“It didn’t feel great to admit a lot of my subconscious was that insecure, but it’s also freeing and also the truth,” admits Charlie Kerr, frontman of the Vancouver born alt-rock band, Hotel Mira, whose first full-length record under the name came out this past Valentine’s Day.
Perfectionism via Light Organ Records rifles through Kerr’s psyche, putting a spotlight on his vulnerability. Just like he cleverly disguises his honesty with sarcasm, he sonically masks the lyrics behind upbeat, headbanging arrangements.
“It’s this kind of polished-pop record but then everything it’s saying is deeply rooted in our points of shame and big risks…There’s an old Frank Ocean quote, ‘When you’re happy you’re going to dance to the music, and when you’re sad you’re going to think about the lyrics.’”
Circling around the concept of perfectionism and the toxicity it fosters in yourself and a relationship, Kerr wrote about the aftermath of “falling deeply in love” and then having to deal with that ending. This record sounds reminiscent of Talking Heads and Paramore’s After Laughter era, which he accounts for both him and Hayley Williams “smoking on David Byrnes’ pipe.”
“Recording it was really kind of a treacherous journey. We did it in 17 days in a row, all 12 hour plus days. Due to the personal nature of the album, I went back and forth with whether it was a good idea to be this personal. My ex, who I love a ton, is a very private person. The last thing I would want to do is hurt her or expose her so there were some moments where I was like am I okay to say this? Is this doing more harm than good? I had that moment a few times. It was pretty freaky when I wasn’t getting much sleep and was in the studio everyday and hearing songs over and over again. There’s not a lot to ground you.”
Yes, you read that correctly. The 11 songs, all of the 38 minutes and 32 seconds of honestly pitiful lyrics masked by Kerr’s rock n’ roll-esque range and vivid pop arrangements, was recorded in 17 days with Grammy award winning producer Eric Ratz. Besides “Jungle” and “This Could Be It For Me,” the other tracks were only in their “Bob Dylan state”-- lyrics and some sort of acoustic arrangement-- when Kerr brought them to the studio, letting his fellow musicians, Colton Lauro, Cole George, Clarke Grieve and Mike Noble, transform them.
Some may know Kerr better for being the frontman of JPNSGRLS. But, after they disbanded, he reconstructed the music he was creating under the moniker, Hotel Mira, not wanting to leave fans behind.
“I like evolving and changing. For whatever reason, I’ve got this thing in my brain that’s like I never want to do the same thing twice so this is kind of where the music was always going for me. I always wanted to make catchy rock n’ roll music. I think at times my technical ability as a singer and a musician held me back from doing that, which created other music that was really cool, but I’m happy about this.”
“Perfectionism,” the first track and namesake of the record, also the last one written, opens with a catchy as hell guitar riff before leading into a very danceable chorus coated in sarcasm.
I'm having fun, she's having fun
Can't have it any other way
Old fashioned wisdom
But I prefer the love we made
“This Could Be It For Me” starts with a fluid sound before the chorus becomes snappy and incites movement. “Jungle,” a feel good bop with maybe one of the most memorable choruses as the other band members’ voices chime in with Kerr’s. Following, “Arcade Heart,” transitions the tone from the songs before it. The song feels somber and nostalgic. Picking up the momentum again, “Better On Your Own” starts with a tuneful guitar riff while he echoes his insecurities and wallows in his own misery.
The next track, a stand out on the record, was released as a single this past November called, “Speaking Off The Record,” a song so delicate that it feels like an invasion of privacy to listen to it. But when it gets to the bridge, you still find yourself bobbing your head, echoing, “to the masses.”
“Truth be told, I think it was released as a single so I didn’t have to wait as long in fear for people to hear it. I really had fear and anxiety about that song. The M.O. of that song is so many things I thought I’d never address or sing about publicly. It’s kind of a collection of thought layered in shame or regret with some uplifting moments as well. That line about singing to the masses, it was 90% sarcastic. Same goes with, ‘This Could Be It For Me,’ it was a 90% sarcastic title. It’s cool that as we gain a bit more success, it’s not as sarcastic any more.”
Kerr acknowledges going to a counselor once a week, starting yoga and overall healthy living really helps him take care of himself, even using a crisis line at his lowest. He admits, “I’m a very, very self-destructive person if left to my own devices. It’s really trying to value myself and live a balanced life.”
In every track off of Perfectionism, there’s definitely some sort of mental debacle occurring or a question he’s trying to answer. Obviously the act of writing alleviates some of the burden for him, which maybe the reason he continually falls in love with music.
“If you want to get psycho-analytical, there’s something soothing about me sitting down and writing songs and doing it since I was 10 years old like if my family was fighting or other screwed up things going on in my life. It was this thing that I’d just kind of do, just spend hours and hours of my life writing songs. In particular, trying to ask big, hard questions with the song that I wrote. I think as I grow up, there’s more questions to ask, and I’m just really lucky and grateful that we have an audience who gives a shit.”
“The Eyes On You” differs from the rest of the tracks in that the chorus is the most chill part of the song. The verses stick with you the most, and it’s almost impossible to not sing along with Kerr to “light me up” and “wife me up.” “Son In Law” has an edge to it as a trilling guitar establishes the track in a very rock n’ roll manner, crescendoing to a dynamic pinnacle in the chorus.
“The phrase diminishing return was just fucking etched into my brain. Then, I got really toxic and I started thinking about people who liked it before when your voice was shittier because it was like more honest. I went to the really dark corners when things weren’t poppin, or weren’t poppin in my eyes I should say.”
You’re your biggest enemy right?
“Yeah, and I want to change that. I want to be my biggest fan. That was another thing that my ex encouraged me to do, and I encouraged it to her. We both agreed we were amazing people and to be more confident about it.”
Although sarcasm maybe Kerr’s love language, “Ladies and Gentlemen” lacks that cloak and instead embodies acerbity. It’s frank and direct and dare I say, healthy? Second to last on the album, “A Song For Daisy,” concretizes acknowledgement and acceptance. The picking is intricate, giving an airy sound to the song while a heavier guitar emphasizes Kerr when he sings “that’s not love,” giving cadence to the song.
“Earlier last year, I was thinking, my best days are behind me and this is going to be a diminishing return, etc. We’re finding some of the biggest successes of my entire musical career. It feels really good. It feels cool to be leading with this foot forward.”
Perfectionism appropriately ends with “You Know Best,” a hopeful ode to moving on and somewhat of a thank you to his ex-partner. Production-wise, it’s full of energy and builds with a lot of guitar and drumming, evoking a physical and mental release.
“By being in a loving, understanding relationship with somebody who accepted me fully, I learned that on a deep-level that I was worth loving and having around. I’ve always been a very compassionate person and always been able to see other people and these really wonderful things but wasn’t able to reflect that same kind of reflection on myself. Through this pretty amazing relationship, I got to that point, which I’m forever grateful for.”
Hotel Mira’s ability to essentially write a break-up album and camouflage it under groovy songs that allow you to release that affliction of the aftermath is idiosyncratic and positively manic. Kerr embracing his brutal reality is what will make Hotel Mira’s return anything but diminishing.
“The truth is the two elements of being a musician that I really like are performing and writing, and everything else, I kind of hate. I’m just excited for this record to not be mine anymore and not the band’s anymore but to be the fans’ record and to project whatever they want onto it.”
Hotel Mira will be playing these songs live for the first time this spring at a handful of shows. Dates are listed below:
February 27// Victoria, BC// Lucky Bar
February 29// Vancouver, BC// The Biltmore
March 27// Calgary, AB// The Gateway
March 29// Edmonton, AB// Temple
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