NORTH ADAMS — At last year's inaugural High Mud Comedy Fest at Mass MoCA, comedian Dave Hill made such an impression in his two performances and writing workshop that he's returning as host this year. Hill is well-known for his comedy, of course, but what drives him is seeking out new opportunities. Beyond hosting and performing again, one of Hill's duties this year will be to host a beer tasting at Bright Ideas Brewing, which fits the bill perfectly for him.
"Usually before I go on stage, I don't drink, but I make an exception for the people of Mass MoCA," Hill said.
More importantly, it's the sort of thing that appeals to Hill because he's never done it before. Hill says that's his favorite way to approach work — if he hasn't done it, he's eager to try, and that philosophy has fueled so much of his career. Comedy itself was, originally, something that he had never done before. Until he just ended up doing it, he was a just a musician who enjoyed being funny between songs. Thanks to his sister, a journalist, he got work writing articles.
"I didn't really care too much about the reporting angle, so I realized maybe I would enjoy comedy writing," said Hill.
He enjoyed it and so did the people who hired him. This led to a friend asking him to perform on a comedy night in the Lower East Side. Hill figured he would give it a shot, and ended up having fun on stage.
"I never really thought past doing that one gig," he said. "He just asked me to come back and it grew from there into a career and it was really the first thing I think that just grew and came along naturally. It's not like I was trying to make it happen."
Comedy just came naturally and paths opened up for Hill, in contrast to his earlier experience in music.
"My first band that I formed in college, we got a record deal after college and had a single on the radio and a video on MTV at 3 in the morning," said Hill. "It was a real uphill battle."
An uphill battle that required him to be a house painter to get by. Comedy, however, was a road that kept offering paths for Hill, and one of those available paths was an unexpected one — music.
"The irony of it is, then as my comedy career has started growing, now my music has started growing this other I think because I'm not squeezing it like a precious diamond," Hill said. "I don't really care too much, so I'm able to have a lot of fun with it."
Hill has several music projects going, one with his power pop band Valley Lodge, which is best known for performing the theme to John Oliver's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and has numerous other music projects going. A significant portion of his musical interest is heavy metal — one of his projects was the web series Metal Grasshopper — and this has paved the way for two current projects.
One is Witch Taint: The Black Metal Dialogues Live, which premiered at SXSW this year to rave reviews and sold out attendance. It's a live presentation of a prank Hill played 13 years ago, posing as a teenager from Indiana trying to get a band called Witch Taint signed to a Norwegian black metal label. A long email exchange between Hill and the Norwegian label, which ended up online and became popular. After years of encouragement to create a performance version of it, Hill is about to take it on the road.
Hill has also teamed up with metal drummer Chris Reifert, from the band Autopsy, for a psyche-rock band named Paint A Doll. That album should be out later this year.
Hill says that he kept music and comedy separate for a number of years until he figured out a way to bring them together that was true to himself, and not just gratuitous.
"There are great examples, like Flight of the Conchords and Tenacious D, who mix the two really well, but then a lot of other stuff is simple strumming acoustic guitar and making fart jokes, stuff like that, and I didn't want to do that," he said. "Now I've brought them together in a way that's more atmospheric music and guitar solos intermixed with my stand-up and storytelling. I don't really perform comedic songs, it's more like spoken word over the guitar playing."
Hill's mantra of keeping it fresh has brought him to radio. He hosts a weekly call-in talk show for WFMU, Monday nights at 9, that's opened up new worlds for him, often in the form of human connection. Hill says that an openness to new opportunities like the radio is not only the aspect of his work that excites him, but it's also what has made his career even possible — and something he's thrilled to continue, because his options just keep growing.
"I think for a long time I was really rigid about what I wanted to do," he said. "It was like, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that, and I don't really think that way too much anymore. There are things I like doing and things that I've done that I want to do more of, but when something comes along that I haven't tried, that's the most exciting thing to me. "