Arts & Events » Music

The Drummers' Secret

The members of indie-pop group Hotel Lights reach out from as far away as Brooklyn.



As a professional musician, spending six years on the road is a great way to become acclimated to the rigors of the industry. But if you're former Ben Folds Five drummer Darren Jessee, sometimes the perfect evening is an intimate setting with the musicians who mean the most to you. This friendly night would feature Jessee's current pride and joy, the melodious indie-pop quintet Hotel Lights, for which he wrote all the songs on its latest release, “Firecracker People.” Touring to promote the new album, a stripped-down trio will be playing alongside like-minded musician Jennifer O'Connor on Feb. 12 at the Camel CafAc.

As a drummer, Jessee contributed to a few songs in the Ben Folds Five library including co-writing the hit ballad “Brick.” But as musicians mature, so too must their ability to express themselves. Now as lead vocalist and guitarist for a completely different group, he has found that new outlet.

“As you go on, different things inspire you. I was always writing, but I was happy being the drummer,” he says. “Then when that ended, I felt like it was a natural progression.”

Living in Brooklyn, Jessee found a kindred indie-pop musician in Richmonder Al Weatherhead, of Sparklehorse and Sound of Music Studios. Since then, he's found a much happier place.

“People have been really supportive. It's kept me going and I feel really grateful for my friends and all the fans,” he says.

A resident of Union Hill, Weatherhead looks forward to the intimacy of playing with a smaller version of the quintet in the small venue.

“Sometimes we play with a full band, but the times we've played at the Camel, it's been the more stripped-down version — no drums or bass,” he says. “They have a good room for that with the piano. It usually sounds all right in there — not too loud.”

Weatherhead also started out as a drummer, and began taking advantage of an unintentional perk: the constant cache of guitars that musicians would leave in his basement.

“When you're young and you're the drummer, you have to practice at the drummer's house because you have the most stuff to move around,” he says. “People would leave their guitars over and I'd just gradually start figuring it out.”

Though originally from Milwaukee, Weatherhead's last 11 years have been spent observing the rise and fall of venues here in Richmond. He says the recent spike in performance spots creates variety and is certainly something worth sharing with friends.

“A bigger venue doesn't necessarily guarantee a more memorable show,” Weatherhead says. “It's better to be on a show with some friends of ours in a smaller place than it is to get on some bill where the music isn't necessarily as compatible, like with a larger venue.” S

The Hotel Lights and Jennifer O'Connor perform Thursday, Feb 12, at 8 p.m. at the Camel CafAc, 1621 W. Broad St. Tickets are $8-$10. 353-4901.


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