach out" to fans of a new photo book he had just published on the Libertines. Sargent's music industry notoriety comes from behind a camera's lens (the Guardian UK called him "The UK's most important music photographer"), as he is known for his portraits of Oasis, Franz Ferdinand, and Bloc Party. Speaking of his first introduction-via-MySpace to the kids from Cleveland High, "I got a somewhat cryptic message from a band calling themselves D&K. It was so annoyingly cryptic I had to check it out. The first song played and I was hooked, but the only thing was, I thought it was some kind of hoax. There was no way this music could be made by school kids."
Convinced that this mysterious band needed to be seen, Sargent recruited James Endeacott to accompany him on a very unorthodox scouting trip to America. Endeacott is known for discovering, signing, and breaking two of our generation's most popular (in the UK, mind you) bands: the Strokes and the Libertines. After his trip to Portland, the former Rough Trade A&R representative is now currently working on making the Hugs the first USA band to sign to his vanity label, 1965 Records.
So, is this local band—who ironically struggle to get even the smallest gig here in town—worth all of this blossoming hype? Well, sort of. The Hugs need work. You can put that NME cover on hold for now, as their rise to stardom will, at best, be a slow and gradual ascent. But under the floppy bangs and slouched teenage shoulders lies a group of kids on the cusp of something great. Much like the early forbearers of the jangly Brit-rock sound, the Hugs have a loose charm, a perfectly content sense of confidence that permeates throughout their sound, no matter how sloppy it might be at the time. Their music has the rough kinetic energy of Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement, and the haphazard punk of (pre-crack and tabloids) the Libertines.
What does the future hold for the Hugs? It's unclear if this band will be given the Strokes treatment and shipped off to England to be groomed for pop-star status there, before being unleashed here in the States. But for now, the Hugs will be a band to watch—that is, when they can actually get a local show."
(Rontoms, 600 E Burnside) Remember the Hugs? Back in 2007 the teen bubblegummers seemed poised to pop. British music insider Roger Sargent flew out to Portland and fell in love with the group, who were then still in high school. But as is so often the story, the Hugs didn't become the next Strokes or Arctic Monkeys. Their label has since dropped them, and their former taste-making managers have said no more. "Imagine the Dandy Warhols without the hits," a friend said. But while some would see these troubles as the end of the Hugs, I'd call them the beginning. Here's where things get real. As the kids become men and lose their novelty cuteness, they must subsist on music alone. And since the prospects of blowing up have blown out, the boys are going to have to finally make some fans in their hometown. As the saying goes: "If the people on your block don't relate to your music, no one else has a chance."
The Hugs have been occupying their own little corner of the Portland music scene for six years now, cranking out garage pop with an ear for arenas. You could even say it's underappreciated by some. Lead Hug Danny Delegato has forged ahead through personnel changes, kicking out happy pop for sad souls. And they keep getting better. The band's latest LP, Love Led You, Here is jam-packed with exuberant, full-bodied pop with hooks aplenty and a sparkly sheen. It's easily the Hugs' best work to date, and should turn the spotlight on this motley crew in Portland and beyond. MARK LORE
“The Hugs latest effort is a chronology of a band who have sailed the rough seas of the
contemporary music industry and have returned to land with staunch and bite.” “Again & Again”
seeps with unexpected experience and maturity. Without shedding their jovial Brit-poppy
swathe Oregonian four-piece have developed a delicate melancholy edge. Under the umbrella
of everyday life, the band explore the nuances of love over time and the dubious relationship
between dreams and reality.”
“ What resulted was a naturally diverse album, generally nurtured in a pop-rock discipline but
with sprouts of placid integrity. Splashes of sombre finger-picking evolve into springy headnod-
worthy choruses. Kinksian pop-rock swagger is adorned with zesty four-part harmonies, while a
murky contemplative undercurrent ebbs and flows. ”
“Dreams” seduces with cyclic guitar melodies and occasional bongo beats, calling on Revolver-
era Beatles at their trippiest, before the reverb kicks in and Delegato lets rip with the fiery
warning ‘get out of my dreams’ augmented by grungy Vines-like chorus harmonies.”
“The raucous “Go Wild” takes you through an explosive party bender – a pending crowd-
favourite for sure. Funky “Never Gonna Live, Never Going To Die“ fluctuates between a
seductive disco rhythm and a grungy build up before reaching a somewhat manic tipping-point
(“this may be the last day!”).
“Again & Again” is fittingly diverse – wild, giddy, faint and reflective – such has been the nature
of their recent lives. At times it’s a party – they swagger and they shout – and at times shit goes
down and they scratch their heads and wonder.
-David Elliot-Jones (Melbourne Music Press)
History is littered with bands that were gobbled up by the machinations of the music industry. It goes like this: Good Band gets noticed and signs to a record label in hopes of finding fame and fortune. Something goes awry — band members grow apart, label personnel turns over, money dries up after a corporate merger, whatever — and before long, Good Band gets dropped, and the label either folds or goes looking for the next big thing.
Most of these stories end unhappily. But not The Hugs’ version, according to founder and core creative force Danny Delegato.
The Hugs’ story starts at Cleveland High School in Southeast Portland, where Delegato and three friends started playing ultra-catchy garage-pop-rock music and posting it to MySpace. That’s when a British music industry executive discovered the band before promptly signing them to his label in the late 2000s.
What happened next is a very long story with many twists and turns, including The Hugs recording an album in England right around the same time they were graduating from high school. That album never came out, however. The reasons are many, they are convoluted, and they don’t really matter much now.
What matters is that Delegato didn’t let the experience get him down. Ever since — for the past dozen years or so — he has been pumping out albums of energetic, effortlessly catchy and occasionally psychedelic pop-rock that sits somewhere near the midpoint between The Strokes and The Shins. To hear him talk about it now, it’s as if The Hugs’ early brush with fame happened to a different band. And yet you can tell that he learned a lot from the experience.
“It was a tough time, and it was definitely a learning process, but we kept going and kept making music,” Delegato said. “What I eventually realized, though, is that it’s the music that matters to me. It’s not all the other stuff. It’s the music, and the music is the reason we were able to keep going and not trip and fall. Most people expected it to squash us.”
Because they are snappy and memorable, Delegato’s songs are perfect for licensing to advertisements, TV shows and movies. The Hugs’ songs have appeared in a Gap ad and on the hit HBO show “Girls,” among other high-profile places, giving the band a wider reach to a new audience, not to mention some income.
For all his years in the business — and his experiences, both positive and negative — the guy is still young. And he’s still processing his influences, from his parents’ record collection (full of ’60s pop like the Beatles and the Kinks) to the alt-rock and Brit-pop of his youth. What comes out is … The Hugs.
In fact, over the past couple of years, Delegato has been working on the seventh Hugs album, which he expects to release in the spring. He is excited for people to hear what he’s doing now, and how it fits into the band’s epic story.
“When I think back to when I was younger, I realize now that I didn’t understand what I was doing,” he said. “But I also can see that I’ve learned a lot, and I think that’s really what matters the most: that you can look back and see that you’ve grown.”
"The Hugs reach power-pop perfection with “Love You To Death”
Love You To Death, the fifth LP from Portland, Oregon-based power pop warriors the Hugs, sounds better, hits harder, and moves more quickly than all four of its admirable predecessors.
The record’s release, slated for spring of 2019, should cement the trio as a leader of the Pacific Northwest pop music scene, thus beginning another strange chapter in the already-lengthy saga of this overperforming underdog.
The Hugs’ eleven-year odyssey began with fanfare. Scarcely had the band’s four original members graduated from Portland’s Cleveland High School (class of 2007), than British record industry luminary James Endeacott signed them to his boutique imprint — 1965/Columbia UK Records.
The Hugs, then-as-now anchored by guitarist and chief songwriter Danny Delegato, found themselves in the odd circumstance of flying to the UK to record a major label debut while still graduating high school as teenagers. The Hugs’ music, however, more than justified Endeacott’s interest.
Even in their earliest recordings, Delegato and company displayed a reverent appreciation for the 'Golden Era' of guitar pop and a preternatural talent for writing compelling hooks. They were good, and perhaps suffered from gaining too much attention before their sound had matured.
Despite releasing an admirable debut — 2009’s Again And Again — the fates of both the Hugs and the label that had appeared to be their meal ticket soon declined. 1965 records folded. The Hugs’ brief turn in the star-making machine yielded some brilliant songs, but left them bereft of the momentum needed to continue their career at that level.
That the band’s story did not end at this point remains a fascinating anomaly, for rather than calling it quits, the Hugs dealt with disappointment by doubling their efforts. After exorcising the final remnants of their commitment to what was then known as “retro-rock” on a 2010 self-titled LP, the Hugs released the psychedelic-flavored Love Led You Here in 2013, and the pop-leaning Feelings of Life in 2016. Throughout numerous lineup changes and stylistic experiments, the Hugs continued to build its reputation piece-by-piece, landing opening slots for like-minded bands such as the Kooks, the Walkmen, Calpurnia, The Dandy Warhols, and featuring their music in TV
shows such as HBO’s “Girls.”
Delegato reconstituted the band once again following Feelings of Life, enlisting bassist Kauri Voss and drummer Keagan O’Brien. This trio recorded the Hugs’ fifth LP — Love You To Death. Love You To Death demonstrates that Delegato has spent the Hugs’ decade-plus career honing his already significant talents as a pop songwriter. Weighing in at a trim nine tracks, the album shows the band at the height of its powers, demanding comparisons to guitar-pop masters such as Weezer and The Strokes.
Album opener “Mile High Lady” lays a disco beat beneath a rowdy paeon to the title character; lead-off singles “Love You to Death” and “Fool” propel Delegato’s titanic hooks atop thick waves of fuzz.
Love You To Death’s lyrics stick close to the perennial Hugs themes of love and substance abuse, this time pairing these stories with suitably masterful production. The album finds nary a guitar lick out of place, nor suffers an instant of waning momentum. Since its inception, the Hugs’ songwriting instincts have set it apart from even its most ambitious contemporaries. In Love You To Death, the band exercises a precise focus on this strength. Not a single one of Love You To Death’s nine tracks passes without investing the listener with an inescapable earworm. Mixing from Sonny Dipperi, whose credits include M83, Trent Reznor, 30 Seconds to Mars, Portugal The Man, and STRFKR, makes the proceedings sound appropriately colossal.
Though it’s arriving well behind the group’s initial storm of hype, Love You To Death provides
what the Hugs long ago promised to deliver — a near-perfect pop record.
"I love The Hugs, they're kind of like The Libertines but are taking it from their own direction. They're a band who really know how to put a tune together and I'm totally dead excited about them."
- Carl Barât of The Libertines (NME)
"There's a band called The Hugs that I like a lot, they play folk rock, they're a Portland band, I really like their songs."
Over the past decade or so, the Hugs have carved out a niche in the Portland music scene as a DIY group with more polish than most indie-rock groups. In a place where roughness is celebrated, they "try to play as perfect as possible," says frontman Danny Delegato, so they've taken a fair bit of crap from snobby scenesters for being too polished and poised for commercial success.
"There was an article written about how we're the band hipsters love to hate," says Kauri Voss, the band's bassist. "There's a lot of shoegaze bands and the 'it's cool to be uncool' sort of stuff out here."
Some of the resentment may be tied up in the group's history. It seemed the sky was the limit when Delegato and a couple of his 18-year-old cohorts formed the Hugs and almost immediately created a buzz with their garage-rock, Britpop sound. They signed to vaunted label 1965 Records and reportedly entered the studio with White Stripes producer Liam Watson, but the 1965 debut never materialized and the buzz died. The Hugs kept going, though.
Some critics say that, over the years, the band became solely a vessel for Delegato's output as a singer-songwriter. But that changed when the band revamped its roster last November, adding guitarist Jack Burgess out of London, Voss from Chicago, and Detroit-based drummer Keagan O'Brien.
Speaking with Inlander by phone ahead of the Hugs' Saturday show at the Bartlett, the band says they've adopted a much more democratic approach to writing songs. To make the long-distance thing work, Delegato — the only remaining founding member — records demos and sends them to his bandmates, who come up with suggestions for changes and accompanying parts before they get in a studio together.
"I just try to write stuff that sounds good to me," he says. "It sounds really simple, but it seems to work. I just try to record with a certain style in mind, like I want to have a big pre-chorus or I try to write hooks that make sense, with verses and choruses that fit together in a song."
Everyone has to agree on which songs to play live, as well.
"I think it's very evident when you see a band and they're not into what they're playing," says Burgess. "If you want to keep that energy and enthusiasm about your songs, I think everybody in the band has to be on board with them."
Lately, everyone has been down to explore new sounds. The Hugs have sounded like a poppy four-piece rock band for its entire history, but they recently started messing around with synthesizers, drum machines and electronic programming.
The result is a new three-song EP, New Utopia, which includes the superb dream-pop track "Friends Can Break Your Heart." The EP is due for release on Valentine's Day.
"It's a big detour from what we normally do, which is like '90s garage-pop," Voss says.
"Now we're doing '90s garage-electronic," adds Delegato with a laugh.
They're still figuring out how to do justice to the new songs in the live setting, given the technical challenges of performing electronic-based music as a four-piece rock band. But that's more of a short-term concern, Delegato says. After the fun, experimental detour of New Utopia, the band is getting back down to business: This spring, the Hugs are headed into the studio to record the band's as-yet-untitled fifth full-length album."
Sometimes a band puts out a release that just captures life in a snapshot – the highs, the lows, the anguish, the pain, and of course all the good stuff that makes life worth living. Feelings of Life is one such record. The Hugs wrap you with open welcome arms into their soundscape. The Hugs are on the record label Mope Records, and members Danny Delegato, Skyler Weaver, Davey Appaloosa, and Calvin Berkenbile are serving up their fourth (and debatably best) full-length studio album. This trippy psychedelic post-pop opus is filled with anthemic beats and rich harmonies.
This album takes you on a journey that is warm, a little exploratory, familiar, and full of great tunes. Much like life, Feelings of Life encompasses many of the feelings felt on this shared journey. “Wherever You Go” has such a great feel to it, with huge open chords and a charming wide-eyed wonder. “Want You Now” has that haunting urgency that plagues us all at some point or another. Its saturated riffs and moody hooks don’t just hint at that ‘want,’ but blast that feeling right home in a way that more than satisfies. “Fearless” is a great track that has that attack of abandon and lust for life. Like life, this album has a few low points, namely “Beautiful Hour” and “Lost Angel,” but they aren’t bad, they’re good tracks to just reflect and think on life in general.
There’s a cathartic feeling to the track “Deja Vu,” and “Pointless Grudge” is in the same vein, a great statement on staying angry over stupid things in life. The album ends with “Colorful Clouds from Mars” which in a way kind of sums up life here on earth. We’re full of color, a bit foreign from the other life, and like clouds only here for a moment and then gone.
"The Hugs are a four-piece rock ’n’ roll band (Brainchild of Danny Delegato) from Portland, Oregon, who recorded their debut album in England. This makes sense because their music sounds British—not “Greensleeves” British, but rather the brand of British that became popular when groups like The Kinks and The Yardbirds invaded America in the mid-’60s with their ramshackle lyrics and bluesy riffs."
"Plucked from Portland, where it labored in obscurity, and deposited directly into the machinery of the British music industry, The Hugs were, for a flash of time, England's next big thing. Of course, over there, next big things come and go with editions of the Daily Mail. "
"For the next few years, the Hugs lived in the U.K., where it toured, had meals with major industry figures, got name-checked in NME, smashed newly-bought guitars, hung out with the Libertines and, eventually, went into the studio with producer Liam Watson."
"Frontman Danny Delegato is the Guns N' Roses-era caricature, his over-sized sleeveless shirt and cowboy hat dwarfing his boyish frame. When asked to check his mic, he lets out a howl that dovetails into a squeal."
- Willamette Week
The Hugs’ New Album Doesn’t Reinvent the Wheel, But it Hits All of Guitar Rock’s Pleasure Centers
If "Love You to Death" doesn’t get your toe tapping in its breezy 30-minute runtime, consider yourself a killjoy.
Rock-and-roll die-hards have a predilection for thinking the best days of the genre are well behind them. Considering that music that proudly casts guitars to the wayside has dominated the zeitgeist for the past decade, folks who are wistful for the days when "indie pop" was a clearly defined sound rather than a nebulous sensibility aren't wrong to wonder what's left for them.
Some of the most promising acts in the genre have figured out that invoking the spirit of college rock—or whatever else jangly guitar pop was referred to before "indie" became a qualifier for anything and everything—is a direct path to the pleasure center of guitar rock's true believers. Portland's Hugs are definitely one of those bands. The nine songs on their latest record, Love You to Death, could potentially come across as pandering to that reality, but the album's songwriting and assembly is far too honest and carefree to deserve such a cynical assessment. If Love You to Death's confident blend of post-punk, power pop and sugar-coated harmonies doesn't get your toe tapping in its breezy 30-minute runtime, consider yourself a killjoy.
The album kicks off with "Mile High Lady," a jaunty pacesetter that sounds like the Knack covering Haim. On the title track, frontman Danny Delegato sings he's "doing fine, out of place and out of time," which lands as a hopeful rumination rather than an outright bummer. It's a perfect statement of purpose for the record as a whole and for the crisp production of Sonny DiPerri, who lends a feeling of timeless melancholy to the entire affair.
As Love You to Death enters its dour midsection, it becomes clear the Hugs' strongest suit is their ability to pace themselves. The '90s alt-rock radio anthem "Can't Behave" recalls the brief window of time when Oasis, Blur and pre-OK Computer Radiohead jockeyed for airwave dominance. But the trio shows restraint by dialing back the feedback and aggression for the jittery balladry of "Who Loved You" that follows.
The next track, the bleary sing-along "Falling Star," finds Delegato repeating a line about how the time at hand is the best days of his life over chords that are as uncertain as the tremble in his voice. The decision to use such a hauntingly beautiful arrangement rather than a distortion-soaked banger as the record's emotional centerpiece shows a great deal of intelligence. While truly original ideas are scant on Love You to Death, the Hugs are masters of synthesis who know how to push all the right buttons at all the right times. When your songwriting and production are as airtight as they are here, reinventing the wheel takes a backseat to squeezing as much excitement as possible out of a formula that's been tried and true for decades.