Interview with Hey, Ily at Treefort Music Festival 2024

Interview by Marina Malin

Photography by Marina Malin

Treefort Music Festival is a celebration of music nestled in Boise, Idaho. For five days, bands from across the country play in venues and parks scattered across town. The Boise streets become flooded with band members, press, and fans dashing from stage to stage, each one hoping to discover their next musical muse. Among the chaos, I was able to find a moment of stillness to chat with Caleb (guitar and vocals), Trevin (guitar), Gunnar (drums), and Ryan (brains behind the operation; manager; beloved friend) of Hey, Ily (pronounced hey I love you). 

Hailing from Billings, Montana, Hey, Ily is an emo band built upon a strong foundation of friendship and unconditional love and support. Their high school bond fuels their potent musical chemistry and dynamic stage presence. Hey, Ily is a band of dichotomy with their raw and angry emotive outbursts, and contrasting kindred hearts that radiate in their personal interactions. 

After playing in many other side projects together, what began as a Twitter solo project unintentionally morphed into an appealing excuse for genre experimentation and expression of their collective angst. 

It is your third year at Treefort, how has it been? What keeps bringing you back?  

Caleb: This has been the best Treefort so far.

Trevin: This has been my favorite Treefort. It’s funny because we saw the lineup initially and didn’t know any of the bands and were like this lineup sucks! But it’s been really fun, I’ve seen shows every day and have been very excited about them.

Caleb: It seems like every year they just keep getting better and better. After last year, I thought nothing could top it, but this year has already topped it.

Gunnar: This is my first Treefort and it’s been really cool because every 40 minutes we get to experience a new mind altering band that changes all of our perspectives on what we should do going forward. Oh man, every band is way cooler than us. It’s seriously so cool to see everybody’s take on music and how they want to present themselves to the world. 

What bands have stuck out to you guys?

Unanimously: Zookraught. 

Ryan: Hotline TNT was definitely a favorite.

Gunnar: Spoon Benders, TRAUMA KIT. I love TRAUMA KIT, their new LP came out not too long ago and I was jamming it when it first came out. Their live performances are definitely something you have to see. 

Trevin: Armand Hammer was really great. I don’t know how much of that we can take and integrate into what we do. That was very good, I was very excited. 

It seems like you are drawing inspiration from performances you attend, what are you wanting to take away? 

Caleb: Just steal everything they have and completely rip them off. *jokingly*

Trevin: It’s kind of funny, because we saw Zoo Kraught yesterday and they were so tight and their performance was really interesting. But with all these bands, sometimes it’s hard to be like, oh I can take this and do that because what I do is not anything like that. And I don’t think I can do something like that. So a lot of times when I see these bands, if I don’t spiral into a depression of like, “fuck I’m never gonna be as good as this, I can’t do anything like this” I gotta be like, well, maybe I can just figure out what I can do good and what we can do good as a band.

Caleb: There are a lot of stage presence things. I like a lot of a lot of tricks that people do on stage and I keep that in mind to steal for later.

Trevin: I think a lot of these bands have also just been really technically tight. We’re shuffling around a little bit and we got some room to get a little tighter, but I want to get as tight as some of these bands.

Caleb: Backhand was also sick. They were so fucking incredible. 

Gunnar: They told me before Treefort that Backhand is going to be one of the favorites. It was definitely.  

What is different about playing here at Treefort than in your hometown Billings, Montana?

Caleb: Everything is way better here.

Gunnar: People don’t show up to shows in Montana. There’s no youth culture there so unless you’re playing alternative indie folk music (“or redneck metal” – Caleb), you are not going to have anybody at your shows. People actually hate us, a band wrote a song called kill an emo for rock and roll. 

Ryan: In Billings, there’s only like 20 people that will show up and it’s the same 20 people every single time. So there’s not a diverse crowd at all. It’s awesome that there’s a good base, but that’s not enough.

Trevin: I do feel like right now maybe specifically in Billings, but also in Montana, there is a lot of good music. But it is kind of what you were saying, Ryan, where it’s a lot of the same people, picking up in different bands. But I do think there’s a lot of cool and interesting stuff happening in Billings. 

Caleb: Defintely Missoula. Missoula is where it’s at for the music scene, it’s so tight and more diverse. 

Trevin: Montana is so big that you have to drive so far, you might as well be in a different state. There’s the Billings scene, the Bozeman scene and then the Missoula scene. There’s camaraderie, because we’re all in Montana, but they do feel pretty seperate. 

Gunnar: Yeah a lot of Bozeman bands are pretty partial to Bozeman bands. A lot of Missoula bands are partial to Missoula bands and stuff like that.

Ryan: It’s just because the community is so small that it’s very gatekept.

How do you feel like your hometown has shaped your music?

Caleb: I feel like a lot of us can say that we find inspiration from bands that are not in the local scene. 

Trevin: We’re all on the internet and are addicted to the internet. So yeah, we can find a lot of inspiration there. 

Gunnar: I do think Chairea and Annaconda Vice from Montana have shaped us in our early years of playing music as teenagers. We saw these older dudes noodling on their guitars and we were like, holy fuck.

Caleb: Chairea is the only other emo band in Montana. Every time we see them, they’re so mind blowing. I think we’re trying to subconsciously one up them every time we make music.

Trevin: Every time I see Chairea play, I’m like, whhhyyyy?

Caleb: What’s the point? 

Trevin: Or why didn’t I come up with this? Why didn’t we write this? 

Caleb: Shout out Chairea, they’re the best fucking band in the entire world true.

Do you want to talk a little bit more about your influences outside of Billings? 

Caleb: There was this scene of bands popping up that were doing the bedroom pop thing, but they added in influences from emo and screamo, which are my two favorite genres ever. I thought that it was so fucking sick. So bands like Your Arms Are My Cocoon, lobsterfight, Weatherday, glass beach, and Home Is Where. 

Gunnar: Yeah, a lot of those bands we were friends with coming up. There was definitely this weird corner of Twitter that we were all just ripping each other off. We were like here’s my demo, use this for our demo, whatever. There was a lot of collaboration.

Caleb: I remember the first EP for Hey, Ily was just me trying to be like, I want to Tyler from Your Arms Are My Cocoon to think I’m cool. 

You are a super friendly and personable band. Seeing how you interact with other bands at Treefort and hearing about your kinship to artists within your genre, I am curious about how you cultivate music-based community and friendships especially considering you are secludedly based? 

Trevin: I feel like bands are usually very inviting, welcoming and just super duper nice to us. Especially in Wisconsin. We’ve been there more than anywhere else. I don’t know, it’s just, you know, be nice to people.

Caleb: We all have a really strong sense of community. We’re all really close tight knit friends. I think just trying to have as many people in on that is really cool. We try and get as many people to join our polycule as we say. 

Trevin: I feel like maybe we under sell us or whatever, but I don’t ever feel like we have anything to offer to people (‘no we don’t’ – Caleb) but maybe that’s also because we’re in Billings, which is away from everywhere else. And so people don’t really come through that often but, but anytime we go out and meet with our peers, people are always so nice to us and seem to want to give us opportunities and stuff, which feels very good. 

Caleb: Sometimes I feel really bad though because I’m like, I’ll never be able to repay this in any way. 

I want to backtrack a little bit and hear about the origins of how Hey, Ily came to be?

Caleb: We were all playing in bands before Hey, Ily became a thing. Trevin fronts a band that was were called Service Society. Now we’re called Grey Joy. That was the first band I joined as a sophomore in high school. I joined that band on bass and then I joined Gunnar’s band, Rookie Card. We started a bunch of bands together and Hey, Ily originally started as a solo project. I was listening to all these cool, lo-fi emo screamo bands and wanted to make music like that. I spent a week, or maybe four days, on my phone, just writing stupid shitty songs. I put them on Twitter and people thought they were cool. I wasn’t gonna make it a full band type deal until Dreyfest. Dreyfest is a festival that happens Billings which is a really sweet deal for everyone in Montana. The guy that was running, it was like, “Hey, you submitted Hey, Ily right?” And I though I don’t even have a band yet, but I guess that means I probably should. We all went to high school together. Though, Gunnar and I met in middle school because we were both- 

Gunnar: We were new kids who moved to town within a month of each other.

Caleb: So we were bullied into a friendship. 

Gunnar: We were literally eating lunch by the garbage can. So we were like, yo we should be friends actually. It was definitely the best choice I’ve ever made.

Caleb: Yeah, he’s my best friend in the whole world.

What does the name Hey, Ily come from? 

Caleb: I just wanted something that would fit the aesthetic. And that was the best I could do. Sometimes, I wake up and I’m like, I wish I chose a different fucking band name.

Ryan: No, I like the band name. This happened the other day across the street where a guy was just like ‘hey, I love you.’ Without the context of the band it is very cute to hear someone just be like, Hey, I love you. Obviously I am not in the band but I like the name. I think it’s fun. 

Trevin: The only time I bristle at the band name is when people don’t know how to say it properly.

Caleb: People call us “Hey Ily.” *pronounced as ill-y*

Trevin: When people do that I’m like rahhhhh. 

Caleb: I think it’s fitting though because we try and be friendly to people and spread joy and positivity. But, I just needed a band name and that was the best I could come up with. 

You have a ton of genre blending going on: emo, screamo, shoegaze, power pop etc. Can you talk about this genre experimentation and which you resonate most with?

Caleb: Trevin and I are really into Radiohead and Gunnar and I were really into 100 gecs when they first came out. A lot of our favorite bands do the whole genre changing thing. That was always the coolest thing for me when I was first discovering music. Bands like They Might Be Giants or MGMT that were constantly experimenting and playing around with stuff was super interesting to me and something I always really wanted to try and Hey, Ily was an excuse to do that. But why is our main thing emo? I don’t know. I’ve always wondered about what made us drawn to emo. 

Gunnar: Probably just stupid hipster bullshit. We’re too cool for mainstream music, we need to be emo and then that was the worst choice of our lives.

How do you approach songwriting as a band?

Caleb: In the past it’s been Conner the drummer who’s not here. Okay, shout out members who aren’t here: Skyy on keyboard, Conner on drums, and Stephen on bass. In the past, I’ll come with a song and then Conner and I will team together and we’ll get a song fleshed out. Then everyone else in the band writes their parts to it. But with this record that we are finishing up, it’s been really collaborative and for the first time most of the songs, if not all of them, were written with all of us in a room together. Sometimes people can’t make it to band practice and they’ll miss out on it, but it’s been really collaborative. I’ll come with a short riff or vocal idea and then we’ll just jam it out and build a song upon it. It usually happens really fast. I remember one time it was Conner, Stephen and I writing a song and when we finished, Stephen was like, “I don’t know what just happened, it just happened and really naturally”. I think we all have very great musical chemistry, we’re all in five different bands together which is why.

Where does your creativity in songwriting come from?

Caleb: I’m not gonna lie, a lot of the songs come from a place of anger. I realized over the past few years, I’ve become kind of a spiteful dude. I have a lot of negative built up emotions. But I don’t really want to be that guy so I try to channel that through songwriting rather than punching a hole in a wall. That’s what a lot of our songs end up being derived from. Either that or my severe internet addiction, a lot of our songs are about that, too. I also get really inspired by just people in general and seeing other people’s paths and how they lead them. I think there’s super interesting about how you can see a stranger on the street and their living their whole entire life that is completely outside of yours. I think it’s something about that that is really interesting and really inspiring to me when I write music.

Marina: Why do you think you’re an angry person?

Caleb: I don’t know. That’s a good question.

Trevin: Because he’s only ever nice to everyone.

Gunnar: Probably because he lives with me.

Caleb: I get it from Gunnar. We feed off each other.

Gunnar: He has to put up my stupid cat all the time. 

Caleb: No, I just think I have a hard time expressing myself and so I end up bottling up a lot of things. I’ve been trying to get better about it, but I think music is really the only way that I can let that stuff out. So that’s why a lot of our songs come from really negative places. It’s kind of funny because our band name is Hey, Ily and I think we are really nice and kind people, but all of our songs are about trying to exercise that angry part of us, it’s like an exorcism.

Despite struggling with comparisons to other bands, and being under the dichotomy of being kind people outwardly but internally struggling with anger, each member shows up with confident stage presence. Is this confidence something that you have developed over time or something you feel you innately possess? 

Trevin: That’s how Caleb has always been. 

Gunnar: At every local show that he went to you can just tell this kid really enjoys music. He would be the only one dancing in a room of four people and he’s going apeshit the whole time. 

Trevin: It was very endearing. 

Gunnar: Now it’s old at this point. 

Caleb: Music is the only thing we really do. At least for me, I don’t really have anything else. I listen to music, play video games and go to work. It’s just such a huge passion for all of us. I don’t think I’ll ever be this close with anyone else purely because of our mutal passion for music keeps us so tightly bonded. I think that’s where our confidence comes from. We don’t have to think about doing it, it just happens naturally because we love to be playing music in front of people.

Gunnar: I think we all just really enjoy music to an extreme extent and want to express that on stage and get other people as psyched on music as we are. 

Caleb: I also just get really annoyed whenever I see people standing still so I try to avoid that. It’s really dumb because people should be able to enjoy music however they want to, but I just want them to move around a little bit. We really try to enforce that and I guess the only way we know how is by doing it ourselves. Maybe once they see us move around, people will be comfortable enough to do the same.

Trevin: I think that’s the goal. If you want to give a certain amount of energy on stage, hopefully people will give that back. I think people are more likely to get into it and let loose a little bit if you are going crazy on stage as opposed to standing still. 

My impression of the Treefort show is that your audience seems to reciprocate your energy well and are very passionate about their love for your work. Are there any bizarre stories or interactions you’ve had with them? 

Caleb: We are pretty lucky. I feel like a lot of people who like us are also very outgoing and friendly. There have been sometimes where we will get followed around by people at shows because they want to talk to us and they aren’t really sure of how to approach it. 

Trevin: The very first time that we played out of state was at the University of Wisconsin and we made it almost all the way through our set, when our drummer Conner wasn’t feeling well so he threw up at the end of our set. We still had two more songs to play and they wanted us to fill a longer window of time than we prepared for. By the grace of God our friend Jay, who makes really cool music in Colorado, had driven 15 hours just to see us, there’s no reason to do something like that. They’re a musician and have a project called hotel WiFi. They play drums and with no rehearsal they were just like I’ll fill in.

Caleb: They hit every beat and even knew where all the pauses were. I remember when they were getting on stage, Stephen was like what’s going on and then when we were halfway through the song, Stephen was like looking at me with the biggest eyes.

Trevin: It was really really cool.

Caleb: It was so surreal and I think that was like the first moment where I was like, I think maybe this might just work out. 

What’s one show that you look back on and you’re like, fuck yeah that rocked? 

Caleb: Last night. That show was incredible. The Treefort before this was also really insane. I don’t know if I can even describe how insane that was. I also have this horrible thing where every time I get done with a show, I’m like, that was the best show in the entire world. 

Trevin: Pretty recently we played at the X-Ray arcade in Wisconsin and that was a really stacked lineup of bands. The festival was called Burn Bright. Shout out JJ. It would be hard to put into words what was so special about it, but it was a really full room and people were moving around. It’s really cool when you are 1,500 miles away from home and people are excited to see you play. 

What about the performance feels good? How do you know a performance went well?

Caleb: When I get off the stage and I smell really bad, that’s how I know that it was a really good show. But also, I think it’s mostly the people that come up to us after the show. 

Trevin: Yeah, that’s probably the best. I think what feels the worse is when even if you feel like you played really well and nobody comes up to you or acknowledges that you played in any capacity. Maybe that’s shallow.

Gunnar: It definitely feels terrible when we play a show and the room didn’t move at all. We’re left like, oh well we put everything we had into that, were they not into it? Did they not like dancing? That’s how I gauge it. 

Caleb: I start to feel judged after a while when people are just standing still. 

Marina: When have you experienced that? 

Trevin: So I was just talking about that first time we were out of town in Wisconsin with our drummer throwing up. We played a show right before that in St. Paul just to pay for gas and it was pretty rough. I don’t think it was the worst show that any of us individually have played, but it was probably the worst show for this band. But, it was literally the first time we were out of town as a group and we had been a band for less than a year. It was pretty rough. We had a dark night of the soul moment. 

Caleb: It was just really unmotivating because it was our first show out of town and we were really excited about it because this band has gotten a weird amount of attention. 

Trevin: We all play in local bands where it’s really hit or miss if anybody is going to come out to shows and you don’t get numbers or anything so Hey, Ily was the was the first project-

Caleb: Where people who were outside of Billings were checking us out so we were all really excited about it. I think because we’ve never experienced something like that before, we let our expectations get astronomically high. When we showed up and no one was there I think we all were just like what’s the point? It sucked but then we played the next night in Wisconsin which went awesome. 

Trevin: That’s the only show that stands out to me as not so good. Last year we played in Fargo, North Dakota and it was not the best show in the world. Not a ton of people showed up, but the people that did knew the words to the songs and bought records and stuff. Even when the show itself isn’t the best, I feel like we still have a good time. 

Caleb: I feel like no matter what would happen, just the fact that we’re all there together would still be a good time because we’re all bros. 

You have a song on Foxing’s The Albatross: Ten Years celebratory album. Were you approached to be on this album and how did that feel? 

Caleb: That was insane. Foxing was one of the bands that really got me into emo music. Because they also have indie influence and I was way into indie at the time. We were following them on Twitter and they followed us back out of nowhere, and we were like, what the hell? It was nerve wracking at first because they messaged us and all they said was “Hey, y’all” and then nothing for four hours. I was sweating so hard thinking what this could possibly mean. They asked us if we wanted to be on the anniversary compilation and I immediately said yes before getting to ask the band. That was just so surreal, getting to talk with them was crazy. The guitarist and I were texting back and forth and it was just so mind blowing. They mixed that song too, which is so wild and super surreal. It was definitely one of the greatest experiences we’ve ever had in this band. We were so lucky and so grateful to even just be talking with them. It was crazy.

Trevin: It was a pretty standard process but it was very surreal. I listened to that album in high school and people really love that album. Listening to that album, I never thought that they would want us to be a part of celebrating its 10 years.

So what can we expect from you guys in the future?

Caleb: An album, and then nothing else after. Just kidding. We have a tour coming up in June. It’s us, Gunnar’s other band that we are all in, Flyover States, and Blind Equation, which is going to be crazy. But, hopefully we keep putting out music and touring.  

Thank you Hey, Ily!

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