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Charm Pop

The voice behind Brooklyn's sweetest trio talks day jobs, Steely Dan and the evolution of sound under pressure.


Amber Papini, flanked by Brian Betancourt and Nathan Michel, found her musical inspiration in the quirks of a corporate job. Imagine what she could do with Capital One. - DEAN REINFORD
  • Dean Reinford
  • Amber Papini, flanked by Brian Betancourt and Nathan Michel, found her musical inspiration in the quirks of a corporate job. Imagine what she could do with Capital One.

Hospitality frontwoman Amber Papini finds inspiration in curious places. The banal day-to-day of corporate America is hardly what you'd expect to fuel shimmering pop songs, but that's how much of the material on the Brooklyn, N.Y., band's self-titled debut album came to be.

"I went to New York with a mission: I wanted to write songs and start a band, but also pay off my debt," says Papini, a Kansas City native. "I figured the best avenue would be to get a day job and write songs at night and on the weekends."

The 30-something singer called it quits after three years of conservative dress codes and policies that "tend to get to you slowly." Yet in that time she made good friends and fed off of the culture to write clever, chirpy songs such as "Betty Wang," inspired by a co-worker. "I also wrote a song called 'Conference Call,' but never recorded it. It was about unrequited love," she says, laughing.

In 2007 Papini bonded with her now-husband, Nathan Michel, over music at a party in New Haven, Conn. The pair toured a bit with Papini singing backup on Michel's solo material. They moved to New York, where Papini joined forces with her sister Gia and ultimately bassist Brian Betancourt to form the first incarnation of Hospitality. They became a trio when Gia left the band and within a year recorded their first EP, which introduced many of the songs heard on their full-length, "Hospitality."

Recorded in four days, the meticulously crafted album challenges the notion that all music coming out of Brooklyn these days is overachieving noise rock by leaning on traditional pop structures and grounded lyrics. While well-received, early reviews obsessed over irresistible, sing-song melodies and made Belle and Sebastian comparisons. There was also the inescapable use of the word twee — though Papini and company say they're fine with the descriptor that might make some too-cool-for-school bands cringe. "I can understand the twee thing with some of the older songs," Papini says. "It doesn't really bother us."

The band will begin recording the follow-up this winter, and Papini thinks people will be surprised by its robust new sound. "It's definitely bigger, louder and less acoustic-adorable," she says. "Our sound is much more electric guitar-oriented now. ... We just keep working on growing our music and moving in directions that inspire us."

As part of online magazine the A.V. Club's Undercover series that challenges indie bands to cover classic rock songs, Hospitality took on the 1974 hit "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." It was the first time it had ever played a cover song.

"They told us, you've gotta learn this in eight days," Papini says. "We really learned a lot about how to make someone else's song your own. You want to feel comfortable with it, so you have to change it up a little bit."

"Challenges like that are fun," she adds. "It makes you grow. I think we are all getting much better as performers." S

Hospitality plays with Teen, the Garbers and Herro Sugar at Strange Matter on Sunday, Oct. 28, at 6 p.m. $8-$10. All ages are welcome. For information, go to


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