The first thing that strikes you about “How to Love and How to Be Let Down,” a lovely, heartfelt new song by Vegas-based Joey Hines, is the vocals. The song is built on a doo wop chord progression, which already points things in a tender sort of direction, but there’s tender and then there’s this: cooing, mewling, and hiccupping, Hines’ vocals sound like they were recorded immediately after a good long cry. Like the chord progression, it’s reminiscent of doo wop–the combination of vulnerability and theatricality is that genre’s bread and butter–but whereas some doo wop can feel hammy and phony in its heart-on-sleeve melodrama, there’s nothing insincere about a song like this.
“How to Love and How to Be Let Down” is about how the act of falling in love is an invitation to get your heart broken. Nothing is ever perfect, nobody gets it right on the first try, and it’s going to hurt–but you’ll keep falling in love, anyway. It’s a fairly common theme, but it works because it feels earned. It doesn’t feel like a pose, but rather an expression of deep-seated emotion, revealed like a hidden layer beneath chipped paint. “I’m out of control, and that’s a first for me,” Hines belts out in the chorus, and it’s a testament to his songwriting and his control as a performer that we believe him.
What’s the story behind this song? Does it come from real life experience?
I wrote this song the night after I had to put my 15-year-old golden retriever down. I was struggling to process that this wonderful animal who’d been by my side more than half my life was suddenly gone, so I ate a pot krispie treat and wrote her a love song to a 50s doo-wop chord progression. I intentionally didn’t include obvious dog-related words in the lyrics, because some people might relate the emotions here to a different situation, and I think ambiguity can be part of the magic of music.
What lyric do you think is the key to the whole song?
“I wanna hold the hand that hurts me so.” The things we love are the same things that cause us pain. It’s unavoidable. Pet ownership is a uniquely harsh distillation of that truth. A dog or a cat is unlikely to outlive you. It’s part of the deal that you’re going to have to see them through the end of their life. And what I’m saying here is, it’s worth it. It’s worth the loss to have that time together and be able to provide for them.
What’s your favorite song you’ve ever written?
Of the songs I’ve released, and in my current mood, I’m proudest of “Absolution” from my 2020 album Hines Sight. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to writing a standard or a traditional folk or pop song. In my discography there are a lot of idiosyncratic or absurd songs that are very “Joey”. But when I write one that would make sense when sung by anyone, that taps into something universal about the human experience, that’s when I feel like I’ve got my hands on something good. However, I’m even more excited for my song “There Is a Train” which releases July 7. It’s a groovy blues rock song with a spooky twist to the lyric, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.
Your vocals are a big part of what makes this song work. Do you have any vocal influences, or do you just sing as naturally as you can?
I’ve always liked singers with unusual voices: people like Bob Dylan, Billy Corgan, and Daniel Johnston who prioritize telling a story or infusing a lyric with character over sounding “pretty”. There’s also plenty of Ben Folds, Ben Gibbard, and John Darnielle in my vocal DNA. But my goal has never been to emulate those people. Instead I try to do my own thing in a way that feels true. My frequent co-lyricist Grant Nordine said I’m “aggressively myself” as a vocalist, and that’s my new favorite way to describe it.
Do you have any ambitions for the future?
I would love to find bands interested in covering my songs. I often have a minimalist approach when recording, so it’d be a thrill to hear what some really great instrumentalists could do with the arrangements. I love to collaborate too. I’d love to co-write with other artists, play on each others’ records, and play shows or tour together. My short-term goal is to play some of the larger venues here in Vegas, after having cut my teeth in lots of dive bars these past few years. And you can look forward to a lot more music from me, with two different EPs on the way over the next year. I hope to release a consistent stream of songs indefinitely. For whatever reason, the gift I’ve been given is a muse for songwriting, so I feel it behooves me to use it.