Interview: Ax and the Hatchetmen Release New Singles and Talk Upcoming EP

Written by Marissa Koh

Versatile, crowd-pleasing, organic, and elevating are only a few words often used to describe the fast-rising Chicago-based indie sextet, Ax and the Hatchetmen. 

Comprised of lead singer Axel Ellis, guitarist Sal Defilippis, bassist Hunter Olshefke, drummer Nick Deputy, trumpeter Phil Pistone, and saxophonist Quinn Dolan, the six-piece band channels a vast array of influences spanning generations and genres alike to channel just about everyone. 

Following the March 15th release of their brand new single “Where tf Did I Park My Car?,” we sat down with band members Axel and Sal before their New York City show at the Mercury Lounge to talk about the sextet’s journey and what more is to come. 

This past Friday, May 3rd, the band also released their brand new single “Flagstaff”—now available on all streaming platforms.  

Marissa: You guys have had a crazy last couple years with the release of your first EP Bear on the Roof in 2020, going on two headlining tours in 2022, releasing 4 new singles (“Existential Crisis, Pt. 1,” “Beelzebub,” “Grace,” and “Utah”),  a live album, sold out a summer tour in 2023, and even played at Lollapalooza. Could you guys speak on these experiences and your journey just in the last 3-4 years? 

Axel: We’ve had an absolute blast. I can’t describe how lucky we feel just to be able to go around and have people come out to our shows in different states; that’s never sunk in. We’re just living a dream.

Sal: It’s unbelievable, I never would’ve imagined this for a normal group of kids like us. 

Axel: It’s been ridiculously fun, I mean we threw up a couple videos on TikTok back in 2020 when everyone was stuck inside, just some live videos, and I think that has played a large role in people coming and seeing us in different states other than where we live in Chicago. So we’re just beyond lucky for that opportunity. Just so thankful to have people listening.

Marissa: Is there one accomplishment or event in particular that stands out as the most memorable or the most meaningful? 

Sal: Lollapalooza was insane.

Axel: Growing up in Chicago, that was the one that you always heard about.

Sal: I think it was 2018 when I saw Lil Uzi and Playboi Carti, and it was crazy. I remember going there super young, and it was the happiest summer ever. Then playing on the same stages I watched as a kid just totally baffled me. 

Axel: He was the only one [out of the band] who had ever attended that festival. For the rest of us, it was brand new. And so, yeah, that was just crazy. There’s this main street, Lake Shore Drive, between the festival grounds and the riverfront, and I would bike the riverfront trail and watch it across the street. I watched Post Malone’s set. Just to have been there for real and to have played it was unreal.

Marissa: Let’s take it back to 2018 and before then. How did you guys meet? 

Sal: So I started as an acoustic guitar player, and I was at our bassist Hunter’s house one time and he had one lying around. He let me buy it off him; it was this broken guitar, and I learned to play on it, and I posted a cover of me playing a Chainsmokers fingerstyle piece. Axel dropped me a message—we didn’t know each other at all—he just went to a neighboring school in our area, and he said “Hey man, I see you play guitar. You wanna jam?” And I said “Sure!” I’ve never really jammed with anyone before. So I went to his house, and we started jamming, did a few acoustic shows together, and played a couple covers. Then I said to Axel, “I know this good bassist named Hunter!” So I invited Hunter over, and we got started.  

Axel: Sal kinda knew everyone - he was in the jazz program at his school. 

Sal: That’s where I met our drummer Nick, Hunter, and our saxophone player, Quinn.

Axel: They all went to school together, and I was kind of an outlier. I really lucked out though, having met one person that led me to a whole slew of other people. Phil and I met at a conservatory, and he seemed like a cool dude. So I reached out and asked if he wanted to play some music together. But this whole process we just explained was probably a 2 year long process of jamming, trial and error, and finding the right people.

Sal: We were lucky to find each other and have a group that is so like-minded, that gets along, and just sticks. 

Marissa: And so after everything came together, how did you guys come up with the name “Ax and the Hatchetmen”? 

Axel: It was actually my dad’s creation. I had been playing in bands since I was about nine years old, and he was always pushing for this name. When we were trying to come up with a name, he just had that planned out. I denied it for years with other bands I played with, because I didn’t like my name being in it. Then with us, the same scenario popped up, we needed a name. I ultimately gave in, and we took my dad’s idea.

Marissa: So I know that you all met in music school and that you all studied jazz. Despite creating within the indie rock genre, are there elements of your formal jazz education that you guys still implement and take with you in your work today? 

Axel: Definitely. Whether or not it comes out in the finished product of the song, how we work with each other and how we communicate with each other is very jazz-based. We like to try and implement different sounds into our live shows, we open certain songs up for improvisation, give it a little jam-band, a little jazz influence. But mostly I think in how we work with each other is where we use that knowledge the most.

Marissa: From studying music to transitioning to a career in creation and performance, where do you guys get your inspiration? Who are your biggest idols? 

Axel: For me that’s easy: The Beatles—they were my first artists, my dad used to play their music when I was a baby, their stuff was always on. As a group, Hippocampus—they’re an indie band from Minnesota. The Strokes too, for sure. Those three I think are my main influences and the three bands I really look up to.

Sal: I got into music through Five Seconds of Summer. Their debut album was amazing. Ever since then, I was like “I wanna be just like them!” Then I tried, and now I get to work with their producer!

Marissa: How about your dream collaborations? 

Sal: Hippocampus.

Axel: Yeah, though I don’t know that it would work because we’re both whole bands. It would be a pretty wild sound. I’ve also always thought it would be really cool to work with a rapper. I’ve always loved Chance growing up, he’s also a big Chicago guy—working with him was always a dream of mine. But we would really have to write a song that lends itself to that…it’s yet to be done. 

Marissa: Let’s finally get to talking about your latest release “Where tf Did I Park My Car.” Could you guys speak on the idea behind the song? What sparked the narrative? 

Axel: Well, it’s super literal. Very, very, incredibly literal. A friend and I wrote it together, and it was about our experiences getting our cars towed in the first couple years living in the city. We both grew up in the suburbs, some cornfield neighborhoods, then we moved downtown and didn’t understand how to park. I’ve gotten towed 2 or 3 times, and my friend got his car towed too on top of a couple tickets. We realized there was a common story when we were both rushing to a date, and we messed up parking payments—either the meter was broken or we would run into some trouble—and instead of figuring it out, we would be like “screw it I’m late,” and we would just run. So there was this theme of love and losing your car, and we just threw it into a song. 

Marissa: So, looking ahead to the rest of the year and into the future, I know you guys have some exciting projects ahead—working on recording a brand new EP. What can your listeners and fans expect from you guys with your upcoming work? 

Axel: Putting out more music is always the goal. We’re not doing anything super differently, we’re just focused on having fun and seeing what happens. We’re trying not to put any constraints on how we go about making new stuff. But it will be more of a live sound, I think. We have been going down that route because we’ve grown more comfortable as a live band, and I think the records will start to reflect that a little more. 

Marissa: Any specific goals or aspirations that you guys are working towards? 

Sal: A whole album by the end of the year! 

Axel: A whole album would be cool. We’re working towards a body of work right now; we’ll see when it comes out. But I agree with that, the first album will feel like a big weight off our shoulders. It’s always felt like a feat that was too far away to achieve, just mastering one song was a lot of work. 

Sal: We only just put out our twelfth song. It took us, what, four years to get nine songs out? 

Axel: Yeah, we took a long time because we were all perfectionists about everything. But we do have a ton of festivals coming up: Shaky Knees in Atlanta in May and Lovin’ Life in North Carolina. Those are the two main ones for this year. But we’re really excited for those and all the rest to come!

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