San Francisco's very own Heartsounds draws influences from their melodic-metal past and their love of punk to create a musically unique sound. Their third LP Internal Eyes is set to release on October 15, 2013 on Creator-Destructor Records (which, we posted a stream of the new song "Cycles" earlier today). Interviewer Samantha Barrett spoke with Ben Murray to discuss the makings of Internal Eyes and running a record label.
Heartsounds started as a project between Laura Nichol and yourself. So Internal Eyes is your third full-length. How did writing this record differ from Until We Surrender and Drifter?
This time around the writing process was a bit different compared to Until We Surrender and Drifter. On Until We Surrender, it was just Laura and I, and on this one it was definitely more of a group effort. WithInternal Eyes, we started writing about a year ago. Once I had some riffs going that I really liked, Trey Derbes and I started to meet up few times a week at our practice spot to really start hammering through these ideas and making them way better with each revision.
In terms of the process, it was basically Trey and I who hashed out the music and demoed it all out. We then showed the demos to Laura and Bobby, who were excited about what we were working on. Once we had all the music finished, Laura and I started to write the lyrics, and she came up with a lot of the vocal melodies, which I was really stoked on with this record. So, we both eventually got all the melodies worked out, and we pretty much hopped straight into the studio once the ten songs were done. It's never a stressful process for us. We usually just end up getting too excited and want to start recording as soon as we put the finishing touches on the songs. We hate waiting around once an album is finished being written, so with this one we went straight into the studio after we felt satisfied with the record as a whole.
Basically for Internal Eyes, Trey had a very important role in the writing process?
Absolutely! He wrote with us on Drifter as well, and he obviously recorded with us on that record. He is so goddamn good, and easily the best drummer I have ever played with. It's really fun writing with him, and he always takes my ideas and really surprises the hell out of me with his own interpretations of how they should sound, structurally and drum-wise. The combination of me writing the riffs and his ability to make them way better with his ideas just works out perfectly for us. [Laughs] Itâ??s really awesome to write music with someone who you just connect with, versus writing all the music myself like I did on Until We Surrender.
A song on Internal Eyes that really resonates with me is the song "Cycles." Tell me a little about the song?
That is one of our favorites as well. Musically, it came together pretty easily. I have a weakness for those Bad Religion-esque mid tempo tracks on the album, and we are pretty comfortable with those kinds of riffs these days. It was definitely one of our favorites from the start of the writing process, and I dig the melodies a lot. It's a dynamic song and the chorus is a little bit different than anything we have done before. I wrote the lyrics for "Cycles," and Laura and I wrote the melodies together. It actually took us awhile to figure out a big kind of melody for the chorus, but we ended up with the sound that we were looking for. We knew the song was a highlight of the record, musically, and we definitely wanted to match that vocally. We both decided to harmonize the same lyrics together throughout the whole chorus, which turned out pretty cool. We are really proud of that one.
The album artwork this time, doesnâ??t feature clocks like the first two records. What did the clocks represent on those covers and what lead to their absence this time around?
We wanted to work with our buddy Dave Kloc this time around for the Internal Eyes artwork because we love what he does, and he also designed a few of our t-shirts in the past, so we knew we worked well together. We were really stoked to change it up and have someone different do the art this time. The first two records were largely about a time in my life when I was dealing with my father dying of cancer and I was also in college and hating it. Just kind of obsessing over the idea of time, and how I was spending it/wasting it.
When you lose a family member like that and you see them disintegrate into nothing, you start to think about your own time on earth, and what you really want to do with it, how you want to treat yourself. It became not-so-much a positive thing for me, but kind of an obsessive negative burden in my life. I just couldn't get my brain to settle down. I always felt like I was wasting time on things I didn't want to do, or had to do for some reason that I couldn't understand. So those clocks on the album covers just had to do with the lyrical content of those two records and what both Laura and I were dealing with personally.
Itâ??s been a couple of years since my father passed away, and the lyrical content of this record is definitely different and deals with an all new set of personal issues. With the art, we still wanted it to be hand-illustrated and somewhat similar to our last two in style, but just wanted to go a different route with the content and artist. Until We Surrender and Drifter feel like a pair to me. With this record, I feel like it's really something different. Itâ??s like a new start, both personally and as a band.
Coming from a metal background in Light This City, how is the reception to your musical change?
When Heartsounds started, the reaction from Light This City fans was pretty much 50/50. Some of them liked what we were doing and I guess they listened to some punk rock too, so they understood what we were going for. To be expected, half of them hated it because Laura wasn't screaming anymore and we weren't doing anything super heavy. That wasn't surprising in the least. All in all, our seven years in Light This City definitely ended up helping us when Heartsounds was starting, given that a good amount of Light This City's fans were eager to see what Laura and I did next. I think you can still hear a lot of Light This City in Heartsounds. Well, at least I still can.
Do you miss playing metal at all?
I don't miss playing it, really. Light This City put out four records, did a lot of touring, and accomplished a lot of what we wanted to. That was a different time in our lives, and I certainly don't miss a lot of what came along with touring in a metal band. I still listen to a lot of metal, but playing drums in a melodic death metal band is a lot of work, it's a lot of upkeep and it becomes an obligation to maintain your chops at a certain level. It was kind of becoming more stressful than it was fun. Laura and I were over it at a certain point and we just wanted to do something else.
Even though you released Until We Surrender on your own label Creator-Destructor, Epitaph re-released it and co-released Drifter. How does it feel to self-release this time around?
It feels great! If Epitaph wanted to release Internal Eyes, I'm sure we would have done it with them. We didn't have a bad experience with them at all. They loved working with us on Drifter and Until We Surrender, but Heartsounds is not a band that sells thousands of records. We don't tour full-time, and we play a style of punk that isn't exactly the most popular right now. Fast, melodic skate punk (for lack of a better term) isn't really what a lot of the younger more impressionable demographic are buying. We still love it all the same, so that doesn't matter to us.
The bottom line is that Epitaph can only put out so many records a year, and for them it was a simple business decision. I understand where they were coming from completely. Our contract was for two records, and an option for a third. When we knew they were not gonna do the third record, we were not stressing out at all. Obviously, I put out Until We Surrender before Epitaph re-released it and I have put out a lot of records by bands we love. We actually really enjoy controlling the whole process ourselves. Being able to manage everything from the recording to overseeing the artwork, the production, and even the mail order. We take a lot of pride in it and we enjoy it. When Epitaph decided to pass on this record, we didn't really look for another label because we didn't feel the need to. We didn't have any desire to be on any other label, and we decided we would rather do it ourselves on Creator-Destructor. It's working out great.
Speaking of Creator-Destructor, tell us a little bit about running your own record label? Did you know this is something you always wanted to do as well?
Itâ??s pretty much just me. It's a small operation, but I'd like to think I do a good job with it. I started the label towards the end of Light This City's time as a band, when I was 19 or so, and it was just because I really wanted to help out bands that I thought were fantastic and weren't getting enough attention. I wanted to try it out and to do it myself, and learn a lot along the way. At the end of the day, it's just a labor of love and a way for me to contribute to something I really care about. I certainly don't make any money off the label, but breaking even is enough for me! As long as I can keep putting out great records for bands that I love, I'm cool with it. Internal Eyes will be the 27th release on the label, but I've been able to release records by a lot of my favorite bands. For example, Cleave and Anchors are from Japan and Australia, respectively, and Heartsounds has been able to tour with both of those bands which has been a real treat as well.
I certainly don't look at it as a business in any kind of way. We keep our records really cheap for people, as well as the shipping. We don't mark that shit up to try to earn an extra few hundred dollars at the end of the day. It's been a lot of work but I don't really stress out about it, because I'm not trying to make a living off of the label. Itâ??s definitely a great resource to have when you play in a band, like with Heartsounds. In a situation like the one with Epitaph, we weren't struggling wondering what to do, we just knew that we could put out the next record ourselves on Creator-Destructor.
How did you come up with the name for your label?
Well, I don't want to go on a tangent about religion, but I've never believed in any kind of god. I think when I came up with the label name, it was at a time where I was feeling very angry at Christians and their beliefs and I was entrenched in the world of death metal, a world that I still love and respect. I think it just sounded cool and unique, and came about as a result of my anger pertaining to situations that I couldn't make sense of, mostly having to do with certain people's religious outlooks. I still feel the same way, but I don't really like being very outspoken about it. Everyone can do their own thing and believe what they want, just don't bother me with it!
Are there any new releases in the works for the label?
Not right now. The new Heartsounds record is the main release that we're focusing on this year. We put out a lot last year - new records from Anchors, Backmasker, The Stereo State, VYGR, At Our Heels and a few more. I decided to take this year a bit slower with the label given that I needed to focus on Internal Eyes and attempt to lead some kind of normal life for a while. [Laughs] I am sure we will do a lot more in 2014.
Is the label something you could see yourself doing even when youâ??re done playing music?
Who knows. I canâ??t see myself not playing music in the foreseeable future. I think I would actually stop the label before I stopped playing music. Itâ??s hard to say. I would like to think I can keep it going. It's only been awesome thus far, so I see no reason to stop!
You are doing a little tour down the east coast to The Fest with Cleave and the final shows for The Stereo State. Are there any other tour plans? Something in the works for 2014?
We are planning on doing a West Coast run maybe by the end of 2013 but definitely by early 2014 if it doesn't work out this year. We're going to try to get back to Europe and Japan sometime next year as well if possible, and hopefully weâ??ll play some festivals out in Europe. We have some ideas of places we haven't been to in a while and places we have never been that we'd like to visit next year. Should be a lot of fun if we can make it all work!
What are future expectations for the label and for Heartsounds? Do you envision yourself doing either full-time?
Unless something crazy happens to Creator-Destructor and some of our records start selling thousands and thousands of copies, I canâ??t see myself doing it full-time. Honestly, it's pretty tough these days for both bands and labels. Itâ??s kind of ridiculous trying to live in the Bay Area, and I know none of us want to move back in with any of our parents anytime soon. I don't think I will ever see myself doing the label full-time, but I certainly work at it every day. I'm just not in an office 10 hours a day doing the label. I don't think I'd want to rely on that for my livelihood anyway. Even with putting out 27 releases so far, it's so hit or miss. I can deal with that because I love the bands regardless and I don't mind helping them out if their records don't break out in a huge way, but I don't want to start resenting records and bands because they can't help put food on the table. Its punk rock, after all, I just want to have fun with it.
As for Heartsounds, I don't think any of us would be able to do that full-time either. We do as much touring as we can, and we've certainly accomplished a lot already that we are really proud of. Throughout the four to five years we've been a band, we've toured the US a handful of times, as well as Europe, the UK, and Canada. However, all of us have full-time jobs, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and dogs. We're not as young as we used to be, and we like doing this band on our own terms. Whenever we want to do it and can do it, we will. It is absolutely awesome that certain bands are able to do tour full-time and have a good time doing it, but we just can't really couch surf or move back home, so our only option is to do this when we can, and that's fine with us. Weâ??ll do small bursts of touring, like 10 days at a time here or there. We love playing, and we would love to play consistently and get out there as much as possible but we're not in a position where we can, really. We like things how they are, so it's all good.