What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Reuben Bettsak: I got into music really early on. When I was a little five-year-old boy in Panama I would dance around when my mother played Julio Iglesias, or whatever else she was playing for me. I remember watching MTV at around that age, and also connecting to the music I was hearing/seeing… So, I guess maybe the answer to the question is Julio Iglesias? Haha. I do sometimes think about what I would have been doing if I had not gotten into music. I have no idea. Maybe more non-music travel adventures?
Bo Barringer: My parents would bump Donna Summer really fucking loud in our living room when I was a little kid. That was my introduction to the power of music. And “Thriller.” I was pretty much obsessed with music from those days on. Those people were like superheroes though. It didn’t occur to me until years and years later when I heard Lou Reed that someone with limited vocal range and dance moves could do it too. I didn’t run out and pick up an instrument that day but at a certain point in my teens it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t play music.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Reuben Bettsak: I’m a video producer/editor, and I love making music videos. We’ve aimed to release a music video for all the Ex-Hyena singles, so I think having a visual element to this band has been inspiring. I also love going on outdoor adventures with my family, and dog. I love reading, and watching movies. I think books, movies, listening to music, and being exposed to art is always great food for my creativity.
Bo Barringer: When I’m not making it, I’m listening to it. And when I’m not listening to it, I’m thinking about it. When this isn’t happening, I’m generally not very happy.
How long has your band been around?
Reuben Bettsak: Our first single, “Shades,” came out in October of 2020. And I think Bo and I started Ex-Hyena around March 2020. Right in time for COVID, and being able to create the first album remotely was really therapeutic for us…
Bo Barringer: Yeah, March 2020, but we had another band 10-12 years ago called Future Carnivores. He’s played guitar in my bands, I’ve played bass in his bands. We met onstage 15, 20 years ago and have collaborated in many incarnations since. But Ex-Hyena is what all of those years of collaboration have been leading up to.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Reuben Bettsak: We are based in Boston. Bo and I have both been playing in bands in Boston for a long time, and I think we both got our songwriting chops from playing shows, working with musicians, and being inspired by other bands here. And there’s always been a great variety of amazing bands with different styles here. So, that definitely has played a role in influencing us. At the same time, Ex-Hyena delves into a post-punk/electronic music terrain that isn’t quite as prevalent here. But I think that makes it exciting for us.
Bo Barringer: Boston, sure, but all Ex-Hyena music has come from both of us holing up in our basements, haha. I think that’s what’s influenced us more than what any of our friends in other bands are doing.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Reuben Bettsak: I sent Bo a list of names. One of those names was Ex-Hyena, and the vibe of the name really clicked with the sound of the music we were starting to create.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Reuben Bettsak: We’ve probably played a total of five shows so far. We played two outdoor shows last year, one was a massively attended Porchfest, and the other was our first live show at a Garden Party at a mansion put on by the awesome Dark Spring Boston crew.
Bo Barringer: I’d have to say the best was the first. Outdoor show. Literally 97 degrees at our soundcheck. On-stage we were staring due west directly into the sun. And the ambient light was washing out all of the lights on my gear. Sweat was pouring off our faces and I thought it was going to be a total disaster. We couldn’t even tell what we sounded like. Spent three very nervous hours, begging to some higher power that the sun would go down enough to be able to see what I needed to. Three minutes before set time the sun disappeared into the trees. Fucking magical.
Volatile Weekly: What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Reuben Bettsak: So far we’ve played a O’Brien’s Pub the most with Ex-Hyena, and that’s always fun. I would love to play The Sinclair, and Crystal Ballroom. Those are probably the two on the top of the list for Boston venues.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Reuben Bettsak: This is a tough one…. I’ll go with a few current bands that just pop in my head (as opposed to Depeche Mode, etc). Weval, Darkside, Odonis Odonis, Kanga, Actors with Ex-Hyena sounds like a fun ticket at this exact moment…
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Reuben Bettsak: Biggest advice is to not forget to have fun, and to make sure you cultivate/appreciate the friendships in the band. I think when you commit so much of your time to making music, you want to make sure you have fun with the people you are playing with…
Bo Barringer: I’m not really big on advice, haha. I know I’ve been given advice in the past and some of it may have been good advice. But I’d generally just do what I was already planning to do anyhow. More often than not I’d be wrong. But I seemed to always have to make the mistake myself before I learned anything.
Volatile Weekly: If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Reuben Bettsak: I would have maybe told myself to delve deeper into the music production/engineering end of things earlier on. Being able to do that really gives you so much control over the vision of your music nowadays.
Bo Barringer: Learn how to take advice…?
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Reuben Bettsak: “Shades” means a lot to me because it was not only our first song, but it really sparked what became Ex-Hyena. When we decided to get together to make music again, we were planning to maybe do something electronic, but very experimental. But we are both songwriters that love hooks, and “Shades” turned into something that was electronic, had some experimental elements, but it’s a catchy song…and it has a dark vibe. We created a musical vibe with “Shades” that really shaped the first album, and all the music we’ve been making for Ex-Hyena.
Bo Barringer: Whichever one we are working on at the time. I don’t think either of us sits back and says, “Man we are never gonna be able to write another, ‘Shades’” or whatever. We are both pretty driven to keep writing and recording new shit.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Reuben Bettsak: ”Motorfreaks” might be the most fun to play live. I’m really enjoying playing “Sight Unseen” as well. Those two really resonate with the audience I think.
Bo Barringer: If I had to pick one it would be “Nightmare Pills”
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Reuben Bettsak: Bo usually sends me a google folder with like 10 to 12 music ideas at a time. Those ideas are fairly fleshed out musically. For those, I go song by song, write melodies, lyrics, and then record my vocals. I send it over to Bo, and he adds his vocals for the Ex-Hyena dual vocal attack. He’ll sometimes shape things a bit more like add more keys, or have a chorus repeat more. I’ll then add guitar to the track if it needs it. Recently, and for the upcoming album, we also wrote a few songs that started with a music idea I sent over that he shaped into something. But he’s definitely the music producer of the band. As far as inspiration, we get inspired by other music, art, books, etc. But, I think the way we work together creatively is maybe the biggest inspiration. I’m always excited and pleasantly surprised by an idea he sends over, and when I add vocals to it, he echoes that surprise/excitement. We are both prolific writers, and we push each other creatively….and that’s huge to building artistic momentum.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Reuben Bettsak: Our new album coming out June 24 titled “Moon Reflections” delves into memories, loneliness, future technology, future noir, communication, and we always have some songs set in the “Ex-Hyena future world.”
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Reuben Bettsak: I mean we do have disagreements sometimes, but are really good at figuring it out. I’d say like 98% of the time we are on the same page on things, and have a deep respect for what each person brings to the table.
Bo Barringer: I suppose it’d be pretty boring if we never disagreed on anything, but we resolve things pretty easily and intuitively. If we are not 100% on the same page about something it always works itself out, because we both trust each other’s instincts. When you have that kind of trust, mutual respect and a shared sensibilities you realize that when the other person is pushing their side of the argument a little harder than you it’s probably because they’re right.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Reuben Bettsak: We just released a single called ‘Fractured.” It’s accompanied by a remix from California’s awesome BlakLight. “Fractured” is the fourth single from our upcoming “Moon Reflections” album out June 24 on Brutal Resonance Records and Hush Club LTD. We have some shows coming up including June 2 with TRAITRS at O’briens, and July 17 at State Park in Cambridge, MA with Blood Handsome, Secret Mutilator, and Adi Sun. We have a Washington, DC show booked for August… and yeah, excited to release this album. We are very excited about it.