True to Your Own Spirit, the 2022 release from Portland indie rockers The Hugs, could have been the band’s last. The Hugs lineup fell apart, and longtime band leader Danny Delegato went in a different direction with his songwriting. As a result, he thought the time had come for a name change.
On their first seven records, The Hugs were a melodic, somewhat psychedelic indie rock four-piece, similar to another British music-influenced Portland band, The Dandy Warhols. As a duo, Delegato now collaborates with Portland musician Ben Stager to explore a shared interest in ’90s electronic dance music and hip hop. Delegato is also fascinated by the mad scientist, collage-style music making approach of artists like Beck.
With that drastic change, Delegato and Stager weren’t sure The Hugs band name still fit. They stayed the course, though, and according to Delegato, the currently unnamed Hugs Spirit follow-up is expected later this year. The Hugs showcase their new work Friday, May 12, at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene.
Notably, classic Hugs songs aren’t entirely jettisoned from their set. Delegato still sings and plays guitar for the most part, and the Sam Bond’s set will feature work from throughout The Hugs catalog, he says. Some renditions of older Hugs songs will be performed acoustic.
For the most part, though, Delegato will be backed up by Stager’s accompaniment of electronic beats, loops and triggers — digital trigger-activated pre-recorded music.
And that lo-fi, groove-first approach to new Hugs song “Lost Cowboy Kid,” the lead single from the new project, isn’t a complete departure from older Hugs stuff, such as “Sad Slow Song” off the band’s last album.
Throughout it all, Delegato maintains his keen melodic ear and his rhythmic priorities — laid-back and slacker in tone, though infectious.
“We’re always experimenting with stuff and tinkering,” Delegato says in a phone interview with Eugene Weekly, referring to the new Hugs material.
For Delegato, the constant grind of maintaining a full-band lineup had sucked the joy out of being in a band. “Instead of having four-piece,” he says, he wanted to “just go back to producing music,” and by doing so, embrace new technologies.
“We’re trying to go into the future of music,” he says of his new work with Stager. “I’ve always written in different genres,” he says. No matter what, though, “I like the idea of writing really great pop songs and keeping it simple,” and that hasn’t changed.
As far as the influence of post hip-hop singer-songwriter Beck, Delegato says, “I like how he has an ethos of ‘Try anything once.’ We tried to do that on this new album. We threw out a lot of stuff, but a lot of stuff was mysteriously working. It’s all good timing.”