"It's heartbreaking, it really is."
Over coffee at Waypoint Public, Hills Like Elephants frontman Sean Davenport is explaining to me why, after five years, the local indie-pop band is calling it quits.
"It's a hard decision to make," he continues. "Our end game out here was always 'keep making albums,' always put out new music every year, do as much as we can, play the coolest shows we can, and it's been great. For the past few years, I've had no qualms about what we've done. We've made good music, which is all I wanted."
Like San Diego musicians are seemingly wont to do these days, Davenport (who also plays in Botanica Chango) has decided to relocate (back) to New York City. In a way, it's a full circle move, considering the vocalist/keyboardist actually left the Big Apple seven years ago for San Diego (where he grew up before attending Boston's Berklee College of Music).
Turns out, along with his fiancee, his fellow Hills Like Elephants/Botanica Chango bandmate Michael "Mikey" Hams will be going with him. For those that have witnessed the North Park band's evolution from the soul-pop of 2010's "The Endless Charade" debut to 2013's more unpredictable "Feral Flocks," up to the raw urgency of last year's post-punk-channeling "Tell Tales" EP -- the thought of San Diego sans Hills just feels ... wrong.
And it begs the question: Why?
"From the sane point of view, theres's no real reason to be doing any of this," Davenport says, shrugging. "I'm comfortable out here. I like being here, and I like what I've got. I've got a really nice apartment that I love in a great part of town, a lot of great friends and a beautiful fiancee. But from the productive side of me, it's like, well if you don't try, you'll continue to wonder about this. There's no real room for us to tour right now, which I want to do. There's no real room for you to get any bigger opportunities unless you tour or unless you have some kind of connection with a label or inside the industry. The only way to do stuff is by putting out new music, backed by touring."
Which is, as the frontman explains, an unlikely prospect for the group (which aside from Davenport and Hams, is composed of multi-instrumentalist Greg Thielmann, bassist Robert Garrity, and guitarist Andrew Armerding). Over the last few years, they've had children, moved into bigger and better places, become business owners -- you know, gotten older ("We're all in our 30s now, and we just can't afford to come back from tour and be homeless," he says laughing). For Davenport, even though he treasures his fellow bandmates, he just feels the need to pursue his dreams while he's still young enough to do it -- and that quest will now take him to the East Coast.
"The idea really isn't too different than what I did with Hills. I'm going to make an album, or EP at least, and then book shows and put an ensemble together. And we'll see if people are going to be core members like Mikey and I, or if we'll have a rotating band, at least in the initial phase. I still have a lot of musician friends out there, and a lot of them have gone on to really great things, and it makes me think that it's a possibility that I could do this ... I just want certain opportunities that New York provides. It's such a different ballgame out there. It'll present more challenges, of course, as we go along. I just want to make something sound good and we'll see where it goes. It'll take a while to get things going. You don't realize how much work goes into something until you start something new again."
In one last hurrah, Hills Like Elephants will officially release their final album, "Tacet," at their last show ("I'm not saying we'll never play ever again. If there was an opportunity that arose for Hills and it'd be crazy not to do it, I'd call everyone. Here's to hoping," a smiling Davenport says) on Friday, Aug. 26 at the Whistle Stop in South Park. In a SoundDiego exclusive, listen to the premiere of the record's first single, "Murmurations" -- co-written by Alfred Howard and featuring guest vocals by Dani Bell (of Boychick and Dani Bell & the Tarantist).
The album's a nine song mash-up of five songs recorded up at Chaos Recorders in Escondido with producer Christopher Hoffee, and songs they largely recorded themselves at Hams' Controls for the Sun studio in Linda Vista. Originally meant for two separate EPs, Davenport explains that they had already started the recording process before he made the decision to move to New York. When he did, the band felt it best to combine the efforts.
"Mikey floated the idea, 'what if we just finished this, put 'em all together, complete a package, play a last show and end it beautifully in the most productive way we possibly can.' When Hoffee got back from his European tour with White Buffalo, we asked him to mix the songs and he did that in a couple days -- and that's the album we have now."
It's also a fitting way for Hills Like Elephants to go out. A slight return to the soul-groove style that started it all on "The Endless Charade," it also pushes forward with a fearless energy and above all, an incredulous knack for catchy pop melodies. "Tacet" is Hills Like Elephants at their best -- a culmination of everything we've grown to love about them and a proper send-off for a band we saw effortlessly turn stagnant crowds into buoyant dance parties at show after show.
"I want people to know that it's hard justifying leaving San Diego," Davenport admits. "It's a beautiful place, and there's a support system in the musical community instead of a competitiveness. It's a tight-knit community and it allows you to have opportunities. You have people like Tim Mays [Casbah owner/talent buyer] and Cory Stier [Soda Bar talent buyer] that'll put you on bills with cool bands. A lot of other places aren't like that. That's huge. The last five years, the support we got made it so that we wanted to do it. If it weren't for people taking the time to listen and come out to the shows, we wouldn't have had any incentive to keep going. San Diego's music foundations have been so kind to put us on festivals, and give us awards, and keep us in rotation and advocate for us regularly -- anyone that really just said nice things about us and encouraged people to listen to us -- all of it means the world."
The slight-of-frame, tattoed singer wistfully looks out the window onto a busy 30th Street and adds: "We're definitely gonna miss everyone."
Hills Like Elephants play the Whistle Stop on Friday, Aug. 26 for their record release show with Botanica Chango opening. The show is free.
Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow; plays in Diamond Lakes and Boy King; and runs the music-equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.