Herzog — releasing their new album, A Hotel in Your Hometown, on July 29 — is a name you might not recognize unless you’re from Cleveland. But lyricist Tony Vorell believes this to be a key signature of their craft.
“We like writing about Cleveland things, Cleveland people,” says Vorell. “I don't think people outside of Cleveland are going to get some of the characters that we're talking about because, ideally, they're people you know. It's kind of the goal as a writer ... as well as the people who have been around us for so long.”
Formed in 2010, Herzog, comprising Vorell, guitarist and vocalist Nick Tolar, bassist Charlie Trenta, drummer Dan Price and Dave McHenry, boasts an impressive musical catalog. From their 2011 debut album, Search, to their latest release, A Hotel in Your Hometown, it’s clear the band finds comfort in making music recognizable to most Clevelanders.
On their newest project, Herzog’s sound completely shifts. Instead of the fast-paced drummer’s-high evident throughout much of their work, the band had to re-start from the ground up after Price went on paternity leave throughout 2019 and 2020. Resorting to a quieter, less intense tone, and experiencing recording delays from the pandemic, Herzog finally reached a newfound peace with what would be A Hotel in Your Hometown.
Ahead of Herzog’s album release show at The Brothers Lounge on July 29, we talked to the colorful, introspective lyricist about the inspiration behind the band’s name, A Hotel in Your Hometown and performing after months foregoing live performances.
Cleveland Magazine: How did Herzog form as a band?
Tony Vorell: “I met Nick in the fall of 2001, so a pretty long time ago at Cleveland State. We had a folk band back then called Expecting Rain that ran its course. By about 2010 or so, we started making heavier rock music. I changed the name to Herzog. Dan Price had been around us for a while but he came on as drums, and then we gradually added Dave and Charlie.”
CM: Herzog is an interesting name. Where did the inspiration from?
TV: “Nick picked that name. There's a film director, Werner Herzog, who these days is mostly known for his documentary work. He did Grizzly Man, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga. He also has fictional narrative work, Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. He's really into his really primal human instincts, like ‘What pushes people to those extremes?’ He talks about some pretty extreme stuff, so it's definitely an homage to Werner Herzog. The other one that comes up a lot is there's a manager of the St. Louis Cardinals named Whitey Herzog, and he was a baseball manager. I'm a baseball fan, so it's just kind of stuck.”
CM: What went into making your newest album, A Hotel in Your Hometown?
TV: “In 2018 and 2019, we recorded material for a singles project that was our last record that just ended up being called Fiction Writer, and that was very hard, straight-ahead material. Towards that process, we started writing and recording a little bit more full-key material or quiet material. Charlie, our bassist in the band, wanted to break out his mandolin, so we started writing material more in that vein. Some of that was interrupted by the pandemic, we obviously had to take some time off there, but we were able to keep writing independently. As soon as we could sneak things in, they finished the recording of A Hotel in Your Hometown. That was done late last year, so we just had to wait around for it to be released.”
CM: What sets this new project apart from your previous ones?
TV: “It's definitely a change in intensity. Dan Price was on maternity leave for 2019, 2020. He and his wife had a kid, so there's a lot less drums, mostly acoustic guitars versus straight-ahead electric guitars. My narrative approach as a writer didn't change much. I’m very fixated still on characters, and place and setting and narrative are still my focus. The way things came together sonically was a lot different, as well as how we approach live performing, which is something else definitely necessitated by the pandemic. Usually, we'd write some songs, we’d go out and play them and then we play again a month later, but we haven't been able to play very much. We've had all this material, as well as we're aware that this material might not translate well to like a live show. So, we're only going to do one, maybe two live shows of this before getting back to more traditional rock and roll. In the olden times, we were a pretty good live band. I mean we were loud, fast and tight, and so this is a departure from that.”
CM: Cleveland is known to have a diverse, creative music scene with an array of artists and genres. In your opinion, what makes Cleveland’s music scene special?
TV: “We are through and through a Cleveland band. We want on tour in 2019. It was cool, but it was also terrible. Nick and I have been active for a very long time now, so we have a lot of friends who are willing to support us both in terms of showing up for the show, buying records, as well as people we love playing with. There's a level of talent here that's incredible. It's just such a treat, like we've been rehearsing this live show and we're going to have a nine-piece live band. It’s been so good just being with these guys again. It's been fun.”
CM: You and Nick Tolar have had quite the music history, originating in 2001. How has this attributed to Herzog’s longevity?
TV: “It's going to sound very Hallmark card, but Nick and I’s relationship is very solid. We text every day, just like talking and hanging out. We have an ability to work things out between the two of us. I believe infinitely in his tale; he believes in me. I'm very excited to work with him even after 20 years. I mean, it's that simple. That relationship is really important. He has been with us the second longest and then Charlie and then Dave. We've been really able to work on our relationship, our friendships, we care a lot about each other. It makes it better than having to fight people or being jealous or angry at people, and that makes a difference.”
CM: What can fans expect at your upcoming release show July 29? Any future plans for the band?
TV: “In order to recreate all the stuff that's on the album, we are bringing on additional musicians because it's so complicated. There's no way Charlie can play bass and mandolin at the same time, so we have a lot more people on stage. A lot of these songs will be played live for the first time on the 29th. We weren't able to test them the same way we normally would, playing every couple of weeks, so we haven't been able to play this material out. The dynamic will be a lot different. There'll be a lot more vocals, a lot more singing. It's going to be a nice show, and we might try to repeat this program in September at the Happy Dog, but that's very dependent on the availability of nine players. We're really pushing it because we haven't played all year. Last time we played was in December of 2021, so there's going to be new material and there's going to be a lot of musicians on stage. I think it's really special. I'm personally looking forward to seeing the rehearsals, but I've never really seen it live because we've never done it.” Tickets start at $15.00, 8:30 p.m., 11609 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-226-2767, brotherslounge.ticketleap.com