Bay Area punk rock group Heartsounds is at the cusp of releasing their third full-length album on October 15 via Creator-Destructor Records in the U.S. and Flix Records/Cargo Distribution in Europe (it is available for pre-order now at http://creator-destructor.com/). Recorded, mixed and mastered at Castle Ultimate Studios in Oakland, CA with producer/engineer Zack Ohren, Internal Eyes is Heartsounds’ follow-up to their 2011 album Drifter (Epitaph Records) and finds the band reaching an interesting new level of songwriting and musicianship, while maintaining their signature punk rock sound. Heartsounds’ latest effort focuses heavily on technically driven, heavy metal-influenced guitar work, thundering drums and harmony laden melodic dual vocal performances between guitarist/vocalists Laura Nichol and Ben Murray.
Ghettoblaster recently had the opportunity to discuss the record with Murray. This is what he said about the new record (with a little sidebar on working with Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion on their last one).
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent album?
We started writing the songs for Internal Eyes about a year ago, and really didn’t let up until we had all 10 tracks finished. Trey and I would meet up at our practice space multiple times a week for eight months straight or so, hammering out each riff until we felt like we had something awesome. We were putting the finishing touches on the songs just weeks before going into the studio, which is how we like to do it, generally. If I have songs finished for too long before recording them, I’ll just want to nitpick at them and will probably end up over thinking a lot of it. It was nice to still feel excited about the songs when we started tracking!
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
It’s funny actually, I think we’d all agree that the shortest song on the record (and our shortest song ever) was the most troublesome. The seventh track on the record is called “Spiraling”, and it’s only 1:29 long, but it just wasn’t coming together the way we wanted it to. Maybe it was us just not being comfortable with a shorter song, but we finally got it to a place where it sounded the way we wanted, after a lot of different versions. I thought that writing a shorter song would be easy, but it definitely wasn’t, ha ha. When we got to the vocal-tracking stage of the recording process, it was also the most arduous song to get done. So yeah, that one would take the cake!
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
I’d say the one that surprised me the most once it was done was track eight which is called “First Light”. It’s the slowest song on the record (which still isn’t that slow), but we really had no idea how the vocal melodies, harmonies, and structures would turn out until we were in the studio recording them, and it definitely felt awesome to hear it completed. That song along with the track I mentioned before, “Spiraling”, were the two songs that got finished last on the record. I was a bit nervous as to how “First Light” would turn out, but I was incredibly excited about the end result once everything worked itself out pretty nicely. It’s got everything I wanted it to have, some cool harmonies, a strong chorus, etc. Definitely stoked on that one!
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
Not this time around! Honestly, I think we were too caught up in honing in on every single detail of these songs to really consider any guest vocalists or musicians on this album. That being said, I’m not ruling it out in the future, but this record is 100 percent us on every song.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
We’ve done all three of our albums with Zack Ohren, who runs Castle Ultimate Studios in Oakland, CA. He doesn’t so much ‘produce’, but really just does a phenomenal job engineering, mixing, and mastering. He definitely helped us with his input regarding a few issues we had on certain parts, but other than those small things and doing his usual amazing job at getting the best takes out of all of us, he didn’t have any say really in the songs or how they were structured/written. He’s not the kind of engineer that wants to interfere with the band’s material. He expects bands to come to him 110 percent prepared, which we tend to do.
Honestly, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the role of a ‘producer’ in general in regards to our actual music. I want a band to sound like they’re supposed to sound, and I want what I hear to be straight from them, without much tweaking from some other guy that I don’t know or care about. Also, I know we’re just way too attached to our riffs and ideas by the time we get into the studio, it’d be hard for us to handle someone saying something like, ‘that chorus doesn’t work, try this’, and I don’t imagine myself reacting well to that kind of criticism after we spent a year in our practice space, making these songs sound exactly the way we wanted.
We did however have Brett Gurewitz produce the vocals on our last album, Drifter, when he offered to do that, and it was an amazing experience. That’s a bit different in my head though, because Brett and Bad Religion are one of my biggest influences of all time. His songwriting and vocal structuring/composition in particular is something that just blows my mind because of how good he is at it. He didn’t work with us in recording the music for Drifter, but his input on the vocal arrangements on that record was incredible. It was a memorable learning experience and I’m really glad we did it, because he had great ideas and also taught us a lot about arranging vocals, building harmonies, and recording them. This time around though, I felt confident enough in our own skills that we didn’t seek out anyone else as a producer.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new album that ties the record together?
Well, the title track, “Internal Eyes” is really about the last two years in which both Laura and I have had waves of really anxious and obsessive thought patterns, in which we both really tend to beat ourselves up emotionally. The idea of “Internal Eyes” is just something I came up with to describe this feeling of never being able to really settle down and accept my life and myself as something positive or something to be proud of. I tend to always over-analyze the aspects of myself that I don’t like or that I’m uncomfortable with, and thus spiral pretty hard into a dark place from time to time. While the album’s 10 tracks deal with a range of things, the general theme of the record is definitely about self-scrutiny and the attempt to get past that.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
Not yet! We haven’t played any shows on the new record since it comes out on October 15, so our first shows will be on the East Coast as part of our East Coast tour with our friends and labelmates in Cleave and The Stereo State. We’re planning on playing three or four tracks off the album, which I hope people will enjoy in a live setting! They are certainly fun to play at practice, so I’m excited to see how they feel on the stage.
(Stream “Internal Eyes” now at Absolutepunk.net: http://bit.ly/14aTeKN
And catch Heartsounds at one of these dates:
Oct 24 – Allston, MA – O’Brien’s Pub (w/No Trigger)
Oct 25 – Providence, RI – McNeil’s Tavern (w/No Trigger)
Oct 26 – New Brunswick, NJ – The Court Tavern
Oct 27 – Brooklyn, NY – Acheron
Oct 28 – Philadelphia, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
Oct 29-30 – Ybor, FL – Pre-Fest
Oct 31-Nov 3 – Gainesville, FL – Fest)