An Interview with Andrew Earle of Hospital Grade

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been a strange time. There have been ups, and there have been downs. Things lost, and things gained. Over the course of the last year and a half, or maybe longer, I’ve made some new friends, bass player and veteran Punk/Indie rocker Andrew Earle is one of those friends.

I first became acquainted with Andrew through the vinyl networks that I’m associated with, and over time we developed a report and then a friendship, one that has endured to this day. Over time I’ve learned a lot about Andrew, and one of the most interesting things was his time with NFA and Hospital Grade. Now, Andrew was a member of many bands, but his work with NFA and Hospital Grade was exceptional. Take a good listen to the band’s work, and you will see that it stands up to any of the Punk, Indie, and Emo that was put out during that time.

Andrew means a lot to our community. He’s an admin of Vinyl Addicts, Cassette Addicts, and CD Addicts, groups he helped found. He’s a part of the Vinyl Writer staff as a columnist, but most importantly, he’s my friend. He’s been a trusted a loyal buddy, my “Alt/Punk Rock Guru,” and one who I am thankful to have met during the craziness of COVID-19. Also, along with several others, we rode out the “Breadstick Apocalypse” in late 2020 and into early 2021 (those who were there know the deal).

So, it’s my pleasure to have Andrew with me for an interview today. Make no mistake; I didn’t do this interview with Andrew just because he’s my friend. Andrew’s career in music is legit, and the music he’s helped create is special and worth covering. He’s injected real, tangible art into this work, art that still makes people happy. However humble he may be, what Andrew has accomplished as a musician is a whole lot more than many people can say. Andrew deserves to have his name sit beside the others interviewed for our site, and I am proud to have conducted the interview with him. Enjoy getting to know one of our own a bit better. He’s a cool guy with a rich musical history—cheers to you, Andrew. Dig in.

Andrew (Daly):
Andrew, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever raging dumpster fire?

Andrew (Earle):
My pleasure; well, it has been quite a year, but my sanity is as intact as it can be, I think. Trying to keep busy with social distancing is tough, though.

Andrew (Daly):
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway, so to speak?

Andrew (Earle):
Well, my Dad’s record collection and ever-present 8 track player in the car (the 1970s). Later my oldest brother records and cassettes, and my fateful decision to ask for a cheap Sears Bass for Christmas. I can’t stress enough the importance of my friend and long-time collaborator Jason (and his father), who I took my first steps as a musician & thousands of miles on the road that followed.

Andrew (Daly):
You’ve been in a few bands, tell us about them.

Andrew (Earle):
Far to man to mention (let alone remember). I played in Punk/Hardcore bands (White Minority, Date Rape, Killdevils), and Jangling REM type bands (not From Athens) who later changed completely in style and rebranded as NFA, which was Math Rock/Post-Punk/Alt-Rock band who later became Hospital Grade.

Andrew (Daly):
Let’s talk about Hospital Grade. How did the band form? What were some of Hospital Grade’s biggest inspirations? How did the band develop its sound?

Andrew (Earle):
Well, Hospital Grade was a name and drummer change. NFA had been playing mathy Pop/Post-Punk with some heavy, noisy stuff mixed in for about 10 years, the first 7 as a trio then adding a second guitar. After 2 second guitarists and 3 more years, our drummer [Craig] was graduating from university with a degree in Engineering and was starting a job at a nuclear reactor. So, we decided a name change was in order with a new drummer coming on board.

We recorded the last NFA album (with Craig before he left for a life of danger) and started working with a new drummer. It was decided to rename the band for the album as we had signed to a new label. Funny side note: we almost used the name The National but found the other band already using it in a web search like a month before our CD was to be manufactured. It was recorded with a sense of leaving our (NFA’s) mark, so we really pushed the boundaries of what we felt we could do as a pretty well-tuned machine.

Hospital Grade just seemed to continue along that path but with a more creative drummer. Craig was a machine and a technician but far too busy with studies, so we brought mostly finished songs to him. Mike breathed new life into it with a passion for being involved with songs from the earliest of stages. Mike tragically passed away from a car accident and his friend Sean who had filled in from time to time for Mike, stepped in to continue the band. We have a half-finished album that’s been in limbo due to some internal problems for a few years now. I fear it will never see the light of day, but I hope it does.

Hospital Grade – Written Axe To Trigger

Andrew (Daly):
The band’s debut album, Written Axe To Trigger, came out in 2002. What do you remember about the recording of this album?

Andrew (Earle):
Well, as I already said, it was really the final NFA album in reality; we worked on it for the better part of a year after the drums we recorded, and Craig had departed. Wavelength Studios were in a friend’s house, and he [the owner] was gone for months at a time working on ships crossing the ocean blue. We kind of kept an eye on the place and kept recording parts and working without time restraints. Many late nights (heading in after work and staying up all night and then going back to work in the morning).

Luckily before it was completed, Rob (Wavelength’s owner) came home and had his girlfriend’s two daughters over while we were finishing vocals. They asked if they could yell into the microphone, and we got them to do a bridge vocal for shits and giggles. Well, it ended up on the album. One of my favorite moments on the album.

Andrew (Daly):
Hospital Grade’s
second album, Secrets & Sawdust, came out in 2006, right? This is a truly great and supremely underrated record. Tell us about the recording and inspiration for it.

Andrew (Earle):
Our original second guitar player, who dated back to the NFA days, had left and had been replaced. The new guy (Adam) thinks totally outside the box, and we were letting whatever ideas or directions flow. Wavelength had closed, and we were working with a new studio and recording our first album proper as the band Hospital Grade. So we really wanted it to be a departure from Written Axe To Trigger. By the time we had started to record, the label we had been with folded, and we were unsure what was going to happen with it but went in to record anyway. After acquiring a government grant to finish the recording (we had run out of money for it), we also received a grant for touring and promotion, and we then released it with a local label and hit the road again.

Hospital Grade – Secrets & Sawdust

Andrew (Daly):
Looking back, what are some of your fondest memories with the band? Ones that mean the most to you?

Andrew (Earle):
Playing CBGBs was a real big memory. Such a historically important venue. When we managed to get it booked, it was a total “holy shit” moment to pull up and double park in front of CBGBs to load in and actually play on that stage. Every tour has highlights, but that tour was special. We played The Middle East in Boston (The Pixies played there a bunch of times and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones) the night before. We were doing most of the US leg of that tour with our friends Harris from Boston that tour as well, and they were amazing to watch every night. New York was always a good time, and on another tour, our friend Tom Thacker (GOB/SUM 41 tour guitarist) showed up to see us, so that was pretty great.

Andrew (Daly):
You guys toured a lot over a long period of time. Do you have any interesting stories from the road?

Andrew (Earle):
Lots but few fit for print. [Laughs]. Nuclear Assault once got on the bill last moment and took all our money from the venue (so we trashed the club owner’s truck). We played the best dive bar in America as chosen by Maxim Magazine, The Ale House in Portland, Maine. Showing up to open for Ace Frehley at a venue that wasn’t completely finished being built (toilets on the back of a truck in the parking lot). I’ll leave it at that. [Laughs].

Andrew (Daly):
What’s the status of Hospital Grade today? Will we ever see another album or show?

Andrew (Earle):
I keep hounding the guys about getting the album finished, but I don’t know if it ever will. I’d like to release it and do a few shows so I can close the book on it. It feels uncomfortable to leave these songs on the table unfinished. Only time will tell. Pandemics don’t make anything easy, and all this time I’ve had on my hands has left me thinking about it far too much. It’s quite maddening, to be honest. I was just starting to play with my old drummer from Killdevils in a Metal project called Sex Funeral, filling in for their departed bassist when the Pandemic hit. I really miss playing.

Andrew (Daly):
Let’s talk about the state of the music industry a bit. What are a few things you would like to see change for the better?

Andrew (Earle):
I’d like to see ticket sales taken back to the box office and off the internet. Flippers of tickets for big tours are ruining music. What’s left of the labels has no idea what to do except work with established artists. I think streaming is destroying music as we knew it. People, in general, have no attention span for an album anymore, just playlists of “hits.” The art form of the album is dying, and streaming is killing it, just like “video killed the radio star.” I’d like to see artists paid better by these streaming sites. It’s a joke how minuscule per stream they are paid.

Andrew (Daly):
I’ll appeal to the record collector in you now. RSD. Some love it. Some hate it. What are your honest thoughts on Record Store Day?

Andrew (Earle):
I’m getting tired of the major labels and major artists “taking over.” Foolish picture discs of Disney soundtracks and reissues of stuff nobody wants (have a look in the marked-down bins at your local store for RSD 2017/2018 titles that are still sitting there unsold). The prices are getting pretty ridiculous as well, and don’t even get me started about flippers listing stuff on eBay weeks before RSD happens.

I used to find 8 or 9 things I’d really like to find, but it’s down to 3 or 4. It’s a hipster day now & I’m becoming less of a fan as time wears on. The last one, I picked up 2 titles and basically got everything I was after.

Andrew (Daly):
So, you probably know that quality control has been an issue in the past when it comes to vinyl, but to what degree? In your opinion, is QC really as big an issue as it’s made out to be?

Andrew (Earle):
I haven’t really noticed much of a QC problem, but I don’t buy tons of records. I hear about warped records quite often, but I’m not sure if that’s a pressing problem or a shipping one. I do think with RSD & the general upswing in vinyl sales over the past 6 or 7 years, the backlog at pressing plants must be daunting at times. Maybe I’m just getting lucky, or the hearing damage years of being in a band have caught up to me.

Andrew (Daly):
Opinion question. In a world dominated by big business and social media, can indie artists truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Andrew (Earle):
I think it’s all a matter of luck now more than ever. For every Billie Eilish who flukes out with a hit, thousands of hard-working bands will be lucky to get a regional following. Playing live & building a fanbase is key to building something. Social media can play a part, but I think it’s overrated as a global tool for bands.

Andrew (Daly):
What other passions do you have? How do those interests inform your music, if at all?

Andrew (Earle):
I like art a lot and design flyers for Shows my bands play (I did everything on the art side from t-shirts to CD and Cassette packaging for Killdevils). Visual art and music are still important to me as a package. It’s really too bad the bulk of musicians either don’t care about it or are clueless about it, but it goes along with physical media vs. streaming singles. Art and design are a dying art form, unfortunately.

Andrew (Daly):
Are you only into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music? How big is your collection these days?

Andrew (Earle):
I have 400+ Records. 1000+ CDs and 300 or so cassettes. I prefer records, but not everything is on vinyl or even available at a reasonable price on vinyl. If you limit yourself to one format, you’ll miss out on a lot of great music. I’m not into digital at all. It’s just not my thing. I have some hard-to-find stuff that I’ve burned on a CD. I don’t even know where my mp3 player is, and I have zero music on my phone.

Andrew (Daly):
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Andrew (Earle):
My copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits. It’s the first record I ever walked into a record store and bought. Van Halen – Women & Children First (I borrowed from my brother’s collection before he sold it all off ) and Frank Zappa – One Size Fits All (first of many Zappa on all 3 formats. Some on more than one format). Zappa is my, “Oh, I don’t have this one.” I always buy it regardless of format. I have an unhealthy obsession with Zappa.

Andrew (Daly):
What are a few artists that mean the most to you, and why?

Andrew (Earle):
Zappa is my be all end all. His music is just so…..everything. Nomeansno is intense, primal, and deceptively deep. Clutch and the Super Suckers are evil powers of Rock ‘N’ Roll. They are pure fury. Celtic Frost, Voi Vod, and Cathedral are my generation’s Sabbath. Oh yeah, who can forget Ozzy era Sabbath?

Andrew (Daly):
Last question. You’ve maintained a strong DIY approach thus far, which is never a bad thing. That being said, what advice would you have for artists just getting started?

Andrew (Earle):
Do not give up ownership or control. Work hard, play lots and enjoy what you are doing. If that’s not you? Join a boy band or American Idol. When you play hard and impress 3 people in an opening slot next time, there are friends of those 3 their with them to impress. Growth may be slow, but organic growth is lasting growth. What the hell do I know, though? I’m working a day job after 30+ years of doing this, but I still want to be doing this.

Interested in learning more about the work of Hospital Grade? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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