A Conversation With Jason Hill

Rock ’n’ roll is no longer a make-or-break proposition for Jason Hill—not even close. That urgency effectively came to an end about 10 years ago, when his second band, dicey glam-trash outfit Louis XIV, disbanded after two full-length releases and a pair of EPs on Atlantic. Less has been said about Hill’s first group, Convoy, which poked its head out the San Diego hills just before the start of the millennium with a fully formed self-produced debut that sweetened its Stonesy swagger with a hazy Laurel Canyon aesthetic and occasional Beach Boys harmonies.

These days, Hill has found a lucrative niche for himself in the studio, most recently overseeing the soundtracks for two seasons of the well-received crime series Mindhunter and the chilling new docu-series The Confession Killer, both on Netflix. Now that Hill has the luxury of rocking out purely for the fun of it, he’s bringing back Louis XIV, with new music and tour plans for early next year. And he’s just released his first solo single, the fitfully cinematic “They Like Me, They Love Me,” which you can listen to below. We lured Hill out of the studio for a colorful chat about all the above.

It looks like you’re keeping busy these days.
I’ve got, like, two massive white boards in my studio with columns and columns of projects. It’s a mess, but it’s cool. I can’t complain at all. I’ve been scoring films and TV series for the last five or six years. I’ve sort of gotten bored with the normality of regular songs.

Well, the new single has the feel of a regular song.
“They Like Me, They Love Me” is actually in The Confession Killer. It was written loosely from the perspective of Henry Lee Lucas, who’s the focus of the docu-series. It was the first song I’d written for me to sing in years. I wrote it really quickly. I walked into the studio and picked up an acoustic guitar, the words came, and I wrote them down. I hadn’t sung much in years, and I was also a little sick. I was never happy with the vocal, so I did all of these crazy things with it. At the end of the day, it turned out really cool.

You really have to go back to the Convoy days to hear you singing in the classic sense. With Louis XIV, you were role-playing more than anything else.
Some people didn’t get what we were doing. At first, for our self-titled album, Louis XIV was a character that was purposefully put together. It derived from this concept of a kid who’s 18 or 19, who had a drug-addict mom growing up. When she went out, she would lock him in the closet, and that became his grand apartment. I always envisioned it as this movie where you’d film him in present day and then, at a certain point, it would just click and he’d see himself back in the days of Louis XIV. We’d put on this ridiculous English accent, really just for fucking fun. But for some people, there was this reaction like, “What are they doing? This is a fraud.” But after that first record, it all became something more than just a concept. I developed this heavily articulated and drawn-out style of singing, and it became Louis XIV.

What prompted the abrupt shift in style from the smoother Americana vibe of Convoy to the jagged edges of Louis XIV?
The Louis XIV stuff was really a reaction to overproduction. Convoy’s first album, Pineapple Recording Sessions, wasn’t smooth at all. It was self-produced and raw, all done on eigh-track reel-to-reel. The smoother style of (2002’s) Black Licorice wasn’t what the band was ever after. The production was getting bigger and bigger, but the core of the songwriting wasn’t getting better. I could blame [producer David Bianco] for that, but it’s a lot of what broke up the band, as well. When something’s missing, you add more stuff. Most of Black Licorice was smoothly produced versions of what’s on Pineapple Recording Sessions, which we thought we’d done just fine the first time. But we were young and cowered to the record label. 

Was it worth it?
The record company (Hybrid) owed us $75,000 for another record. We had an album pretty much finished, but our hearts had already moved on—although two of those songs (“Air Traffic Control” and “Hopesick”) actually made it onto (Louis XIV’s) Sick Dogs And Ponies. Looking back, I could’ve given them that record, and we would’ve had $75,000 to live on. But morally, I didn’t want to do that. At the time, I was dead broke and living in this office space over my friend’s recording studio. I’d go out on out the back porch that overlooked the Shell station and the San Diego Bay and shower with a hose connected to the faucet. There wasn’t any hot water, because I couldn’t pay for it. My grandfather had given my dad a car. My dad had a stroke and couldn’t use it, so I got the car. I basically sold it to the bank for $18,000 and bought a bunch of recording gear—the core of what I still use today. Some of the guys in the band were sick of being broke and wanted real jobs, so the rest of us split off to make Louis XIV. After the first Louis album, I began making a solo record; things like “Pledge Of Allegiance” and “Paper Doll” were initially supposed to be on that. But it just became Louis XIV as (longtime collaborator) Brian (Karscig) and I started writing more tunes. For (2005’s) The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, it was incredibly creative. A whole song would be done in the matter of an evening. We had complete artistic control. I produced it; I engineered it; I mixed it. It was 100 percent us. To Atlantic’s credit, they were cool with it. 

Were you surprised that Louis XIV took off the way it did?
Not really. We’d honed our craft through all the Convoy stuff and all the touring. We were actually at the point where everything was colliding in a perfect way. This is not to be egotistical, but I really thought we were one of the best bands on the planet at the time. You have to believe in what you’re doing, and I believed in it. I remember after some shows, I’d be like, “Fuck, this is exactly what I wanted. I always wanted to be my own favorite band.”

How did you get involved with director David Fincher?
His wife was a fan of my music, I think. He heard something and thought I’d be great to do the trailer teaser for (2014’s) Gone Girl, which was a cover of “She” by Charles Aznavour. I produced it and brought in Richard Butler to sing it. On the outside, it’s a love song, but it’s really about codependency and kind of dark. A girlfriend and I had broken up after three years on the Friday before, and three days later I got the call to do it. My father was dying at the time, as well. I was an emotional mess deep down. I’d decided to go sober from everything for a year—no booze or pot, which was hard at first. I was literally doing the Dudley Moore thing in Arthur, where he got sober when his butler was sick and dying. It sounds ridiculous, but I wanted to do the same for my father. I wanted to get a handle on how I was feeling and not just numb myself. So “She” was the perfect project to dive headfirst into—I just poured it all into that production, and it changed my life. I worked on it in Studio 3 at the old United Recorders, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson’s main room—so that was a treat. I locked it out for a month. Fincher just saw the work I put into it and hired me for his next few projects, leading to Mindhunter.

How is making music different for you now than it was, say, 15 years ago?
Now I can hack on pretty much every instrument. For this Korean film I’m scoring, it’s cello. I used to walk into the studio and reach for a guitar or maybe a piano. Now, I have a million instruments around me that I don’t know, that I’m not as confident with—and I can challenge myself. You can’t make a living as an artist these days unless you work your ass off and tour, because nobody pays for music. But it’s never been about making money—I’d do this no matter what. I’ve always wanted to learn how to use the studio as an instrument, and now that’s pretty much my approach. It’s what propelled me to this place.

—Hobart Rowland; photo by @victoriasmithphoto 

To listen to the soundtrack for Mindhunter Season 2, click here.

Louis XVI Tour Dates
3/11 — Sacramento, Holy Diver
3/12 — San Francisco, The Great Northern
3/17 — Los Angeles, Moroccan Lounge
3/19 — San Diego, The Music Box