History is littered with bands that were gobbled up by the machinations of the music industry. It goes like this: Good Band gets noticed and signs to a record label in hopes of finding fame and fortune. Something goes awry — band members grow apart, label personnel turns over, money dries up after a corporate merger, whatever — and before long, Good Band gets dropped, and the label either folds or goes looking for the next big thing.
Most of these stories end unhappily. But not The Hugs’ version, according to founder and core creative force Danny Delegato.
The Hugs’ story starts at Cleveland High School in Southeast Portland, where Delegato and three friends started playing ultra-catchy garage-pop-rock music and posting it to MySpace. That’s when a British music industry executive discovered the band before promptly signing them to his label in the late 2000s.
What happened next is a very long story with many twists and turns, including The Hugs recording an album in England right around the same time they were graduating from high school. That album never came out, however. The reasons are many, they are convoluted, and they don’t really matter much now.
What matters is that Delegato didn’t let the experience get him down. Ever since — for the past dozen years or so — he has been pumping out albums of energetic, effortlessly catchy and occasionally psychedelic pop-rock that sits somewhere near the midpoint between The Strokes and The Shins. To hear him talk about it now, it’s as if The Hugs’ early brush with fame happened to a different band.
And yet you can tell that he learned a lot from the experience.
“It was a tough time, and it was definitely a learning process, but we kept going and kept making music,” Delegato said. “What I eventually realized, though, is that it’s the music that matters to me. It’s not all the other stuff. It’s the music, and the music is the reason we were able to keep going and not trip and fall. Most people expected it to squash us.”
Because they are snappy and memorable, Delegato’s songs are perfect for licensing to advertisements, TV shows and movies. The Hugs’ songs have appeared in a Gap ad and on the hit HBO show “Girls,” among other high-profile places, giving the band a wider reach to a new audience, not to mention some income.
“That’s kind of where it’s at right now because of streaming and the decline of album sales,” Delegato said. “I mean, I’m 33 now. I’m trying to keep up with the times.”
You heard that right: 33 years old. For all his years in the business — and his experiences, both positive and negative — the guy is still young. And he’s still processing his influences, from his parents’ record collection (full of ’60s pop like the Beatles and the Kinks) to the alt-rock and Brit-pop of his youth. What comes out is … The Hugs.
In fact, over the past couple of years, Delegato has been working on the seventh Hugs album, which he expects to release in the spring. He is excited for people to hear what he’s doing now, and how it fits into the band’s epic story.
“When I think back to when I was younger, I realize now that I didn’t understand what I was doing,” he said. “But I also can see that I’ve learned a lot, and I think that’s really what matters the most: that you can look back and see that you’ve grown.”