When Hannah Read was 16 years old, she’d drive 200 miles each way to Waco and back to play guitar in her brother’s band. That’s four hours there, a 2 a.m. set to a room full of drunk people, then four hours back through what was left of the night, racing over an arc of highway north of Houston. She’d get home to Silsbee, Texas, just in time to start her day at high school.
Those long, solo drives are a fact of life in Texas’s sprawl, and they inform much of Thx, Read’s second album with her own band Lomelda. She sees angels in headlights on “Interstate Vision”; she watches burnt trees slide by the car windows on “Out There”; she careens down a highway after a fight with a loved one on “Nervous Driver.” For Read, as for interstate poets like David Berman before her, roads are arteries channeling the most acute and vivid human experiences. They’re where you feel loneliest and most alive, shooting across state lines at 85 miles per hour, tapped into the enormity and desolation of the United States.
Read exploits that physical distance as a salient metaphor for emotional space between people. “As a kid, I didn’t have a ton of friends,” she says over the phone from her home in Silsbee, where she still lives with her family. Their dogs, Molly and Russell, who wandered up to their house one day and have been there ever since, bark in the background. “The friends I did have I was very close with, but I would be terrified that we couldn’t get any closer. That bothered me a ton as a kid — that it’s really easy to lie, that it’s impossible to be as together as I wanted.”
Thx translates that yearning for intimacy into warm, expansive guitar tones and layers upon layers of vocal harmonies. The record ranges from hushed acoustic prayers, like the title track, to eruptions of thick bass, crunchy guitar, and cymbal-heavy drum patterns, like the miraculous coda to “Bam Sha Klam.”
Like her first album, Read recorded Thx with her brother and lifelong creative partner, Tommy. “Bam Sha Klam” is based on one of his songs; Read named her version after a game they played as kids, trying to hit baseballs as far as possible. They’re currently building a studio together at Tommy’s house in Silsbee, less than half a mile from where their parents and grandmother live. “I have a pretty mixed-up relationship with [Silsbee],” Read says. “I love being here with my family. I love being able to work on stuff with my brother. But it is really isolating and politically disgusting.”
Growing up, Read’s family was instrumental in her development as a musician. Her father taught her to play guitar, and Tommy showed her artists like Elliott Smith, whom she name-checks on “Out There,” singing, “Elliott, what have you done to us?” “That one song is sort of mistakenly blaming Elliott Smith for my own despair,” she says. “I still am a very hopeful person in many ways. I think that people can connect with each other and that friendship is worth living for. I don’t want it to just sound like blame. I want it to be gratitude as well for giving space and permission for people to feel despair.”
With Thx, Read didn’t set out to make an overbearingly sad record, but, like Smith, she tried to offer space for people to feel sad if they wanted to. “I wanted the songs and the timbres and the melodies to be very approachable. I wanted to be gentler with the emotions and let them just sit and not feel guilty about that,” she says. “I think that’s where a lot of angst comes from — having really strong emotions but feeling like you’re not allowed to express them. With this, I think it’s mostly easy to listen to, but if you want to go there, if you want to pay attention and see what’s being said, you can. You can sit with it that way.”