New Orleans alternative-soul group Sean Hobbes & The Hi Res just released their debut album, Images of Roses, a complex collection that details the cyclical nature of falling in and out of love. Forming in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the group began their careers playing porch shows for anyone who needed to get out of their homes. Three years, two regional tours, and an award-winning music video later, the band has taken their usual brand of jazz-inspired pop music and elevated their sound in a way that, arguably, gives them a leg-up on other groups in the same stage of their careers. From high-impact tracks like “Telling Me To Leave” and “Love Somebody” to more mellowed reflections of what it feels like to fall out of love in “Nightmare” and “Time To Say Goodbye,” Images of Roses acts as the culmination of Sean Hobbes & The Hi Res’ musical journey thus far.
The vulnerability that exists in Sean Hobbes & The Hi Res’ music acts as a cornerstone to each song on this album, offering accessibility that many other popular songs about love and loss seem to lack. Images of Roses feels like a conversation between two people who are actively falling out of love and reliving the memories that led them to this breaking point. Each song treats its subject with reverence, regardless of the tone of the song in question. From “Make Me Say” to “Time To Say Goodbye,” the final track in the album resonates as a heartbreaking acceptance of the end of the relationship Images of Roses showcases, with each song refusing to shy away from feeling everything at once through each stage of finding and losing love.
“Telling Me To Leave,” easily the stand-out track from the album, follows this same train of high vulnerability in its narrative. What sets it apart from the rest of the album is how the exposed nature of the lyrics and the high-intensity instrumentals build on each other in this track, creating a jaw-dropping experience for any listener. Listening to “Telling Me To Leave” for the first time provides the same rush as overhearing two strangers having a particularly juicy argument in public. Throw in exceptional performances from Kevin Appelson on drums, Riley English on guitar, and Avery Bell and Aiden Swindell on horns, and this song can easily become the next defining single for the group.
Sean Hobbes & The Hi Res are no strangers to creating art with a strong cinematic quality, as well (most notably in Images of Roses, “Love’s Mistakes” utilizes a Spanish fusion twist that evokes an image of a Spy Thriller Heroine smoking a cigarette in a red satin dress). The band has a history of taking songs with especially cinematic markers and producing engaging music videos to pair with them. Prior to Images of Roses, the band released a visual EP titled Things Feel Slow, where the music video for “Lonely In The Summertime” was the official selection of the 2022 London Movie Awards, Rails to Reels Film Festival, and Austin Lift-Off Film Festival, and was selected as a finalist in the Pontchartrain Film Festival and the Los Angeles CORE Film Festival. “Make Me Say,” the first single released ahead of this album’s debut, dropped on Valentine’s Day of this year with an accompanying video that won the Best Music Video category at the 2023 Sunshine City Film Festival.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Sean Hobbes (vocals) and Riley English (guitar) to talk about the experience of making their debut album:
How does Images of Roses stand out against the previous bodies of work that you’ve released?
Sean: It was interesting to plan out this album because I felt like I could say a lot more than in an EP or a single. I thought about themes that were coming up while I was writing and how I could sum up the part of my life that this music was coming from. When I started to play with the order of the songs, I found different stories that unfolded with different combinations of songs, and from there I tried to figure out the best way to tell a story that reflected experiences that I’ve gone through. The album follows a path and it has moments of drama where the tone shifts. I’m really happy with how many different emotions I was able to explore.
Riley: Images of Roses is by far the project that we’ve poured the most time and energy into, as it took about two years for it to come to fruition. I think this project is the one that most band members have had a hand in, besides just recording the music and writing parts. These songs developed so much over the course of the two years it took to write, record, and produce all of them and they really had a chance to grow and change as they transitioned from the initial writing phase to the final production and mixing stages.
What made you all decide that this was the direction to take with the album? Is there a particular reason Images of Roses is all about finding or losing love?
S: This album was built very collaboratively, everyone developed their parts for these songs while we were playing in front of audiences and figuring out what worked. I wrote some of these songs over four years ago but they were able to be given a new life once I worked with the rest of The Hi Res. I don’t know if there’s a reason why Images of Roses is all about love, but I think there’s a universality to falling in love that makes me feel comfortable with writing about those experiences and bringing it to an audience.
R: Images of Roses is loosely about both finding and losing love and focuses a lot on introspection in regard to one’s position relative to another in a romantic relationship that just doesn’t seem to work out. From the initial phases of attraction to the excruciating process of falling out of love, Sean toyed with loose story ideas throughout the entire writing process of the album. Personally, I think this sets the stage for a larger-scale and more ambitious concept album in the future.
Each song on this album is intensely vulnerable. Do you feel that taking a more direct approach to storytelling as opposed to delving into traditional methods of lyricism worked towards this outcome?
S: I’m very direct, so that’s how I write songs. I want people to get what I mean and to know that if they’re going through something, they’re not alone. I’m a little afraid about some songs, like “Nightmare,” because it’s hard to say very publicly that you got hurt. But I think about it in the way that these things do make you stronger and let you own your story if you’re the one telling it.
Can you explain why you guys decided to re-release “Love Somebody” on this album?
S: Well “Love Somebody” has been one of my favorite songs to sing for a long time and it’s always popular at our shows. The original version that was released was very produced and pop-forward, which was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it got added to a Spotify playlist that flooded it with foreign listeners, and the song got flagged and taken down from Spotify. I didn’t know that could even happen. So when I was making this album, I saw an opportunity to reimagine the song so that it worked with the band as we move forward. It’s a lot more epic now, we got the horns on there and Riley English did a great job producing it.
R: “Love Somebody” is a classic Sean Hobbes original that we always felt we didn’t get just quite right. From the initial release to the remixes, the song has been through many iterations, but we feel that this time around we nailed what the song is really supposed to be – The Definitive Love Somebody.
Songs like “Telling Me To Leave” and “Love’s Mistakes” differ from your group’s regular sound. Can you tell us about your influences in writing these and how the process of writing these songs could have deviated from the rest of the album?
S: These songs are so much fun for us. The whole band comes from different side projects and past bands, so whenever I want to push myself stylistically while I’m writing, I know that they have the ability to elevate my vision. I grew up loving Paramore and Blink-182, so “Telling Me To Leave” was my chance to let loose and write something that people could scream in their car. And then “Love’s Mistakes” was really an opportunity to lean in on the Latin percussion background that Kevin Appelson and Mauricio Viana bring to our group. I never want to be defined by one genre. We have a lot of pop and soul elements, but when you come to our shows, you need to be ready for anything.
R: We take pride in our versatility, and we try hard to incorporate all of our members’ influences within our sound. With “Telling Me To Leave,” my rock/metal influence certainly takes the spotlight, and on Loves Mistakes, Kevin, Mauricio, and my deep love of Latin and South American music comes to light there. Most of the time Sean approached us and said “Here’s a new song, I want it to have ____ vibe,” and we took that and ran with it in each case, sometimes with us taking things more in one direction than we initially anticipated.
What was your favorite song to make for this album?
S: It’s so hard, but I think my favorite song right now is “Be Together.” I had a great time doing the backing vocals for this song and the overall arrangement just weaves a lot of things subtly together.
R: My personal favorite was “Love Somebody.” My initial production session before it was sent to get mixed down had 97 tracks total, and it was so big that it couldn’t be transferred to our engineer online. The amount of detail I worked into that track is something I take pride in – and I’m never not going to choose a track that doesn’t have a guitar solo.
The video for “Make Me Say” won in its category at the Sunshine City Film Festival before it was even officially released. How has the public reception been to the video and do you have any plans to release any new videos for this album?
S: Yeah people have been very congratulatory and I think they really like the video. I got to direct for the first time with that project and to have won anything at all was crazy. I definitely want to do another video but it may be a minute before it comes out! We have a lot happening in the next few months, but I can’t stay away from a camera for long.
R: As of right now, no new plans for music videos for Images of Roses. However, “Make Me Say” was incredibly fun to shoot and we’ve been ecstatic as far as the general public reception, especially with it winning the award. I think it was definitely the right choice for the album single.
What is the main thing you want audiences to take away from Images of Roses?
S: I hope that people enjoy the roller coaster of emotions and musical styles that we’ve set up. You can take away what you want, but I think everyone goes through some version of this cycle of falling in and out of love and there’s a way you can relate to it.
R: For me personally, I think that Images of Roses is a good reminder that Love, like the humans that exchange it, is imperfect. Your definition of love and the needs within it can grow and change just as you do, and while oftentimes relationships are wonderful experiences that allow us to learn and grow as individuals, the people within it will inevitably make mistakes. People fall in love. People fall out of love. Images of Roses is an attempt at a relatable story of love and its conception, through to its inevitable demise. Through this story, I hope our listeners are provoked to think about their own relationship with love, and how it’s changed over time, with or without a partner.
Images of Roses is now available on all music streaming services!