Interview: Getting To Know Heart Beach
Hobart’s self-described oceanic-pop sweethearts Heart Beach are making waves. Formed in 2013, they’ve put out a ceaseless string of impressive singles and played shows across Australia and New Zealand, including a spot at the much-adored Camp A Low Hum. With the release of new track ‘Away’, which serves as a taste of their upcoming debut LP, the group shift to consolidate their brilliantly sparse sound. Chloe Mayne catches up with the band to find out more:
Who are Heart Beach?
Jonathon: Me, Christopher Wessing and Claire Jansen.
Claire: Dan Butcher used to play drums, but he moved back to Melbourne.
What was 2014 like for the band?
Jonathon: We played some shows with some nice people and wrote some songs.
Claire: We played the last Camp A Low Hum Festival in New Zealand, significantly changed the line-up and recorded our first album in a proper studio. It was great.
You’ve recently released the single ‘Away’. How would you describe its conception? How does your creative process as a band usually look?
Jonathon: Chris and I wrote the song when Claire was in New York. Daniel Butcher, our old drummer, had just left the band to live on the mainland. Chris and I live down the road from one another and were just trying to find a way to keep the band going.
We usually write parts of songs individually then taken them to the group. The song is then finished off. We rarely “jam” out a song when we’re all in a room.
Claire: There were a few new songs when I got back. ‘Away’ was the one that worked best live. We all write skeletons of songs and work out the rest together. It usually involves bass to start with and a vocal melody over the top. We try to write a lot. We discarded about twenty songs ahead of recording.
‘Away’ is the first single from your debut LP, which is set to be released in March. How is progress coming along with the record, and is there any particular intention behind it?
Jonathon: We’re just waiting for the record to be pressed. The intent was to compile the best set of songs we’ve written over the last 2 years or so. My theory of getting a good set of songs was that we should write as much as we can and be brutal with what we don’t include on the record. Hopefully, I won’t be embarrassed by something on this record in 5 years.
Claire: The album spans our sound to date – sparse, droney, lots of feedback tracks, crossed with dreamy, jangly, pop. We went to Head Gap to get the best quality recording we could without taking the band out of Hobart permanently. The album will be a foundation for touring, new material and how the band develops.
How would you describe your hometown? And how would you describe your current home, Hobart (if they are different)? I’d also be interested to hear your experience of your local music scene.
Jonathon: I was born in Mt Isa, a small mining town in QLD. It’s usually about 40 degrees. I remember there was a cyclone there once that tore giant trees out of the ground that were in front of the house across the road. There is this spiky grass everywhere. A big rodeo takes place each year and you can see two giant smoke stacks from the mines. When I lived there one of the stacks spewed out a black smoke and I could taste Vegemite (Sulphur?) sometimes when I was at school. The ground would shake under your feet most days because the miners were setting off giant explosions underground. My next door neighbour’s dad died when he was killed by a falling rock.
In terms of the Hobart music scene, there has been a fair bit of change from what I have seen. There used to be only one place you could play. I couldn’t get a gig there for a long time. I had personal conflicts with a lot of people who were around in the early days. Over time more venues have opened, some good bands formed and stayed and some have moved away, some of my friends moved away, there seem to be more opportunities to play big deal shows, people also seem like they are being kinder to one another in recent times.
Claire: I grew up in Launceston near the Cataract Gorge. There are walking paths along the cliff edges, landscaped gardens full of peacocks, a huge swimming pool in the lawns and a natural basin with an old wooden swinging bridge across it. In the summer there were always backpackers drying their sleeping bags over the pool rail because they had tried to camp on the lawns and got caught out by the sprinklers. I went to West Launceston Primary School, which is on top of a hill. I used to dream up ways to build a slide so I wouldn’t have to walk up the hill.
Hobart has an incredibly strong DIY scene – not just for music. The Brisbane Hotel is the stalwart supporter of bands. Never a shortage of shows. Bands always get paid. The Grand Poobah and The Homestead are good too. Before I started playing a few years ago there was a lot of heckling but now there seems to be a critical mass of people playing and forming new bands, and it’s as if collectively we’re trying to see how far we can get. It’s a great place to party.
Many of your songs, at least lyrically – especially contrasted against this slow, sparse sonic backdrop and ocean imagery – seem to speak of a certain restlessness, especially ‘Holiday’. Would you agree? If you could be somewhere else right now, where would it be and why?
Jonathon: Alot of my songs are about work and the (perhaps) unavoidable dissatisfaction of full time employment. I don’t know where I would be if I could choose to be “anywhere”.
Claire: ‘Holiday’ plays on things people like to complain about in the winter. When we wrote it some of our friends were living in Bali and on holiday in Hawaii so it was a reference to them as well. I don’t think we’re as personally dark as the songs might suggest. It’s about evoking a mood. Who wouldn’t swap a week of work for a tropical island?
If I could be anywhere else I would be touring with Heart Beach in the US or Europe. Then I think I would come back and write more songs.
In terms of you personally, who have been some of the formative artists along your musical trajectory? And as a band, is there anything/one that you particularly enjoy listening to together?
Jonathon: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone was a really big thing for me. We listen to my record collection together as a band before and after practice. I’m told my record collection is full of “Dole Wave” bands.
Claire: PJ Harvey, Beat Happening, the Dandy Warhols, Grinderman, Broadcast, Teeth and Tongue, Twerps, Bitch Prefect. I also love (and love to hate) commercial radio: pop as cheesy as pizza.
We swap music a fair bit. Blank Realm and Treehouse are the go to records after practice.
Where are your favourite spaces to write/play/record?
Jonathon: I usually write songs in the lounge room. I prefer small venues, both to play in and watch bands. I enjoyed the luxury of Head Gap studio.
Claire: I write on the purple couch in my lounge room, usually with a couple of small dogs fighting at the other end. My favourite place to play is Melbourne. I like smallish venues like the Grace Darling Basement where we play on the floor and all our Hobart friends who have moved over there come and watch. Recording with Neil Thomason at Head Gap.
How does the coming year look for Heart Beach? What are three things you’d like to see happen in 2015 (musically, or otherwise)?
Jonathon: Things are looking okay for us. I’d like to hear the Naked album in 2015, I’d like to see Tantric Sax release a record and I’d like to see some new bands playing in Hobart.
Claire: I think we have a good year coming up. I’d like to check out the Panama Festival in March, make some film clips, and see more Hobart bands play interstate and vice versa.
Interview by Chloe Mayne.