Hallelujah the Hills maintain a winning streak
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Many long-running bands have dealt with personnel changes from time to time. They'd prefer, though, for any turnover to happen offstage. Hallelujah the Hills hasn't always been so lucky.
At a Halloween gig a few years ago at Great Scott in Allston, an onstage disagreement over a cue inspired the band's drummer — one in what had become a procession of musicians occupying that chair — to peace out.
"He just threw his sticks down and stormed out," recalls band leader Ryan Walsh in a telephone interview.
"It's just a hilarious footnote," Walsh, 37, says, adding that there are no hard feelings now. "I always like to embrace the bad stuff just as much as the good stuff, because I think giving people a realistic idea about what it's like to be a band, at any level, for any number of years, is always interesting."
Then there's the time it won a Boston Music Award for best video in 2014, and someone else took home the actual statue. (The band never did find it or receive a replacement.)
Hallelujah the Hills has racked up its share of war stories through more than 10 years of making music on the Boston scene. Its members have balanced day jobs with musical ambitions, while accruing a body of work that reflects Walsh's interest in energetic, sometimes-shambolic rock music with a sly sense of humor embedded within.
Its latest album, released in April, is called "A Band Is Something to Figure Out." It's an apt title for a group that has earned its longevity the hard way: operating in the indie sector for much of its lifespan, continuing to evolve and produce very good work, without breaking big on a national scale. In addition to that elusive award for best video, the Hills' last record contributed to the band's BMA win for rock artist of the year.
"What we would like the most, I think, is for everyone to love our record so much that they invite us to all sorts of amazing places in the world for us to go play for them," says bassist/pianist Nicholas Ward, 34. "But we've been waiting for that to happen for a long time. We really just keep our head down. We do it because we like it. We like the work. We'd like to be able to do more things, but the band hasn't really freed us from real life yet."
The Hills will celebrate the new album with a gig at Great Scott on Thursday, followed by another in Brooklyn, N.Y. The group hopes to range further with a tour during the summer, though much of Walsh's time these days, when not at his day job at ArtsEmerson, is spent working on a book for Penguin. It's an expansion of an article he wrote for Boston Magazine last year about the period Van Morrison spent working out the material for his classic album "Astral Weeks" in Boston and Cambridge, looking more broadly at Boston's cultural scene in 1968.
Walsh's writerly voice can be observed all over the band's materials, from the liner notes of the new record (including a 29-member "cast of characters" from the lyrics) to the wry humor on the Hills' website, which includes a news item titled "Do you have a moment for me to talk to you about reverse mortgages?"
"Somebody called us a literary rock band, and it stuck. For a while that bothered me, because to me that indicated that it's not a band that can make you shake and lose your mind at a bar, which I very much hope we are," Walsh says. "Now that I'm writing a book, I have no right to complain about the band having a 'literary rock' tag. I'm officially out of defenses on that one."
The band will also soon be the subject of a book. English novelist M. Jonathan Lee, a fan, contacted the Hills for permission to quote some lyrics in his 2015 book, "The Page." The conversation evolved into plans for him to visit with the band as it worked on the new album, which he did, and write a book about the process. ("I still find it hard to believe we're a book's worth of interesting," Ward says.)
Walsh, guitarist Joseph Marrett, and Brian Rutledge, who alternates mainly between trumpet and synthesizer, have been along for Hallelujah the Hills' whole ride. The present lineup — which for the first time in the band's discography has remained intact for two consecutive records —
"People kind of tag us as the indie-rock stalwarts; I think we get credit as being one of the bands who came up through Boston and has had a relatively good amount of success, but we've stayed in Boston," Connelly, 29, says. "I think there's something to be said for that. We've got some good momentum and it's going in a good direction, but we want to just keep creating and keep making this fun for ourselves."
Hallelujah the Hills
With Swale and Beach Toys. At Great Scott, May 12. Tickets: $10. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com