The American Hotel System: Here to Stay

Although they are eager to get out on the road to support the release of their brand new EP, Can You Hear It? (due out Nov. 17), Grand Rapids band The American Hotel System doesn’t plan on ever moving away from West Michigan.

“We have many friends who have gone to Nashville or L.A. or New York because those are the music hubs, but we love Grand Rapids,” American Hotel System lead singer/guitarist Jacob Betts told Revue. “We want to call Grand Rapids home for the rest of our lives, and the scene here is thriving.”

Arguably the biggest moment in what is already an ascendant music career, the release of Can You Hear It? through major label Sono Music Group – with distribution by Universal – caps off a string of successes for The American Hotel System that includes opening for Bon Jovi on tour last year, and winning the 2022 Music Prize, the largest independent band competition in the country, drawing in entries from over 1,000 bands. 

“We were so fortunate to win first place, which is such an honor,” Betts said about winning Music Prize. “I’m still mind-blown by it.”

The band still has the comically large check for $10,000 they were awarded onstage as the grand prize winners, but what Betts said is the real reward is all the strong connections they made with other bands and within the music industry.

The band had submitted a song to the competition in 2021 more or less on a whim, and then months later found out that they were in the Top 50, and then later finalists in the competition after sending in live footage they shot together with Grand Rapids own Dogtown Studios. That year Betts said they struggled to make it down to Louisiana to compete after their flight got canceled and they had to take a bus from Dallas to Shreveport. But they made it, and ultimately took fourth place that year, soaking in the experience, and coming back again last year to take home the title. 

“That was the cap of what was the craziest year of our lives as a band,” Betts said. “We opened for Bon Jovi, and then my grandma died nine days later. And then my son was born five days after that. And then we signed with a record label right after winning Music Prize. It’s just been crazy.”

The American Hotel System’s whole history has had rollercoaster moments. Formed six years ago while all of the members – Betts, bassist Jake LaMotte, lead guitarist C.T. McCallister, drummer Hailey Petty, and guitarist/violinist Samuel Overman – were seniors at Grace Bible College (now Grace Christian University) here in West Michigan, the band originally intended to play together only once. 

“Our first show ever was my last day of college,” Betts said. “I had been working on a solo record for a while at that point, and planned on recording that once I graduated… I was getting married, and so we got home from the honeymoon, built a studio at my house, and I was going to work on just the solo album. And that turned into our first record called The Sunken Truth, which came out in 2019. And we’ve just been kind of going ever since.”

With their first album out in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, hit the band hard, forcing them to really contemplate what they wanted, and ultimately recording the EP Postcards during that time.

“We’re a rock band, and this was a more folk-oriented, stripped-away project, but it still holds a special place in my heart,” Betts said. “I think a few of those songs are still some of our top songs ever on streaming services. So I think it struck a chord, and I’m grateful that we were able to take all the anxiety we had and pour it into those songs.”

Immediately following the release of their next full-length album Interrobang last year, which had gotten delayed due to the pandemic, The American Hotel System started working on pre-production with producer Jake Rye for what is now the Can You Hear It?

“Some of these songs have taken years to finish,” Betts said. “And I think we’ve been able to distill what makes us unique as a group, and really highlight each and every band member’s unique sound in a way that comes together, and it sounds like us. It’s, in my opinion, the best version of us.”

Having faced down loss, grief, and some serious neurological and mental health issues, Betts chronicles it all lyrically on the seven-song EP. From opening with the existential soaring title track, to closing with “Not The End,” a song he penned entirely in one sitting while at The Stray after the passing of his grandmother.

“It’s a whole journey over the last few years of emotional growth, physical growth, mental growth,” Betts said. “All these new ways of stretching and becoming more refined people.”

Kickstand Productions presents The American Hotel System: Can You Hear It? EP Release
Wsg. Low Phase, Feeding Grizzlies, Bedroom Ceilings
The Pyramid Scheme, 68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Nov. 17, 7 p.m., $15, All-ages,